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Dr. John McLoughlin
Immigration of 1843


In 1843 came the first great immigration to Oregon. As if by a common impulse, and without preconcert, the immigrants met at Independence, Missouri, leaving there for Oregon, May 20, 1843. Peter H. Burnett, afterwards a Chief Justice of the Oregon Provisional Government, and the first Governor of the State of California, was the first Captain. J. W. Nesmith, afterwards United States Senator from Oregon, was Orderly Sergeant. About eight hundred and seventy-five men, women, and children composed this immigration. Of these there were two hundred and ninety-five men, over the age of sixteen years. In this immigration were my grandfather, John Holman, and his son, Daniel S. Holman, then nearly twenty-one years old.

After first arriving at the Columbia River, they straggled and struggled along the Columbia River to Fort Vancouver-a few driving cattle, going overland by the Indian trail from near The Dalles to Oregon City. There was not then any way to take wagons by land from The Dalles to the Willamette Valley. A few of the immigrants went down the Columbia River to The Dalles in boats. In one of these parties three persons were drowned by the capsizing of boats. The rest of the immigrants went to The Dalles overland with their .wagons. From The Dalles to the Cascades some of them went by boats, others went on rafts, which they constructed. There was great difficulty in going from the Upper Cascades to the Lower Cascades. The rafts could not be taken over the rapids.

It took about two weeks to cut a trail around the Cascades. The rains set in. The position of the immigrants was desperate. Some did not arrive at Fort Vancouver until about Christmas. They had not anticipated such hardships and privations as they were then suffering. Few had sufficient food or raiment, many were absolutely destitute. Dr. McLoughlin sent supplies to be sold to those who were able, and to those who could not buy, the supplies were furnished on credit, or given to them. He furnished boats to carry them from the Cascades to Fort Vancouver. He caused the sick to be attended to, and nursed at the Company's hospital at Fort Vancouver. He furnished them every assistance as long as they required it. Time will not permit me to go into the details.

When the immigrants of 1843 were thus coming along the Columbia River, some helpless and almost hopeless, there was a plot by the Indians to massacre these Americans. It was prevented by Dr. McLoughlin. The effect of such a massacre would have been tremendous. It would have, probably, prevented the further settlement of Oregon for years. Had the United States sent troops to punish the Indians in the disputed Oregon Country, it would have almost certainly precipitated a war with Great Britain.

In presenting the McLoughlin Document to the Oregon Pioneer Society, in 1880, Col. J. W. Nesmith said: "I had intended reading it to you as a part of my address, but, having already trespassed too long upon your patience, I shall hand the document to the secretary of the Society, with my endorsement of the truth of all its statements that came within my own knowledge. ... I desire to say, what I believe all old pioneers will agree to, that the statements of this paper furnished a . . . complete vindication of Dr. McLoughlin's acts and conduct, and that the integrity of his narrative cannot be impeached by any honest testimony." In the McLoughlin Document Dr. McLoughlin says: "In 1843, about 800 immigrants arrived from the States. I saw by the looks of the Indians that they were excited, and I watched them. As the first stragglers were arriving at Vancouver in canoes, and I was standing on the bank, nearer the water there was a group of ten or twelve Indians. One of them bawled out to his companions, 'It is good for us to kill these Bostons [Americans].' Struck with the excitement I had seen in the countenances of the Indians since they had heard the report of the immigration coming, I felt certain they were inclined to mischief, and that he spoke thus loud as a feeler to sound me, and take their measures accordingly. I immediately rushed on them with my cane, calling out at the same time, 'Who is the dog that says it is a good thing to kill the Bostons?' The fellow, trembling, excused himself, 'I spoke without meaning harm, but The Dalles Indians say so.' 'Well,' said I, 'The Dalles Indians are dogs for saying so, and you also,' and left him, as, if I had remained longer it would have had a bad effect. I had done enough to convince them I would not allow them to do wrong to the immigrants with impunity. From this Indian saying, in the way he did, that The Dalles Indians said it was good to kill the Bostons, I felt it my duty to do all I could to avert so horrid a deed.

"Mr. P. L. Edwards, whom I mentioned, came in 1834, with the Messrs. Lee, and left in 1838, and sent me a letter by Gen. McCarver, stating he had given a letter of introduction to me to P. H. Burnett, Esq. I immediately formed my plan and kept my knowledge of the horrid design of the Indians secret, as I felt certain that if the Americans knew it, these men acting independently of each other, would be at once for fighting, which would lead to their total destruction, and I sent two (2) boats with provisions to meet them; sent provisions to Mr. Burnett, and a large quantity of provisions for sale to those who would purchase, and to be given to those who had not the means, being confident that the fright I had given (as I already stated) the Indians who said it was a good thing to kill the Bostons was known at The Dalles before our boats were there, and that the presence of the Hudson's Bay Company people, and the assistance they afforded the immigrants, would deter the Indians from doing them any wrong, and I am happy to be able to say that I entirely succeeded."

Dr. McLoughlin then says, in this Document, that about a month after this incident he told Dr. Marcus Whitman what had occurred. Dr. McLoughlin thought the trouble might have been started by some Iroquois Indian in the employ of the Hudson's Bay Company, and Dr. McLoughlin was anxious "to find that rascal out to punish him as an example to deter others." Dr. Whitman then said that he had known of this trouble among the Indians for about two years, although he had said nothing to Dr. McLoughlin about it, and that the trouble was caused by a Shawnee Indian named Tom Hill, who is said to have been educated at Dartmouth College. He had urged the Indians to allow no Americans to settle on their lands, as the Americans had driven out the Shawnees, and that the Indians about Walla Walla said the Cay-uses were inclined to follow the advice by killing the immigrants who first came. It will be remembered that the Cayuses were the Indians who caused the Whitman massacre in 1847. Dr. McLoughlin, in this Document, then says that he believes the Indians would have killed these immigrants of 1843 but for the decided and cautious manner in which he acted. Dr. McLoughlin continues: "And the reason the Indian made use of the expression he did was because I punished the murderers of the Smith party; and, before acting, they wanted to know how I would treat them. And most certainly if I had not been most anxious for the safety of the immigrants, and to discharge to them the duties of a Christian, my ear would not have caught so quickly the words, 'it is a good thing to kill these Bostons,' and acted as I did."

Then there was the question how these immigrants of 1843 should be provided for during the winter and until the next harvest. They had no implements, no seed. There was a crisis impending. Without waiting to be asked, Dr. McLoughlin gave credit, furnishing these immigrants with food and clothing for the present, and also farm implements and seed-wheat to begin their farming. He exacted no collateral, he gave time without interest. All this was against the rules of the Hudson's Bay Company. He made himself personally liable for all these debts. He also loaned these immigrants cattle, including cows, and also hogs. Col. J. W. Nesmith, one of the immigrants of 1843, in his address before the Oregon Pioneer Association in 1876 said: "Dr. John McLoughlin, then at the head of the Hudson's Bay Company, from his own private resources, rendered the new settlers much valuable aid by furnishing the destitute with food, clothing, and seed, waiting for his pay until they had a surplus to dispose of." Peter H. Burnett, of whom I have already spoken, was one of the immigrants of 1843. He started a town and called it Linnton, which was situated where the present town of Linnton is situated - eight miles north of Portland on the Willamette River, and about half way between Portland and Vancouver by water. He kept a journal of his travels, which was published, in part, in the New York Herald in 1844. Part II of the History of Oregon by George Wilkes, published in 1845, is largely taken from this journal." In this journal Burnett says: "On my arrival I was received with great kindness by Doctor McLoughlin and Mr. James Douglass, the second in command. They both tendered me the hospitalities of the fort, which offer, it is scarcely necessary to say, I accepted willingly and with pleasure. . . . His hospitality is unbounded, and I will sum up all his qualities, by saying that he is beloved by all who know him. . . . The kindness of Dr. McLoughlin to this emigration has been very great. He furnished them with goods and provisions on credit, and such as were sick were sent to the Hospital free of expense, where they had the strict and careful attendance of Dr. Barclay, a skillful physician, and an excellent and humane man. The Chief Factor [Dr. McLoughlin] likewise lent the emigrants the Company's boats, to bring down such of the families and baggage as had been left at the Cascades by the advance guard of the expedition, which had preceded me; and he also furnished them with the facilities for crossing the river with their cattle, at Vancouver. Had it not been for the kindness of this excellent man, many of us would have suffered greatly. ... It is certain that the Doctor himself has uniformly aided settlers, by supplying them with farming implements, and with seed-grain, as a loan, to be returned out of the succeeding crop. He even went so far as to lend them hogs, to be returned two or three years afterward, by their issue of the same age; to furnish oxen to break their ground, and cows to supply milk to their families. This certainly appears to me to be a very poor way to retard the settlement of the region, and to discourage adventurers who arrive in it."

In 1880 Mr. Burnett, then ex-Governor of California, wrote a book called "Recollections and Opinions of an Old Pioneer," so that we have his opinion of Dr. McLoughlin in 1843 contemporaneous with the events I speak of, and also his mature reflections thirty-seven years after that. On page 142 of this book Mr. Burnett says: "When we arrived in Oregon we were poor, and our teams were so much reduced as to be unfit for service until the next spring. Those of us who came by water from Walla Walla left our cattle there for the winter; and those who came by water from The Dalles left their cattle for the winter at that point. Even if our teams had been fit for use when we arrived, they would have been of no benefit to us, as we could not bring them to the Willamette Valley until the spring of 1844. Pork was ten, and flour four cents a pound, and other provisions in proportion. These were high prices considering our scanty means and extra appetites. Had it not been for the generous kindness of the gentlemen in charge of the business of the Hudson's Bay Company, we should have suffered much greater privations. The Company furnished many of our immigrants with provisions, clothing, seed, and other necessaries on credit. This was done, in many instances, where the purchasers were known to be of doubtful credit. Many of our immigrants were unworthy of the favors they received, and only returned abuse for generosity."

Captain J. C. Fremont, afterwards Major-General, in the United States Army, was at Fort Vancouver when the immigrants of 1843 were arriving. On page 191 of the Report of his Second Exploring Expedition, he says: "I found many American emigrants at the fort; others had already crossed the river into their land of promise -the Walahmette Valley. Others were daily arriving; and all of them had been furnished with shelter, so far as it could be afforded by the buildings connected with the establishment. Necessary clothing and provisions [the latter to be afterwards returned in kind from the produce of their labor] were also furnished. This friendly assistance was of very great value to the emigrants, whose families were otherwise exposed to much suffering in the winter rains which had now commenced, at the same time that they were in want of all the common necessaries of life."


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