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Dr. John McLoughlin
The Quality of the Early Immigrants


The early immigrants to Oregon were not mendicants nor tramps. It is true some of them were of a roving disposition; probably a few were of the improvident class. Most of them were forceful, strong men and women, physically and mentally; strong also in their Americanism, and filled with the racial instinct to follow the western course of Empire. They came to Oregon as home-builders. Many of them had their lineage from the pioneers who first settled the Atlantic Coast, particularly the southern part of it. Descendants of these pioneers had crossed the mountains and were the hardy and courageous pioneers of Kentucky and Tennessee, in the early, perilous, and heroic days of Daniel Boone, John Sevier, George Rogers Clark, and James Robertson. The ancestors of some of these Oregon immigrants had taken part in the great war of the American Revolution on the Atlantic Coast, and had then assisted in upbuilding civilization in the Middle West. These forefathers had won the Middle West. These immigrants came to win Oregon. The grandfathers and fathers of some of them had taken part in the war of 1812, and in the later Indian wars. A few of these immigrants were veterans of the war of 1812 and of these Indian wars. There were immigrants who had taken active part in the troubles with the Mormons and had assisted in driving them out of Western Missouri. It was of this stock that parts of Missouri, and especially the western part of that state, had been then largely peopled, and many of these Oregon immigrants had settled' there temporarily before coming to Oregon. A great majority of the immigrants to Oregon from 1843 to 1846, inclusive, and of some of the later immigrants, were from the Southern States. They, and their ancestors for many generations, had been born and brought up in the South. Most of them had the good qualities and were of the high type of American citizenship characteristic of the white people of the South. They were mostly plain people, but they and their ancestry were of good class. Theirs was an inheritance of indomitable will, high courage, and noble purposes. Their ancestors had conquered, settled, and up-builded the country from the seaboards of Virginia and the Carolinas to the Mississippi River. Oregon was another land to conquer, to settle, and to upbuild. There were also in these early immigrations a number of men and women, descendants of the sturdy peoples who settled in New England, and in other Northern States. There were a few men who were attracted to Oregon by the love of adventure incident to the journey and to the settlement of a new country. There were also a few men, born outside of the United States, who allied themselves with the Americans, and became identified with the Americans in Oregon, and subsequently were admitted as citizens of the United States.

The places these immigrants left to come to Oregon, although some of these places were comparatively new, were mostly over-supplied with unsold agricultural products - unsalable for want of markets. The early books and pamphlets on Oregon and the stirring speeches of Oregon enthusiasts, who had never been to Oregon, pictured Oregon as the traditional land of plenty and of "milk and honey." There was, too, an abiding faith in the future, a certain improvidence born of strong manhood and womanhood. They were filled with confidence in their ability to conquer all troubles and overcome all difficulties. They did not think of failure - they intended to succeed. Then, too, the journey was longer and more arduous than they had anticipated. Their greatest dangers and troubles were after they had entered the Oregon Country and reached the Columbia River. All east of that river, with its hardships, was comfortable compared with the troubles and dangers to come. They did not come seeking, nor did they seek charity or alms. The true, honest, brave-hearted immigrants wished to pay for what they obtained, and did as soon as they were able to do so. They were met by conditions which they could not, or did not, foresee. Dr. John McLoughlin, with his great, manly prescience, appreciated all this. He sold provisions and clothing to those who could pay; equally, he sold on credit, to those who could not, without references, without collaterals. He understood the quality of most of these pioneers-he was unfortunately in error as to some of them. It was not charity on the part of Dr. McLoughlin, it was the exercise of that great quality, which he possessed in an extraordinary degree - humanity.

I regret to say that a few of these early immigrants, at times, without cause, were rude to Dr. McLoughlin and abusive of his Company, and of his Country. Some of these did not care - others had been prejudiced by false information, which they had read or heard before they left their homes, or on the way to Oregon. Some, I still more regret to say, accepted the credit extended to them by Dr. McLoughlin, and never paid. But the payment to the Hudson's Bay Company of these bad debts was assumed by Dr. McLoughlin.; The aggregate amount is not definitely known, for Dr. McLoughlin suffered, in many ways, in silence. But it was a very large sum. Those who paid in full could not requite his kindness to them. j/The real Oregon pioneers are these overland immigrants who came to Oregon prior to 1847. The immigrants of 1846 were a long way on their journey to Oregon when the Boundary Treaty was made. They left on their journey early in May, 1846. This treaty was signed at Washington, June 15, 1846. The proclamation by the President of the Treaty and of its ratification by the two countries is dated August 5, 1846. The immigrants of 1846 did not know that the Treaty had been made, signed, or confirmed until after their arrival in Oregon. The news that the Treaty had been signed came by a sailing vessel, and did not reach Oregon until November, 1846. The distance traveled by the immigrants to Oregon, from the rendezvous at Independence, Missouri, to Oregon City, was about two thousand miles. The usual time in making this journey was between five and six months. Ox-teams were used almost exclusively. It was thought that the use of horses for teams was impracticable. It was feared there would be insufficient food for such horses, on the way, as the numbers would be large. It would be necessary to keep these horses shod for pulling the heavily loaded wagons. Many horses were brought which were used for riding, rounding-up cattle, and in hunting. There were practical difficulties in caring for, and feeding horses at night. Horses had to be "staked" at night, cattle would graze at large. Horses were liable to be stampeded and be lost or be stolen by the Indians. Oxen were much cheaper than horses. It would require at least four horses to a wagon. It was desirable to have cows to furnish milk on the way, especially for the children. Good cattle were scarce in Oregon and it was desirable to take cows and bulls for breeding purposes, and other cattle for beef. Many of these immigrants brought cattle with them in addition to their ox-teams. These cattle and ox-teams could not travel as fast as horses and the speed of the latter necessarily would be kept to that of the ox-teams. Should oxen be lost or die, their places could be taken by cattle or even by cows. This was not infrequently done.

These early immigrants all came to, or started for Oregon, overland, in the time of joint-occupancy. They were not encouraged, helped, nor protected by the Government in coming to Oregon. There were no United States troops in the Oregon Country, or near the immigrant trail prior to 1849. The Cayuse Indian war of 1847-8 was carried on by the Oregon Provisional Government alone, without assistance from the United States Government. This war was fought wholly by volunteers from the Willamette Valley. The coming of these early immigrants assisted to hold Oregon for the United States, and greatly contributed to the settlement of the Oregon Question. They relied on themselves but they believed that their Country would protect its own in Oregon. Their rights and courage could not be ignored. There was no one man who saved Oregon. If any persons saved Oregon, they were these immigrants from 1843 to and including 1846. There is not a true American who does not take pride in the daring of these pioneers and in what they accomplished in coming to Oregon. Whatever some of them may have lacked, in certain qualities, and in spite of the bad treatment, by some of them, of Dr. McLoughlin, the patriotism and courage of most of them were of the highest types. This great movement of immigrants to Oregon from 1843 to 1846, inclusive, may not, even now, be thoroughly understood nor explained but it is fully appreciated. With all its dangers and hardships, with all its mystery and simplicity, and its commonplaces, it stands today one of the most daring colonizing movements for, and the most remarkable, interesting, and romantic story of the settlement and upbuilding of any part of the continents of the two Americas.

It must be borne in mind that all these aids by Dr. McLoughlin to the immigrants of 1843, an(* succeeding years, were after some of the Methodist missionaries had attempted to take his land claim, and succeeded in part. The history of these transactions I shall presently relate. And did the secular department of the Methodist Mission assist these early pioneers in any way similar to what was done by Dr. McLoughlin? If so, I have found no trace nor record of it. Undoubtedly Methodist missionaries, individually, did many kindly acts to destitute immigrants. Had Dr. McLoughlin acted with the supineness of the Methodist Mission toward the immigrants of 1843, 1844, and 1845, and especially that of 1843, the consequences would have been terrible. Leaving out the probability of massacres by the Indians, many immigrants would have died from starvation, exposure and lack of clothing along the Columbia River, or after their arrival in the Willamette Valley. It is true Fort Vancouver might have been captured and destroyed. That would have given no permanent relief. That would probably have been the beginning of a war between the United States and Great Britain. Even without a war the settlement of Oregon would have been delayed for many years. And all of the Oregon Country north of the Columbia River might have been lost to the United States.

Sir George Simpson, the Governor in Chief of the Hudson's Bay Company, severely criticized Dr. McLoughlin for his assistance to the immigrants. There was an acrimonious correspondence between them on the subject. As I am informed, it was in this correspondence, which I have not seen, that Dr. McLoughlin had written the Hudson's Bay Company that he had furnished these supplies to the immigrants, saying that, as a man of common humanity, it was not possible for him to do otherwise than as he did; that he had only done what anyone truly a man would have done. That it was then insisted by Governor Simpson that Dr. McLoughlin should no longer assist any needy immigrants, or help any other immigrants. To this Dr. McLoughlin made the noble reply, "Gentlemen, if such is your order, I will serve you no longer." This reply was made by Dr. McLoughlin - the only question is as to the exact time and place it was made.


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