Setting Up The Mission
rainy season was fast approaching when the mission site was finally selected.
Tents were set up and preparations were made to commence building
a house. Before construction could begin tools had to be prepared, a grind
stone was hung, rails were split, yokes and bows made for the oxen and a secure
area was prepared to keep the oxen in. Some of the oxen were still half
wild so putting them to yoke was a challenge that had to be met.
Work on the house finally commenced. It advanced slowly and before a roof could be added for protection a violent storm of wind and rain drenched the surrounding area. The contents of the tent was soaked and had to be carefully dried out. Before the next storm arrived a roof had been added over a portion of the house and a piece of floor laid on which to lie. It was a welcome refuge from the pelting rain without. After a few weeks the roof was completed, a chimney made of sticks and clay, and a fireplace in one end; floors laid of plank split from the fir, and hewn on the upper side; doors procured in the same way and hung on wooden hinges. Then came a table, stools and chairs. The final result was a log house, twenty feet by thirty feet, divided into two apartments and lighted by four small windows, the sashes partly made by Jason Lee with his jack-knife.
Food consisted of unleavened cakes make from flour obtained at Vancouver and baked before the fire. From the settlers the missionaries had purchased peas that they added to the pork from their supplies to make a soup. Sometimes a small quantity of barley was added. Milk was available from the cows and the Indians sometimes provided venison.
Before the house was done, a party, consisting of about a dozen persons and headed by Ewing Young arrived in the Willamette from California. Included in the party were some sailors, some hunters and one Mr. Kelly, a traveller from New England, who later published some "extravagant notions" on Oregon.
Once the house was completed, a farm was begun. Rails were made and a field of thirty acres was enclosed and plowed and the next spring planted and sowed. Potatoes, corn, wheat, oats and garden seeds were put in. About this time Mr. Walker's time with the mission was over and he left to find employment as a clerk for Capt. Wyeth at Fort William on Multnomah Island. Mr. Shepard had arrived from Vancouver. Ezeziel, a man from Ewing Young's party, built the mission a good pair of cart-wheels, the first that were made in the Willamette. With the farm in order, a barn needed to be built. The men set to work to build one of logs, thirty by forty feet. Jason Lee, Daniel Lee, Mr. Edwards, Rora, an old Islander from the Pacific and John Calapooya, a boy of that tribe started felling trees. When the barn was about half way up it became necessary to call for help. The neighbors arrived to lend a hand. The roof was made of shingles, split four feet long. According to Daniel Lee: "They were confined on the building by laying a heavy weight pole on each course, against which the butts of the next higher course were placed. This way of making a good roof without nails was common in the west and in Oregon." Having hired two of the men from California to saw some planks and boards, doors and floors were soon added and the barn finished.
In the spring the mission was visited by a party of Umpqua Indians and one of them left a small boy to be instructed in religion and taught to labor. A Tillamook indian, a friend of the above, also left a small boy for the same purpose but he was so home sick that he was eventually taken home. The Umpqua boy was quite industrious and sparked great hope but midsummer he became ill and died of consumption. News had been sent to his tribe to come but they did not arrive until after his death. They gathered around his grave in great sorrow but appeared satisfied that all had been done to save him and they returned to their homes.
John Calapooya and his sister, Lucy Hedding were orphans that the mission took in. John did not remain long but Lucy became ill with scrofulous disease, lingering almost two years before she died.
That summer, a small party of whites, who were coming through from California, were attacked by Indians in the south and narrowly escaped with their lives. Robbed and wounded they made their way to the settlement. Turner, an American, and his native wife built a crude raft and rode the river to the mission where they told of their disastrous journey. The rest of the party, who had traveled by land, were several more days in arriving. One of them, Dr. Bailey, an educated surgeon had received a deep axe cut to his lower jaw which severed his lip. Upon reaching the mission they were supplied with water, food and medical assistance. One of the party, who had stayed to the west, traveled the length of the Willamette Valley to Fort William, sixty miles below the mission.
During August, at harvest time, the intermittent fever struck the mission. One after another was prostrated with the illness until finally, the medicine started to take hold.
The missionaries had held their Sabbath meetings at the house of Mr. Gervais, a near neighbor, ever since their arrival. These had continued up until 1837 when they were finally moved to the mission house. Besides this meeting there was one occasionally held at Champoeg. A Sunday school was started about the same time and the Gervais children, as well as some others, attended. Gervais also had employed Solomon H. Smith as a teacher for his children. Smith had come to Oregon with Capt. Wyeth in 1832.
Visiting that summer was Mr. Thomas Nuttall, the "grass man", as the Indians termed a botanist. He was seen gathering flowers and plants, much to the amusement of the Indians and French Canadians who considered it idle and foolish.
About the first of September, Louis Shangaratte, formerly a trapper for the Hudson's Bay Company, burst a blood vessel in the lungs and died almost immediately. He left three orphan children and four or five poor Indian slaves. Dr. McLoughlin earnestly requested that Rev. Lee take charge of this pitiful group and the little property that fell to them. To this proposal he agreed on the grounds that the slaves were to be free and treated as equal to those they once served. The addition of this group greatly increased the mission family and the labor of the missionaries. Two of the number soon eloped and several others, including one of the children of the deceased Louis, died in a short time from diseases they had contracted earlier. Only three were now left of this family and one of these died in 1837 with the scrofula. Another child taken into the mission not long after was named Lassee. She was the young child of an aged Calapooya chief of the area. Not long after his death the young girl followed.
It was this year (1835) that a grist mill was built at Champoeg by Mr. Webley Hauxhurst, which greatly added to the comfort of the settlement inhabitants. Up until that time, some in the settlement had pounded their wheat by hand in mortars. The mission has used a small cast-iron corncracker to grind their wheat, and a large wooden mortar that held about a bushel, in which they would pound off the hull of the barley used in soup.
That fall, Daniel Lee, who had been suffering greatly with lung disease, finally decided to seek medical attention at Vancouver. In the early part of September he left the mission for Fort William in the company of Mr. Edwards, who was intending to leave the country by vessel via the Sandwich Islands. Upon reaching Vancouver he was advised by Dr. McLoughlin to go to the Sandwich Islands, where the climate was more favorable for his recovery. He sailed almost immediately on the company's vessel, the Ganymede with Captain Eales. Upon arrival in Oahu, Daniel Lee was greeted by Mr. Bingham and his associates, missionaries in the area, and Mr. Deill, the seaman's chaplain. It would be almost a year before Lee returned.
During the absence of Daniel Lee, forty five acres were put under cultivation. They produced about seven hundred bushels of wheat and three hundred of potatoes. An addition had been made to the house of sixteen by thirty feet, which had become necessary due to the increase in number of inhabitants. The mission had taken in about twenty children, several of whom were orphans. To these, several were added from the families of neighbors, so that on Sunday more than thirty met in Sunday school. Some of these attended the weekly school with Mr. Shepard, who taught as his duties would permit. Mr. Shepard had also opened a small school near Champoeg where he taught a small group for several months.
Also of note during this time was the formation of a temperance society. Liquor was obtained by some of the people in the settlements at Fort William, on the Multnomah, and had produced its usual effects; waste of property, neglect of business, drunkeness and quarrels. Dr. Mcloughlin seconded the efforts of the missionaries and his efforts in conjunction with theirs did much to preserve the general order and harmony in the mixed community of which the settlement was composed.
However, not all were so disposed. It came to attention that two men in the community had commenced the building of a distillery. Many in the community were alarmed and a general meeting was convened where a petition was formed listing the reasons why their efforts should be abandoned. It was signed by almost every man in the settlement and the project was discontinued. Despite this victory there were still some who desired the presence of liquor. One of these set about to soak and sprout and dry his grain, converted some kitchen utensils into a distillery and immortalized himself as father of alcohol in the Willamette Valley. The final product was unveiled on the evening of December 25th, 1836. Fortunately, the final product was so poor that it caused little more than upset stomachs. Further efforts were not attempted, although, in later years "spirits" were brought into the settlement from the east.
During that same period of time other problems were facing the mission. Frequent cases of the intermittent fever and scrofula were epidemic. At one point most of the children were ill and the mission was indeed more of a hospital. Sixteen children were down at one time. Another problem was the matter of getting their wheat floured. The mill was more than twelve miles off and the incessant rains made the roads almost impassable. In order to make the journey, the wheat was loaded on horses. A pair of large saddle bags made of elk-skin were suspended over the saddle, and a sack of grain, holding a bushel and a half, was put on each side, over which a covering of skin or blanket was laid and then all was lashed close to the saddle. After rigging three or four horses, several of the older boys mounted the horses and began the journey to the mill. If disaster did not strike they returned with the flour.
At the end of December the mission received a visit from Mr. Wm. A. Slocum, a gentleman from the US Navy, who was currently in the employ of the US Government. He made calls to almost every house in the community and took an account of the produce of their farms, their stock and the number of inhabitants. A petition was drawn up and signed by the people, both French and Americans, asking the congress of the United States to recognize their helpless state and extend to them the protection of the laws. This was forwarded by Mr. Slocum.
During this period of time, the cattle in the country nearly all belonged to the Hudson's Bay Company, and it had a policy not to sell any. It became necessary for the settlement to acquire them elsewhere. It was decided to send men to California to try and obtain a herd. Since Mr. Slocum was proceeding to California he lent his aid by offering passage to those who were included in the party. A company was formed and stock invested to a considerable amount. Upon the return of the company with the herd, the expenses would be deducted and each investor would receive his share of the cattle according to his investment. Rev. jason Lee invested six hundred dollars, mission funds, for the purpose of procuring cattle for the mission. The party was organized and headed by Mr. Ewing Young, accompanied by Mr. P.L. Edwards, as purser of the company. After several delays due to storms they reached California and set about making their arrangements. They purchased eight hundred cattle at three dollars a head, and forty horses at twelve dollars each, making the whole outlay $2480.
Their journey back to the settlement was full of hardships. Numbers of the cattle drowned crossing rivers, some strayed and some were shot by Indians. One Indian was killed by the party. By the time they reached the Willamette Valley they had about six hundred head of cattle. Then followed a public sale of the horses. When all was calculated it was found that the cattle cost about seven dollars and 67 cents. Of these, more than eighty head belonged to the mission.
Almost from the beginning, letters were sent back to the Mission Board requesting additional lay persons. There was so much labor to perform that the missionaries were having trouble finding time to tend to the enlightenment of the native population. Teaching was performed as time permitted. Finally, in May 1836 the Board sent out a reinforcement to the mission to help with the daily labors.