Another dismal anniversary. 170 years ago on Sept. 27, 1850, the United States implemented the Donation Land Claim Act, which brought white settlers into the Oregon Territory in droves.
Through the act, which went into effect before Oregon became a state, white settlers could acquire 320 acres in what would become Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Wyoming – what was then called the Oregon Territory. Married couples could get up to a square mile. All of this was free of charge for qualifying U.S. Citizens who stayed on their acres for the following four years.
Oregon Territory’s first Congressional representative Samuel Royal Thurston wrote the act, which was then added to in 1854 allowing people to purchase land for $1.25 per acre. The 9,000 white settlers in Oregon in 1849 increased to 50,000 by 1860 due to the act, forcing the Indigenous people out of their own lands. By 1855, settlers occupied 2.8 million acres.
The Native Americans had previously lived peacefully with the white settlers, even working in their fields beside them. Most of the European Americans living in the area were fur trappers or missionaries.
Even though the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 claimed the settlers would never take land from the Native Americans without their consent, the donation act and the government’s mission of westward expansion pushed Indigenous people to begin relocating to reservations in 1850.
“It was just assumed that (the native people) didn’t own land, that the United States had the right to take land as they will and they’re not even citizens,” David G Lewis, an Oregon State University professor and member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, told Oregon Public Broadcasting. “Settlers did not any longer want to share their land with native peoples who in the previous generations helped them build their lands.”
By Jessica Goddard