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European explorers in Oregon


Columbia River
Columbia River

During the 16th century, European explorers began to investigate the west coast of the Americas, in search of riches, colonial power, and new trade routes. Spanish navigator Bartolomé Ferrelo may have ventured up the Oregon coast in 1542, but his crew did not explore the Oregon shores. In 1579 the English explorer Sir Francis Drake may have reached the Oregon coast, but he turned back when he ran into the “most vile, thicke and stinking fogges.”

During the 17th and 18th centuries Europeans searched for the elusive Northwest Passage, an inland water route linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. European competition in the Pacific Northwest intensified as the Russians began to explore present-day Alaska.

In 1775 Spanish explorers Bruno Heceta and Juan Francisco Bodega y Quadra sighted a large bay, which Heceta believed was “the mouth of a great river or of some passage to another sea.” This waterway turned out to be the entrance to the Columbia River, but the Spanish expedition did not explore it. The crew continued their journey north and landed at Point Grenville in Washington. The English navigator Captain James Cook also missed an opportunity to explore the mouth of the Columbia River while seeking the Northwest Passage in 1778. However, Cook, who traded sea otter pelts with the Native Americans of Nootka Sound in Canada, did inform fur traders about the Pacific Northwest in his journals, published in 1784. In 1785 the first British fur trader appeared in the region.

An American fur trader was the first white person to set foot on Oregon’s shores. In 1788 Captain Robert Gray sailed into Tillamook Bay to trade with Native Americans. Four years later, after returning to Boston and completing a voyage to China to sell pelts, Gray returned to the Pacific Coast. During this trip Gray crossed the mouth of the great Columbia River, which he named for his ship, the Columbia.

Upon hearing about Gray’s discovery, English explorer George Vancouver sent a subordinate, Lieutenant William R. Broughton, to explore the river. Broughton spent three weeks mapping the Columbia River.

Near the present town of Washougal, Washington, he took possession of the territory for Britain. Later, both the United States and Britain laid claim to the region known as the Oregon country, which included present-day Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, as well as parts of present-day Montana and Wyoming. "Oregon" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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