Oregon Historical Quarterly/Volume 24/Letters number 1
LETTER FROM PETER H. BURNETT, ESQ.
(From The Platte Argus [Mo.] of the 2nd)
The following letter was received yesterday by a citizen of this county from Mr. Burnett by the way of Oahu, and forwarded by the American Consul. The details will be deemed interesting by his old friends and neighbors, and are indeed of importance to all who take an interest in the affairs of Oregon.
"Falatin Plains, Oregon, Nov. 4, 1844.
"* * * The emigrants are all arriving, and will be here in a few weeks at furtherest, and I expect to receive other letters and papers. I have now an opportunity of writing a hasty letter, as one of the H. B. Co's ships, the Columbia, leaves Vancouver in a few days for Sandwich Islands.
"Our country is most beautiful, fertile and well watered, with the most equable and pleasant climate. Our population is rapidly increasing, and the country is making progress in wealth and refinement. I have never yet before seen a population so industrious, sober and honest as this. I know many young men who were the veri[e]st vagabonds in the states, who are here respectable and doing exceedingly well.
"Our crops the past year (1844) have been most bountiful, and we have a full supply of wheat for our consumption, and a large quantity for exportation. Large numbers of cattle are raised here which are never fed or sheltered. Many men have from three to four hundred head of cattle. Sheep can be had in any able number, as the H. B. Co. have a large flock, and manyprivate individuals have a large quantity.
Ere this reaches you, perhaps you will have learned that we have a regular government in most successful operation in Oregon. When I first reached this region about one year ago, I thought any attempt at organization might be premature. I had not, however, been here long before I conceived that a government of some kind was inevitable. It grew out of stern invincible necessity. Our commercial and business transactions were considerable. Difficulties were daily occurring between individuals in relation to their 'claims'; the estates of deceased persons were daily devoured and helpless orphans plundered; crimes were committed and the base and unprincipled and reckless and turbulent were hourly tramping upon the rights of the honest and peaceable. A civilized population, numerous as we were, could not exist without government. The thing was impossible. We therefore organized a government of our own.
"We have no money, no means. I was a member of the Legislature. I had most of the business to do. We passed a tax bill, appointed an assessor and permitted every man not to pay a tax if he chose so to do; but if he did not pay, being able, we disbarred him from suing in the courts as plaintiff.
"At the same time we passed acts to protect all bona fide settlers in their claims to the amount of 640 acres. The tax bill operated like a charm. Nearly all the population paid without hesitation.
"We selected a tall Tennesseean, Joseph L. Meek, for our sheriff. He had been in the mountains with Wm. L. Subblett for eight or ten years, is exceedingly good humored, very popular, and as brave as Julius Caesar. The first warrant he had delivered to him was issued for the apprehension of a very quarrelsome and turbulent man who resisted Meek with a broad axe, but Meek, presenting a cocked pistol, took the fellow nolens volens. The Letter of Peter H. Burnett 107 next and only case of serious resistance to our laws was on the part of Joel Turnham, of Mo., son of May Turn- ham of Clay County. He had assaulted an individual, and a warrant was issued by a Justice of the Peace. Turnham was himself a constable, and John Edmons [John Edmunds Pickernell] was deputized to arrest him. Turnham resisted with a large butchers knife, but Ed- mons had a pistol with six barrels well charged. He shot Turnham four times, the last ball entering above the temple when he immediately expired. These are all the obstructions to the administration of justice we have had, and in Edmons case he was justifiable in killing Turn- ham, even if he had no warrant, as T. assaulted him first and pursued him with great violence to the last. "We now have five counties and two terms of the circuit court in each county in every year. We have but one judge, who discharges the duties of probate judge, chancellor, and what not; in fact, we have only as yet circuit courts and justices of the peace. "Our government was intended only as provisional, to exist until some regular governrment could be estab- lished. "We adopted the statute laws of Iowa which were applicable to our condition, and not modified by our legislature. "We are now waiting most anxiously for the result of Pakenham's mission ; and if the two governments have not settled the question between them, the moment the fact is known, there will be one universal movement made. A regular convention will be held and a consti- tution adopted (republican no doubt), and an indepen- dent government put in operation at once. Necessity will compel us to the step. The population of this coun- try are no doubt desirous to live under the government of the United States, but if she will never do anything for us, we must and will do it for ourselves. The people here are worn out by delay, and their condition becomes 108 Letter of Peter H. Burnett every day more intolerable. I speak to you with great candor, for you know me, and know that I withold nothing and disguise nothing. We are well satisfied that the United States Government, as well as Great Britain, could not object if we form an independent government for ourselves situated as we are. "Treaties must be made with the Indians, and many other things of importance must of necessity be done. The practice of law has commenced, and I have several important suits on hand. Our population about doubles every year and our business trebles. We will soon have a printing press and paper of our own. We can then publish our laws. I have a fine claim, perhaps among the best in Oregon, situated in one of those most beauti- ful prairies called Fallatine Plains. I am in excellent health. Mrs. B's health has improved, and my children are all well, fat and fine. "Your Friend "Peter H. Burnett" [From Western Farmer, III, 346 (Nov. 4, 1871)] Fine Stock for Oregon Mr. S. G. Reed, of Portland, Oregon, accompanied by Wm. Watson, his manager, and a gentleman ranking very high as a judge of stock of all kinds, and thoroughly informed in all that relates to them, has been making a tour among the principal stock breeding districts of this country, and has made large purchases of fine stock, to be shipped to Oregon. From M. H. Cochrane, of Canada, 16 Short-Horn cows and heifers, and one bull calf — nearly all imported. From W. S. King, of Minnesota, a bull calf by Gen. Napier, and a heifer calf. Of Ayrshires, a bull and a bull calf, two heifers and heifer calf, were purchased of Fine Stock for Oregon 109 Mr. Gibbs of Canada. Two Jersey heifers and bull calf were purchased in Canada. An imported Clydesdale stallion and four Clydesdale mares were purchased in Canada. Two Cotswold rams and twenty ewes, all im- ported, were purchased of Mr. Cochrane. Berkshire swine were purchased from Mr. Craig, of Canada ; S. H. Clay, of Kentucky, — in each case prize animals at Chi- cago Exposition— and from David Crinklaw, of Marengo, 111. —in all 12 head. Three Essex pigs were purchased from Wood and Driggs, of Michigan. This undoubtedly is very much the finest lot of stock ever purchased for Oregon, and we trust the enterprise of Mr. Reed will be appreciated and rewarded. We had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of these gentle- men at the Wisconsin State Fair, and from what we there learned of them we have no doubt that all this stock has been selected with admirable judgment, and that it will be well cared for in future. [From Western Farmer, IV, 26 (Jan. 27, 1872)] Short-Horns in Oregon R. C. Geer, of Marion Co., Oregon, in a letter to the Willamette Farmer, makes some interesting statements in regard to early importations of Short-Horn cattle into Oregon. He believes a Short-Horn bull was imported in 1842, and states positively that a large roan Durham bull was led across the plains to Oregon in 1843 ; in 1845 and 1847 herds of this same breed were imported, while in 1853 a considerable number were imported — one lot of 12 by a firm of which he was a member. In 1854, 1859, 1863 and 1866 other importations were made ; some from herds of noted breeders. He says the effects of the very importations are still clearly seen, and that Oregon, not counting recent importations, has many fine thorough- bred cattle.