The Provisional Government

Compiled by Stephenie Flora

Prior to the emigration of Americans into the territory, the Hudson's Bay Company was a small government unto itself. It lived under the laws of Great Britain, and its officers provided the control over the immense territory occupied by that company.

As early as 1838 the Methodist Mission had provided a magistrate and constable for the protection of American rights. There were no formal laws to guide their decisions except their own opinions and preference. Once a decision was made there was no avenue of appeal. In 1838, Jason Lee left for the east to request reinforcements for his mission. When he left he was also armed with an appeal from the settlers asking the Government to assume control of the Oregon territory. Their plea fell on deaf ears.

After the 1840 arrival of reinforcements for Lee's Mission, the population of the valley as reported by Thornton, stood at 36 males who were American (25 of whom had native wives), 13 Methodist ministers, 6 Congregational or Presbyterian ministers, 3 Catholic priests, 13 lay members of Protestant missions, 33 women, 32 of their children and 63 French-Canadians.

In 1840 a petition was drawn up and sent to Congress which stated that the signers had settled in the Oregon territory in belief that it was the domain of the States, and they they could rely on law and protection; that no protection was being provided. The petition was signed by 63 persons of the United States and persons desirous of becoming so. It was carried by Thomas J. Farnham, a member of the Peoria Party who had arrived in 1840 and was returning east.

On February 7, 1841 an informal meeting was held "for the purpose of consulting upon the steps necessary to be taken for the formation of laws and the election of officers to excecute them." It was chaired by Rev. Jason Lee and in a short address advised the selection of a committee to draft a constitution and code of laws for settlements south of the Columbia. Little more was done other than to recommend to all Americans to consider the possibilities of electing a governor and other State officers.

There were difficult questions to deal with in organizing any form of government. There was controversy over what geographical area to include. The possibility of war due to the disagreement on boundary lines was an issue discussed on both sides. Then there was the question of who would be involved in the government. Suspicion and hostility was rampant on both sides.

The importance of coming to a decision became even more important on the death of Ewing Young on Feb 15th. There was the question of settling his estate in a legal manner. The committee to address these questions consisted of Rev. Jason Lee, Rev. Gustavus Hines and George W. LeBreton.

A committee of seven that was chosen to draft a constitution and by-laws to govern the community south of the Columbia never concluded their task. It appears that the opposition of Commodore Wilkes and Dr. McLoughlin proved fatal, and no further effort was made.

However, the meeting to elect officers, held subsequent to Ewing Youngs death, resulted in the appointment of Dr. Babcock as supreme judge with probate powers. He administered the estate of Ewing Young to the satisfaction of the whole community using the laws of New York State as a guide.

George W. LeBreton was elected recorder and William Johnson became sheriff. The justices of the peace were Gervais, Cannon, Moore and Judson. The constables were Gervais, Ladaroute, McCarty and Bellique. [How Gervais managed to be both a justice and a constable is not explained.]

One of those who cherished the hope of forming a home government was W.H. Gray, a lay missionary, who settled in the Willamette valley. As wild animals started taking their toll on the domestic stock a meeting was called to discuss the options available for providing a defense against these beasts of prey. It also provided an opportunity to reintroduce the possibilities of establishing a government. Gray was indefatigable in his efforts to set the ground work for the provisional government. He rode through the valley convincing the doubting and reassuring all those who desired action.

On Feb 2, 1843 a "wolf meeting" was called with Dr. Babcock presiding. A committee of six was appointed to call a general meeting and report business. It was decided that this meeting would be held the first Monday in March at the house of Joseph Gervais on French Prairie.

It is no doubt due to his efforts that the "Wolf Meeting" of March, 1843, became historical as the initiation of Oregon self government. The question of exterminating the wolves was dealt with poste haste. At that point Mr. Gray arose and introduced the main question. There were many debates in the ensuing weeks. A committe of twelve was appointed. Many meetings were held in opposition.

On the appointed day, May 2, 1843, the entire community of Oregon males was present at Champoeg. The British element was well organized and instructed to vote "No" to all motions coming from the other side. A vote was called for. The actual count showed 52 for and 50 against, and the hard fought battle was won.

There has been conflicting information over the years on who was on hand for the vote. The list below was compiled by George H. Himes with the help of F.X. Matthieu.


Mr. George H. Himes, Secretary of the Oregon Historical Society, gave the following as a nearly complete list of names of those present at Champoeg, May 2, 1843: [note that the spelling of the names is as presented in the original document. The correct spelling can be found in my lists for the various years.]

"English-speaking settlers, mostly Americans: Robert Shortess, George Gay, John Howard, William H. Gray, J.L. Babcock, Rev. Gustavus Hines; Rev. Harvey Clark, Rev. J.S. Griffin, L.H. Judson, W.H. Willson, George W. Ebberts, Robert Moore, T.J. Hubbard, Doty, John Ford, William McCarty, Charles Campo, Amos Cook, Caleb Wilkins, David Hill, Medorem Crawford, George Abernethy, F.W. Pettygrove, J.L. Morrison, Robert Newell, Sidney Smith, Joseph L. Meek, G.W. LeBreton, Joseph Holman, Rev. David Leslie, Rev. J.L. Parrish, A.T. Smith, Alanson Beers, A.E. Wilson, Hugh Burns, James A. O'Neil, [John] Larison, Reuben Lewis, J.C.Bridges, C. McRay [McKay], Rev. W.W. Kone, Francis Fletcher, William Johnson, Joseph Gale, L.W. Hastings, Peter H. Hatch, Barnaby, Rev. A.F. Waller.

French-Canandians: Xavier Laderoot, Antoine Bonanfont, Andre LaChapelle, Pierre Papin, Jean DuCharme, Louis B. Vandalle, Fabien Maloin, Luc Pagnon, Etienne Gregoire, Amable Arcouette, Pierre deLord, Louis B. Vandalle, John Sanders, Pierre Pariseau, Charles Rondeau, David Doupierre, Andre DuBois, Pierre Dupot, Moyse Lor, Pierre LeCourse, Pierre Belaque, Augustin Remon, Joseph Matte, Francis Bernier, Joseph Bernabe, Baptiste Dequire, Adolph Chamberlain, Jean Lingras, Jean Servas, Alexis Aubichon, Michelle Laferte, Jean B. Dalcourse, Louis Osant, Jean B. Aubichon, Antoine Felise, Michael Laframboise, Joseph Gervais, Jean B. Paupin, Oliver Briscbois, Thomas Roa, Louis Boivers, Andre Langtain, Etienne Lucier, Alexis Lapratte, Gedereau Sencalle, Thomas Moisan, Pierre Gauthier, F.X. Matthieu"

Reference: Pioneer Days of Oregon History, Vol II by S.A. Clarke

My name is Stephenie Flora. Thanks for stopping by.
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