Joel Palmer was born October 4, 1810 in Ontario, Canada. The son of Quaker parents who moved to New York at the start of the War of 1812, Palmer moved to Bucks County, Pennsylvania at the age of sixteen. In 1830 he married Catherine Coffee and following her death he married Sarah Ann Derbyshire in 1836. Soon thereafter, Palmer moved to Indiana where he worked on the canals. In 1843 and 1845, he served as a representative in the Indiana legislature.
During the spring of 1845, Palmer started overland to Oregon. During his journey he kept a diary of his experiences, which was published in 1847 as Journal of Travels over the Rocky Mountains. This publication served as a guidebook to immigrants for information on equipment and route details. The next year he returned to Indiana and made a second trip back to Oregon with his family. He served as commissary-general of volunteer forces in the Cayuse War, and as peace emissary to persuade neighboring tribes not to join the Cayuse Indians.
After the war, Palmer left for the gold fields of California and upon his return laid out the town of Dayton in Yamhill County, where he filed his donation land claim and built a sawmill. In 1853, he became superintendent of Indian affairs for the Oregon Territory. Serving with distinction, Palmer had the difficult task of securing Oregon lands from warring Indian tribes while preventing the outbreak of hostilities. During his tenure, he negotiated nine cessation treaties. He was removed as superintendent in 1857 after being criticized for being too lenient with Indian policy.
Palmer then operated his land claim, mill, and various business enterprises. He served as speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives in 1862 and state senator, 1864-1868. In 1870, Palmer was defeated as the Republican candidate for governor. He died June 9, 1881 in Dayton, Oregon.
(Sources: Oregon Historical Society | Dictionary of Oregon History)