Oregon is a state in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. It is located on the Pacific coast, with Washington to the north, California to the south, Nevada on the southeast and Idaho to the east. The Columbia and Snake rivers delineate much of Oregon's northern and eastern boundaries, respectively. The area was inhabited by many indigenous tribes before the arrival of traders, explorers, and settlers who formed an autonomous government in Oregon Country in 1843. The Oregon Territory was created in 1848, and Oregon became the 33rd state on February 14, 1859.
Oregon is the 9th most expansive and the 27th most populous of the 50 United States. Salem is the state's capital and third-most-populous city; Portland is the most populous. Portland is the 28th largest U.S. city, with a population of 603,106 (2012 estimate) and a metro population of 2,262,605 (2011 estimate), the 23rd largest U.S. metro area. The valley of the Willamette River in western Oregon is the state's most densely populated area and is home to eight of the 10 most populous cities.
Oregon contains a diverse landscape including the windswept Pacific coastline, the volcanoes of the rugged and glaciated Cascade Mountain Range, many waterfalls (including Multnomah Falls), dense evergreen forests, mixed forests and deciduous forests at lower elevations, and high desert across much of the eastern portion of the state, extending into the Great Basin. The tall Douglas firs and redwoods along the rainy Western Oregon coast contrast with the lower density and fire-prone pine tree and juniper forests covering portions of the eastern half of the state. Alder trees are common in the west and fix nitrogen for the conifers; aspen groves are common in eastern Oregon. Stretching east from Central Oregon, the state also includes semi-arid shrublands, prairies, deserts, steppes, and meadows. Mount Hood is the highest point in the state at . Crater Lake National Park is the only national park in Oregon.
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
The Lewis and Clark Expedition traveled through the region also in search of the Northwest Passage. They built their winter fort in 1805-06 at Fort Clatsop, near the mouth of the Columbia River. British explorer David Thompson also conducted overland exploration.
In 1811, David Thompson, of the North West Company, 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 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.
In the 1880s, the growth of railroads helped market the state's lumber, wheat, 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.
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.