Willamette Cattle Company
|Also known as||Wallamet or Willamet Cattle Company|
|Participants||Ewing Young and others|
The Willamette Cattle Company was formed in 1837 by pioneers in the Willamette Valley of present day Oregon, United States. The company was formed with the express purpose of purchasing cattle in California to bring to Oregon Country. In that Mexican possession, the group led by Ewing Young procured nearly 750 head of cattle and 40 horses and drove these animals overland north to Oregon Country.
Prior to the activities of the Willamette Cattle Company, virtually all cattle in the region were owned by the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC). In order to perpetuate that lucrative monopoly the HBC only leased cattle, never selling the animals and all calves born would be owned by the HBC. In order to circumvent that monopoly residents of the valley, including some former employees of the HBC, were drawn together by Lieutenant William A. Slacum. Slacum had been sent west by President Andrew Jackson to inquire about the strategic and economic conditions in Oregon. The lieutenant had arrived via the brig Loriot and became aware of the cattle situation amongst the pioneers.
A variety of settlers including missionaries such as Jason Lee on behalf of the Methodist Mission, former HBC employees, HBC employees, and American pioneers created a joint-stock company to travel via the Loriot to California and purchase as many heads of cattle as they could. The articles of incorporation were signed on January 13, 1837 at Campment du Sable. They would then drive the cattle overland north to the Willamette Valley and distribute the cattle proportional to the amount invested into the company by each investor. The company would pay for all expenses of those journeying to Mexican held California and pay them $20 per month in wages. American Ewing Young was selected as the leader of the company and in charge of going to California with Philip Leget Edwards as treasurer.
On January 22, 1837, the Willamette Cattle Company employees set sail aboard the Loriot from Wappatoo Island on the Willamette River. Eleven men and three Native American boys made up the group. The group arrived first in San Francisco in March, but were told permission for the purchase of any cattle would need to be from the civil governor located in Santa Barbara. Young then went overland and received permission to buy cattle, but only from the government. He then returned north and met the group in Monterrey on May 12, 1837. They then purchased 746 head of cattle at $3 per head that were to be picked up at two locations. The group also purchased 40 horses at $12 each. In June the enterprise had procured the cattle and started driving them north to Oregon Country. On July 27 the group began traveling through the Sacramento Valley after a delay due to wet gunpowder that required a small group to return to San Francisco to buy more. They passed through the valley during the hot summer season and then crossed over the Siskiyou Mountains of northern California and southern Oregon. On September 14 they crossed the Shasta River and soon after William Bailey and George Gay shot a “friendly” native boy in what was considered revenge for attacks on previous trips through the area. This event angered Young and raised tensions in an area that still had sizable populations of Native Americans.
Finally, in October the group returned to the European settlements of the Willamette Valley. They had arrived with approximately 630 head of cattle and 15 horses left from what was purchased in California. Some of these animals were lost by natural causes, some were killed by natives, at least one was killed by the group for feed, and others simply wandered off. The remaining animals were then divided amongst the investors with a value of $8.50 per head, with Young receiving the largest allotment of 135. Those who participated in the cattle drive were paid at the rate of $1 per day in the form of cattle. Expenses of the group that traveled to California totaled $42.75, with 200 cattle lost on the trip.
The procurement of cattle began to help break the dependence of the settlers on the cattle of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Young’s role made him the wealthiest of the settlers, which would lend a part in the attempt to form a government after his death in 1841 to deal with his heirless estate. However, even with over 600 cattle among the approximately 500 Europeans in the valley, there was still more demand for cattle, and the settlers would come up with a novel enterprise with the Star of Oregon episode in 1840-1843 to get more cattle.
Those investing in the Willamette Cattle Company:
- Complete list: Ewing Young, Jason Lee, John McLoughlin, William Slacum, Calvin Tibbets, James A. O'Neil, John Turner, Webley John Hauxhurst, William J. Bailey, George Gay, Lawrence Carmichael, Pierre De Puis, Emert Ergnette
Those participating in the cattle drive from California:
- Incomplete list: Young, Edwards, Carmichael, Bailey, Ergnette, Turner, Gay, B. Williams, Tibbets, and De Puis.
- "Willamette Cattle Company Agreement, 1837". Echoes of Oregon. Oregon Secretary of State. Retrieved 2007-01-23.
- "Ewing Young Route". Oregon's Historic Trails. End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Retrieved 2006-12-21.
- Oregon Blue Book: Oregon History: Federal Interests. Oregon Secretary of State. Retrieved on February 28, 2008.
- "Diary of Philip Leget Edwards". Historical California Longhorns. California Association of Texas Longhorn Breeders. Retrieved 2007-01-24.
- Corning, Howard M. (1989) Dictionary of Oregon History. Binfords & Mort Publishing. p. 266.
- Clarke, Samuel Asahel (1905). Pioneer Days of Oregon History. Vol I. Portland, Oregon: J.K. Gill, Co. ISBN 978-1-4326-8254-5.
- Dobbs, Caroline C. (1932). Men of Champoeg: A Record of the Lives of the Pioneers Who Founded the Oregon Government. Metropolitan Press. 136.
- Collins, Dean (1943). Stars of Oregon. Binford & Mort. 44.
- "Wallamette Settlement Articles of Agreement". Provisional and Territorial Records (Oregon Provisional Government): 406. 1837-01-13.