Oregon Historical Quarterly/Volume 7/Route across the Rocky Mountains with a Description of Oregon and California/Preface

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Description of Oregon and California[1]



By Overton Johnson and Wm. H. Winter,
of the Emigration of 1843.



From the general interest manifested by the People of the United States, and particularly that portion residing in the great Valley of the Mississippi, in regard to the Territory of Oregon and the Province of California, we have been impressed with the belief, that any correct information concerning those countries, clad in ever so homely and unpretending a garb, would be received by them with favor. From this conviction, and indulging the hope that a long and tedious tour might thus be turned to public as well as individual advantage, we have concluded to give the following pages to the press.

There is, we suppose, no portion of North America, East of that great dividing chain—the Rocky Mountains—similar to that on the West. The general features of the country, the climate, the soil, vegetation, all are different. Nature appears to have created there, upon a grander scale. The mountains are vast; the rivers are majestic; the vegetation is of a giant kind; the climate, in the same latitude, is much milder. The soil, generally, is inferior to that of the Western States. Many of the valleys, in point of fertility, are, perhaps, unsurpassed; but to compare the whole country with an equal portion of the Western States, it is much inferior.

Only a small portion of those territories laid down on the maps as Oregon and California, are at all calculated for settlement: much the largest portions of both, are nothing more than barren wastes, which can yield little or nothing to the support of animal life. The valuable portion of Oregon lies between the Blue Mountains and the Coast; and the valuable portion of California, between the California Mountains and the Coast. The principal advantages that those countries possess over the Western States, are a mild and very healthy climate, and an excellent, commercial situation.

Our description of those countries, we are aware, will differ, in many respects, from those which have been, and that probably will be given, by others, for, as men are constituted differently, with different faculties, with different tastes and inclinations; so they differ in their opinions in regard to things. It is impossible for all to view the same things with the same eye. The same situation, the same soil, the same climate, the same country, is not—can not be, adapted to the wishes and wants of all; therefore, though the thing described be the same, there will be a slight difference of coloring in the descriptions of different persons, which will to some extent convey different ideas to the mind of the same reader. Many of the accounts given of those countries are too flattering; and, again, on the contrary, some make their disadvantages to appear greater than they really are. These different descriptions have not always been given to mislead; but are frequently the offspring of the differing judgment of those who have written. Some will probably farm opinions from our statements, and some may be induced to visit or emigrate to those distant Western shores; and if such should be the case, they may be disappointed in their expectations and find countries widely differing from the pictures they had drawn. It is difficult to form a correct idea of a country from any description that can be given. Men are apt to expect too much—to draw their pictures too fair; they look to those wild and distant regions for something surpassing nature, and they are disappointed. The world contains now no Garden of Eden. There is no particular portion of the habitable globe that possesses advantages greatly superior to the rest. If one has a better climate, the other has a better soil; if one has a better commercial situation, the other has some counterbalancing advantage, sufficient to make them nearly or quite equal.

The route to California, the description of that country, and the return from it to Fort Hall, are from the notes of Wm. H. Winter.


  1. The Quarterly begins here the reprint of a book on the emigration of 1843 and the conditions on the Pacific Coast as they were found by two members of that company of Oregon pioneers. Careful inquiry has thus far disclosed the existence of only two copies of this important source of Oregon history. The library of the University of California and the library of Congress have each a copy. The above is a reproduction of the main features of the title page.