On August 14, 1848, Congress created the Oregon Territory, an area encompassing present-day Oregon, Idaho, Washington, and parts of western Montana and Wyoming. Peter Burnett, a Missouri lawyer who joined an expedition to the Oregon Territory in 1843, hoped to make enough money there to repay his accumulated debt. Forty years later, he recalled:
During the winter of 1842-’43, the Congressional report of Senator Appleton in reference to Oregon fell into my hands…I saw that a great American community would grow up, in the space of a few years, upon the shores of the distant Pacific; and I felt an ardent desire to aid in this most important enterprise.The journey, the practical Burnett noted, would also resolve the condition of his wife who had been ill throughout the past winter. He wryly remarked that “her physician said the trip would either kill or cure her.” The Oregon Territory quickly became a magnet for diverse groups of immigrants and settlers. The deep wagon wheel ruts created by the massive migration can still be seen, marking the Oregon Trail. Mrs. J. R. Bean recalled the unsettled atmosphere of the early days in Oregon in her recollection of a social occasion suddenly interrupted by gunshots:
I was sitting with my mother on the stage or rostrum of the hall where the party was, when suddenly a bullet whizzed over our heads. A man there stole somebody else’s girl…I don’t think he was killed, but his assailant, if I recall correctly, was imprisoned for life.On March 2, 1853, the Washington Territory was created out of the northern section of the Oregon Territory. Oregon eventually achieved statehood in 1859; Washington was admitted into the Union in 1889. The many farms and ranches of Oregon provide rich agricultural resources. About one-half of Oregon is covered with forest and produces commercial timber. Salmon fishing, traditional to Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest, remains an important industry in Oregon.
“Overland Trail Lore and Early Life,” Interview with Mrs. J. R. Bean, Oswego, Oregon, Sara B. Wrenn, interviewer, January 31, 1939. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940. Manuscript Division
- Search the following digital collections on Oregon to find numerous photographs and maps of the state:
- The collection “California As I Saw It”: First-Person Narratives of California’s Early Years, 1849 to 1900 brings together 190 first-person narratives of journeys to the West, many of them written by settlers who spent time in Oregon as well as California in the 1840s and 1850s.
- Read more accounts of the early settlement of the American West. Search the collection, American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940 on state names such as Oregon, California, Idaho, or Montana.