Oregon is a state in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. It is bordered on its west by the Pacific Ocean, on its north by Washington, on its south by California, on its east by Idaho, and on its southeast by Nevada. The Columbia River delineates much of Oregon's northern boundary, and the Snake River delineates much of the eastern boundary. It is one of only three states of the contiguous United States to have a coastline on the Pacific Ocean.
Oregon was inhabited by many indigenous tribes before traders, explorers, and settlers arrived. An autonomous government was formed in the Oregon Country in 1843, the Oregon Territory was created in 1848, and Oregon became the 33rd state on February 14, 1859. Today, Oregon is the 9th largest and 27th most populous U.S. state. Its capital is Salem, the second most populous of its cities, with 160,614 residents (2013 estimate). With 609,456 residents (2013 estimate), Portland is the largest city in Oregon and ranks 29th in the U.S. Its metro population of 2,314,554 (2013 estimate) is 24th. The Willamette Valley in western Oregon is the state's most densely populated area, home to eight of the ten most populous cities.
Oregon's landscape is diverse, with a windswept Pacific coastline; a volcano-studded Cascade Range; abundant bodies of water in and west of the Cascades; dense evergreen, mixed, and deciduous forests at lower elevations; and a high desert sprawling across much of its east all the way to the Great Basin. The tall conifers, mainly Douglas fir, along Oregon's rainy west coast contrast with the lighter-timbered and fire-prone pine and juniper forests covering portions to the east. Abundant alders in the west fix nitrogen for the conifers. Stretching east from central Oregon are semi-arid shrublands, prairies, deserts, steppes, and meadows. At , Mount Hood is the state high point, and Crater Lake National Park is Oregon's only national park.
Humans have inhabited the area that is now Oregon for at least 15,000 years. In recorded history, mentions of the land date to as early as the 16th century. During the 18th and 19th centuries, European powers – and later the United States – quarreled over possession of the region until 1846 when the U.S. and Great Britain finalized division of the region. Oregon became a state in 1859 and is now home to over 3.8 million residents.
Human habitation of the Pacific Northwest began at least 15,000 years ago, with the oldest evidence of habitation in Oregon found at Fort Rock Cave and the Paisley Caves in Lake County. Archaeologist Luther Cressman dated material from Fort Rock to 13,200 years ago. By 8000 B.C. there were settlements throughout the state, with populations concentrated along the lower Columbia River, in the western valleys, and around coastal estuaries.
The first Europeans to visit Oregon were Spanish explorers led by Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo who sighted southern Oregon off the Pacific Coast in 1543. In 1592, Juan de Fuca undertook detailed mapping and ocean current studies. Stops along these trips included Oregon as well as the strait now bearing his name and the future emplacement of Vancouver (Washington). Exploration was retaken routinely in 1774, starting by the expedition of frigate Santiago by Juan José Pérez Hernández (see Spanish expeditions to the Pacific Northwest), and the coast of Oregon became a valuable trading route to Asia. In 1778, British captain James Cook also explored the coast.
French Canadian and metis trappers and missionaries arrived in the eastern part of the state in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, many having travelled as members of Lewis and Clark and the 1811 Astor expeditions. Some stayed permanently, including Étienne Lussier, believed to be the first European farmer in the state of Oregon. The evidence of this French Canadian presence can be found in the numerous names of French origin in that part of the state, including Malheur Lake and the Malheur River, the Grande Ronde and Deschutes rivers, and the city of La Grande.
During U.S. westward expansion
British explorer David Thompson also conducted overland exploration. In 1811, while working for the North West Company, Thompson became the first European to navigate the entire Columbia River. Stopping on the way, at the junction of the Snake River, he posted a claim to the region for Great Britain and the North West Company. Upon returning to Montreal, he publicized the abundance of fur-bearing animals in the area.
Also in 1811, New Yorker John Jacob Astor financed the establishment of Fort Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River as a western outpost to his Pacific Fur Company; this was the first permanent European settlement in Oregon.
In the War of 1812, the British gained control of all Pacific Fur Company posts. The Treaty of 1818 established joint British and American occupancy of the region west of the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. By the 1820s and 1830s, the Hudson's Bay Company dominated the Pacific Northwest from its Columbia District headquarters at Fort Vancouver (built in 1825 by the District's Chief Factor John McLoughlin across the Columbia from present-day Portland).
In 1841, the expert trapper and entrepreneur Ewing Young died leaving considerable wealth and no apparent heir, and no system to probate his estate. A meeting followed Young's funeral at which a probate government was proposed. Doctor Ira Babcock of Jason Lee's Methodist Mission was elected Supreme Judge. Babcock chaired two meetings in 1842 at Champoeg, (half way between Lee's mission and Oregon City), to discuss wolves and other animals of contemporary concern. These meetings were precursors to an all-citizen meeting in 1843, which instituted a provisional government headed by an executive committee made up of David Hill, Alanson Beers, and Joseph Gale. This government was the first acting public government of the Oregon Country before annexation by the government of the United States.
Also in 1841, Sir George Simpson, Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, reversed the Hudson's Bay Company's long-standing policy of discouraging settlement because it interfered with the lucrative fur trade. He directed that some 200 Red River Colony settlers be relocated to HBC farms near Fort Vancouver, (the James Sinclair expedition), in an attempt to hold Columbia District.
Starting in 1842–1843, the Oregon Trail brought many new American settlers to Oregon Country. For some time, it seemed that Britain and the United States would go to war for a third time in 75 years (see Oregon boundary dispute), but the border was defined peacefully in 1846 by the Oregon Treaty. The border between the United States and British North America was set at the 49th parallel. The Oregon Territory was officially organized in 1848.
Oregon was admitted to the Union on February 14, 1859. Founded as a refuge from disputes over slavery, Oregon had a "whites only" clause in its original state Constitution.
At the outbreak of the American Civil War, regular U.S. troops were withdrawn and sent east. Volunteer cavalry recruited in California were sent north to Oregon to keep peace and protect the populace. The First Oregon Cavalry served until June 1865.
Beginning in the 1880s, the growth of railroads expanded the state's lumber, wheat, and other agricultural markets, and the rapid growth of its cities.
20th and 21st centuries
In 1902, Oregon introduced direct legislation by the state's citizens through initiatives and referenda, known as the Oregon System. Oregon state ballots often include politically conservative proposals side-by-side with politically liberal ones, illustrating the diversity of political thought in the state.
Industrial expansion began in earnest following the 1933–1937 construction of the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River. Hydroelectric power, food, and lumber provided by Oregon helped fuel the development of the West, although the periodic fluctuations in the U.S. building industry have hurt the state's economy on multiple occasions.
A measure to legalize recreational use of marijuana in Oregon was approved on November 4, 2014, making Oregon only the second state to have legalized gay marriage, physician-assisted suicide, and recreational marijuana.
Note: The Oregon region was long in dispute with Great Britain, and was jointly occupied by the two countries until definitively acquired by the United States in 1846. Oregon was established as a territory in 1848, including present-day Washington, Idaho, and parts of Montana and Wyoming. It acquired its present boundaries and was admitted as a State on February 14, 1859. In 1850 the census covered only areas west of the Cascade Mountains; the 1850 total excludes persons enumerated in present-day Washington. In 1860 census coverage included the whole State.. Total for 1850 excludes population (1,201) of Clark and Lewis Counties, located in present-day Washington. Total for 1890 includes population (3,937) of certain Indian reservations not reported by county.
Births, Marriages, and Deaths
FamilySearch.org has a variety of collections available for free online:
Outstanding guide to Oregon family history and genealogy (FamilySearch Research Wiki). Birth, marriage, and death records, wills, deeds, county records, archives, Bible records, cemeteries, churches, censuses, directories, immigration lists, naturalizations, maps, history, newspapers, and societies.