Correspondence of the Oregon Superintendency
Southern Oregon-related correspondence with the Oregon Superintendency for Indian Affairs.
Laurel, Indiana, March 21st 1845Dear Sir
We are fitting out an expedition to go to Oregon, the company to start from here about the middle of April. We go unencumbered with families or other fixtures to retard our progress, the object to explore the country and make a permanent location. Some of us have families, but are to leave them until permanently located, and among the latter is your humble servant. My object in writing is to ascertain the feelings of our government in relation to settling that portion of our country and to obtain such information as would be likely to aid us in our expedition, and whether it would be practicable for the government to afford us any aid in the way of arms and other equipments as also whether there is any restrictions as far [as] the right to trade with the natives, and whether it will be necessary for us to purchase the right of soil of the natives, and if so purchased, will the government recognize such purchases. Inasmuch as the Congress have refused to extend our laws over that country, I suppose those who go there, in connection with these, when [they] are there will enact their own laws, but inasmuch as many of those who emigrate there is for the purpose of speculating and not for permanent settlement, their interests may lead them to a course of policy directly in opposition to the interest of the government, and to those who design making it a home. A policy may be pursued which will not only involve the settlers but the general government in endless difficulties with the natives, as also with the British. We should at least have some concert of action, and if it be practicable, act under the sanction of the general government. If we ever expect to assert our rights to that country, it seems there could be no better way to carry it into effect than to give some inducements to her own citizens to emigrate thither. But this is already foreseen by you, but my [by?] me not. Humble, private citizens as we are confidently anticipate such information and encouragement as is in the power of the department to extend to us. Our company is composed of men of both political parties. I however claim to be a political friend of the present administration and done all I could in my humble way to elevate them to their present position, but I claim nothing for this, it being nothing more than my duty. It would afford me great pleasure if you would favor this with a reply.
Your humble servt.To Wm. L. Marcy, Sec. War
NARA Series M234, Letters Received by the Office of Indian Affairs, Reel 607 Oregon Superintendency 1842-1852, frames 319-320.
Oregon City OregonMy Dear Sir
July 1st 1845
I have written you twice since my arrival in this country; my last--quite lengthy--in Nov. last, and forwarded via Sandwich Islands, which I hope you have received.
The earnest wishes and sincere prayers of the great majority of the citizens of this country, that our federal government should take some immediate action in relation to our rights here--which I mentioned therein--I hope will have some influence in hastening that much-desirable result, though from accounts lately received from the States we do not learn of anything being done up to that time.
Our provisional government progresses pretty well, considering the scarcity of talent and the fewness of our statesmen to carry on its operations. But still it has little firmness or stability, as all are looking daily for some change, in anticipation of the extension of the U. States' laws over us. The doubt also which hangs about the speedy settlement of the Oregon question--which some here think will be several years hence--has a tendency to render things very unsettled with us, preventing the rise and sale of property, as well as producing a want of confidence among the people, as many came hither and remain only upon condition of soon seeing the broad and boasted banner of our great republic waving in security over us. I fear too that our amicable relations existing with the Hudson's Bay Co. will not be of long continuance, should the present position of affairs remain. Our government here claims jurisdiction as far north as the Russian line, but owing to the sparseness of American population north of the Columbia it is not pretended as yet to enforce our laws in full on that side, and though at present the operations of the H.B. Co.--with the exception of their establishment in the Willamette Valley--are excluded from the organization, the time cannot be far distant when a demand for the full enforcement of our laws north of the Columbia must necessarily lead to a change of our present relations towards that company. That this change can be effected, and they enter our compact upon just and equitable terms to both parties in peace and harmony, is what I much question. I do not think they have the least anticipation of winding up their affairs and withdrawing from the country south of the forty-ninth parallel of N. latitude, nearer than which I have not the smallest suspicion the line will--when determined--approach the Columbia. Their numerous herds, extensive farming operations, mills &c., which would be thus included in American domain, together with their increasing interests and connections with the population of the country generally--many of whom are much indebted to them--is proof of their determination to remain in the country, let who will be lords of the soil. The policy of the gentlemen of this company is very noncommittal--though jealous about Americans visiting & exploring it, throwing some slight obstacles in the way--in reference to their sentiments about the future jurisdiction of the country north of the Columbia, although I have no doubt they are using all their influence with the British Cabinet to have that river the boundary, and anticipate a town being built on the site of Fort Vancouver, for which it is well situated in my opinion.
One of their chief traders, who resides in Oregon City and attends to their affairs in this part of the country, was chosen treasurer at the late election. His opponent--an American--contested it as illegal, upon the ground of his being a servant of the H.B. Co. and therefore his time and services not at his disposal. The legislature, before whom it was tried, decided that according to the Organic Laws which were adopted at the first organization he was eligible to the office.
We have no political parties in Oregon based upon any of the points of difference that are agitating and dividing our citizens in the States, but considerable animosity and opposition is existing in regard to the Hudson Bay Co. This is mostly confined to the more unthinking and prejudiced persons, as the calm and sensible portion of our population generally are willing to admit that that company has done but little, as yet, to merit such unqualified opposition and abuse. They seem to take a very great interest in the welfare of the community at large, and are quite liberal and accommodating in their dealings towards most of the settlers. But whether any of this is apart from very selfish & politic motives, time alone must determine with me, as I am not sufficiently acquainted with the gentleman who manages this concern, nor their secret policy, to say anything regarding the sincerity of these professions.
There are also many with us who are opposed to any considerable legislation--are for having but few officers--and at the late elections defeated a call made for a convention to frame a constitution. This last move will no doubt be an injury to the country, as the legislature, having nothing particularly to be guided by, nor any check upon their proceedings--the Organic Laws being so few and imperfect--will be too much engaged in undoing what a previous body had. This they are already at, and I fear if the country be much longer left to itself things will assume an anarchical tendency, though I hope much from the law-loving & -abiding principles which have been instilled into the most of our American citizens.
A party leaves every spring for California--some few with the intention of returning with cattle. One of about fifty persons left a month since. The emigration thither will increase, should the revolution there--the news of which we have just received--retain its present features, that is, the party to which the foreigners & liberals are attached being in the ascendancy. The sentiment seems to prevail generally this side [of] the Rocky Mountains that California is destined very soon to be entirely under American Anglo-Saxon rule, Mexico nolens volens, and England too. All those who go from here entertain but little idea of remaining long under Spanish government.
There will be a settlement made south on the Umpqua River next, provided the immigration be a large one. I can learn but little definite relative to the country & its character north of the Columbia, as there is much conflicting in the descriptions I have had of it. The country about Puget's Sound and between that and the Columbia is much of it fine land for farming & grazing, alternating with fine timber & prairies. Gray's or Chehalis harbor is good, and vessels can run in there during bad & stormy weather when an entrance cannot be effected into the Columbia, although the latter is of much safer entrance than is generally believed in the U. States. Commodore Wilkes had his reasons--it is thought--for making such an unfavorable report of this harbor. The large island of Vancouver has much fine agricultural land & good climate. 'Tis my intention to better inform myself respecting this north country from personal observation during the summer, if it be in my power, but as I shall have to depend somewhat upon the Hudson's Bay Co. in facilitating my prosecution of this design I may be disappointed.
I forward this letter by a small party accompanying Dr. White, the U.S. Oregon Ind. agent, who starts over the mountains in a few days. The Doctor goes 'tis understood principally to seek a higher appointment in this country--the office of Governor. But for the sake of our country's honor, dignity and prosperity, I hope he may not even get a reappointment in his present office, as our government has been but little honored or benefited by his administration here, either in the eyes of our own citizens or those of foreigners. He assumed prerogatives there, upon his arrival, which were entirely beyond his powers, but pretended to claim them, as the Secretary of War in his instructions to him said that much discretionary action was left him. But I presume the Secy. of War never intended to allow what he had no power nor authority to give, for this agent to meddle with and dictate the internal law and policy of the whites here, as well as guilty of some high-handed and uncalled-for measures towards the Indians. His operations among these have been attended with but little if any success, although he has forwarded to government, along with his dispatches, some letters of approbation and praise, obtained (which he has a great talent for) from a part of the missionaries here. From those same men such letters could not now be got, as his tampering with and deceiving the Indians has in the end produced more harm than his previous measures bid fair to be benefited.
As for the office of Governor here, the people want--which is absolutely necessary in our far-off and isolated condition--a man distinguished for learning stern moral integrity and firmness of character--neither of which is possessed in the slightest degree by Dr. White. Indeed the opposition to him is so great, and so well founded, that should such an appointment be made, the people would refuse to receive him as such; his fickleness and instability, as well as his notorious character for duplicity and falsehood rendering him, in the eyes of nearly all, unfit and unworthy of any office of trust or honor. I think some of his charges against the treasury may be found uncalled-for, unwarrantable and in some instances not expended.
This report of our agent I have thought it my duty as an American citizen to make, the truth of which I can vouch for, nor has it been in the least colored by any feelings of personal dislike towards him.
Some merchants went to the S. Islands last month to purchase goods--which we much need at present--on a brig belonging to Mr. Cushing of Newburyport, Mass., who has an establishment at Oregon City. There is considerable demand there for the articles exported from Oregon at present--flour, salmon & lumber. These the country can now ship off in considerable quantities, and will ere long be heavy articles of export.
A Hudson's Bay Co. vessel has but lately arrived from the Islands, bringing a little U. States news, [up] to sometime in November, and though the full result of the election was not given, we have sufficient to infer that you have been chosen by your fellow citizens to fill the high & responsible office of President of our republic. And though we are so far from our native soil as to have been unexcited and uninfluenced by the warmth and party zeal which no doubt attended your campaign, yet the choice of chief magistrate will be approved of by a majority of Oregonians.
I hope to have the pleasure of paying you my respects in person before this time next year, as I expect to leave Oregon for the States next fall, to go via S. Islands and perhaps City of Mexico. My health, which principally caused my journey hither, is now restored, and I look forward with pleasing anticipation to a return to my friends and society in the States.
To your lady present my kindest feelings of regard and admiration--and believe me to be
With sentiments of the highestJames K. Polk
Consideration & esteem, your
Very devoted & obt. svt.
Chas. E. Pickett
of the U. States
NARA Series M234, Letters Received by the Office of Indian Affairs, Reel 607 Oregon Superintendency 1842-1852, frames 425-432.
Last revised August 18, 2016