Oregon Territory

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.

Recollections and Opinions of an Old Pioneer, by Peter H. Burnett. New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1880. “California as I Saw It”: First-Person Narratives of California’s Early Years, 1849 to 1900. General Collections

Crater Lake, Ore. Edgar Desmond Weston, c1913. Panoramic Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division

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.

“The Covered Wagon,” Salem, Oregon. Carol M. Highsmith, photographer, [between 1980 and 2006]. Highsmith (Carol M.) Archive. Prints & Photographs Division

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.

Overland Trail Lore and Early Life. Mrs. J. R. Bean, interviewee; Sara B. Wrenn, interviewer; Oswego, Oregon, January 31, 1939. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940. Manuscript Division

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.

Horse Breeding Ranch, Grant Co., Oregon. Russell Lee, photographer, July 1942. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Color Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division

The many farms and ranches of Oregon provide rich agricultural resources.

Stand of Virgin Ponderosa Pine, Malheur National Forest, Grant County, Oregon. Russell Lee, photographer, July 1942. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Color Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division

About one-half of Oregon is covered with forest and produces commercial timber.

Indians Fishing for Salmon, Celilo Falls, Oregon. Russell Lee, photographer, Sept. 1941. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. Prints & Photographs Division

Salmon fishing, traditional to Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest, remains an important industry in Oregon.

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