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Oregon Country

Oregon Country, also known as Oregon Territory, was a territory that originally consisted of the land north of 42N latitude, south of 5440'N latitude, and west of the Rocky Mountains and East of the Pacific Ocean. The territory now forms part of the present day Canadian province of British Columbia and the US-states of Oregon and Washington. It was originally claimed by the United States, Great Britain, Russia, and Spain. Spain gave up its claim in 1819 as part of the Transcontinental Treaty. The United States told Russia it was not welcome in the territory in 1823, and Russia eventually gave up aid when the United States jointly occupied the territory with many conflicts. President James Knox Polk even campaigned with the slogan 5440 or Fight! in the 1844 US Presidential election. This referred to the northern border of the territory. The two countries eventually divided the territory on the 49th parallel in the 1846 Oregon Treaty. This border now divides the United States and Canada.

In the 1820s Americans began to migrate to this land land which was beyond the Rocky Mountains. A few American Indian groups had lived in this region for centuries. The first Europeans to come to this region were Yankee merchants from New England, who traded for furs with these Indians in the late 1700s.

After the Lewis and Clark Expedition, more fur traders, such as Jebediah Smith and Jim Beckworth, now known as mountain men, were searching the Rocky Mountains for beaver pelts. These trappers adopted Indian ways and many of them even married Indian women. They used Indian trials in the Rockies which went to California and Oregon.

The region later known as Oregon Country had been claimed by the United States, Great Britain, Russia and Spain, by the early 1800s. A treaty called the Convention of 1818 was signed between the United States and Britain agreeing to joint occupation of the Oregon Country. Spain gave up its claim in the region in the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819, and Russia gave up its claim in 1825. Some years later, the Country has been split and became part of the USA and Canada.


Landscape in Oregon Country, by Charles Marion Russell

As eastern United States churches started to hear news of the Oregon Country, some of them decided to send missionaries to convert the Indians. Jason Lee, a methodist minister from New York, was the first of these Oregon missionaries. He built a mission school for Indians in the Willamette Valley.

Alexander Ross, an early fur trader describes part of the Oregon Country:

"The banks of the river throughout are low and skirted in the distance by a chain of moderately high lands on each side, interspersed here and there with clumps of widespreading oaks, groves of pine, and a variety of other kinds of woods. Between these high lands lie what is called the valley of the Wallamitte, the frequented haunts of innumerable herds of elk and deer.... . In ascending the river the surrounding country is most delightful, and the first barrier to be meet with is about forty miles up from its mouth. Here the navigation is interrupted by a ledge of rocks, running across the river from side to side in the form of an irregular horseshoe, over which the whole body of water falls at one leap down a precipice of about forty feet, called the Falls."

In 1844, democrat James K. Polk used the campaign slogan "Fifty-four forty or fight," during his campaign arguing that the United States was entitled to the whole region, i.e., to lat. 5440N, the recognized southern boundary of Russian America.

In 1846, a gentlemen's agreement between the United States and Great Britain, split the territory in half.

See also