03 January 2011

Young's Cauldron

In early 1836, Ewing Young purchased a large iron cauldron from Courtney Walker. Walker had the job of disposing of the goods left behind by Nathaniel Wyeth's abandoned Columbia River enterprise. A successful ice merchant in New England, Wyeth had come west with dreams of making a fortune packing and shipping Pacific salmon for consumption outside the region. Along the way, Wyeth also sought profits from trapping for furs, brokering timber sales, and importing goods to Oregon from Hawaii and the east coast. Wyeth's Oregon enterprise failed to turn a profit so he liquidated his assets in the region and returned to the ice business. Meanwhile, Young had carried on successful trade between New Mexico and Missouri for more than a decade before working his way west to California, and from California driving a herd of horses into Oregon. Wyeth's cauldron had been shipped to Oregon for pickling salmon. Young originated from Tennessee and saw in the kettle potential for preparing sour mash that he could then distill into whiskey.

Oregon was not a wholly lawless frontier, but with joint occupation by the United States and by England, and with a small non-Indian population, enforcement authorities were far from prominent. United States law banned sale of liquor in Indian Country. The Hudson's Bay Company, England's presence in the region, understood that liquor sales to Indians had a deleterious effect on the fur trade--their business in the region. Young's plan to build a distillery provoked cooperation between HBC employees, American settlers, and missionaries that had recently arrived from the United States with the professed purpose of bringing Christian civilization to Oregon's Native population. The Oregon Temperance Society formed and started a petition drive to dissuade Young from manufacturing spirits.

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