Settlers on French Prairie, Oregon Territory in 1836–1838

by Connie Lenzen

 

1836: Petition for a priest

1837: Petition for a priest

1837: William Slacum's spy visit


Petitions for a Priest

French Prairie is the area north of Salem, centering around St. Paul, Oregon. It was named after the French-Canadian fur trappers who first built their cabins in the area.

In the 1830s, the French Prairie fur-trappers were raising their families without benefit of a Catholic priest. To remedy the situation, they asked the Bishop of Juliopolis [at Red River which is now Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada] to send a priest to them. The second and third of their petitions are presented below. The spelling is not changed from the original letters. Punctuation was not used in the letters. To separate the sentences, extra spaces are used in this transcription.

Source: Letters to the Bishop of Juliopolis, Red River from the Willamette Settlement, March 22, 1836 and March 8, 1837. Mss 83, Catholic Church in Oregon, Oregon Historical Society, Oregon, Portland, Oregon.


1836 Petition

Willammeth March 22 1836

To the Bishop of Juliopoles

Reverend sir

We received youre kind Letter last fall wich gave us Much pleasure and ease to our minds for it has been a Long time since we have heard the Likes of it it has Gave us a new heart since we recived youre kinde instructions to us we will do oure Best indeavours to instruct oure fammilies to youre wishes still Living in hopes of some Speady releafe wich we are Looking for with eager hearts for the day to Come since we Recived youre kinde Letter we have beGun to Build and to make some preperations to Recive oure kinde father wich we hope that oure Laboure will not be in vaine for you know oure sittewations better than oure selves for Some of us stand in greate Neade of youre Assistance as quick as posible

We have nothing to Right to you about the Country but that the farms are All in a very thriving state and produces fine Crops We have sent theis few Lines to you hoping that that it will not trouble you to much for Righting so quick to you but the Country is setteling slowley and oure Children are Learning very fast wich make us very eager for youre assistance wich we hope by Gods helpe will be very sone oure prayers will be for his safe Arivele We have sent you a List of the families that Are at preasent in the settelment so no more preasant from youre humble servants

Joseph Jarvay, 7 children

Xaviar Laderout, 1 child

Eken Luceay, 6 children

Peare Belleck, 3 children

Charles Rondo, 3 children

Charles Plant, 4 children

Pear Depo, 1 child

Andrey Pecor, 4 children

Joseph Delar, 5 children

Luey Fourcy, 3 children

Lamab Erquet, 3 children

Jean Bt Perrault, 2 children

Joseph Desport, 3 children

Andrey Longten, 4 children

John Bt Desportes, 8 children

William Johnson, 2 children

Charlo Chata

William McCarty

Etienne Laferte

Louis Labonte

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1837 Petition

Willammeth March the 8 1837

Revernd sir we have taken this Oppertunity to Rite to you hoping this Will meate you on youre way to oure Settlement for we are waiting with Greate Angsitty for youre Arivall wich we have beane Looking for this some time since we have had the Pleasure of Reciving youre kinde Letter Wich Gave us Greate encouragement But we finde the time very Long Reverend sir you will think us very troublesom But we hope you will excuese us for We have musch of Neede of some assistance from you for we have allmost Every Relgion butoure own Wich you know Revernd sir with oute youre Assistance wen we are surounded by every one it will be very hard for us to bring oure familyes up to oure owne Religeon Wen theire is so maney others around them We are girnging oure familyes us as well As we posible Can But not so well as We would wish We have built a bedend to receve the Gentlemean that should please to Come wich will be a hapy Day for us we still remaine youre humbe Servants

Willammeth Settlers

Pear Belleck [Pierre Beleque]

Joseph Desportes

Charlow Chayta

Andrey Long[tain]

John Bt Desportes McK[ay]

Atoain Lafourty [Etienne Laferte]

Jonva Ladroute [Xavier Laderoute]

Joseph Jarvay [Joseph Gervais]

Charls Plant

Charls Rondo

Joseph Delor

John Bt Pearone [Perrault]

Louey Labounty [Louis Labonte]

Louey Foursey [Louis Fourcier]

Peare Depo [Pierre depot]

Lamab Erquert [Amable Arcouet]

Etien Luceay [EtienneLucier]

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Visit from a Spy

On December 18, 1837, Lt. William A. Slacum of the US Navy, presented the US government with a claim for his services in obtaining information about the Oregon settlements. He based his claim on the four days in January 1837 that he spent touring French Prairie.

In 1837, the Oregon settlements were under joint occupancy between the US and the British governments. Slacum could, therefore, be considered a "spy" for the US. Ultimately, Slacum's report provided encouragement for settlers from the United States to migrate to Oregon.

Slacum described the land that he saw.

"For a distance of 250 miles in extent by 40 in breadth, including both sides the river, (6,500,000 acres,) the land is of the most superior quality, rich alluvial deposit, yielding in several instances the first year 50 bushels of fine wheat to the acre. The general aspect of the plains is prairie, but well interspersed with woodlands, presenting the most beautiful scenery imaginable."

He concluded that the "Willhamette" was the finest grazing country in the world. In 1818, the Hudson Bay Company had one bull and two cows. In 1836, they had upwards of 1,000 head of neat cattle. Slacum felt that a large cargo of wheat could be obtained from the Willhamett settlers and sold in the Sandwich Islands [Hawaii], the Russian settlements at Norfolk sound [Alaska] or in Peru. However, the farmers, most of whom were retired employees of the Hudson's Bay Company, were loyal to their British employer.

January weather in the Northwest is usually cold with rain and brief snow showers. Slacum recorded that the January 1837 low was 22 degrees, and the high was 48 degrees. It is the type of weather where a person appreciates a nice warm stove and friendly conversation. Whether Slacum actually walked the prairie, we don't know. However, he did create an inventory of who was there.

Slacum's list of Canadians who had been in the employ of the Hudson Bay Company.

Settler When begun Acres enclosed Acres cultivated Bushels of wheat Horses Hogs Houses
Jane Baptiste McRoy 1831 69 35 556 33 22 3
Andre Longre 1835 45 24 400 3 33 2
Charles Plante 1835 60 60 800 12 14 2
Charles Rondeu 1836 24 24 200 9 10 1
Louis Fourier 1835 34 34 540 9 10 1
Joseph Gervais 1832 125 65 1000 19 55 3 & 1 grist mill
Xavier Delarout 1834 36 36 350 11 35 2
Joseph Delor 1832 28 28 280 11 28 2
E Arquette 1833 80 50 600 5 31 2
Jean B. Perault 1832 80 60 500 4 20 3
Etiene Lucia 1832 70 45 740 21 45 4 & 1 grist mill
Pierre Billique 1833 50 45 700 9 28 2
Frederic Depau 1833 40 35 500 8 39 2

Slacum's list of other French Prairie settlers.

Settler When begun Acres enclosed Acres cultivated Bushels of wheat Horses Hogs Houses
Ewing Young 1835 29 29 240 79 & 2 mules 30 2 & 1 distillery
Lawrence Carmichael; worked with Young
William Johnson 1834 45 25 300 2 14 2
James A. O'Neil and Thos J. Hubbard 1836 200 15 70 9 13 1 & blacksmith's shop
Wm. Canning, miller and millwright
Solomon H. Smith
Winslow Anderson
Charles Roe, carpenter
Elisha Ezekiel, wheelwright
John Hord, carpenter
Webley Hawkshurst, carpenter
John Turner
William Bailey
Calvin Ebbets, stone mason

 

Slacum found that Ewing Young, an American, was building a distillery. Young stated he had to make and sell whisky in order to buy supplies from Fort Vancouver. Rev. Jason Lee of the Methodist Mission established a temperance society to work on preventing Young from completing it.

Source: Memorial of William A. Slacum Praying Compensation for his services in obtaining information in relation to the settlements on the Oregon river. December 18, 1837. (Fairfield, WA: Ye Galleon Press, 1972).


The Priests Came

The priests did come. The church registers that they kept have been translated, abstracted, and indexed.They provide much information on the French-Canadians and the Native Americans—as well as the Oregon Trail pioneers. The books are available from the St. Paul Mission Historical Society. Click here to learn about these Catholic Church Records of the Northwest.

 

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To see additional information about St. Paul, Oregon. Go to the St. Paul Mission Historical Society's website, http://www.rootsweb.com/~orspmhs/stpaulindex.html

© 2000–2009

Connie Lenzen, CG


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