Oregon Historical Quarterly/Volume 7/Jason Lee memorial address by R. P. Boise

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By Judge R. P. Boise

In 1835 Nathaniel J. Wyeth had been defeated in his enterprise to establish trade and a settlement of white men in the valley of the Columbia River by the monopoly of the Hudson's Bay Company, and was obliged to sell all his interests. in the company to that all-powerful corporation; the historian relates that when Wyeth left and this whole region seemed to fall under British influence and dominion, Jason Lee, the missionary, remained. From him and his religious associates soon radiated a moral and educational influence that afterward became a light that illumined the darkness that over-shadowed this then almost barbarous region.

The country was still in the possession of wild Indian tribes, and was then the hunting preserve of the Hudson's Bay Company, which every year sent out its trappers and traders and gathered in a rich harvest of furs, which had built up the enormous wealth of that great monopoly—which then dominated and seemed destined to control the future destiny and sovereignty of the whole region west of the Rocky Mountains and north of California.

When, in 1834, Jason Lee had made his difficult and perilous journey from St. Louis to Fort Vancouver, Doctor McLoughlin, who then ruled this country with imperial sway, being familiar with its physical condition, well knowing that the country was rich in agricultural resources, and believing its future sovereignty secure to the crown of Great Britain, saw in the person of Mr. Lee a devout Christian, an educated and energetic man—one especially qualified to enlighten, develop, and improve the settlement of his Hudson's Bay employees, which he had planted on the rich prairie lands in what is now the northern part of this county.

The Doctor therefore encouraged and finally persuaded Mr. Lee to establish his mission near this infant settlement. The acceptance of the friendly suggestion and advice of Doctor McLoughlin, and the planting of his mission in the Willamette Valley, was a fortunate move for the future sovereignty and welfare of this country, as the history of its results has most fully demonstrated.

From this nucleus of Christian civilization went forth streams of influence that not only benefited the Indians, but as well, educated, enlightened, and elevated the settlement founded by Doctor McLoughlin, and also the few white settlers then in the country.

The missionaries who crossed the plains and mountains to reach this country, were indeed the earliest of the pioneers. They were messengers of civilization, who spied out the land and opened highways for future immigrants, and gave to the people of the Eastern States accurate information as to the agricultural value of the country; that it was rich in soil, had a mild and healthful climate, and would produce in abundance and perfection all the staple products of the temperate zones; that it was a lovely land to look upon, unsurpassed in scenic beauties, with rivers of pure water flowing through valleys as fair as where Arcadian plains extend, or the famed Hydaspes flows.

This information, sent back by the missionaries and others to their former homes in the States, created great interest in this country, and these tidings from the missionaries in far-off Oregon aroused an interest among the people in the Eastern States that caused many daring and energetic men and women to make the long and dangerous journey across the plains to possess this fair land. They brought with them ideas of liberty and free government by the people, and their coming saved this vast, rich and beautiful country to the sovereignty and dominion of the United States.

Mr. Lee was not only a devout minister of his church, but like many other of his brethren, he understood the necessities and physical wants of a civilized and thrifty community. He built mills to supply food and lumber. He established schools to teach the Indians, and whites as well; he laid the foundation of what is now the Willamette University, and built houses and barns to shelter men and beasts. He made provisions to bring cattle from California for the use of the mission and settlers.

He was a man of broad and comprehensive ideas, and saw and provided by every means in his power for the needs of the coming state, and spent his short, earnest and most useful life in laying the foundations of the moral and intellectual structure of this commonwealth.

The period of his active missionary life was short, for he died at his work in his early manhood; but few men in so short a period have accomplished so much for the upbuilding and advancement of Christian civilization. The monuments of his good works are all around us here today, and testify abundantly of his high character, ability and enterprise. The early foundations of this church were laid by him before its worshipers were sheltered by structures made by the hands of men.

"What to them were gilded dome or towering spire?
'Neath their sturdy oaks and pines arose their anthems, winged with fire."

But from their teachings and influence has come the elegant meeting house, the schoolhouse and the college, and now instead of the rude music of the congregation we hear the sound of the organ and the refined and cultivated music of the choir.

These early missionaries were brave, unselfish men, who devoted their lives to lighten the burdens and promote the welfare of their fellow-men. They went where duty called—ministered to the sick and the needy, helped by word and deed to found and develop the industries of the country, that their mission might become self-supporting and a moral and thrifty community grow up around them, and it is most fitting that we who enjoy so abundantly the great blessings that have come to us, as the result of their labors, should pay reverence and honor to the memory of Jason Lee, who was their leader in these great enterprises.

He died at his work for Oregon in another distant state and was buried there, far away from the field of his labors, and now, when the members of this church, which he founded, who with grateful hearts revere his sacred memory, have returned his remains to this scene of his active life, we with reverent hands commit his ashes to final sepulture beneath the green sod of Oregon in the beautiful cemetery which bears his name, to rest beside his family and coworkers in the mission where the spreading oak casts its grateful shade, and the snow-capped mountains look down in wild and solemn grandeur.