|Memaloose Rest Area|
|OTCC Interpretive Kiosk
The Many Oregon Trails
The Oregon Trail was never a single set of parallel wagon ruts leading from Missouri to the Willamette Valley, nor did it ever consist of a single route. This fact was never more evident than here at Memaloose. Early overlanders passed this site on the Columbia River in Indian canoes, rafts, or Hudson's Bay Company bateaux. In the early 1840s an alternate route was established across the Columbia Plateau to The Dalles, where some emigrants continued via the river, while others drove livestock down its rugged banks. By 1846 Samuel K. Barlow's road across the south flank of Mt. Hood offered emigrants another alternate route to the Willamette Valley. The appearance of steamboats below the Cascades in 1851 presented yet another version of the Oregon Trail.
Fur Trade and the Oregon Country
In 1778 Capt. James Cook sailed along the
Oregon coast. Casual barter between his crew and northern Indians for sea
otter skins ignited an era the fur trade. Trade in furs soon flourished
between the Pacific Northwest. New England and China. Fur trade in the 18th
and early 19th centuries was a profitable business, especially when Indians
were willing to barter valuable pelts for blankets.
"I considered as a great public acquisition the commencement of a settlement on that point of the western coast of North America, and looked forward with gratification to the time when its descendants would have spread themselves through the whole length of that coast, covering it with free and independent Americans, unconnected with us except by the ties of blood and interest, and enjoying like us the rights of self-government." Thornas Jefferson. 3rd President of the United States
The Oregon Question
In 1818 Great Britain and the United States agreed by convention that their citizens could engage in commerce in the Oregon country without prejudice to either nation's claims. Spain surrendered its claims to the Oregon country in 1819, but Great Britain and the United States continued to argue the relative strength of their claims for many years. During the 1840's the "Oregon Question" was an issue of great national concern -- the presidential election of 1844 was characterized by James K. Polk's belligerent campaign slogan "Fifty-four forty or fight." Polk was prepared to fight unless the British rescinded claims to all lands south of 54 degrees 40 minutes. In 1846, three years after the first large emigration on the Oregon Trail, a treaty established the 49th parallel as the northern boundary of the United States.
Literary Oregon Trail
Approximately 500,000 emigrants trekked westward along the oregon-California
Trails during the covered wagon era: 1841-1866. Deep wagon
ruts and scars are still visible at many sites along the overland route.
provide silent, but stark evidence of the arduous journey. considerably
less mute and far more poignant, however, are the more than 2,000 emigrant
journals that comprise the literary oregon Trail. these diaries reflect both
the personalities and varied backgrounds of their authors--determined,
strong-willed individuals who gave up everything to start anew in the wilderness.
although some diarists were more eloquent than others, all recorded
powerful accounts of the Oregon Trail.
Oregon Trail emigrants were by and large substantial citizens. Roughly $800 to $1200 was required to obtain a proper outfit and to provide food and clothing for an entire year before crops could be planted and harvested in Oregon--this was an appreciable sum at a time when Pennsylvania coal miners were earning 44 cents per day. Less affluent overlanders were able to make the trip, but only by hiring on as teamsters, cattle drivers, hunters, or guides.
The United States was as ethnically diverse during the emigration era as it is today, and cultures from around the world were well represented on the Oregon trail. E. S. McComas, emigrant of 1864, found "Americans English Irish Dutch French Spaniards Mexicans Kanackers Negroes Indians Chinamen and ladies of Easy Virtue." Native Americans occupied the land for generations prior to emigration, and they often intermarried with British and French-Canadian fur traders.
Diseases Devastate Tribes
Historians estimate that over 250,000 emigrants used the Oregon Trail, its various cutoffs and alternates to move from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean between 1830 and 1870. Along with wagons, and livestock, the overland migration also brought contagious diseases. A series of epidemics swept through the Willamette Valley and Columbia estuary in the years 1830-32 and destroyed an estimated 75% of the native population. These fevers and accompanying dysentery, referred to by emigranst as "intermittent fever" or the "bloody flux" continued well into the 1840s. When emigrants began arriving in greater numbers during the 1850s, the native population of the prime settlement areas was so reduced that survivors offered little opposition to the appropriation of their lands.
"...we passed a pile of human bones that had been thrown out of a shanty that , I suppose, had been used for a vault. Perhaps they were the remains of Indians who had died of the contagious fever of 1839. the bones were scattered all around,--skulls, backbones, thigh-bones and pelvis in high profusion. Alas, the poor Indian! Not even his bones are allowed the rest of the grave, but are knocked about with the utmost contempt, and of the once powerful tribe of the Cascades but few remain, the remnant of a mighty race..." (Origen Thomson; Sept. 22-27, 1852)
Land Not for Sale
When the first large emigtration of Americans crossed the Oregon Trail in 1843 the native tribes of the Pacific Northwest were not overly alarmed--the region was enormous and could easily absorb the nearly 1,000 new arrivals. Each passing year brought more emigrants, however, and soon with much of the good land in the Willamette Valley taken in 320 acre land claims, settlement began to flow into other parts of the region. The stage was set for tragedy, especially when the federal government insisted that it could buy land from a "head chief." Although the Pacific Northwest tribes were territorial, the concept of land ownership was alien--lifestyle, religion, and identity were intertwined, and all were bound to the land.
"I wonder if this ground has anything to say....The
earth and water and grass say God has given our names and we are told those
names; Neither the Indians or the whites have a right to change those names...the
earth says it was from her man was made. God placing them on the earth
desired them to take good care of the earth and do each other no harm."
(Tauitou, Cayuse Chief, 1855)
Note: There are actually 12 panels at Memaloose, 10 of which are repeated at Ontario Rest Area, the idea being to tell the overall story at both gateway rest areas on I-84. To save loading time I will split them up.