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Dr. John McLoughlin
The Shortess Petition


The enemies of Dr. McLoughlin then determined to send a petition to Congress. It is said that this petition was drawn by George Abernethy, who then, as steward of the Mission, kept its store at Oregon City, and had charge of all its secular affairs, but that Abernethy was unwilling to have it known that he was connected with the petition, so it was copied by a clerk, named Albert E. Wilson. Abernethy wished to appear friendly to Dr. McLoughlin; to act otherwise might hurt the Mission and Abernethy in his business. The first signature to this petition was that of Robert Shortess, who arrived in the Willamette Valley in April, 1840. He joined the Methodist Church about 1841. He was then intense in his dislike of the Hudson's Bay Company and its officers. From the fact that he was the first signer, this petition is known as the "Shortess petition." It was signed by sixty-five persons. Of these about one-third were immigrants of 1842, who had been in the country less than six months. This petition is addressed to Congress. It is dated March 25, 1843. It begins with a short statement that the petitioners have no laws to govern them. That "where the highest court of appeal is the rifle, safety in life and property cannot be depended on." Until these people attempted unfairly to take Dr. McLough-lin's land, the Golden Rule had prevailed and the appeal to the rifle was always "conspicuous by its absence." This petition then calls attention to the domination of the Hudson's Bay Company, and its successful opposition to Bonneville and Wyeth, and that that Company formerly would not sell cattle, and its opposition to the loan of cows and the return of the increase, which is true; and that in case of the death of a cow, the settler had to pay -which is false.

This petition further sets forth that in 1842 the settlers formed a company for supplying lumber and flour. That they selected an island at the falls of the Willamette. That after commencing they were informed by Dr. McLoughlin that the land was his. This is true, as to the company and the information by Dr. McLoughlin, but false, by indirection, in this, that they knew the island for years had been claimed by him as his property. The petition proceeds, "However, he erected a shed on the island, after the stuff was on the island to build a house, and then gave them permission to build under certain restrictions. They took the paper he wrote them containing his conditions, but did not obligate themselves to comply with the conditions, as they did not think his claim just or reasonable." In the latter statement the members of the Oregon Milling Company, who signed the petition, stated an estoppel to themselves. They could not enter into possession under conditions and then refuse to abide by them. This was pleading themselves out of Court, not to mention their admitted breach of faith.

This petition then mentions the erection of the saw-mill by the Oregon Milling Company and complains of the erection of a mill by Dr. McLoughlin, and says that he can manufacture lumber cheaper than the Milling Company can. Nevertheless, the Oregon Milling Company succeeded. This petition then goes into puerility about the measurement of wheat by the Hudson's Bay Company, which Dr. White in his report, dated April i, 1843, to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and hereinbefore referred to, says is untrue, for he knows the measure to be exact. This petition does not state (which is true) that when Dr. McLoughlin found that wheat weighed more than sixty pounds to the bushel, he raised the price paid to settlers, correspondingly. This petition sets forth, however, that Dr. McLoughlin had surveyed his claim, platted it, and called it Oregon City; and that he had given a notice dated January 18, 1843, requiring all persons claiming lots on his land, before February 1, 1843, to apply for a deed, or a bond for a deed, as the case might be, which he would give. Dr. McLoughlin required a payment of five dollars to his attorney for making the deed or bond. As these people were all trespassers, it would seem that this action of Dr. McLoughlin was a very generous one.

There is a very significant phrase in the Shortess petition, which indicates that the conspiracy to deprive Dr. McLoughlin of his land claim had its inception before that time. In this petition, after saying that Dr. McLoughlin did not own his Oregon City land claim, it is said "and which we hope he never will own." This phrase is omitted in the copy of the Shortess petition in Gray's History of Oregon and in Brown's Political History of Oregon. This phrase is referred to in Thurston's speech of December 26, 1850, as justifying his actions in giving Dr. McLoughlin's land claim to Oregon for an university. I shall not discuss some of the allegations of this petition, as they are trivial and unimportant. This petition was given to W. C. Sutton to be taken to Washington. Dr. McLoughlin applied to Shortess for a copy of this petition, but the request was refused.


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