At the End of the Oregon Trail

Our 70′s house sits on 1/3 acre up on a mini mountain top above where the Tualatin runs into the Willamette River across from Oregon City, which is historically deemed “End of the Oregon Trail.” Now that we’ve finally purchased a house, I think it’s fitting for me to find a home here, at the end of a long trail of rentals, in that I was born in St. Louis, Missouri, where the Oregon Trail begins. And I have made that convoluted journey over my life to this place, as many others have.

There’s a site where the Oregon Trail passes just south of Boise, Idaho. Many hot summer nights I spent under the stars out in the desert on the trail with my dog and friends when I lived in Boise. In those times I became very interested in the history of the American Indian natives and the early land grabs of the spreading West. But I had no idea I would follow to the end of the Oregon Trail myself.

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were sent forth by President Thomas Jefferson in 1804 to explore and document the uncharted lands west of the Mississippi River which had been acquired by the United States from France via the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Louis and Clark and team started their infamous journey near St. Louis, Missouri, setting out in boats up the Missouri River.

They ended their journey West at the mouth of the Columbia River where it crashes into the Pacific Ocean, paddling past what would become, more than 140 years later, Portland, Oregon at the confluence of the Willamette River.

Along the way they documented extensive facts on the Northwest’s natural resources, including minerals, animal species and native plants. One such plant was a woody shrub with fragrant clusters of white flowers which the expedition found growing and gathered for a specimen as they passed through Idaho. The shrub was later given the Latin name Philadelphus Lewisii, but today it is more generally known as Lewis’ Mock Orange, or the Syringa, state flower of Idaho.

The expedition also met along the way and recorded 48 different tribes of native Americans, peoples who had already long been living in these “undiscovered areas,” who had their own history along with extensive knowledge of the geography, plants and animals of their regions.

Among these tribes listed are the Willamette River Clackamas and the Columbia Chinook who lived in an area which is now Clackamas County, which includes the great Mt. Hood, salmon rich tributaries and surrounding magestic forests.

Thus began a flow of pioneer emigrants West. The native cultures were to face the devastating impact.

Robert Moore left Missouri and traveled the Oregon trail in 1839 and would become the founder of the first pioneer settlement in the area which would become today’s West Linn, across the river from Oregon City. Long ago, this was where tribes of Clackamas Indians lived and fished at Willamette Falls. It is recorded that the natural bounty of the area, game animals, birds, fish and over 100 kinds of edible plants, was so rich that the Clackamas had plenty for themselves and for trading. But by 1857, the few who had not by then perished from the ravaging diseases introduced by the early seafarer explorers, traders, and settlers were displaced, rounded up by the US Government and marched to Grand Ronde Indian Reservation 70 miles away in the Coast Range.

Guess I’ll have to say West Linn is my town now, ’cause that’s where this 70′s house was built.

It’s a long way from Missouri to Oregon, over many roads with varying difficult routes. In my life, as I’ve traveled all over the West, leaving Missouri in 1959, I know my path has crisscrossed those of the Oregon Trail pioneers and wandering Indian food gatherers all along the way.

In the present, one of my favorite people, with the name of Syringa, now attends Lewis and Clark College in Portland. :)

Intriguingly, we found there were a couple of old Syringa bushes growing on the property of the 1950′s era Lake Oswego house we leased for 6 years. Not a common landscaping plant, but there they were. I clipped and pressed the blossoms.


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