Ewing Young

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Ewing Young
Born 1799
Died February 9, 1841
Occupation Trapper

Ewing Young (1799 – February 9, 1841) was an American fur trapper and trader from Tennessee who traveled in what was then Northern Mexico and California before settling in the Oregon Country. As a prominent and wealthy citizen there, his death was the impetus for the early formation of government in what became the state of Oregon.[1] Young traded along the Santa Fe Trail and in Mexican Alta California prior to that province becoming a part of the United States. He later moved north to the Willamette Valley.

Early life[edit]

Ewing Young: His expeditions across Western North America.

Young was born in Tennessee to a farming family in 1799.[1] In the early 1820s he had moved to Missouri where he farmed briefly on the Missouri River at Charitan.[1]

In Missouri, Young was on the far western edge of the American frontier, not far from the border of the Spanish-controlled territories of present day Texas, New Mexico and the Southwestern United States. Under the Spanish colonial system, trade between Americans and the Spanish outpost at Santa Fe was prohibited.

By 1821, the new Republic of Mexico had won the Mexican War of Independence from Spain, and a number of American adventurers living in Missouri were eager to test whether trade with the Mexican authorities in Santa Fe would be allowed. After a first small group of Americans returned successfully in December 1821 from a small trading foray, Young eagerly signed up to join a somewhat larger group going to trade in Santa Fe.[2]

Western travels[edit]

Southwest and New Mexico[edit]

Young sold the farm he had just bought, and in May 1822, became part of the first overland wagon train to leave Missouri and head for Santa Fe, along what would become known as the Santa Fe Trail.[3] Young and the others found that they were welcomed by the new Mexican authorities in the Santa Fe de Nuevo México province.[3] For the next nine years, Young began traversing the Southwest, dividing his time between Santa Fe and Missouri.[3] The Spanish and later Mexicans had not focused on trapping fur-bearing animals of the Southwest as demand was small within the Spanish trading system. The American expeditions found fur-bearing animals in abundance and began to do trapping and fur trading, as demand was high in American and European markets.

Young pioneered trapping in the American Southwest, leading many of the first American expeditions into the mountains and watercourses of present-day New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. Young was 18 when he started to explore. Young and his associates would take the newly caught peltry to Missouri for sale, purchase trade goods there. When they returned to Nuevo Mexico, they sold the American goods for gold and silver coin.[3] During the trapping expedition of 1827-1828, Young employed a teenaged Kit Carson.[4]

Despite tension that developed with Mexican authorities trying to restrict American activities, Young became a successful trapper and businessman. He eventually set up a trading post in Pueblo de Taos in northern Nuevo Mexico, in the late 1820s.[5]

Marriage and family[edit]

He took María Josefa Tafoya, the daughter of a prominent Taos family who were Mexican citizens, as his wife in a common-law marriage.[5]

Baptism as Catholic[edit]

By the late 1820s and early 1830s, the Mexican authorities were growing concerned about American settlers and their influences in Nuevo México. They began to impose increasingly severe restrictions on trade and trapping. Perhaps in part to avoid these restrictions, Young was baptized a Catholic in 1830 (perhaps he also became a Mexican citizen and formalized his marriage to Maria Tafoya; however, if he did so, no record of these two events survives).[6]


In the spring of 1830, Young led the first American trapping expedition to reach the Pacific Coast from the Mexican Santa Fe de Nuevo México Province. Young's journey to the west with traveling companions crossed eastern Alta California, present-day Arizona, then the Colorado River and the Mojave Desert. They arrived at the Mission San Gabriel Arcángel near the Pueblo de Los Angeles in the settled Alta California province, present-day Los Angeles in Southern California. After recuperating there, the group visited the Mission San Fernando Rey de España in the nearby San Fernando Valley, and headed further north into California's great Central Valley via its southern San Joaquin Valley section. It was the first United States trapping expedition to do so.[7]

Once there the group moved north to the Sacramento Valley, where they encountered Peter Skene Ogden of the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC). The two groups jointly trapped the valley before Young’s group moved on to San Francisco Bay to trade their pelts. After this they went south to Pueblo de Los Angeles and then back to Taos before the end of 1830. At the time of his return to Taos with the proceeds of this expedition, Young was established as one of the wealthiest Americans in Mexican territory.[8]

Over the next few years, Young and his group continued traveling to Alta California to trap and trade. In 1834 in San Diego, Young encountered Hall J. Kelley, the great promoter of the Oregon Country from Boston. Kelley invited Ewing Young to accompany him north to Oregon, but Young at first declined. After re-thinking, Young agreed to travel with Kelley and they set out in July 1834.

Oregon Country[edit]

Young and Kelley arrived at the British-controlled Fort Vancouver on October 17, 1834. It was a regional base for the Hudson's Bay Company.[9] At the time, both the British and the Americans had settlers and commercial interests in the region; they did not settle the northern boundary with Canada until 1846. The HBC was so powerful that it discouraged or ran off new trading companies.

Willamette Valley[edit]

Young decided to settle permanently in the Willamette Valley. Dr. John McLoughlin of the HBC tried to discourage American settlers in the region. The Mexican government of Alta California accused Young and his group of having stolen 200 horses when they left.[9] The group denied this, saying some uninvited traveling companions had stolen the horses.[9] McLoughlin blacklisted Young from doing business with the HBC.[10]

Among Young and Kelley’s party was Webley John Hauxhurst, who was to build the first grist mill in the Willamette Valley.[9] Another trapper, Joseph Gale, later an important figure in Oregon history, was also part of the group.[11]

Young settled on the west bank of the Willamette River near the mouth of Chehalem Creek, opposite Champoeg.[9] His home is believed to be the first house built by European Americans on that side of the river.[9] In 1836, Young started to build a distillery to produce alcohol.[10] The Methodist Mission leader Jason Lee organized the Oregon Temperance Society and, along with McLoughlin, tried to get Young to stop his efforts.[10] McLoughlin and the HBC prohibited alcohol sales to Native Americans, as they had seen that it caused problems.[10] Late in the year, U.S. Navy Lieutenant William A. Slacum arrived on the ship Loriot and helped to dissuade Young from following through on the venture.[10]

Slacum was an agent of the U.S. President; he helped put together a joint venture among the men to purchase cattle.[10] In January 1837, Young was selected as the leader of the Willamette Cattle Company. He traveled to California on the Loriot (assisted by Slacum). After purchasing 630 head of cattle, he brought them back along the Siskiyou Trail. Previously, the HBC had owned all the cattle in the Willamette Valley and rented animals to settlers.[9] Accompanying Young on the cattle drive were Philip Leget Edwards, Calvin Tibbets, John Turner, William J. Bailey, George Gay, Lawrence Carmichael, Pierre De Puis, B. Williams, and Emert Ergnette.[12] During the drive, Gay and Bailey murdered a native boy. It was their retaliation for an attack several years earlier by the Rogue River Indians. They had attacked to retaliate for murders by Young’s group, committed on their travel to Oregon in 1834.[1]


In February 1841, Young died without any known heir and without a will.[9] This created a need for some form of government to deal with his estate, which had many debtors and creditors among the settlers.[9] Doctor Ira L. Babcock was selected as supreme judge with probate powers after Young's death to deal with Young's estate.[13] The activities that followed his death eventually led to the creation of a provisional government in the Oregon Country.[9]

The Ewing Young Historical Marker located along Oregon Route 240 notes the location of Young's farm and grave.[14][15] A round-topped oak tree that is said to have grown from an acorn planted on his grave is present at that location.[15]

Ewing Young Elementary School in Newberg, Oregon, is named in his honor.[16] In 1942 the Liberty ship Ewing Young (hull #631 from Calships in Terminal Island, California) was named in his honor. The Ewing Young served in the Pacific theater during World War II and was scrapped in 1959.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b c d "Ewing Young Route". Oregon's Historic Trails. End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Archived from the original on 2006-12-10. Retrieved 2006-12-21. 
  2. ^ Holmes, Kenneth (1967). Ewing Young:master trapper. Portland, Oregon: Binsford & Mort. pp. 9–10. 
  3. ^ a b c d Holmes, Kenneth (1967) pp. 10-20
  4. ^ Holmes, Kenneth (1967) pp 40-41.
  5. ^ a b Holmes, Kenneth (1967) p. 40-43.
  6. ^ Holmes, Kenneth (1967) pp. 64-65
  7. ^ Holmes, Kenneth (1967) pp. 46-48.
  8. ^ Holmes, Kenneth (1967) pp. 46-60
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Hussey, John A. (1967). Champoeg: Place of Transition, A Disputed History. Oregon Historical Society. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f Terry, John (October 15, 2006). "Oregon's Trails - Pariah eases into spirited endeavor". The Oregonian. pp. Regional News; Pg. B11. 
  11. ^ The American Rocky Mountain Fur Trade
  12. ^ "Wallamette Settlement Articles of Agreement". Provisional and Territorial Records (Oregon Provisional Government): 406. 1837-01-13. 
  13. ^ Horner, John B. (1921). Oregon: Her History, Her Great Men, Her Literature. The J.K. Gill Company:Portland, Oregon. 
  14. ^ "Ewing Young Historical Marker". Geographic Names Information System, U.S. Geological Survey. 1980-11-28. Retrieved 2010-06-11. 
  15. ^ a b Munford, Kenneth; Charlotte L. Wirfs (1981). "The Ewing Young Trail". Benton County Historical Society & Museum. Retrieved 11 June 2010. 
  16. ^ Ewing Young History. Newberg School District. Retrieved on March 24, 2008.


  • Carter, Harvey L. "Ewing Young", featured in "Trappers of the Far West", Leroy R. Hafen, editor. 1972, Arthur H. Clark Company, reprint University of Nebraska Press, October 1983. ISBN 0-8032-7218-9
  • Holmes, Kenneth (1967). Ewing Young:master trapper. Portland, Oregon: Binsford & Mort. ISBN 978-0-8323-0061-5. 
  • Carter, Harvey Lewis "Dear Old Kit": The Historical Christopher Carson, University of Oklahoma Press, hardcover (1968), 250 pages; trade paperback reprint, University of Oklahoma Press (August 1990), 250 pages, ISBN 0806122536 ISBN 978-0806122533 Pages 38 to 150 of "Dear Old Kit" consist of an annotated edition of "The Kit Carson Memoirs, 1809-1856", an original manuscript dictated by Kit Carson with 322 annotations by Carter.