Introduction

This exhibit contains document facsimiles with an accompanying instructor's manual to encourage the use of primary sources in high school history classes. With the assistance of an advisory committee of teachers, 24  documents were selected from the records of Oregon's Provisional and Territorial Governments.

Echoes of Oregon is designed to supplement American history textbooks by exposing students to the raw materials of history with these objectives:

  • Introduce students to primary historical sources.
  • Teach students to extract the meaning from a historical document. Thus, gaining a richer, more accurate idea of what it was like in Oregon from 1837 to 1859.
  • Inspire students to think about the past. Documents in this collection were chosen to show how government touched the lives of citizens.
  • Make students aware of how the past affects everyone.
It takes effort to picture Oregon as it was 150 years ago. The land was wilderness, slowly being invaded by farms and small settlements. People who came to Oregon created a government from nothing, and the government reflected their experience in more settled parts of the United States. Their government embodied the aspirations and ambitions they held for their new home. When the wagon trains reached western Oregon, the pioneers were completing an arduous physical journey. Oregon rests at the western edge of the continent. The movement of peoples which began centuries earlier in Europe and went on to Massachusetts and Virginia, found one of its culminations in the Willamette Valley. The journey of the human spirit that these documents reveal continues today.

Mural painting of Lewis and Clark with Native Americans, trappers and boat men. They stand in front of a roaring river and falls
Lewis and Clark on their way to the Pacific Ocean in 1805 (Oregon State Capitol mural).

While settlers were making the long overland trip to Oregon, the United States was subjected to severe stresses. Financial panics and economic depressions swept the land, ruining some and displacing many Americans. The United States fought a war with Mexico and annexed California and the Southwest. Industrialization proceeded rapidly in the northern states, while southern states continued to be tied to a single crop economy which in turn was wedded to the institution of slavery. The issue of slavery consumed political and social debate during this period of American history and threatened to rip the union apart. Oregon held the promise of a fresh start, thousands of miles from home, in a land characterized as lush and fertile. Americans responded by dropping their links to settled parts of the country, particularly the Midwest, and moved to the Northwest by the thousands. They brought their attitudes and traditions to the new land, and it is these which are captured in the documents selected for Echoes.

These documents were chosen because they provide a glimpse of how life was really lived by those who settled Oregon. The earliest of these records, the Willamette Cattle Company Agreement, shows settlers organizing in an effort to free themselves from the economic domination of the Hudson's Bay Company. The last document, the Divorce Petition, shows how difficult life in Oregon Territory was for a woman and her children if her husband would not contribute to their welfare.

Each document page has a list of terms and questions for discussion. Questions range from highly specific ones, to encourage students to extract factual information from the documents, to more general and open-ended ones to stimulate thought and discussion. Many of the more general questions have no right or wrong answers.