County - The
"Oregon Question" and Provisional Government - Cayuse
was the second of the four original districts
created by the Provisional Legislature in 1843.
Its boundaries were drawn to include all the area
from the Willamette River west to the Pacific
Ocean and from the Yamhill River south to the
California border. The district consisted of 12,000
square miles; however, twelve counties were eventually
created from Yamhill County leaving 709 square
miles within its present borders. The county shares
borders with Washington County to the north, Tillamook
County to the west, Polk County to the south,
and Marion and Clackamas Counties to the east.
county was named for the original inhabitants
of the area, the Yamhill Indians, a tribe of the
Kalapooian family, who lived around the Yamhill
River. The tribe was moved to the Grand Ronde
Reservation in 1855. The earliest non-native settlers
entered the area in 1814; most were employees
of the various fur companies operating in Oregon.
Many of the American immigrants who came over
the Oregon Trail during 1843-1844 settled in the
Yamhill region, which became the agricultural
center of the Willamette Valley.
at one time the principal trading center of the
western Willamette Valley, became the county seat
in 1847. The first courthouse, purchased in 1850,
was originally a county store in LaFayette. The
building was destroyed by fire in January 1857,
and all records except probate and land records
were destroyed. The next courthouse was built
in 1858 and remained in use until the county seat
moved in 1889 to McMinnville where a new courthouse
was built. The fourth and present courthouse was
built in 1964.
County government originally consisted of three
commissioners, district attorney, assessor, clerk,
sheriff, surveyor, and treasurer. In 1964 the
probate function was transferred from the jurisdiction
of the county court to the district court. The
county court was abolished in 1968 and the board
of commissioners was established in 1969.
population of Yamhill County in 2000 was 84,992
representing a 29.66% increase over 1990.
County ranks seventh out of Oregon's thirty-six
counties in annual market value of its agricultural
production. Today, the county's primary industry
is agriculture, specifically wheat, barley, horticulture,
and dairy farming. Yamhill County is also the
center of Oregon's wine industry. One-third of
the county is covered with commercial timber,
and the economic mainstay of the western part
of the county is logging and timber products.
Non-seasonal light industries have also located
in Yamhill County. Nearly one-fifth of the county's
workforce commutes to the Portland metropolitan
of Oregon State Archives
History- The "Oregon Question" and Provisional
was an Indian land but a prize lusted for by two
partisans. In 1845 President James K. Polk informed
Great Britain he wanted resolution of the issue
of sovereignty in the Pacific Northwest. In the
agreement reached in 1828, the nations had one
year in which to resolve the long-simmering "Oregon
Question." Polk was an avowed expansionist. A
Democrat, he sought the presidency in 1844 on
a simple platform: the annexation of Texas and
the occupation of Oregon. The Tyler administration
took care of acquiring Texas before Polk was sworn
into office, but he persisted in an aggressive
agenda of American expansion. Polk campaigned
under the popular slogan "54-40 or fight," a contention
that the southern boundary of Russian America
was the northern boundary of Oregon. He pressed
through diplomatic channels and used his inaugural
address to assert American rights to all of Oregon.
His ambitions far exceeded the area of American
came on June 15, 1846, in the Oregon Treaty. Polk
was already in pursuit of a greater prize--California--and
had helped engineer a declaration of war against
Mexico by massing troops along the Texas border
until they were attacked by Mexican soldiers.
Oregon became a sidebar in the unfolding story
of the Mexican War. While Congress was willing
to plunge the country into a war against its neighbor
to the south, it was opposed to entering a conflict
with Great Britain. That nation, beset with internal
disputes over Corn Law reform, was likewise eager
to reach a settlement. Thus in 1846 the two countries
agreed to extend the boundary on the 49th parallel
westward from the crest of the Rockies to the
primary channel between Vancouver Island and the
continent. British citizens and the Hudson's Bay
Company retained trading and navigational rights
in the Columbia River, though the United States
subsequently terminated those privileges in 1859.
1846 the arguments of the United States to claim
the Oregon Country were founded on more than "discovery
rights." Several thousand Americans had settled
in the region. Every year the arrival of new emigrants
tipped the scale against the Hudson's Bay Company.
The Americans had also established a Provisional
Government. Its genesis came with the death in
1841 of Ewing Young. A former mountain man who
had built up cattle herds in the Chehalem Valley
and owned more than $3,000 in promissory notes
from his neighbors, Young died without heirs.
Residents gathered after his funeral to discuss
what to do with his property. They agreed to name
a committee to draft a civil code. Father Blanchet
served as chair. When they assembled four months
later, Blanchet reported his committee had not
met. Disagreements between French-Canadians and
Americans about the form of self-government and
its powers had created an impasse.
arrival of overland emigrants in 1842 and the
increase of retired fur trappers who settled in
the Willamette Valley with their mixed-blood families
complicated matters. Old settlers and new arrivals
worried about their land claims. They wondered
what might happen if Congress passed Linn's bills
granting lands to Americans who settled in Oregon.
Wild animals brought to a head the decisions for
a government. Grizzlies, black bears, cougars,
and wolves ranged freely in the Willamette Valley.
Their destruction of livestock gave cause in the
spring of 1843 for a "Wolf Meeting." A second
Wolf Meeting led to the decision to create a system
of government. On May 2, 1843, at Champoeg, Joseph
Meek posed the critical question: "Who's for a
divide? All for the report of the committee and
organization follow me," he shouted. By a close
vote, perhaps 52 to 50, those wanting the government
was the significance of the Provisional Government?
In spite of claims that the vote in the spring
of 1843 on French Prairie sealed the fate of American
sovereignty to the Oregon Country, there is no
evidence that the Polk administration weighed
the action. What was important and known to the
decision-makers across the continent was that
an American colony had developed on the shores
of the far Pacific Ocean.
Provisional Government informed the Polk administration
of its existence. It passed memorials in 1843
and 1845 seeking congressional attention to the
needs of Americans in Oregon. The memorial of
June 28, 1845, petitioned for naval yards, mail
service, land grants, military protection, and
territorial status. On December 8 Thomas Hart
Benton presented the document to the Senate. These
endorsements and his election were all the expansionist
President Polk needed in an era when many felt
it was America's manifest destiny to spread from
sea to sea. Whitman's ride across the continent
in 1838 and the events at Champoeg--the lore of
Oregon history--did not tip the scales. The United
States had embarked on a grand scheme of territorial
growth. Oregon was only part of the plan.
Oregon Provisional Government played an important
role in creating order on a frontier. For more
than two decades the Hudson's Bay Company held
and exercised civil authority and control of the
fur trade, while maintaining peace in dealing
with Indian tribes. Its power did not extend to
American settlers and ended in 1846 with the Oregon
Treaty. The Provisional Government filled the
void. It provided for laws governing land claims,
instituted taxation, formed counties, created
the offices of governor and legislators, and set
up a court system. Popularly elected representatives
hammered out these decisions between 1843 and
1845. The proposals were often revised, for newly
arrived emigrants increased the electorate and
brought their experience and men with political
ambitions. The Provisional Government was in constant
flux, but George Abernethy, a former lay worker
for the Methodist Mission, continued as governor.
Henry Brown collected the correspondence and decisions
made in Oregon City and published them as Brown's
Political History of Oregon (1892). He dedicated
his documentary volume to the "intrepid men and
women" who helped lay the foundation of the Pacific
states and "builded better than they knew." The
legislature patterned many of its laws on those
of the Iowa Territory, including weights and measures,
criminal codes, and vagrancy. In 1843 the legislature
put bounties on wolves, panthers, bears, and lynxes.
Cash payments for the skin of the head with ears
of these animals soon decimated their population
and led to the extinction of several species in
Oregon. The Law of Land Claims permitted individuals
to file on as much as a square mile, but only
one claim at a time, and restricted filings on
key town sites or waterpower locations.
Provisional Legislature banned permanent residency
of free African-Americans and mulattoes. Any reaching
age 18 had two years to leave the Oregon Country,
as did anyone held in slavery. The initial penalty
for failure to leave was not less than 20 nor
more than 39 lashes. In 1844 the legislature amended
the law to put violators out to low bid for public
labor and removal. The law, though never enforced,
confirmed the racial prejudice of the frontier
generation moving into the Willamette Valley.
winds swept across the Columbia Plateau. In November
1847, they heralded the onset of the winter of
discontent. Too long had the Cayuse Indians suffered
from new diseases and the failed ministrations
of Dr. Marcus Whitman. In their culture a shaman
or curer who failed was subject to death. This
doctor, a strapping, determined white man had
come into their lands uninvited. The mission he
and his wife established worked like a magnet
to draw emigrants. Each year the wagon trains
descended the Blue Mountains and, like the grasshoppers
that swept across the countryside, they heralded
discomforting changes. Smallpox, measles, fevers,
death, and mourning came in their wake.
November 29, 1847, a band of Cayuse men, fed by
fear and resentment, fell upon the missionary
station. In a matter of hours they murdered Marcus
and Narcissa Whitman and a dozen others. Two more
died subsequently of exposure and 47, many orphaned
children of emigrants, were taken captive. The
Spaldings fled Lapwai and skirted the Cayuse homeland
in their dash to safety. Panic swept through the
Willamette settlements. Initially the settlers
thought the tribes of the Columbia Plateau might
drive through the Gorge and attempt to murder
Provisional Legislature faced its greatest test.
While Peter Skene Ogden of the Hudson's Bay Company
was rushing east with 16 men to try to ransom
the hostages, Governor Abernethy called for "immediate
and prompt action." The legislature authorized
raising companies of volunteers to go to war against
the Cayuse Tribe. It entrusted command to Colonel
Cornelius Gilliam and named a committee to negotiate
with the Hudson's Bay Company for loans of arms,
ammunition, and supplies to mount the campaign.
The government wrestled with two approaches: one,
to send peace commissioners to try to persuade
the Cayuse to turn over the perpetrators; and,
two, to wage a war of retribution. In short order
it did both. Governor Abernethy appointed a peace
commission--Joel Palmer, Henry A.G. Lee, and Robert
Newell. Gilliam, who did not approve of the commission,
set out in January 1848 with more than 500 volunteers.
Cayuse War became, at times, a war of nerves.
The peace commissioners and friendly Indians tried
to end hostilities and get the Cayuse to turn
over the killers of those at the Whitman station.
Gilliam and his forces, eager for action, provoked
conflicts with both friendly and hostile Indians.
In March, having persuaded the Cayuse to surrender
five men, the military brought them to Oregon
City. They were charged, tried, and hanged in
1850. The guilt of the five Indians and the jurisdiction
of the court were not fully established. Controversy
swirled for decades after this trial--the first
culminating in capital punishment following legal
proceedings in the Oregon Territory.
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