Printed in the Feb. 23, 2005 edition of the I.V. News
February 15, 1841 was an important day in the history of Oregon. This was the day that Ewing Young died. We don’t usually commemorate death dates but there is no recorded birth date for Young, and his death had important consequences for Oregon. He was born about 1810 in Knox County, Tennessee and received some early training as a cabinet maker. However, the lure of the west took him to New Mexico and he became a fur trapper. He was different than most fur trappers because he could read and write and carried with him a two volume set of William Shakespeare which he would read around the campfire at night. At his death, his belongings were auctioned and the Shakespeare set sold for $3.50.
Near San Diego, California, Young came into contact with Hall Jackson Kelley who convinced him to settle down in Oregon. On July 8, 1834 he left the San Francisco Bay area with Kelley and 100 head of horses and mules to make his way to Oregon. He was soon joined by some Mexican bandits who had about fifty head of stolen cattle. Their troubles were many, including abandonment by the Mexicans, and difficulties with Indians in southern Oregon. Some writers claim that Young referred to the Indians as rogues, the river in the area became known as the Rogue River from that point in time and the Indian tribe called the Rogue Indians.
Because his possession of the stolen cattle, John McLoughlin, local head of the Hudson Bay Company, did not welcome him with open arms but Young still started a farm on the Chehalem River in the north end of the Willamette Valley. In January 1837, Ewing Young was invited by local settlers, even John McLoughlin helped with the finances, to return to California and buy cattle to help establish the cattle business in Oregon. Transported to California by ship, Young and his crew had to do some fancy talking to convince the Mexican authorities that this was a legal project. Eventually they purchased 1000 head of half wild cattle and proceeded to drive them north to Oregon. River crossings, Indians, predators, wild cattle, and other problems culled the herd down to 630 by the time they returned to the Willamette Valley in October of 1837. This was the first major cattle drive into Oregon and it made possible the expansion of many farms and the population of early Oregon to have a stable economic base.
Ewing Young also benefited from the drive and became one of the wealthiest men in the area. Besides the farm, he built a gristmill, sawmill, and a store which by 1841 amounted to a major part of the local economy. This is why his death from pneumonia was important to Oregon’s history. It forced the settlers to meet together and decide how the property would be disbursed, as he had no known heirs. Ira Babcock was appointed a judge and the previously mentioned auction was held. This raised $3734, out of which $1500 was used to build the first public building in Oregon, a jail in Oregon City.
The settlers continued to meet together to discuss local needs, called Wolf Meetings, and on May 2, 1843 at Champoeg, a Hudson Bay trading post, a historic vote was taken to decide whether Oregon would become British or American. The site of the meeting is now an Oregon state park. Later, a provisional government was organized and a petition sent to the United States to request territorial status. This was granted in 1848 and on February 14, 1859 Oregon was made into a state. Of course many other people were involved in these steps but Ewing Young should be considered one of the founding leaders of Oregon.