As a student of Oregon history the names of John McLaughlin and Jason Lee are giants. They imbue the spirit of Oregon pioneerism in all of its horrible realism. To read of their exploits, is like viewing Mt. Hood today, they are ever-present, involved in everything, and towering over the exploits of most others. In their time, what they accomplished for settlement and for providing a place for settlers to gain land, resources, and security, is nothing short of astounding.
John McLoughlin is the larger of the two, with a greater more robust history. He provided the anchor of civilization and did not discriminate against the Americans in their quest for new lands. He was the perfect host, giving in the extreme, and being and becoming the role of the landed gentry of the area, in ways that his contemporaries in England did not or would not accomplish. He was by and large fair with native peoples in the midst of their demise and employed them fairly. He established Fort Vancouver, where he was the Chief Factor, the literal ruler of the territory, and had the power of life and death over all people in the area, given to him by the Hudson’s Bay charter, signed by the King of England. Outside of this fort was Kanaka Village, a multi-national admixture of people from many tribal nations. In fact, Fort Vancouver between 1824 and 1850 was likely the most diverse place on the face of the earth, with Canadians, Scots, Irish, French, Metis (French-Indian), Hawai’ians, Spanish, Americans, and over 25 different tribes represented at the village. As many languages were also spoken there. They and their wives and children help run the fort and provided the services, all paid for by the fur trade.
The Americans who began coming by the thousands in the 1840s, first came to the fort, to meet with wonderful hospitality from McLoughlin. These Americans were by and large drawn to Oregon by the actions of Jason Lee. Lee a Methodist priest, had established a mission at Champoeg, and after his wife died, he went on a tour of the east, through the American states, to attract more people to move to and settle in the Willamette Valley. The term that many writers used was “Eden” in describing the valley, directly related to Lee’s presentation tour where he worked to attract more white men and especially white women to Oregon. Lee was aided to his land claim by McLoughlin, but Lee established and anchored the permanent American presence in the valley, while McLoughlin represented the competing British interests.
This story of early pioneerism, is how Oregon history is normally written in the first hundred years of Oregon. The story is only one half of the story of this time as while all of this amazing work was being accomplished because the Tribes of the region were still there. The tribes contributed in many ways to the settlements of the Americans and the British. They were the hunters, guides, laborers, and traders for much of the first thirty years. They became migrant farmworkers and ranchers. They harvested the crops and later helped log the forests. They built fences and were present in every major exploration of the region. They also caused problems through thievery and murder and were subject to thievery, murder, and genocide at the hands of the early Oregonians. Several wars occurred in the region, mostly over the encroachment of the Americans into the lands of the tribes. The tribes still owned the lands that the Americans took many liberties with.
But McLoughlin and Lee were the organizers, facilitators, collaborators of much of the early history of pioneerism. Lee is perhaps a bit more negative in relation to the tribes, as he took Indian children from the Willamette Plains and forced them to work on his farm while they underwent education, or reeducation to become Americans. This was the first of the Indian boarding schools in Oregon, and perhaps set the model for off-reservation boarding schools of later times. For their work and place in history, McLoughlin and Lee have been honored with statues in the Capitol rotunda in Washington, D.C. representing Oregon. For over 70 years they have resided there. Ironically, McLoughlin lost his land claims in Oregon City, even after he became a US citizen and had been mayor of the town, through a Congressional act. The Oregon Treaty of 1850 stated that British subjects would be able to keep their land claims, but they were eventually pushed out in favor of the Americans.
But these Canadian born men, their statues are now to be replaced. The State committee has decided to replace both statues. It is assumed they will be returned to Oregon to perhaps join their duplicate statues. Lee’s duplicate is in the State Capitol Park in Salem, while McLoughlin’s is in Oregon City. Several names have surfaced for replacement, Chief Joseph, Hatfield, Packwood, McCall, and Abigail Scott Duniway.
It is my opinion that if a replacement is necessary, for at least Lee it is warranted. My choices would be Chief Joseph and Tom McCall. Joseph is perhaps the most nationally known Native figure in US history, outside of Geronimo or Chief Seattle. What the Nez Perce endured and what Joseph did during and after the war, warrant his place on this list of replacements.
Tom McCall is an easy choice. He established much of the environmental policy that created today’s Oregon culture. I could easily see McCall as a statue.
McLoughlin and Lee have had their time, they will maintain their place in history regardless of whether they have a statue in the Capitol. The statues will return to Oregon and become important landmarks in the state. It is time to recognize the Native peoples of this state, what they went through over the past 160 years, and then McCall because of his work for the future of Oregonians, as he embodies the spirit of Oregon.
Ethnohistory Research, LLC | David G. Lewis, PhD
PhD Anthropology (UO 2009) and Native history researcher. Member of the Grand Ronde Tribe, Takelma, Chinook, Molalla, and Santiam Kalapuya ancestry. Owner of Ethnohistory Research LCC, professional consultant and project researcher.
I teach at local universities and colleges and take contracts with tribes, local governments and nonprofits. I have experience in archival organization, museum development, exhibit curation, traditional cultural property nomination, tribal ethnohistoric research, tribal maps, traditional ecological knowledge, and presentations to large and small gatherings. Contact me for consultation about any of these projects.