Oregon Wine Country – c.1839
Something that I enjoy as much as a good bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir is a good book on Oregon history. I find, of particular interest, those that describe the earliest approaches to the Oregon Country by European and American settlers. The Reverend Gustavus Hines Sailed in 1839, as part of a group sponsored by the Methodist Episcopal Church to supplement the Oregon mission that had been established a few years prior by Jason Lee in the Willamette Valley. They departed Sandy Hook, New Jersey in the ship Lausanne and proceeded around Cape Horn and to the Columbia River and Oregon. Following are some selected passages of Rev. Hines book entitled Exploring Expedition to Oregon (1851) that include some of the earliest descriptions of Oregon wine country, and his assessment of the prospects for good health and happiness in the place that was destined to become what I like to call Pinotlandia . . . (Spelling and punctuation has been rendered as it appeared in the original. Passages are selected and condensed for brevity)
May, 1840 – On approaching the coast, at the mouth of the Columbia river, ridges of high lands appear on either hand, as far as the eye can reach, while the more elevated points serve as land-marks to guide the mariners across the dreaded bar. The most remarkable of these elevations is one, called by the Indians, “The Swallalahoost,” and celebrated by them as the place where one of their mighty chiefs, who, after death, assumed the form of a monstrous eagle, and taking wing, flew to the top of this mountain, and subsequently became the creator of the lightning and the thunder. . . Captain Wilkes, on his exploring visit to the country, gave it the name of “Saddle Mountain”. . . Doubtless this region is destined to be occupied by civilized man, but not until there is no room left in the numerous valleys of this wide-spread country.
(Of the many river valleys) . . . The Wallamette valley is more extensive, being from fifty to eighty miles broad, and more than two hundred miles long. The plains on the Umpqua, which commence about forty-five miles back from the ocean, are quite extensive and, with those of the Clameth, and the Wallamette valley, extend east to that range of mountains, which, crossing the Columbia River, form the Cascades, and are therefore called the “Cascade Mountains”.
The Cascade Mountains extend in one continuous range, parallel with the coast, quite to California, and have therefore sometimes been called “The California Mountains”. Those, whose highest observations have been limited to the Catskill and Alleghany Mountains, can form no just conception of the grandeur and magnificence of this stupendous range. These highest points are covered with eternal snow, and, presenting their rounded tops to the heavens, appear like so many magnificent domes, to adorn the temple of nature.
One of these mountains, St. Helens, requires a more particular account, from a phenomenon which it presented a few years ago. In the month of October, 1842, it was discovered, all at once, to be covered with a dense cloud of smoke, which continued to enlarge, and move off, in dense masses, to the eastward, and filling the heavens in that direction, presented an appearance like that occasioned by a tremendous conflagration, viewed at a vast distance. When the first volumes of smoke had passed away, it could be distinctly seen, from various parts of the country, that an eruption had taken place on the north side of St. Helens, a little below the summit, and from the smoke that continued to issue from the chasm or crater, it was pronounced to be a volcano in active operation.
Throughout these valleys are scattered numberless hillocks and rising grounds, from the top of some of which, scenery, as enchanting as was ever presented to the eye, delights and charms the lover of nature, who takes time to visit their conical summits.
(on a trip up the Willamette River Hines describes the various rivers that he encounters . . . ) Fifteen miles above (the Molala and Hanchauke (Pudding?) rivers) you come to the mouth of the Yamhill, which rises in the Kilemook hills toward the ocean and, after meandering for thirty or forty miles through one of the most beautiful portions of the Wallamette valley, and with its tributaries watering the extended plains through which it flows, it rushes down a ledge of rocks a few feet, forming a beautiful cascade, and hastens to mingle its waters with those of the Wallamette.
From a personal experience of more than five years, and from an extensive observation in reference to this particular, the writer is prepared to express the opinion that the climate of Oregon . . . is decidedly favorable to health . . . The persons in this country who appear to be the most healthy, are those who have been here the greatest length of time. The members of the Hudson’s Bay Company generally present, in the fullness and flushness of their features, the corpulancy of their persons, and their sinewy and robust limbs, the most satisfactory evidence that the climate of Oregon must be friendly to the promotion of health. The temperature . . . is remarkably uniform. The exhilarating ocean breeze, which sets in almost every day during the summer, contributes greatly to purify the atmosphere. . . These circumstances . . . are sufficient to show that this country must be the abode of health, that human life is as likely to be protracted, and men as likely to die with old age in this country as in almost any other in the world.
Probably a more heterogeneous mass of humankind cannot be found in any land, than have sought an asylum in the wilds of Oregon. Here are found the Indian, who is the legitimate proprietor of the soil, Englishmen, Scotchmen, Irishmen, Americans, Germans, Prussians, Italians, Spanish, Frenchmen, Danes, Canadians, Hawaiians, Otehietans, and Africans. From colonial intermarriages with one another, and particularly with the natives of the country ever since white men first visited these shores, an amalgamated population has been produced, presenting every variety of color, disposition, and character of which the human species is capable. There are men still living in the Wallamette valley who accompanied Lewis and Clark in their exploring expedition of 1805 and 1806; and I have often seen men who were companions and fellow travelers of William Price Hunt, one of the partners of John Jacob Astor, in his trading establishment at the mouth of the Columbia and who shared with that intrepid traveler in all the perils of one of the most remarkable expeditions of the kind ever carried to a successful issue, and has been inimitably described in Washington Irving’s popular “Astoria”. Madame Dorio, the heroine of that interesting narrative, and her son . . . are both still alive, and inhabitants of the Wallamette valley.
In fine, so far as the external appearance of this country is concerned, in contemplating its distinguished features, one is brought to the conclusion that there is nothing in all the descriptions of European or Oriental scenery that surpasses that of this interesting country. (NOTE: Hines had traveled through Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; ; Tiera del Fuego; Valparaiso, Chile; and Hawaii on his way to Oregon, and Hong Kong, Java, Sumatra, Formosa, Macao, etc. on his return)
And, indeed, there are few countries, perhaps none, in which a poor man . . . can get a better living, and get it easier than in this. Such is the testimony of every person who tries it for one or two years. . . It does not “flow with honey”, like the land of Canaan; but in some places it literally flows with milk . . . Here also apples, pears, and peaches are cultivated successfully; with care the grape also is brought to a degree of perfection . . . And, though it is not a “land of wine”, yet, in the more necessary articles of “corn and oil,” It greatly abounds.
That it is a land of mountains and valleys, of rivers and streams, of mighty forests and extended prairies, of a salubrious and healthy climate, and a rich and productive soil, the foregoing remarks will clearly show. In fine, it is every way entitled to be called a good country.