Kalapuyas, French, Quakers, English–Who came first?

By George Edmonston Jr.

In 2010, on a highway holiday back to Newberg from New Orleans, my wife and I decided somewhere around Dallas, Texas, to do what we had talked about for years.

We pointed our Ford Explorer north to Grand Island, Neb. This would be our entry point to the 1,800-mile trip west known as the Auto Tour Route of the Oregon National Historic Trail.

Roughly speaking, the route follows the Oregon Trail all the way to Oregon City using I-80, U.S. 30 and I-84. Through the comforts of modern transportation, and assisted by a wonderful device known as cruise control, we would see in most places the actual ground the pioneers walked to make the trip here to the Willamette Valley.

Two words: long walk.

We had Billy with us, our Chocolate Lab, and a man named Joseph Hess.

Billy, of course, is real. As I write this column, he’s nearby, begging for lunch with hungry eyes.

Mr. Hess was only a figure in my imagination. To the best I have been able to determine, he and his wife Mary were the first Oregon Trail family to settle here at the “Grubby End.” Hess Creek? You get the point.

They came with the “Great Migration Wagon Train of 1843,” the first train to prove wagons with families could travel west past Fort Hall, Idaho, and make it to Oregon.

God rest their souls, these former residents who came from the good state of Arkansas have been deceased a long time.

Long before the arrival of pioneers to the Chehalem Valley, the area had been inhabited by Native American bands collectively known as the Kalapuyas. Across the river, the location that was Champoeg had been a Kalapuya gathering place for generations.

Along the banks of Chehalem Creek, a Kalapuya band known as the Yamhelas, or Yam-els, appear to have occupied a village called Cham-ho-huo. From them we get the name “Yamhill.”

A second phase occurred with the establishment of the Willamette Post in 1813. Its owners were from Montreal, Canada.

For 20 years this was an important staging area for the fur trade going on as far south as California. To see the actual ground, cross the Willamette River on 219, go two-tenths of a mile past the bridge and look for a big wooden marker on the left. Stop and read the story.

Next came the settlement of Champoeg itself, a full-blown pioneer village by the late 1830s. Before it was Champoeg, it was known to trappers as Sand’s Encampment or Sand Point.

The fourth phase started with a Tennessean named Ewing Young. It included his partners and friends and their considerable activity about four miles west (on 240 to Carlton/Yamhill) of present-day Newberg in the Chehalem Valley.

Young’s dates as a local begin in 1834 and conclude with his death in 1841. His neighbor was Sidney Smith, a member of the ill-fated Peoria Party of 1839, who settled near Young in early September of that year.

A fifth phase was represented by a small group of retired French Canadian trappers who were joined shortly after by American and European farmers using the Oregon Trail to relocate to the north Willamette Valley. This latter group came from many places, but especially England, Scotland, the states of North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas, and from states in the Midwest.

About the French, local historian Ruth Stoller (now deceased), discovered that Hudson Bay Company (HBC) fur trappers knew this location as “Wild Horse Prairie.” It seems that both sides of the river were involved.

As the southern brigades would make their way north to refurbish themselves and their supplies on the Columbia River at Fort Vancouver, headquarters of the HBC, this is where they would leave their horses to graze.

Returning south to begin fall trapping, the horses were usually wild from several months roaming the lush grass lands of French Prairie, thus the name. Close to Newberg, Parrett Mountain was known as “Wild Horse Mountain.”

With a built-in fondness for the area, many of these men returned to establish their homesteads. Although the numbers were never anything like that which occurred between Champoeg, St. Paul, and down to Salem, the trappers who did venture to the “Grubby End,” combined with a scattering of Oregon Trail pioneers from the earliest wagon trains, represent the first non-native settlers to live in and around what would one day be Newberg.

The final phase is defined by the noticeable influx of members of the Society of Friends, or Quakers, who came to Newberg under the spiritual guidance of William Hobson in the 1870s.

It is also important to note that distinctions exist between these phases as to the long-term impact each would have in Newberg’s development as more than just a scattering of farms.

Thus: Members of the Willamette Post, in the main, either left the area or landed elsewhere in the vicinity of French Prairie.

Thus: With the rare exceptions we have already discussed, most of those who came here in the 1830s were also flow-through visitors.

In phase five we finally see enough homesteaders of the more permanent variety to give our town its opening spark.
And it would be the Quakers in the 1870s and ‘80s who would finally make it happen.

This story also published under the same headline in The Newberg Graphic, April 2, 2011.