The fur trading industry in the Pacific Northwest began when sailors realized that vast amount of money could be made by trading with local Indians for sea otter pelts. Later, British, French, and others came to the area to search for beaver furs. These furs were used mainly for hats worn by the men of this period. These examples show the beginning of a Pacific Northwest economy.
Early pioneers, and families began to use the Oregon Trail to move west. Military, and trading posts began to be built along the trail. This opened new business opportunities for settlers, as well as opening new routes for cattle drives, and other ventures that used the Pacific Northwest assets. It also greatly reduced the amount of fur trapping due to the increased demand by travelers along the trail for meat.
Railroads played an important part in the economic history of the United States, including the Pacific Northwest. As rail lines were built in different locations, it became clear to many towns that having a connection with the railroads meant financial success. When the Northern Pacific Railroad completed their transcontinental railroad in 1883, it provided the Pacific Northwest a new, and vital source of transportation for the various raw materials the area had to offer. As demand for these raw materials increased, and decreased, it created a "boom or bust" economy for the region that still occurs to this day.
The Nootka Indians were first observed by Russian sailors in 1741. These coastal Indians built long dwellings out of wood. These buildings were about forty feet wide, by one hundred feet long. This example shows that even the earliest people in the Pacific Northwest used the abundant natural resources available to provide shelter.
As fur trappers and their families began to arrive in the Pacific northwest, the need for permanent dwellings was essential. Hudson Bay Company, and Northwest Company were two that established forts. These forts were usually large wooden complexes that consisted of an outer palisade that was about 750 ft. by 450 ft. Inside, there were about 40 buildings. These structures were made of wood, a vast natural resource of the Pacific Northwest. The trees were cut, and branches removed. The logs were then notched on both ends to fit together, then sealed with mud.
The Cataldo Mission actually began in a different location near the St. Joe river. Due to frequent flooding, the missionaries moved to the current location near Cataldo, Idaho. This building was constructed using the raw materials available to the priests, and Indians who built it. They used massive trees, which they cut and shaped by hand, for the framework. The frame was held together with wooden pegs driven into aligned holes the workers hand drilled. They used smaller trees to fill in the spaces, and then used the wattle and daub technique with grass and mud for the finishing touch. The Priests, and Indians decorated the inside with huckleberries, tin cans, wood statues that were hand carved, old newsprint, and cloth from the Hudson Bay Company. The Cataldo Mission building was used for many years, and today, stands as Idaho's oldest building.
The Lewis and Clark expedition was commissioned by President Jefferson in 1803, shortly after the united States completed the Louisiana Purchase. The expedition was designed to explore, establish commerce routes, and possibly find a waterway from east to west. The explorers left in May of 1804 and reached the Pacific Ocean in November of 1805. They headed east the following spring, and in September, arrived in St. Louis. The expedition was unable to find a waterway from east to west, however, they did make several scientific, and geographical discoveries in the Pacific Northwest.
When the Whitman's traveled along the Oregon Trail in 1836, it was believed by many that wagons were not able to make the entire journey. The Whitman's managed to use a wheeled vehicle as far west as Ft. Boise. That fact gave other emigrants hope that they too, could make the dangerous journey. At the time, most wagons were the Conestoga model.These were very heavy, and required 8-10 animals to pull them. Wagon companies such as Studebaker, began making the "prairie schooners". These wagons were much lighter, and required only 4-6 oxen to pull it. This technological innovation allowed pioneers to traverse the Oregon Trail into the Pacific Northwest.
Around 1850, steamboats began operating along the Columbia river, and it's tributaries. These boats were mainly paddle wheels. There were three basic models; stern wheel, side wheel, and propeller. This technology allowed pioneers to haul goods, and people along the river routes, expanding the economic impact of the Pacific Northwest. As time passed, new technology such as, railroads, and the automobile eventually led to the demise of the river steamboat.
As early as 1779, fur trappers employed with the Hudson Bay Company, became some of the first European's to live in the Pacific Northwest. As the area grew in population over many years, problems arose between the "company men", and the American pioneers. Employees of the Hudson Bay Company were considered under British rule, and people who broke the law were taken to the nearest permanent British colony for trial. The Americans were beyond the limits of the United States government due to the large distance that separated east from west. Due to this fact, most early pioneers took the law into their own hands. It would take several years before pioneers would be able to make a recognizable government.
The early settlers in the Pacific Northwest had no official government. In 1843, local residents decided to meet together in response to wild animal attacks on their livestock. These "wolf meetings", were the beginnings of an official government. These meetings created basic tax revenue, military protection, and civil rules. The settlers used three documents to frame this early form of government; The Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. This basic local government was in place until 1848, when the Oregon Territory was formed.
The Territory of Oregon was created in 1848. The area at that time included the present states of Washington, Idaho, and parts of Montana, and Wyoming. Several factors soon after the territory was organized caused the population of Oregon to increase. Some of these included; gold discoveries in California and Oregon, and the Donation Land Act in 1850 that gave land to settlers willing to make the long journey to Oregon. As the population increased, the future state of Oregon began to take shape as Washington Territory was created in 1853. In February 1859, Oregon became the 33rd state. Washington, and Idaho became states in 1889, and 1890 respectively,
Before the massive influx of settlers arrived from the east, the Pacific Northwest was home to a native population of Indians. These people used the natural resources available as hunter-gatherers. Settlers from the east began arriving in large numbers after the Donation Land Act. These settlers viewed the area as wilderness, and did everything they could to transform it into the farms, and villages they had in the east. As they cultivated fields, and plotted towns, they slowly changed the original fields of camas and grasses, to wheat, oats, and other crops. The domestic animals used by the settlers polluted steams, and broke down river banks. As we look back today, we can see both the good, and bad aspects the early pioneers had on our environment.
As precious metals such as gold, and silver were discovered in the Pacific Northwest, large numbers of prospectors began to arrive. There were numerous claims that were to be found in the area. Miners would use different methods to find the valuable minerals. Most of these methods would prove devastating to the environment. Lode mining involved digging into the earth, and then processing the raw material to extract the metals. This process of smelting left huge areas of highly polluted soil. Some of these areas, such as the Kellog, Idaho area, are still visible to this day
The Dawes Act passed by congress in 1887, changed the lives of Indians. Prior to this law, Indians, and the government had treaties in place that gave different tribes an allotment of land. The passing of the act greatly diminished the size of the reservations the Indians called home. Over time, pioneers were allowed to settle this land, further changing the environment the Indians had lived in for generations.
In the 1830's, a motivating factor emerged that compelled Christians to move west. This was the practice of flattening the skulls of Indian babies. Indians had been doing this for generations to distinguish the free born from the slaves. Christians wanted to travel to the west so that they may "save" the Indians from themselves.
Marcus and Narcissa Whitman were missionaries that traveled to the Pacific Northwest in order to minister to the Indians in the area. They established a mission near present day Walla Walla. In 1843, the Whitmans led a large group of settlers west in a large wagon train, paving the way for thousands of future pioneers. These pioneers arrived in an area near the mission, which encroached on the local Cayuse Indians land. The area experienced a large measles outbreak in 1847. The majority of the Indian children, and a substantial number of adult Indians perished, while a large amount of the settlers were able to survive. The Indians blamed the Whitmans, and on November 29th, they killed the Whitmans, and twelve others in what is called "The Whitman Massacre".
The Mormons began arriving in Oregon territory in the 1850's. They established a mission called Fort Lemhi near the Salmon River in 1855. During the 1860's, Mormons established settlements in southeastern Idaho. These settlements increased into the late 1870's. At that time, there were at least thirty one different settlements. Not only did this increase the population, it also contributed to the political decisions made in the area.