A moment in Oregon History

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A Moment in Oregon History

Copyright 2009 – Rick Steber


July 1 - In 1845 Stephen Meek, a mountain man and brother of popular Joe Meek, met a large wagon train along the Oregon Trail and convinced many of the pioneers to follow him on a cut-off route across Eastern Oregon. Leaving Fort Boise the group, that included 200 wagons, entered the dry desert where they wandered with little water and scant feed for the animals. The group threatened to lynch Meek and he left camp and traveled to The Dalles where he helped organize a rescue party. The pioneers suffered greatly and a number of them died before they finally reached the Willamette Valley late in the fall of 1845.
July 2 - Willamette Falls, located 25 miles above the mouth of the Willamette River, blocked upriver navigation. In 1868 the Willamette Falls Canal and Locks Company was incorporated, and on the west side of the falls, began construction of four locks. Each lock measured 210 feet in length and was 40 feet wide. The total lift, at high water, was 41 feet. The locks were opened in 1873 and the first ship to pass through the locks was the steamer, Maria Wilkins, carrying a party of Portland and Oregon City dignitaries. The United States government acquired the locks in 1915 and today they still remain in operation.
July 3 - On July 3, 1923, the tiny town of Meacham, located at the summit of the Blue Mountains, was named the official capitol of the United States for a single day. President Warren G. Harding stood on the back of his private railroad car and watched a procession of pioneers walking beside their wagons, followed by Indians dressed in feather bonnets and scarlet blankets and finally a long convoy of automobiles. After the parade the President proclaimed Meacham as the capitol, announced the old Oregon Trail was officially closed and welcomed the modern era by opening the new transcontinental automobile highway.
July 6 - European colonists brought the first honeybees to North America in 1622. It was more than 200 years later that the first honeybees crossed the Rocky Mountains and finally reached Oregon. John Davenport is credited with successfully importing the first hive of honeybees. He brought his bees over the Oregon Trail and arrived in the Willamette Valley in the early 1850s where he turned the bees loose on his farm in Marion County. Within a few years other hives were brought from California and were sold for the staggering sum of $125 per hive.
July 7 - In 1849 Territorial Governor Joseph Lane asked for federal help in handling Indian troubles in the Northwest. In response, the U.S. Mounted Rifle Regiment was sent from Fort Leavenworth. The unit, having just returned from the Southwest, undertook the 2,000-mile march with 600 men, 160 wagons and 200 mules. After splitting the unit at Fort Laramie and Fort Hall the remaining soldiers reached Oregon in a ragged and exhausted state. The men wintered at Oregon City, where the locals disapproved of the soldiers rowdy behavior. When gold was discovered in California 120 men deserted and in 1851 the Regiment, after having been more trouble than benefit to Oregonians, was sent to California.

July 8 - The Oregon Trail, a 2,000-mile route extending from Missouri to the Pacific Northwest, followed the path of least resistance. In actuality, the route was a series of buffalo trails, game trails and Indian trails that had been first traversed in 1812 by members of the Astor Expedition returning to Saint Louis. Fur trappers, explorers and missionaries followed this loosely defined route until, in the early 1840s, caravans of wagons wore a roadway from Missouri to the Willamette Valley. It has been estimated that a quarter-of-a-million people traveled the Oregon Trail, and that nearly one out of every ten died along the way.

July 9 - T. B. Potter, a real estate promoter from Kansas City, came to the Oregon coast in 1906 and attempted to build Bayocean. He envisioned a resort community on a strip of sand at the entrance of Tillamook Bay and heavily marketed it as the “Playground of the Pacific Northwest.” Six hundred lots were sold, expensive houses were built and there were plans for The Grand Hotel, with the largest indoor swimming pool in the world. But with completion of the jetties at the mouth of the bay, winter storms began eating away at the sandy spit, and one-by-one the showy Bayocean homes toppled into the sea. By the 1940s all traces of the “Playground of the Pacific Northwest” had vanished.
July 10 - The Oregon Journal newspaper came into existence when Sam Jackson, publisher of the Pendleton East Oregonian, purchased a Portland campaign newspaper in 1902. The Journal sponsored a campaign to “Get Oregon Out of the Mud,” with a system of paved roads and also advocated for pure milk, better management of Oregon timberlands and dredging the Columbia River navigation channel. Circulation peaked after World War Two, but the newspaper never recovered from a lengthy strike and was sold to the Oregonian, the competing daily newspaper. The final edition of the Journal was published in 1982, and the last publisher was William Knight, father of Nike co-founder Phil Knight.

July 13 - Peter Skeen Ogden was a fur trader and one of the most influential men in the Oregon Country. He was born in Canada, joined the North West Fur Company and was transferred to the Columbia District in 1818. He led countless trading and trapping expeditions, visiting and exploring the Snake River country, Central Oregon, Utah, Nevada and Northern California. He succeeded Dr. John McLoughlin as Chief Factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company at Fort Vancouver in 1845 and used his influence to secure the release of the 53 women and children held captive after the Whitman Massacre. Ogden died in 1854 and is buried at Oregon City.

July 14 - In 1881 a subsidiary of the Union Pacific was formed to build a rail link between the railhead at Granger, Wyoming and Huntington, Oregon. At that time Huntington was the terminus of the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company line. The route selected by the Union Pacific was to be “the shortest route possible” between the two locations and the railway became known as the Oregon Short Line. Construction was completed over the 550-mile route, and the first transcontinental train over the route to the Pacific Northwest reached Portland in January 1885.
July 15 - John Ball was born in New Hampshire and became a teacher and lawyer, but seeking adventure he joined the ill-fated Nathaniel Expedition. Upon reaching Fort Vancouver the fall of 1832, Ball was taken in by Doctor McLoughlin, and in return for his room and board, he worked to teach the children at the fort. He earned the distinction of being the first schoolteacher in the Oregon Country. The following spring Ball settled at French Prairie, built a cabin and planted several acres of wheat. After harvesting his crop, he took passage on a sailing ship and returned to the East Coast. He returned to Oregon only once, stopping for a single day in 1866. He died in Michigan at age 90.
July 16 - The middle of July 1828, mountain man Jedediah Smith and a group of eighteen trappers were camped on Smith River (located on the Southern Oregon coast). Indians attacked and every white man was killed except for Smith and three others. The survivors wandered for weeks, and according to one report, upon reaching Fort Vancouver they were, “bareheaded and barefooted, more nearly dead than alive. They had endured on roots and the creeping things of the forest.” A group of Hudson's Bay Company trappers recovered the expedition's furs and supplies, and even Smith's journal. Jedediah Smith died at age 32, at the hand of the Comanche Indians.
July 17 - On July 18, 1841 the Peacock, part of a squadron of American ships exploring and mapping the Pacific Coast, approached the mouth of the Columbia River. Heavy swells and a strong wind pushed the 18-gun U.S. Navy sloop to the north of the entrance and onto a spit of sand that jutted seaward from Cape Disappointment. Breakers repeatedly lifted the Peacock and slammed her against the sand. Efforts were made to lighten the ship by throwing cannon balls and other stores over the side but all efforts failed. Life boats were lowered and the order given to abandon the ship. The entire crew reached shore. From that day forward, the sandy shallow at the north entrance to the Columbia River, has been known as Peacock Spit.
July 20 - When Highway 101 was built along the Oregon coast there were several places where the roadbed was cut through mounds of shells that were 30 feet deep and ranged in size up to 20 acres. It is believed that Native People built the mounds of, what to them, was nothing but garbage. In addition to sea shells, excavations have revealed the bones of game animals and dogs, tools, mortars, pestles, arrows, spear points, smoking pipes and bits and pieces of pottery. It is estimated, based upon the size of the villages located nearby, that it took up to three thousand years to build the mounds.
July 21 - Sam Barlow was the captain of a wagon train that crossed the Plains in 1845. Upon reaching The Dalles he refused to attempt the dangerous trip down the Columbia River on a raft, and set out with a small group of pioneers to find an alternate route over the Cascades. The party traveled south to Tygh Valley and located a pass on the south flank of Mt. Hood. The pioneers were trapped by an early snow, and were forced to cache their wagons and continue on horseback and afoot. The following year Barlow established a toll road over the route and in the ensuing years the majority of the Oregon Trail pioneers used this road to reach the Willamette Valley.
July 22 - William Sargent Ladd was one of the most influential businessmen in Oregon. He came to Oregon in 1851 and built the first brick building in Portland in 1853. A year later he won the election as mayor. He also established the first bank in Oregon and was the principal backer and promoter of the Oregon Steam Navigation Company, 1860; Oregon Telegraph Company, 1862; and Oregon Iron and Steel Company, 1866. Ladd believed in giving back to the community where he made his fortune. He donated ten percent of his income to charitable causes. When he died in 1893, he left an estate valued at ten million dollars.
July 23 - The Oregon Pony was the first steam locomotive to operate in the state. The little thirteen-foot long engine was built for the Oregon Steam Navigation Company and named the Pony because it replaced the mules that had been pulling freight around the five-mile portage at Cascade Rapids on the Columbia River. A trial run was made May 10, 1862 and the five-ton engine pulled its way over a wooden tram surfaced with iron. Four years later The Pony was sold to a San Francisco company but was returned to Oregon and restored. It is owned by the Oregon Historical Society and is currently on display at Cascade Locks.
July 24 - On July 25, 1920 Til Taylor, one of the originators of the Pendleton Round-Up and known throughout Eastern Oregon as the Cowboy Sheriff, entered his office at the Umatilla County sheriff’s office to find his five prisoners had escaped and were rifling through his desk. In the ensuing fight Til was shot in the heart with his own pistol, killing him instantly. The five outlaws hopped a freight train but were soon arrested and returned to Pendleton where they stood trial and were found guilty of murder. They paid for their crime with their lives.
July 27 - Charles Bennett came to Oregon by wagon train in 1844 and remained in the Willamette Valley until going to California with a group of friends in 1847. They found work digging a millrace for John Sutter. According to the Oregon men, it was not James Marshall, but Charles Bennett who picked up a yellow rock and recognized it as gold. After the subsequent gold rush Bennett returned to Oregon. He was captain of Company F Oregon Mounted Volunteers in the Yakima Indian War and was killed at the Battle of Walla Walla. He is buried in Salem. On his marble tombstone are etched the words, “Captain Charles Bennett was the discover of gold in California.”

July 28 - Neahkahnie Mountain juts from the Oregon coast like a great stone fist. Many believe this imposing mountain is the guardian of a priceless treasure. Indian legend holds that long ago three strange ships were sighted off the headlands. They threw smoke and thunder at each other. Two ships drowned, and the third limped toward shore and beached itself. When the settlers arrived, they found chunks of beeswax, used in candle making, and marked with letters and numerals in the sand below Neahkahnie Mountain. Today each Pacific storm brings with it the fresh possibility that more beeswax, or perhaps a treasure chest, will wash ashore and be found by a beachcomber.
July 29 - The beaver, the largest aquatic rodent in the Northwest, can measure five feet from the tip of its nose to the tip of its tail. It was named as the official state animal by the 1969 Legislature and Oregon is known as the “Beaver State.” The beaver played an important role in bringing traders and trappers to the Northwest and opening the land to settlement. Prized for its fur, the beaver was over-trapped by the mountain men and early-day settlers to Oregon. From 1834 to 1837 the Hudson’s Bay Company post at Fort Vancouver shipped out nearly 400,000 beaver pelts worth an estimated 15 million dollars.
July 30 - The Brother Jonathan, a steamboat built in the East and brought around the Horn, operated between Portland and San Francisco. She brought the news to Portland that Oregon had been admitted to the Union as the 33rd state. After gold was discovered in Idaho, the Brother Jonathan was pressed into service transporting gold to the mint in San Francisco. On July 30, 1865, overloaded with passengers and carrying a fortune in gold, the ship was caught in a severe storm off the Southern Oregon coast and began taking on water. She turned toward the harbor at Crescent City, California but went down. More than 200 men, women and children perished.
July 31 - Samuel Parker, born in 1779, was a trailbreaker for the missionaries who came to the Oregon Country. He was an ordained minister who, stirred by a report that the Indians of the west were seeking the “White man’s book of heaven,” decided to devote his life to missionary work. He came west in 1835, and after spending the winter at Fort Vancouver, he explored the Willamette Valley and the Lower Columbia Valley selecting sites for future missions. The following year Marcus Whitman and Henry Spalding founded missions at the sites Parker had selected. Parker left Oregon by ship and returned to the East Coast. Because of his age he was rejected for missionary work. He died in 1866 and was buried in Ithaca, New York.

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