Studying Oregon's History VI
Bill Long 7/22/06
Reading a Few Other Early Documents
We saw in the previous essay that the May 2, 1843 meeting at "Champooick" was the meeting responsible for authorizing the Oregon Provisional Government. Yet it wasn't until the Organic Act was passed on July 5, 1843 that the Provisional Government got "underway." The Oregon Organic Act (not to be confused with the Congressional Act of 1848 to make Oregon a territory) is not online, but it should be so. This web site summarizes some of the provisions of it. Provision was made for a three-man executive committee (instead of a Governor), and provisions for the Territory to be divided into four districts (the original counties). The three-man executive committee served for one year and was replaced on May 25, 1844. Finally, the Provisional Government decided it had enough with tri-headed executives and made provision for the election of a Provisional Governor in 1845. That man, elected in June 1845, was George Abernethy, a person supported by the Methodist Mission. Abernethy was re-elected in 1847 and served until the coming of Territorial Governor, Joseph Lane, in 1849.
Thus, it was during the time Abernethy was Governor that the Whitman Massacre occurred. News of the event filtered back into the Willamette Valley early in December 1847, and the citizens decided to do something about it. Here is the document that discusses that. Space doesn't permit the full text to be printed here. It is dated December 17, 1847 and entitled "PROCLAMATION! By the Geo. Abernethy, Governor of the Oregon Territory" (Oregon was a Territory despite the fact that a Territorial Government was not yet authorized by Congress). A few lines will give you the flavor of it.
Governor Abernethy's December 17, 1847 Proclamation
"The Legislature now in session (when did the Provisional Legislature meet?) having authorized me to call on the Citizens of this territory to enlist, for the purposes of carrying on operations against the Cayuse Indians, and to punish them for the murders committed by them on the residents at Waiilatpu..."[We can see how this document was sort of a response to THEIR 9/11].
The enlistment of men would be for ten months, unless they are discharged sooner than that. Each man is to come fully armed and equipped (no state government to take care of them); and to rendezvous in Oregon City on December 28, 1847. It says to rendevous "the 28th inst." This is a way of indicating time in older documents. As the OED says: "Said of the current calendar month; now ellip, as in the 10th instant, i.e., the tenth day of the current month. Abbreviated inst. Perfectly clear.*
[*Though one of the writers for the Oregon History Project seems to have been confused by this designation. In a letter from Jesse Applegate to John Minto on December 12, 1883, Applegate begins with these words, "Sir, your favor of the 8th inst. was received today..." The transcriptionist has these words: "Sir, your favor of the 8th inst. (sic)...." There is no need for a sic, as if there was some kind of mistake in Applegate's communication. It is clear. But students should look at Applegate's letter closely, because the transcriptionist has also made a mistake in transcribing some of the words...when, for example, the letter talks about the "tenets" or beliefs of a group of Oregon Pioneers, the transcriptionist has the word "lines(?)." Thus, this document, unwittingly so, becomes a good one for aspiring historians to study to show that you even have to check other historians' work on very basic issues.]
Then he lists the muster number for each of the four counties of the Territory. These counties were, as mentioned above, first established in the Organic Act of 1843. Various flagstone markers on the Oregon State Capitol grounds, across the street from the Capitol, detail the way that counties were carved out of other counties in Oregon's history. Here, however, we have the following:
Champoeg County (not Champooick) will furnish 40 men.
Tualatin County (not Tuality) will furnish 20 men.
Yam Hill County (not Yamhill) will furnish 20 men.
Polk County will furnish 20 men.
Thus, 100 men were to launch the counterrattack on the Cayuse Indians in late December 1847. It makes you think also about how Christmas might have been celebrated in those days. Was it a "big" one-day Holiday, or a rather simple commemoration? Clement Clark Moore had penned "A Visit from St. Nicholas" about 25 years previously, but I don't know if it had "caught on" by the late 1840s. Thus, Christmas was probably not yet sentimentalized the way it became through Currier & Ives, The "Night Before Christmas" and, late in the 19th century, the need to exchange and get not just one but LOTS of gifts.
The Proclamation ends with the statement, "In witness whereof I have herunto signed my name and affixed the Seal of the Territory of Oregon." Then there is a [L.S.] in brackets to the side. This signifies "Locus sigillae," the "place of the seal," and was the standard way to express, in a printed document, that the official seal was affixed at this place in the original document.
But this Proclamation now winds us back to the Whitman tragedy, doesn't it? It takes us back to the interpretation of that event as well as the actual things that took place in the flurry of activity in December 1847 and January 1848 to assure the safe return of the 50 or so hostages at the Mission as well as to see what preliminary attempts at "interpretation" of this event arose.
I fear that we could go on forever in working patiently through the annals of Oregon history, but I will stop for today. There are many lessons in these essays for first-time (and even veteran) historians--as well as the rest of us who just want to understand our past. Maybe some day I will have the privilege of teaching Oregon history to people.