Salmon-Skinned Aristocracy: Beginnings of Oregon Statehood

Robert Shortess was an 1839 emigrant to Oregon. In 1843 he was was elected to the Oregon Territorial Legislature in the 2nd wolf meeting (teh founders of Rome were suckled by a wolf). This early Oregon government worked to take control of the territory, from the British. In 1844, Shortess and some 65 other American settlers signed a petition to Congress, largely written and coordinated by Shortess, filing charges in Congress against the Hudson’s Bay Company, for unfair trade practices.

George Abernethy, First Governor of Oregon

Shortess, and co-author George Abernethy, claimed that John McLoughlin, and the Hudson’s Bay Company, took complete control of all trade on the Columbia, despite the treaty agreement that Great Britain and the United States would co-occupy the territory. Shortess claimed the HBC controlled of the Salmon trade out of the Columbia, and as such was running a  “Salmon-Skinned Aristocracy” that had ruled the country for some time.

John McLoughlin and the Salmon-Skin Aristocrats

The unrest between the Americans and the British, brought on by Shortess’ petition, caused the settlers and tribes in the area some distress. Eva Emery Dye wrote,

“The people in the valley feared the restless chiefs beyond the Mountains. Their own Indians began to mutter,” These Bostons are driving off our game and destroying out Camas-fields.” The woods are full of painted faces. Tomahawks and scalping-knives glitter in the grass.  “The Clackamas Indians are on the Move.””The Molallas are defiant.” “The Klickitats are collection back of Tualiti Plains.” A Calapooia Chief Crossed the Willamette, Shaking his finger at the Settlement by the Falls, “Never will I return till I bring back a force to drive out these Bostons.” “Should the Injuns combine, we are lost,” said the settlers.”

(it is unclear if Dye was dramatizing these statements, apparently from tribes, in a version of Historical fiction, to make a point. This commonly occurred in these early histories.)

This petition by Shortess and Co., and the expressions of disgust by McLaughlin at Fort Vancouver, combined with the American settler feelings of vulnerability living in amongst French-Canadians in the Willamette Valley. These feelings of vulnerability, and perhaps duty (to claim Oregon for the United States), by the Americans served to propel them to form an American government, the Oregon Territorial Government, which would lead to Oregon Statehood in 1859.

McLaughlin and Old Oregon, Eva Emery Dye, 1903

One thought on “Salmon-Skinned Aristocracy: Beginnings of Oregon Statehood

  1. Dye was dramatizing events, since she was a fiction writer of the time. However, Dye was a friend of Frances Fuller Victor and both women loved history and did bring many of the events happening in those early days to their readers. Now years later, we can reflect on these ladies, who penned the stories we find engaging today. Facts were carefully woven into the tales.

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