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Champoeg Meetings

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Subject: History of Oregon, Alanson Beers, Oregon State Treasurer, Willamette Cattle Company, Joseph Gale
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Champoeg Meetings

Champoeg Meetings
Date 1841 to 1843
Location Champoeg
North America
Also known as Wolf Meetings
Participants Settlers of Oregon Country
Outcome Created Provisional Government of Oregon

The Champoeg Meetings in Oregon Country were the first attempts at governing in the Pacific Northwest by European American and French Canadian pioneers. Prior to this, the closest entity to a government was the Hudson's Bay Company, mainly through Dr. John McLoughlin at Fort Vancouver in present day Vancouver, Washington.

There were a series of meetings over three years held at Champoeg on the French Prairie along the Willamette River in present day Marion County, Oregon, beginning in 1841.[1] A small but growing number of pioneers were settling in the Willamette Valley where no Euro-American government was in place. With the death of prominent settler Ewing Young in 1841, a group of settlers led by Jason Lee began to advocate for a settler run local government in the region. These meetings at Champoeg eventually culminated in a vote on May 2, 1843, ending in favor of forming what became the Provisional Government of Oregon. Although primarily supported by the American pioneers in the region, several French-Canadian settlers did vote in favor of forming the government. A state park and marker at the site of the May 2 vote commemorate the proceedings, as well as a large mural behind the desk of the Oregon Speaker of the House in the Oregon House of Representatives chamber at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem.


The Oregon Country was at one point claimed by the United States along with the three European nations of Russia, Great Britain and Spain. Interest by these nations caused several voyages to map the coast, with Alexander Mackenzie and Lewis & Clark which reached the Pacific Coast in 1793 and 1805 respectively continued to ferment interest by Europe and the United States. In 1818, the United States and Britain signed a treaty that called for the two countries to peaceably co-exist in the region, but not exclude other claims. Through a series of other treaties the number of countries claiming the Oregon Country was reduced to just two, the United States and Britain.

As such expeditions expanded Euro-American knowledge of the Pacific Northwest, the possibilities of exploiting the growing fur trade made several companies attempt establishing a permanent presence there. The first to do so was the Montreal based North West Company, which under David Thompson arrived in now Montana and created posts such as the Saleesh House to trade with the Salish and Kootenai tribes.[2][3] The American Pacific Fur Company financed the next commercial push into the region, working with primarily the Chinookan peoples at Fort Astoria on the mouth of the Columbia River. The War of 1812 ended the American venture and its operations were sold to its competitors, the North West Company, which was itself amalgamated into the Hudson's Bay Company in 1821.[1] From Fort Vancouver located near the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers, the operations of the Hudson's Bay Company grew and quickly became the primary commercial force in Oregon Country. Despite the activities of American mountain men and upwards of 12 attempted companies,[1] the commercial hegemony of the British company remained in force until after the formation of the Provisional Government.

Britain and the U.S. continued the "joint occupation" as economic activity in the region continued to expand. In the 1830s missionaries such as Protestants like Jason Lee, Henry H. Spalding, Marcus Whitman and Catholics like François Norbert Blanchet, Modeste Demers and Pierre-Jean De Smet would also travel overland to Oregon Country and establish missions among the Native Americans. As time passed many of these trappers and missionaries settled the land and developed farms, timber and grist mills. Then in the 1840s more and more settlers arrived via the Oregon Trail that the early missionaries and trappers helped to trail blaze.[3] Finally, enough Americans, Canadians and Europeans were living in this land, that by Western standards was considered ungoverned, that a critical mass was reached and the settlers began to develop plans for a government.


Oregon Institute building circa 1844 in present day Salem

The majority of the meetings were held at the French-Canadian enclave of Champoeg on the banks of the Willamette River. This part of the Willamette Valley was and still is known as French Prairie due to the early settlers speaking French as their first language. Some of the meetings were held at the Oregon Institute (predecessor to Willamette University) further south of Champoeg in present day Salem and downriver in Oregon City.[4]

The Champoeg name itself has an unknown origin. Some theories are that it was the Native American's name for the spot along the Willamette River, originally Champooik. Other theories are that it is of French origin, or a French variation on the Native American term. The name would also be used as the name of one of the early districts of the government, later becoming Marion County, Oregon.


In 1841 the early settlers found themselves in need of a government after the death of pioneer Ewing Young. Young had accumulated much wealth as a successful rancher following the Willamette Cattle Company events of 1837 when he and a group of other settlers herded over 600 head of cattle from California to Oregon.[5] This made him very wealthy and intertwined him economically with many of the other pioneers in the valley. Young had died without a will or heir, thus necessitating a need for a probate court.[6] Several meetings occurred over the subsequent months which included François Norbert Blanchet, William J. Bailey, Mr. Charlevon, David Donpierre, Gustavus Hines, William Johnson, Jason Lee, Étienne Lucier, Robert Moore, Josiah Lamberson Parrish, Sidney Smith, and David Leslie.[7]

The first meeting was held on 17 February 1841 and chaired by Jason Lee, who suggested a set of measures that would establish a civil government. Amongst the measures was for a single criminal system applicable to all Oregon pioneers not employed by the Hudson's Bay Company. The proposed positions included a governor, an attorney general, justices of the peace, road commissioners, and even two people to serve as overseers of the indigent.[7][8] This initial proposal rebuked by François Blanchet who counter-proposed a looser system with the post of a judge and not a governor as the highest position.[9]

Held on the proceeding day, the second meeting was chaired by David Leslie. To mollify the French-Canadian discontent over a potential governorship Doctor Pierre Belleque, and Havier Laderant as constables. Additionally a constitutional committee of seven was established to be chaired by Blanchet, along with three Americans and three French-Canadians to discuss further measures.[7]

During the next meeting commenced on 1 June, Blanchet reported the constitutional committee had not met and requested a reprieve from his duties.[7] [14]


In [17] His purpose was to inform the settlers that he had been commissioned by the United States War Department as a sub-Indian Agent.[17] Additionally, he implied that the pioneers could select him as a magistrate for the region.[17] However, White was not popular among the settlers and this led to additional discussions about forming a government.[17]


On February 1, 1843, residents of the Willamette Valley met at the [19][9] Notably, the indigenous were to get half the pay of pioneers for bounties.[7] The last organizational meeting started May 2, 1843 in Champoeg, where pioneers voted on whether to create a provisional government.

Voting record

Artists depiction of Meek calling for the final vote

There were two votes on 2 May, neither being recorded at the actual event. According to the only surviving contemporary record "A great majority of those present" voted to form a government.[20] The report presented by the committee is known to have included the position of governor.[21] After being read, the report was rejected.[7] The meeting was then divided over adopting "the report of the committee and an organization". The first count of the division appeared by Gray in an article of the Astoria Marine Gazette in 1866 as 52 "Americans" for and 50 "French-Canadian and Hudson's Bay men" against considering a government, and was later published in his 1870 book "A History of Oregon".[19] Additionally he claimed that the French-Canadians were "drilled" by Vicar General Blanchet to vote no; despite the two tie breakers in Gray's version being the Catholics [5] Robert Newell stated the vote was 55-50, with three additional French-Canadians supporting the motion.[22] He also noted that the "First vote taken was that we have no Governor to defeat the wolf bummers."[9] The official record states after the first vote, the report was voted on "article by article" without the office of Governor appearing.[7]

The list below was created several decades after the vote, and after many of the participants were deceased.

Those voting for the creation of the provisional government:[23]

Those voting against the creation of the provisional government:[4]

After this vote, the people elected members for a legislative committee to draft a working government. The members selected were: Hill, Shortess, Newell, Beers, Hubbard, Gray, Moore, O’Neil, and Doughty. Other offices elected on May 2 was Joseph L. Meek as Sheriff and William H. Willson as Treasurer.[7]

Organic Laws

A gathering was held on 5 July to hold a vote on the work of the legislative committee. The original [4] The government was created as its preamble declared, "until such time as the United States of America extend their jurisdiction over us."[7] This document was the de facto first Oregon constitution. The election for the first Executive Committee was held with Joseph Gale, David Hill, and Alanson Beers elected as the committee members to serve in place of a governor.[7] The entire territory was then divided into four administrative districts: Yam Hill (also Yamhill), Clackamas (also Klackamas), Tuality (also Twality, and later Washington County), and Champoick (also Champoeg). The districts were generally divided according to watersheds such as the Willamette and Pudding Rivers.[7] The northern border was not initially clearly delineated due to the ongoing Oregon boundary dispute and no willing participants north of the Columbia river.

District boundaries drawn in 1843, showing eventual U.S. border and states.

Subsequent History

Provisional Government Seal

The statutory rather than constitutional.[26] Negotiations with the Hudson's Bay Company in 1845 expanded the rule over north of the Columbia, its officers continuing to run the majority of the civil affairs in the newly created Vancouver district.[7] Over the next few years the boundary dispute with Great Britain was settled in 1846, which reduced the area claimed by the provisional government to that territory south of the 49th degree of latitude. Then a new territorial government was formed after 1848 when Oregon was added as an official United States territory. The presidentially appointed governor of the Oregon Territory, Joseph Lane, arrived March 3, 1849, and he officially ended the provisional government by declaring U.S. laws and government as in effect over the territory.[3] Oregon entered the Union as the 33rd state on February 14, 1859.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Carey, Charles History of Oregon. Chicago: The Pioneer Historical Publishing Co. 1922
  2. ^ Malone, Michael P. Montana: A History of Two Centuries, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1991, p.44
  3. ^ a b c d Clarke, S.A. Pioneer Days of Oregon History. Cleveland: J.K. Gill Company. 1905
  4. ^ a b c Hussey, John A. (1967). Champoeg: Place of Transition, A Disputed History. Oregon Historical Society. 
  5. ^ a b Bancroft, Hubert Howe and Frances Fuller Victor. History of Oregon. San Francisco: History Co. 1890
  6. ^ a b Brown, James H. Brown’s Political History of Oregon: Provisional Government. Portland: Wiley B. Allen. 1892
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Grover, La Fayette. The Oregon Archives. Salem: A. Bush. 1853
  8. ^ Terry, John (October 15, 2006). "Oregon's Trails - Pariah eases into spirited endeavor".  
  9. ^ a b c Loewenberg, Robert J. "Creating a Provisional Government in Oregon: A Revision." The Pacific Northwest Quarterly 68, No. 1 (1977).( pp. 19-21
  10. ^ Benson, Arthur F. History of the Judges of the Oregon Supreme Court, 1841-1946. (accessed July 24, 2014).
  11. ^ Drury, Clifford. Henry Harmon Spalding, Caldwell: Caxton Printers, 1936
  12. ^ Hines, Gustavus. A Voyage around the world: With a history of the Oregon Mission. Buffalo, NY: George H. Derby and Co. 1850, p. 138
  13. ^ Wilkes, Charles, Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition, New York City: G. P. Putnam and Co., 1856, p. 352
  14. ^ Hussey, p. 138
  15. ^ a b c Hines, Joseph Wilkinson. "CHAPTER VIII. The Provisional Government.". Touching incidents in the life and labors of a pioneer on the Pacific coast since 1853. Library of Congress. Retrieved 2007-02-11. 
  16. ^ Excerpts from the New Orleans "Picayune." The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society 2, No. 2 (1901), p. 202
  17. ^ a b c d Hussey, pp. 142-144
  18. ^ Loewenberg, Robert J. Equality on the Oregon frontier: Jason Lee and the Methodist Mission. 1834-43. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1976.
  19. ^ a b c d Gray, William H. A History of Oregon 1792-1849, drawn from personal observation and authentic information. Portland: Harris & Holman. 1870.
  20. ^ George W. LeBreton; "Public Meeting at Champoeg, 1843" Oregon Historical Society catalog number PTD R76I12186; 2 may 1843
  21. ^ Hussey, pp. 156-157
  22. ^ a b c d Robert Newell, (Oregon Register, 1866) quoted in Russel B. Thomas "Truth and Fiction about Champoeg." Oregon Historical Quarterly 30, No. 3 (1929), p. 224
  23. ^ Oregon Blue Book: 1917-1918. Oregon Secretary of State. 1917. 
  24. ^ Flora, Stephenie. "The Provisional Government". The Oregon Territory and Its Pioneers. Retrieved 2010-08-09. 
  25. ^ Friedman, Lawrence M. A History of American Law. 1973 ed. New York City: Simon & Schuster. 1985, p. 116.
  26. ^ Chiorazzi, Michael G.; Marguerite Most (2005). Prestatehood Legal Materials. Haworth Press. p. 961.   online at Google Books

External links

  • Oregon Bluebook: Notable Oregonians
  • Oregon Bluebook: History of Oregon
  • Oregon Historical Society: Biographies of Oregonians
  • Oregon Historical Society: A Pacific Republic, an article from Boston arguing that Oregon and California were destined to be an independent republic.
  • Oregon Historical Society: Minutes from the Public Meeting at Champoeg, 1843
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