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Dr. John McLoughlin
Dr. McLoughlin and the Oregon Country


Physically Dr. John McLoughlin was a superb specimen of man. His height was not less than six feet four inches. He carried himself as a master, which gave him an appearance of being more than six feet and a half high. He was almost perfectly proportioned. Mentally he was endowed to match his magnificent physical proportions. He was brave and fearless; he was true and just; he was truthful and scorned to lie. The Indians, as well as his subordinates, soon came to know that if he threatened punishment for an offense, it was as certain as that the offense occurred. He was absolute master of himself and of those under him. He allowed none of his subordinates to question or to disobey. This was necessary to conduct the business of his Company, and to preserve peace in the vast Oregon Country. He was facile princeps. And, yet, with all these dominant qualities, he had the greatest kindness, sympathy, and humanity. He needed all his stern and manlike characteristics to govern the officers, employees, servants, and dependents of his Company, and to conduct its business in the Oregon Country. Here was a great empire in physical extent, intersected by great rivers and chains of mountains. There was no one on whom he could depend, except his under-officers and the Company's servants. To him were given no bands of trained soldiers to govern a country half again larger than the Empire of Germany, and occupied by treacherous, hostile, crafty, and cruel savages ; and to so govern as not to be to the prejudice, nor to the exclusion, of citizens of the United States, nor to encourage them, nor to help them.

When he first came to Oregon, it was not safe for the Company's parties to travel except in large numbers and heavily armed. In a few years there was practically no danger. A single boat loaded with goods or furs was as safe as a great flotilla had been when he arrived on the Columbia River in 1824. It was Dr. John McLoughlin who did this, by his personality, by his example, and by his influence. He had accomplished all this when the Indian population of the Oregon Country is estimated to have been in excess of 100,000, including about 30,000 on the Columbia River below its junction with Snake River, and on the tributaries of that part of the Columbia River. This was before the great epidemics of the years 1829 to 1832, inclusive, which caused the deaths of great numbers of the Indians, especially those living on and near the lower Columbia River. There were no Indian wars in the Oregon Country during all the time Dr. McLoughlin was in charge at Fort Vancouver, from 1824 to 1846. All the Indian wars in the Oregon Country occurred after he resigned from the Hudson's Bay Company. The first of these wars began with the Whitman massacre in 1847.

When he came to Oregon, he was nearly forty years old. His hair was then almost white, and was worn long, falling almost to his shoulders. It did not take long for the Indians to know him and to give him a name. To some of the Indians he was the "White-Headed Eagle" and to others, the "Great White Chief."


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