Resources 1984 – II. White Men Slowly Penetrate the Southern Oregon Wilderness A. Early Exploration by Fur Traders

Historic Resource Study, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, 1984

II. White Men Slowly Penetrate the Southern Oregon Wilderness

A. Early Exploration by Fur Traders

The first Euro-Americans to enter southern Oregon were probably French-Canadian trappers working for the Hudson’s Bay Company, whose early records mention the Rogue River and the Rogue Indians, both of which had acquired their name from the character of the natives, who were considered “fierce and warlike,” habitually stealing traps and their contents from the early fur hunters. [1] In 1820 Thomas McKay penetrated the Willamette Valley, but withdrew after encountering hostile Indians along the Umpqua River, He was followed six years later by Alexander Roderick McLeod, whose small party of four white men and nine Indians slowly progressed along the Oregon coast in a search for furs. At the same time, Chief Factor John McLoughlin of the Hudson’s Bay Company outfitted a strong brigade to penetrate what was thought to be rich fur land to the south of Fort Vancouver and investigate its economic potential. The group was joined by David Douglas, a British botanist then collecting samples in the Northwest. Upon reaching the Umpqua River, Douglas left the trappers and went alone into the nearby forested hills, where he was well received by the Indians. [2]

The quest for beaver continued to bring others to southern Oregon. In 1827 Peter Skene Ogden, head of the Hudson’s Bay Company brigades combing the Snake River country, led a trapping and exploring expedition to the area that sought furs and also the location of a large river rumored to have been found there. They reached Klamath Lake in December 1826–the first adventurers to enter the heart of the Rogue country. In early 1828 Jedediah Smith and a party of eighteen men, driving 300 head of horses intended for sale at the annual American fur rendezvous in what is now Wyoming, set out for the Rogue country from the south. His miserable journey, through the thick brush, dense, wet redwood forests, and abysmal canyons of the Trinity and Klamath river areas in northwestern California ended in disaster in July on the Umpqua River in Oregon when fourteen of his party were ambushed by Indians. Four survivors, including Smith, ultimately reached Fort Vancouver nearly 200 miles north. [3] During the next twenty years, several different sites on the Umpqua River became small trading centers, but no intensive efforts at colonization were made.


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