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THE RETREAT OF THE HUDSON'S BAY COMPANY IN THE PACIFIC NORTH-WEST N the1830's there began agradual infiltration ofAmericans into the Oregon country that boded ill for the interests of the Hudson'sBay Companyin that region. The resultingcomplicationscausedtheAmericangovernmentto senda series ofemissaries to investigate the trade and conditionsin the Pacificnorth-west. The reports of theseenvoys and the writings of the American settlers influenced both the company and the United States government and are historically significant. As early as 1835 PresidentJacksondispatchedan agentto Oregon. On November 11of that yearJohnForsyth,secretaryof state,instructedWilliam A. Slacum to "endeavorto obtain all suchinformation, political, physical, statistical, and geographical, as may prove useful or interesting to this Government". Slacum reported, March 26, 1837, that "A custom-house, established at the mouth of the Columbia, would effectuallyprotect the American trader from the monopoly which the Hudson Bay Company enjoy at this time, and a singlemilitary post would be sufficientto giveeffectto the laws of the United States, and protect our citizens in their lawful avocations". • Relative to Dr. JohnMcLoughlin, chieffactor of the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Vancouver, Slacum wrote that the Rev. Jason Lee, Methodist missionary, "acknowledgesthe kindest assistance",and that McLoughlin gave Lee "the use of horses, and milch cows,and furnishedhim with all hissupplies". Slacum declared that the chief factor "has acted toward many of the settlers in the same manner...". This is a motif that runs through all the contemporary reports upon Oregon, with the exceptionof Hall JacksonKelley's memoir. The very peoplewho denouncedthe Hudson'sBay Company and the arbitrary conduct of the chief factor, recountedthe kindnessand generosityof the latter toward themselves. In the caseof Kelley peculiarcircumstancesobtained : McLoughlin had beeninformedby the Spanish governorof Californiathat Kelley wasa horsethief. The resulting contretemps doubtlessaccountsfor Kelley's bitterness when he wrote: . . . BeforeI hadbeenlongin the country,I learnedthat the factorand his agents werepreparing, in everyartfulway,torender myabode thereuncomfortable •Slacum'sreport, dated March 26, 1837, was printed as Senatedocument, no. 24, 25 congress, 2 sess.and in Housereport,no. 101, 25 congress, 3 sess. 262 Ti-ir. Hu•)so•'s B,•e Co•l',•e IN rile NORXH-WEST 263 and unsafe. The most preposterous calumniesand slanderswere set on foot in regardto my character,conduct,and designs. All my movements werewatched, and, in someinstances,I wasthreatenedwith violence,by persons who had been instigated,as I had reasonto believe,by the Company. Had I beenwilling to placemyselfunderthecontrolanddirection of theCompany,all wouldhavebeen peace;but solong as I wasresolvedto act independently, as an Americanon Americansoil,seekingauthenticinformation,for generaldiffusion,and pursuing the avowedpurposeof openingthe trade of the territory to generalcompetition, and the wealthof the countryto generalparticipationandenjoyment,solongwas I an objectof dreadanddisliketo the grasping monopolists of the Hudson'sBay Company. ß . . I remained,therefore,in Oregonno longerthan was needful... and so longasI did remain,I wastreatedvery muchlike a prisoner of war, althoughnot subjected to actualconfinement. However, Kelley did present an accurate picture of the fur trade asit existedin the Pacificnorth-westin 1839. "For nearly twenty years", he wrote, ß . . the Hudson'sBay Companyhave exercised an almostunlimited control over the Indian tribes and the trade of the whole country west of the Rocky mountains. ß . . The companyexercises full authority overall, whetherIndians,English, orAmericans, whoarein itsservice, andin a manneralwaysinjurious, andgenerally disastrous, to all otherswhoundertaketo trade in that territory. It may be said, in fact, that Americans,exceptassociated with thiscompany,arenot permittedto carryona trafficwithinseveralhundredmilesof the company's posts? The followingyear JamesH. Lanman declaredthat "Wherever the Hudson'sBay Company plants its iron footsteps,there the American trade is sureto decline". 3 Every writer of the period recountedthis phaseof the trade in Oregon. Captain T. $paulding , of the Lausanne,who arrived in June, 1840, with a cargoof American missionaries,said that not only did the company monopolizethe trade but alsoerectedflourandsawmills. "Their resourcesare immense,and their ambition unbounded", he wrote, and they have ß . . arrogatedto themselves the almostexclusive occupation of the Columbia river. Nor doestheselfish grasping at all thissatisfythem; fortheyannuallysend a largeparty throughtheacknowledged territoryoftheUnitedStates,to California, to trap beaver... while, in passingthrough the country, they commit every depredationupon the poor defenceless and peacefulIndians living within the definedand acknowledged jurisdiction of the United States,actuallymurdering hundredsof them every year.... •Kelley's memoir on Oregon,dated Jan. 31, 1839, was printed as appendixO of House report...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-1093
Print ISSN
0008-3755
Pages
pp. 262-280
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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