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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.

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