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Oregon

State History

Native Americans

People have lived in the land of Oregon for thousands of years. When the Europeans first arrived in the land, there were numerous Native American tribes. Some of the major tribes included the Nez Perce, the Chinook, the Klamath, the Paiute, the Molalla, and the Cayuse. These tribes lived in cedar plank houses and used dugout canoes to travel the waterways. Many of them fished as the primary source of food.


Mount Hood
Mount Hood by Unknown

Europeans Arrive

In the 1500s, European explorers such as Sir Francis Drake spotted the coastline of Oregon, but did not set foot on land. Both Spain and Great Britain laid claim to the land. In 1792, American explorer Captain Robert Gray came upon the Columbia River and named the river after his ship.

Lewis and Clark

In 1803, the United States purchased a large region of land from France called the Louisiana Purchase. President Thomas Jefferson sent explorers Lewis and Clark to map out the new territory. They travelled beyond the borders of the new purchase all the way to the Pacific Ocean at the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon. They stayed there for the winter and built a small fort called Fort Clatsop.

Over the next several years more explorers and fur trappers arrived from the United States and Great Britain. Both countries laid claim to the land. In 1818, the two countries agreed to joint occupancy of the region.


Fort Clatsop
Fort Clatsop - Lewis and Clark National Historical Park 
from the US National Park Service

The Oregon Trail

Starting in the 1840s, settlers from the east began to travel to Oregon Country using the Oregon Trail. Over the next 20 years, hundreds of thousands of people migrated west, many of them settling in Oregon. Eventually, there were so many Americans in the region that Great Britain gave up the land. The territory became part of the United States through the Oregon Treaty in 1846.

Becoming a State

The Oregon Territory was established in 1848. It was a large territory that included the future states of Oregon, Idaho, Washington, and part of Montana. As Oregon continued to grow it eventually broke off from the other regions in the territory and, on February 14, 1859, Oregon was admitted into the Union as the 33rd state.

Nez Perce War

When gold was discovered in the 1850s, even more people moved into Oregon. There was less and less land for the Native Americans. Tribes such as the Nez Perce were forced to move into smaller and smaller reservations. In 1863, gold was discovered on the Nez Perce reservation. They were told they would have to move again. After a small fight erupted in 1877, the Nez Perce under the leadership of Chief Joseph tried to flee to Canada. The U.S. army pursued them. They fought the army all along the way, engaging in several battles along their 1,400 mile retreat. These battles are called the Nez Perce War. In the end, the Nez Perce lost and were forced to move to Indian Territory in Oklahoma.


The city of Portland today
Portland, Oregon from the US Fish and Wildlife Service

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Works Cited

History >> US Geography >> US State History





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