27 August 2012

Young's Cauldron Redux

In January 2011, I posted "Young's Cauldron." These brief two paragraphs were written in a few minutes during lunch a couple of months earlier, and then a few errors were corrected in the coming weeks. Sometime later, I began documenting the claims in those two paragraphs, and then yesterday corrected an error in the final sentence, adding a new final sentence.

Here, now, is the current version with documentation.

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.1 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.2 Wyeth's Oregon enterprise failed to turn a profit so he liquidated his assets in the region and returned to the ice business.3 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.4 Young originated from Tennessee and saw in the kettle potential for preparing sour mash that he could then distill into whiskey.5

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 who had recently arrived from the United States with the professed purpose of bringing Christian civilization to Oregon's Native population. The Oregon Temperance Society started a petition drive to dissuade Young from manufacturing spirits, and sent him a letter in early 1837.6 Some secondary sources claim that the Oregon Temperance Society formed in response to Young's plans, but the Oregon Mission Record Book contains entries showing that it had formed earlier, 11 February 1836.7


1 “Wyeth claimed to be the first successful colonizer of Oregon. He maintained that he had 'established the nucleus of the present American settlements in these regions.' In substantiation of this claim he pointed out that when he arrived in Oregon in 1832 there were no American settlers in the region. Three members of his first expedition remained in the country until his return in 1834, and nineteen of his second expedition, including the missionaries, settled permanently in Oregon. Wyeth is in truth entitled to a prominent place among the colonizers of Oregon, although the missionaries were more responsible for bringing settlers into the country than he. Wyeth also deserves recognition for the encouragement and opportunities he gave to Thomas Nuttall to study the plant life of the West, the results of which were published in The NorthAmerican Sylva (1842-1849).” W. Clement Eaton, “Nathaniel Wyeth's Oregon Expeditions,” Pacific Historical Review 4, No. 2 (June 1935), 101-113, at 113. Eaton's article offers a good narrative overview of Wyeth's enterprise and is drawn chiefly from letters by Wyeth and his associates. "Twice, in 1832 and 1834, a New England merchant, Nathaniel Wyeth, had attempted unsuccessfully to establish an American trading post on the Columbia in competition with HBC. When he returned to Massachusetts, he left Courtney Walker to dispose of the goods and equipment left at his ill-fated trading post on Sauvie Island. Among the equipment abandoned was a large iron caldron. Young obtained this kettle from Walker and packed it over the Tualatin Mountains to the lower Chehalem Valley. As a youth growing up in the mountains of eastern Tennessee, Young had become acquainted with methods of distilling alcohol from sour mash. With the help of Lawrence Carmichael, he started building a distillery to make whiskey to sell to the local residents and Indians." Kenneth Munford, and Charlotte L. Wirfs. “The Ewing Young Trail,” Benton County Historical Society and Museum,, accessed 2 January 2011. Originally published in the Horner Museum Tour Guide Series, 1981.

2“Nathaniel J. Wyeth to Perry Wyeth,” 2 December 1832, in F. G. Young, ed. The Correspondence and Journals of Captain Nathaniel J. Wyeth 1831-6, vol 1 in Sources of the History of Oregon (Eugene: Oregon Historical Society, 1899), 89-90; “Wyeth to Henry Hall, Tucker, and Williams,” 8 Nov. 1833, in Young, 73-78.

3“From the commercial and economic standpoint, Wyeth's enterprise was a failure; from the historian's point of view, it was eminently successful.” Reuben Gold Thwaites, Early Western Travels, 1748-1846, vol 21 (Cleveland, OH: Arthur H. Clark and Company, 1905), 15-16.

4I failed to find references to a cauldron or cauldrons among the supplies shipped on the brig May Dacre. Wyeth's letters do not list the details of such cargo. There is a reference to pickling salmon in “Wyeth to Robert H. Gardner,” 31 January 1832, in Young, 29. “What I wish to know is how salmon are pickled and how smoked and how taken.” Wyeth makes reference to salmon selling in Boston for $16 per barrel, but not in good condition. He claims to have acquired some critical information while on the Columbia during his first journey, viz., “their having been caught too long before they were salted.” “Wyeth to Hall, Tucker, and Williams,” Young, 76. He is referring to the enterprise of Captain John Dominis who arrived on the Columbia with the brig Owyhee in 1829 and returned to Boston with salted salmon later that year. See Jim Lichatowich, Salmon Without Rivers: A History of the Pacific Salmon Crisis (Washington, DC: Island Press, 1999), 82; Joseph E. Taylor, Making Salmon: An Environmental History of the Northwest Fisheries Crisis (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001), 60.

5Kenneth L. Holmes, Ewing Young: Master Trapper (Portland: Binfords and Mort, 1967) presents a narrative that covers the principal known features of Young's life. Holmes' Turnerian interpretation is of interest in its own right.

6Gustavus Hines, A Voyage Round the World: with a History of the Oregon Mission (Buffalo: George H. Derby, 1850) has an account of the formation of the Oregon Temperance Society. Although the bulk of Hines' book is grounded in his personal experiences, the first chapter, which concerns the early history of the Oregon Mission is a secondary work, “drawn from the most reliable sources, and, principally from the short notes of the late Rev. Jason Lee, and the Journal of the late Cyrus Shepherd, the first missionary teacher in Oregon” (xi). Hines reproduces a letter from the temperance society to Ewing Young and Lawrence Carmichael, as well as the reply of these gentlemen. It should be expected that these reproductions are not devoid of errors inasmuch as there is a clear inconsistency several pages later. Hines reproduces a letter from Captain William A. Slacum to the missionaries that states it contains a donation of $50; while introducing this letter, Hines indicates the donation to have been $15.

Despite this caveat, reproduction of the letters presents a glimpse into key primary sources:

Gentlemen,– Whereas we, the members of the Oregon Temperance Society, have learned with no common interest, and with feelings of deep regret, that you are now preparing a distillery for the purpose of manufacturing ardent spirits, to be sold in this vicinity; and whereas, we are most fully convinced that the vending of spiritous liquors will more effectually paralyze our efforts for the promotion of temperance, than any other, or all other obstacles that can be thrown in our way; and, as we do feel a lively and intense interest in the success of the temperance cause, believing as we do, that the prosperity and interests of this infant and rising settlement will be materially affected by it, both as it respects its temporal and spiritual welfare, and that the poor Indians, whose case is even now indescribably wretched, will be made far more so by the use of ardent spirits; and whereas, gentlemen, you are not ignorant that the laws of the United States prohibit American citizens from selling ardent spirits to Indians under the penalty of a heavy fine; and as you do not pretend to justify yourselves, but urge pecuniary interest as the reason of your procedure; and as we do not, cannot think it will be of pecuniary interest to you to prosecute this business; and as we are not enemies, but friends, and do not wish, under existing circumstances, that you should sacrifice one penny of the money you have already expended; we, therefore, for the above, and various other reasons which we could urge,
1st. Resolved, That we do most earnestly and feelingly request you, gentlemen, forever to abandon your enterprise.
2nd. Resolved, That we will and do hereby agree to pay you the sum that you have expended, if you will give us the avails of your expenditures, or deduct from them the bill of expenses.
3d. Resolved, That a committee of one be appointed to make known the views of this society, and present our request to Messrs. Young & Carmichael.
4th. Resolved, That the undersigned will pay the sums severally affixed to our names, to Messrs. Young & Carmichael, on or before the thirty-first day of March next, the better to enable them to give up their project.
[Then followed the names of nine Americans, and fifteen Frenchmen, which then embraced a majority of the white men of the country, excluding the Hudson's Bay Company, with a subscription of sixty-three dollars, and a note appended as follows:] (Hines' own words, presumably, although indented as part of the letter)
We, the undersigned, jointly promise to pay the balance, be the same more or less.

Hines does not give the date of the letter, although the purposes set out in the letter were agreed to at a meeting of the temperance society on 2 January 1837, so perhaps that is the date of the letter. Hines reproduces the reply.
WALLAMETTE, 13th Jan., 1837
Gentlemen,– Having taken into consideration your request to relinquish our enterprise in manufacturing ardent spirits, we therefore do agree to stop our proceeding for the present. But, gentlemen, the reasons for first beginning such an undertaking were the innumerable difficulties placed in our way by, and the tyranising oppression of the Hudson's Bay Company, here under the absolute authority of Dr. McLaughlin, who has treated us with more disdain than any American citizen's feelings could support. But as there have been some favorable circumstances occurred to enable us to get along without making spiritous liquors, we resolve to stop the manufacture of it for the present; but, gentlemen, it is not consistent with our feelings to receive any recompense whatever for our expenditures, but we are thankful to the Society for their offer.
We remain, yours, &c.,
YOUNG & CARNICHAEL. (pp. 19-21).
7Charles Henry Carey, ed., “The Mission Record Book of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Willamette Station, Oregon Territory, North America, Commenced 1834,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 23 (1922), 242.

No comments:

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP