The Foreign Incursion



The curious government

  lewis and clark  

Lewis and Clark Expedition

No exploration of the Oregon Country has greater historical significance than the Voyage of Discovery led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Historians and geographers judge the Lewis and Clark Expedition, which brought more than thirty overland travelers into the Columbia River Basin in 1805-1806, as the most successful North American land exploration in U.S. history. Officially called the Corps of Volunteers for North West Discovery, the Expedition was carried out under the auspices of the U.S. Department of War, with presidential and congressional authorization.


United States Exploring Expedition

The United States Exploring Expedition (1838-1842), also known as the Wilkes Expedition, was shaped by both commercial and scientific concerns and a desire to expand American influence and interests in the Pacific Northwest. Maritime merchants, sealers, and whalers needed accurate charts of islands and navigational hazards in the Pacific Ocean. Secretary of the Navy James Paulding wanted “to extend the bounds of science, and promote the acquisition of knowledge."


The windfall 

  beaver   for vancouver

Fur Trade in Oregon Country

The fur trade was the earliest and longest-enduring economic enterprise that colonizers, imperialists, and nationalists pursued in North America. It significantly shaped North American history, especially from 1790 until 1840, when the trade played a dramatic and critical role in the Oregon Country, which included present-day Oregon and Washington and portions of Idaho, Montana, and British Columbia. Beginning with the maritime exploration and commercial expeditions of James Cook, George Vancouver, and Robert Gray, from 1776 to 1792, and ending with the United States' geopolitical domination of Oregon by 1850, the Oregon Country was transformed from what had been known as Indian Country to a territory of the United States. It was fur traders who explored the region, developed relations with the resident Native nations, and inadvertently opened the floodgates of emigration on the Oregon Trail that enabled the United States to gain control of the Pacific Northwest south of the 49th parallel. 


Hudson's Bay Company

Although a late arrival to the Oregon Country fur trade, for nearly two decades in the early nineteenth century the British Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) dominated the region’s social, economic, and political life while ensuring profit to its shareholders. This quest for profit—achieved through the pioneering extraction of the Pacific Northwest’s bountiful furs, forests, and fish and through appropriation of aboriginal lands for large-scale farming—laid the foundation for later American economic successes and a notable portion of Oregon’s economy today.


The onslaught

  lausanne   OT

Great Reinforcement

One of the signal immigrations to Oregon came by sea in 1840, years before wagons plied the Oregon Trail. Fifty-one men, women, and children took passage on the 600-ton, three-masted barkentine Lausanne, leaving New York harbor in October 1839, with Captain Josiah Spaulding at the helm. The migrants arrived as reinforcements to the Methodist missionary enterprise to convert Native peoples to Christianity in the Pacific Northwest, an effort begun by Jason Lee in 1834.


Oregon Trail

The Oregon Trail has attracted such interest because it is the central feature of one of the largest mass migrations of people in American history. Between 1840 and 1860, from 300,000 to 400,000 travelers used the 2,000-mile overland route to reach Willamette Valley, Puget Sound, Utah, and California destinations. The journey took up to six months, with wagons making between ten and twenty miles per day of travel. The trail followed the Missouri and Platte Rivers west through present-day Nebraska to South Pass on the Continental Divide in Wyoming, then west along the Snake River to Fort Hall in eastern Idaho, where travelers typically chose to continue due west to Oregon or to head southwest to Utah and California.



  OT map   stevens

Oregon Question

“The Oregon boundary question,” historian Frederick Merk concluded, “was a diplomatic problem involving a kernel of reality and an enormous husk.” The eventual existence of the states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana depended on solving the so-called Oregon Question, a three-decade dispute between Great Britain and the United States. The disagreement pivoted on the nations’ competing claims to a vast territory between the Pacific Ocean and the Continental Divide, bounded by latitudes 54°40' N and 42° S 9 (the present-day southern border of Alaska with British Columbia and the Oregon-California state line).


Creation of Washington Territory, 1853

On August 14, 1848, Congress created Oregon Territory, a vast stretch of western America that included all or portions of five present-day states, including Washington. Within less than a decade, though, Congress agreed to split the area by calving off a new territory—Washington. The creation of Washington Territory in 1853 and the earlier political history of the Oregon Country stretches back to the early nineteenth century.