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Dr. John McLoughlin
Protests against Thurston's Actions


As shown in Dr. McLoughlin's printed letter of September 12, 1850, Thurston had sent to a confidant in Oregon, with instructions for secrecy, a printed copy of his letter to the House of Representatives. He also sent a printed copy of the bill for the Donation Land Law. These arrived in Oregon late in August or early in September, 1850. The eleventh section of the latter began to be noised about, and Thurston's friends, who were not in the conspiracy, met the charge with scornful denials. They said such a thing was not possible. But it was.48 There were Oregon pioneers who protested. Before the law passed, when the intended action of Thurston became known, in relation to said section eleven, on September 19, 1850, a public meeting was held in Oregon City. Resolutions were passed declaring that the selection of the Oregon City claim for an university reservation was uncalled for by any considerable portion of the citizens of the Territory, and was invidious and unjust to Dr. McLoughlin; and that he "merits the gratitude of multitudes of persons in Oregon for the timely and long-continued assistance rendered by him in the settlement of this Territory." At the same time a memorial to Congress was signed by fifty-six persons, which set forth that Dr. McLoughlin had taken up the Oregon City claim like other claims in the Territory, and it had been held by him in accordance with the Provisional and Territorial governments of Oregon; that the memorialists have ever regarded it as entitled to protection as fully as other claims, without an intimation to the contrary from any official source until that time; that under this impression, both before and especially since March 4, 1849, large portions of it in blocks and lots had been purchased in good faith by many citizens of Oregon, who had erected valuable buildings thereon, in many instances, in the expectation of having a complete and sufficient title when Congress should grant a title to Dr. McLoughiin, as was confidently expected; that since March 4, 1849, he had donated for county, educational, charitable, and religious purposes more than two hundred lots. They, therefore, remonstrated against the passage of the bill in its present form, believing that it would work a "severe, inequitable, unnecessary, and irremediable injustice." There were no telegraph lines in Oregon or California in those days. And the bill was a law eight days thereafter.

I am happy to say that among those who took part in these proceedings and signed this memorial were my father, James D. Holman, a pioneer of 1846, and my uncle, Woodford C. Holman, a pioneer of 1845. October 26, 1850, a public meeting was held at Salem, the stronghold of the Mission Party. At this meeting a committee on resolutions was appointed. The resolutions reported by the committee were adopted. They "highly approved all the actions of Samuel R. Thurston in Congress," and said "that facts well known in Oregon will sustain him in all he has said about Dr. McLoughlin and the H. B. Company." Another of these resolutions heartily approved the course taken by Thurston, in Congress upon the Donation Land Bill "especially that part which relates to the Oregon City claim," and "that if that claim should be secured to Dr. McLoughlin it would, in effect, be donating land to the H. B. Company." Another of these resolutions was, "That in the opinion of this meeting, the children of Oregon have a better right to the balance of that claim [Oregon City claim] than Dr. McLoughlin." Another of these resolutions was, "That the H. B. Company, with Dr. McLoughlin as their fugleman, have used every means that could be invented by avarice, duplicity, cunning, and deception to retard American settlement, and cripple the growth of American interests in Oregon."

There are certain qualities in some men which move them never to forgive a favor bestowed on them; to ruin those they have wronged or cheated; to endeavor to cover with obloquy those they have lied about; and to seek to hurt any one of better quality than they are. As a native son of Oregon I am ashamed of some of its pioneers and their actions. But in such a movement as the early settling of Oregon, there were, of necessity, some men of coarse fiber, and of doubtful integrity and honor. But such men were rare exceptions. To the honor of the overwhelming majority of the Oregon pioneers, be it said that they took no part in these actions against Dr. McLoughlin, nor did they endorse or sympathize with Thurston's actions and those of his co-conspirators against Dr. McLoughlin.

It must be borne in mind that many thousands of people, men, women, and children, came to Oregon in the immigrations after 1846. There were probably in the immigrations of 1847 to 1850, inclusive, an aggregate of more than ten thousand people, the number of men being in the ratio of about one to four. The immigration of 1847 was composed of over four thousand persons. These later immigrants did not experience the difficulties which beset the earlier immigrants along the Columbia River and from there to the Willamette Valley. They did not need the assistance of Dr. McLoughlin which the immigrants of 1843, 1844, and 1845 did. They found Oregon City a small but thriving settlement. Some of them were easily led to believe that Dr. McLoughlin was not entitled to his land claim, which they thought was a valuable one, especially as he was technically a British subject. But most of them were friendly to him for his kindness to them, and for what he had done for the earlier immigrants. They appreciated that he was justly entitled to his land claim. The love of justice and fair play were predominant traits of most Oregon pioneers.

The Oregon Donation Land Law. The Donation Land Law passed and was approved by the President September 27, 1850. Section 4 "granted to every white settler or occupant of the public lands, American half-breed Indians included, above the age of eighteen years, being a citizen of the United States, or having made a declaration, according to law, of his intention to become a citizen, or who shall make such declaration on or before the first day of December, eighteen hundred and fifty-one, now residing in such territory, or who shall become a resident thereof on or before the first day of December, 1850, and who shall have resided upon and cultivated the same for four consecutive years, and shall otherwise conform to the provisions of this act," 320 acres of land, if a single man, or if a married man, 640 acres, 320 acres being for his wife. The last sentence of Section 4 is as follows: "Provided further, however, that this section shall not be so construed as to allow those claiming rights under the treaty with Great Britain, relative to the Oregon territory, to claim both under this grant and the treaty, but merely to secure them the election and confine them to a single grant of land."

Section eleven of said Donation Law is as follows: "Sec. 11. And be it further enacted, That what is known as the 'Oregon City Claim,' excepting the Abernethy Island, which is hereby confirmed to the legal assigns of the Willamette Milling and Trading Companies, shall be set apart and be at the disposal, of the Legislative Assembly, the proceeds thereof to be applied, by said Legislative Assembly, to the establishment and endowment of a university, to be located at such place in the territory as the Legislative Assembly may designate; Provided, however, That all lots and parts of lots in said claim, sold or granted by Doctor John McLoughlin, previous to the fourth of March, eighteen hundred and forty-nine, shall be confirmed to the purchaser or donee, or their assigns, to be certified to the commissioner of the general land office by the surveyor-general, and patents to issue on said certificates, as in other cases: Provided, further, That nothing in this act contained shall be so construed and executed as in any way to destroy or affect any rights to land in said territory, holden or claimed under the provisions of the treaty or treaties existing between this country and Great Britain." By the "Oregon City claim" is meant Dr. McLoughlin's land claim. This section eleven is unjust in its treatment of Dr. McLoughlin. Not that Congress was to blame. It did not know the facts. Did not the first Delegate from Oregon advocate it? Did not the first Territorial Chief Justice of Oregon then in Washington, advise it? And did not the Delegate and the Chief Justice say that Dr. McLoughlin was so dangerous and unprincipled a man as not be entitled to his land claim? And that he refused to become an American citizen? There was not even a recognition of Dr. McLoughlin's right to the improvements which he had placed on his land claim. And there, in all its infamy, said section eleven stands on the statute books today. If the assigns of the Milling Company were entitled to Abernethy Island, why should not the courts have settled the matter according to law and justice, as other contested land claims were settled?


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