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Dr. John McLoughlin
Early French Canadian Settlers


After the death of Dr. McLoughlin there was found among his private papers a document in his own handwriting. This was probably written shortly prior to his death. It gives many interesting facts, some of which I shall presently set forth. This document was given to Col. J. W. Nesmith by a descendant of Dr. McLoughlin. It was presented to the Oregon Pioneer Association by Col. Nesmith in 1880. It was printed at length in the Transactions of that Association for that year, pages 46-55. I shall hereinafter refer to this document as "the McLoughlin Document." In the McLoughlin Document he says: "In 1825, from what I had seen of the country, I formed the conclusion, from the mildness and salubrity of the climate, that this was the finest portion of North America that I had seen for the residence of civilized man." The farm at Fort Vancouver showed that the wheat was of exceptionally fine quality. Dr. McLoughlin knew that where wheat grew well and there was a large enough area, that it would become a civilized country, especially where there was easy access to the ocean. Thus early he saw that what is now called Western Oregon was bound to be a populous country. It was merely a question of time. It was evidently with this view that he located his land claim at Oregon City in 1829. If settlers came he could endeavor to have them locate in the Willamette Valley, and thus preserve, to a great extent, the fur animals in other parts of the Oregon Country, and especially north of the Columbia River.

The Hudson's Bay Company was bound, under heavy penalties, not to discharge any of its servants in the Indian country, and was bound to return them to the places where they were originally hired. As early as 1828 several French Canadian servants, or employees, whose times of service were about ended, did not desire to return to Canada, but to settle in Oregon. They disliked to settle in the Willamette Valley, notwithstanding its fertility and advantages, because they thought that ultimately it would be American territory, but Dr. McLoughlin told them that he knew "that the American Government and people knew only two classes of persons, rogues and honest men. That they punished the first and protected the last, and it depended only upon themselves to what class they would belong." Dr. McLoughlin later found out, to his own sorrow and loss, that he was in error in this statement. These French Canadians followed his advice. To allow these French Canadians to become settlers, he kept them nominally on the books of the -Hudson's Bay Company as its servants. He made it a rule to allow none of these servants to become settlers unless he possessed fifty pounds sterling to start with. He loaned each of them seed and wheat to plant, to be returned from the produce of his farm, and sold him implements and supplies at fifty per cent, advance on prime London cost. The regular selling price at Fort Vancouver was eighty per cent, advance on prime London cost. Dr. McLoughlin also loaned each of these settlers two cows, the increase to belong to the Hudson's Bay Company, as it then had only a small herd, and he wished to increase the herd. If any of the cows died, he did not make the settler pay for the animal. If he had sold the cattle the Company could not supply other settlers, and the price would be prohibitive, if owned by settlers who could afford to buy, as some settlers offered him as high as two hundred dollars for a cow. Therefore, to protect the poor settlers against the rich, and to make a herd of cattle for the benefit of the whole country, he refused to sell to any one.

In 1825 Dr. McLoughlin had at Fort Vancouver only twenty-seven head of cattle, large and small. He determined that no cattle should be killed, except one bull-calf every year for rennet to make cheese, until he had an ample stock to meet all demands of his Company, and to assist settlers, a resolution to which he strictly adhered. The first animal killed for beef was in 1838. Until that time the Company's officers and employees had lived on fresh and salt venison and salmon and wild fowl.

In August 1839, the expedition of Sir Edward Belcher was at Fort Vancouver. Dr. McLoughlin was not then at Fort Vancouver. He probably had not returned from his trip to England in 1838-9. James Douglas was in charge. Although the latter supplied Sir Edward Belcher and his officers with fresh beef, Douglas declined to furnish a supply of fresh beef for the crew, because he did not deem it prudent to kill so many cattle. Sir Edward Belcher complained of this to the British government. Dr. McLoughlin gave the American settlers, prior to 1842, the same terms as he gave to the French Canadian settlers. But some of these early American settlers were much incensed at the refusal of Dr. McLoughlin to sell the cattle, although they accepted the loan of the cows. It has been asserted that Dr. McLoughlin intended to maintain a monopoly in cattle. But if that was his intention, as he refused to sell, where was to be the profit? The Hudson's Bay Company was a fur-trading Company. It was not a cattle-dealing Company. If Dr. McLoughlin intended to create a monopoly, he himself assisted to break it. That such was not his intention is shown by his helping the settlers to procure cattle from California in 1836.

In 1836 a company was formed to go to California to buy cattle and drive them to Oregon overland. About twenty-five hundred dollars was raised for this purpose, of which amount Dr. McLoughlin, for the Hudson's Bay Company, subscribed about half. The number of cattle which were thus brought to Oregon was six hundred and thirty, at a cost of about eight dollars a head. In the McLoughlin Document he says: "In the Willamette the settlers kept the tame and broken-in oxen they had, belonging to the Hudson's Bay Company, and gave their California wild cattle in the place, so that they found themselves stocked with tame cattle which cost them only eight dollars a head, and the Hudson's Bay Company, to favor the settlers, took calves in place of grown up cattle, because the Hudson's Bay Company wanted them for beef. These calves would grow up before they were required."


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