Echoes of Oregon History Learning Guide
Lewis and Clark on their way to the Pacific Ocean in 1805 (Oregon State Capitol mural).
Welcome to the Web version of Echoes of Oregon, a packet of document facsimiles with an accompanying instructor's manual available from the Oregon State Archives. It has been designed to encourage the use of primary sources in high school history classes. With the assistance of an advisory committee of classroom teachers, the twenty-four documents in Echoes were selected from the records of Oregon's Provisional and Territorial Governments, which are in the custody of the Oregon State Archives. This record group contains over 14,000 separate documents, and it provides an unusually detailed and immediate view of life in Oregon from 1837 to 1859.
Echoes of Oregon is designed to supplement textbook treatments of American history by exposing students to these records, which are the raw material of history. Echoes has the following objectives:
to introduce students to primary historical sources.
to teach students how to extract the meaning from a historical document. By doing this, they can gain a richer and more accurate idea of what it was like to live in Oregon during the years from 1837 to 1859.
to spur students to think about the past, without benefit of the ready-made generalizations that are a necessary part of textbooks. The documents selected for inclusion in Echoes were chosen because each of them reveals, in its own way, how government touched the lives of its citizens.
to make students more aware of how the past affects everyone.
If there is a single lesson to be learned from using primary sources such as these, it is this: history is not something that happens to other people in other places. History happens to everyone, everywhere.
It takes an effort to picture Oregon as it was 150 years ago. The land was wilderness, slowly and sporadically being invaded by farms and small settlements. The people who came to Oregon had to create a government from nothing, and the government which they made reflected their experience in more settled parts of the United States. Their government also embodied the aspirations and ambitions they held for their new home. When the trains of wagons reached western Oregon, the pioneers were completing an arduous physical journey. Oregon rests at the western edge of the continent. The movement of peoples which began centuries earlier in Europe and went on to Massachusetts and Virginia, found one of its culminations in the Willamette Valley. The journey of the human spirit that these documents reveal continues today.
During the years settlers were making the long overland trip to Oregon, the United States was subjected to severe stresses. Financial panics and economic depressions swept the land, ruining some and displacing many more Americans. The United States fought a war with Mexico and annexed California and the Southwest. Industrialization proceeded at a rapid pace in the northern states, while the southern states continued to be tied to a single crop economy which in turn was wedded to the institution of slavery. It was this last issue, slavery, which consumed political and social debate during this period of American history and threatened to rip the union apart. To people who were familiar with these events and felt these tremendous tensions, Oregon held the promise of a fresh start, thousands of miles from home, in a land which all reports characterized as lush and fertile. Americans responded by dropping their links to settled parts of the country, particularly the Midwest, and moved to the Northwest by the thousands. They brought their attitudes and traditions with them to their new land, and it is these which are captured in the documents selected for Echoes.
As much as possible, these documents were chosen because they provide a glimpse of how life was really lived by the men, women, and children who settled Oregon. They give a vivid impression of the ways in which government affected the lives of its citizens. The earliest of these records, the Willamette Cattle Company Agreement, shows settlers organizing in an effort to free themselves from the economic domination of the Hudson's Bay Company. The last document, the Divorce Petition, shows how difficult life in Oregon Territory could be for a woman and her children when her husband would not contribute to their welfare.
Each document page contains a list of any unfamiliar words and terms which occur in the document for further exploration, and some questions for discussion. These questions range from highly specific ones, intended to encourage students to extract factual information from the documents, to more general and open-ended ones, designed to stimulate thought and discussion. It should be emphasized that many of these more general questions have no right or wrong answers. Teachers should also note that these questions are suggestions only, and that Echoes is intended to encourage teachers to approach these documents in their own ways.