Oregon State History

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General State History
Historic Figures

General Oregon State History

About thirteen thousand years ago the first native Americans had arrived in the Northwest from Mongolia by way of Siberia and Alaska. The Indian pictographs on canyon walls and legends of the Northwest's earliest historic accounts provide the story of how Oregon was shaped by the ocean, volcanoes and rain. Many Oregon names are derived from Indian tribal names, such as Multnomah, Willamette, Siuslaw and Clackamas.

The native Americans were followed many centuries later by Spanish and British mariners seeking the fabled "great river of the west." It was an American, however, Captain John Gray, who in 1792 discovered the great river and named it for his ship, The Columbia. Captain Gray was one of the first white men to enter Oregon.

This discovery prompted Thomas Jefferson in 1804 to send the exploring team of Lewis and Clark overland to gain more knowledge of the region and to find out if there was a northwest passage. They found that the passage did not exist, but laid claim to the territory. Their expedition, along with Captain Gray's trip, gave the United States a strong stake in the land.

Early trappers and fur traders made exciting explorations, finding the bounty that Oregon provided. The British Hudson's Bay Company, led by Dr. John McLoughlin, became the dominant force in the economy. This fur-trading company directed activities throughout the region and built the original capital of the Oregon Territory in Oregon City at the northern end of the Willamette Valley.

It wasn't until the 1840s, however, that the main influx of people began. Pioneers from the East Coast border states and merchants traveling by ship from New England increased the Oregon population, leading to the creation of the Oregon Territory in 1848 and statehood in 1859.

The emigrants, traveling by wagon, crossed the Oregon Trail from 1841 to 1860, covering 2,000 miles from Missouri to Western Oregon. The majority of the pioneers settled in the fertile Willamette Valley. Discoveries of gold on the coast and in the high country led to settlement in these regions as well. These latter settlements, however, provoked tragic Indian wars which lasted many years. The Rogue River, Modoc, Paiute, Bannock and Nez Perce Indian wars all concluded with the Indians surrendering their land.

When the railroads came to Oregon in the 1870s the agriculture industry no longer required direct access to waterways because supplies could be transported overland. The arrival of the automobile quickened the urban growth of the state, and the depletion of eastern forests brought logging to Oregon on a huge scale. Many of the millions of visitors to Oregon's Lewis and Clark Exposition in 1905 were tempted to stay. Oregon's pioneer spirit has continued on through the years in many ways that have influenced the rest of the country. Citizens are supportive of the environment, cultural affairs and a life style that combines urban conveniences with the wonders of our wilderness. Oregon has a beloved place in the lives of its residents and they enjoy sharing their history, products and beauty with others.
Oregon Historic Figures

Abigail Scott Duniway
1834-1915: Suffragist; born near Groveland, Ill. She moved with her family to Oregon (1852) and taught school briefly. She married a farmer in 1853 but in 1863 her husband was injured and became an invalid. She supported their six children as a teacher and by running a millinery shop and became keenly aware of inequality between the sexes. She organized the Equal Rights Society in Oregon (1870) and, with the help of her six children, published the weekly newspaper The New Northwest (1871--87) and continued to work for women's rights. She drafted the resolution that gave the vote to women in Washington Territory (1883) and was instrumental in winning the suffrage in Idaho (1896), the state of Washington (1910), and Oregon (1912). In her day she was noted for disagreeing with many other national leaders over linking the women's right to vote with other reforms such as the prohibition of alcohol. In addition to her account of the suffrage movement in the Northwest (1914), she published two novels and poetry.


Robert Gray
1755-1806: Navigator, explorer; born in Tiverton, R.I. A naval veteran of the American Revolution and then a merchant seaman, he became a fur trader in Boston. He commanded the Columbia for most of its 42,000-mile voyage (1787--90), the first American ship to circumnavigate the globe. After a refitting in Boston, he took the Columbia around to the Northwest coast near Vancouver Island; in the course of his explorations, he discovered a large river (1792) that he named the Columbia (after his ship); later his discoveries in the region became the basis of the U.S. claim to the Oregon territories. He died at sea on a voyage to Charleston, N.C.


Chief Joseph
1835-1904: Nez Perce chief; born in the Wallowa Valley of present-day Oregon. A peaceful leader of a peaceful tribe, he was forced into a state of war in 1877 and helped lead 750 of his people on a 1,500-mile flight to Canada. Within 40 miles of the border, his people starving and freezing, he surrendered in October 1877, delivering an oft-quoted speech at the event. After being held in Oklahoma, he returned to the northwest (1885), where he encouraged his people to get an education and to abstain from drinking and gambling.


Raymond Carver
1938-88: Writer, poet; born in Clatskanie, Ore. He studied at Humboldt State University (now California State University: Humboldt) (B.A. 1963), University of Iowa (1963--64), and worked at various low-paying jobs. Later he taught at many institutions and was based in Port Angeles, Wash. He is known as a writer of spare and realistic poetry and short fiction that addresses the irrationality and violence present in all human relationships, as in Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? (1976) and What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (1981).


Linus Pauling
1901-94: Chemist; born in Portland, Ore. After taking his Ph.D. at the California Institute of Technology (1925) and then two years of study abroad, he returned to that institution for most of his professional career (1927--63). In his later years he was associated with the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions (1963--69), the University of California: San Diego (1967--69) and Stanford University (1969). His early research used X-ray crystallography to study the nature of chemical bonding; in 1928 he published his resonance theory of bonding, and his work on molecule structure opened up new areas to modern chemistry. This work would win him the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1954. In the 1930s he turned his attention to biochemistry, and among other achievements, he correctly postulated that the shapes of antigens and their antibodies are complementary; his pioneering work on complex organic molecules such as proteins also led to his discovery that sickle-cell anemia resulted from a hereditary defect in blood hemoglobin. As the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union led to tests of atomic weapons (1950s), Pauling and other scientists became increasingly concerned about the potential genetic damage from the radioactive fallout. In 1957 he drew up an appeal, eventually signed by more than 11,000 scientists in 49 countries, to halt the tests. His efforts led to a temporary moratorium (beginning in 1958) and then to a treaty banning above-ground testing (1963); for this effort he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (1962), thereby becoming the first person to win two unshared Nobel prizes. In the late 1960s, he became interested in the biological effects of vitamin C, which led him to his controversial theory of orthomolecular medicine, with its claim that massive doses of vitamin C could prevent or cure various diseases.