people, in trying to accomplish something, do so while still alive.
Ewing Young had to be different.
he died intestate in 1841, he set in motion a series of events
resulting in an American territorial government in the Pacific
Northwest. At the Champoeg Meetings of 1843, settlers voted to become
part of the United States. It might not have happened that way.
meetings involved a polyglot, multi-cultural mixture of peoples of
various origins. In the preceding years, imperial powers vied for
control in the region, including British, Spanish, and Russian. Young
himself might have been a Mexican citizen. That's a possibility as he
had converted to Catholicism to keep his business in Taos, and to
keep his wife.
Young didn't necessarily want a hand in forming a government of any
kind. He probably didn't intend to die for that purpose, or any other
for that matter. But he had the foresight to die owing a lot of
money. Actually, it's more complicated than that: when he died, he
had a number of debtors as well as creditors, left in various
predictable states of bereavement.
settlers in the northern Willamette Valley had done just fine without
any government at all for many years. They probably liked it that
way. They had no need of law enforcement, as they had no law to
enforce. Being able to defend one's self was the
sine qua non of the frontier. They
were used to the situation. They also liked the fact that they could
travel for miles without hearing phrases such as sine
having a government might have been advantageous in many ways, but
when Young unexpectedly left this world, the community of settlers
had no way to assuage their anguish. There were no courts. And,
though he died with a lot of property, he didn't take it with him.
had an eventful life up to that point. Born a year before the century
began, he was trading while still in his twenties between Missouri
and a newly independent Mexico. He traversed the Santa Fe Trail,
selling Rocky Mountain furs in Missouri, and American goods at his
trading post in Taos. There he married a woman of a prominent Mexican
family. He ranged all over Nuevo
Mexico and Alta
California. He mentored a teenage
Kit Carson. He teamed up with Peter Skene Ogden who climbed the ranks
of the British Hudson's Bay Company. Then Young went to Oregon and
dying, he did a few other things during his five-year sojourn in
Oregon. He arrived with a lot of Mexican gold. He acquired land and
ran the first cattle not rented out by the Hudson's Bay Company.
Still, dying was arguably his greatest accomplishment, if not a
shrewd career move.
homesteaded on the left bank of the Willamette, across the river from
a stretch of bottom land called French Prairie. It was called that
for a reason, as the
first inhabitants were mostly French-Canadian. They
had settled after retiring as fur trappers and traders. In their
language, they had transitioned from life in Quebec as habitantes,
to running the woods as coureurs des
bois, to becoming somewhat more
respectable traveling traders as voyageurs,
then back to being habitantes
in the Oregon country. They
founded settlements on French Prairie which became the towns of
Butteville, Champoeg, St. Paul, St. Louis, and Gervais.
Pioneers of a different paradigm
also inhabited the area. Some
came from the United States. But these were not an overwhelming
majority. In 1841, the Oregon Trail wasn't yet passable for a wagon –
not all the way – and wouldn't be for a few more years. In 1843,
the population of French Prairie was split between Anglos and
to that time, settlers had taken a minimalist approach to government.
If solving a problem required positions of authority or any form of
organization, discussions always resulted in something ephemeral.
in 1835, Thomas Hubbard killed a drunk who was threatening his girl.
Neighbors then convinced naturalist John Townsend that he had
sufficient education to be a judge – perhaps sufficient because few
others had any. The birdwatcher-judge then presided over the first
trial among European-Americans in the Oregon country. They determined
that this particular drunk “needed killing,” and called it
justifiable homicide. To handle Young's estate few years later, Dr.
Ira Babcock served as probate judge. Doubtless,
many settlers hoped that
judgeship wouldn't stick either.
settlers collectively decided in early 1843 that the problem wolves
posed to their livestock required a systematic solution. A committee
formed to collect
funds for a bounty system. However, those
with more anarchical sympathies distrusted
the leadership of this committee. They
didn't want the committee solving any problems
that, in their estimation, weren't yet problems.
May 2, 1843, when settlers gathered on the prairie beside the
Willamette, a sizable proportion were ready to resist any hint of
real government. As feared, the anti-wolf committee proposed
something much larger, and took a voice vote. The loudest bloc were
the party of non.
Americans were taken aback. However, a committee secretary quickly
suggested that the assembly divide into groups to be counted. Fifty
voted with their feet for a continued ad-hocracy. That faction had
been loudest, but 52 collected on the other side.
of those present had retired from trapping, but one was more refugee
than retiree. François Matthieu had joined a revolt against British
rule in Quebec, an attempted revolution that included Canadians of
both French and
English descent. When the revolution fizzled however, he forged a
passport for his flight into the United States, and for some extra
insurance, continued to where passports didn't matter.
convinced his friend Étienne Lucier to join the American side of the
field, and that made the difference. These two voted with their feet
across the grass, joining some who had voted with their feet across a
Young went we know not where, but he died in a country of lessening