History of Oregon
There has been a lot of speculation on how Oregon got its name. The earliest mention of the name had a different spelling – Ouragon. Some believe it came from the French word “ouragan”, meaning “hurricane or strong wind” (this would be in relation to strong Chinook winds in the Great Plains or along the lower portion of the Columbia River). Another explanation suggests that the name came from a typography error in a 18th century French map of the region, in which the name of the Wisconsin River was spelled Ouaricon-sint, which would suggest that there was a river called Ouaricon (Oregon) that flowed west.
There is archeological and ethnographic evidence that suggests Oregon was inhabited by people 15,000 years ago. The oldest habitations (or traces thereof) were found in caves of the Lake County. The population was concentrated along the banks of the lower Columbia River, on the ocean coastline and in fertile valleys to the west.
In the 16th century, Oregon was populated by various Native American peoples and tribes, including Chinook, Chasta, Umpqua, Takelma, Bannock and Coquille.
The first European explorers in Oregon were Spanish, who came to the area around mid-16th century. Juan de Fuca, a Greek-born Spanish explorer of the Pacific Northwest, passed through Oregon and made detailed maps of the land and the ocean currents. Other explorations followed and in the 18th century Oregon became an important point of trading routes to and from Asia. In the late 18th and early 19th century, French-Canadian explorers, missionaries and trappers arrived in Oregon, mostly through organized expeditions (Astor, Lewis and Clark). Many of them settled permanently in Oregon, establishing farms and trading businesses. The importance of the French-Canadian presence can be seen in the fact that still today many places in Oregon carry French names.
For a long period Oregon was more of a transit point than a place of permanent settlement. However, many expedition members, for example Lewis and Clarke members in search of the Northwestern Passage, built temporary forts for when the conditions were not ideal for travel. Many of them were located around the Columbia River, which was also interesting for exploration. The first European who navigated the entire course of the Columbia River, in 1811, was David Thompson of the North West Company. He found the land to be attractive enough for his company (and for Great Britain) so he claimed it and brought back the news of great possibilities for fur trade in the area. The same year, a representative of the Pacific Fur Company founded the first permanent strictly European settlement in the state. The company was American, but in the 1812 war all its posts were lost to the British. Later, as the war subsided, the territory was under joint control of both the British and the Americans.
The Hudson Bay Company was holding a lot of the land at the time in the area and for a long time their policy was to discourage any newcomers from permanently settling in the area. The main reason for this was they didn’t want to share the highly lucrative fur trade with anyone. However, in the 1841 the company relocated 200 settlers of the Red River area, with the purpose of gaining and maintaining the control over the Columbia District. Settlers also came through the Oregon Trail. The situation was quite tense at the time between the British and the Americans, but the Oregon Treaty finally settled the affairs by establishing a border at the 49th parallel between the United States and the British North America.
The official recognition of the Oregon Territory took place in 1848 and Oregon later, in 1856, got its statehood through the official admission to the Union.
During the Civil War, the Oregon Troops were mostly sent east. The state’s population increased throughout the 19th century, not only because of the forced relocation of Native American peoples, but also thanks to the construction of railroads that facilitated the fur, timber and wheat trade.
Industrial expansion of the state during the 1930s was steady yet modest, and the state’s main assets were timber, food and hydroelectric power.
The 20th century Oregon was the place of interesting political and regional initiatives. One of them was the 1941 idea of the so-called state of Jefferson, which would encompass regions in the southern Oregon and Northern California. Many inhabitants in both states were quite interested in the idea, however, the secessionist initiative ended abruptly after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the entire nation focused its efforts on the war.
Another significant independence movement, the one that, to some extent, persists even today, is the Cascadia. The proposed country was supposed to include British Columbia, Oregon, Washington and portions of the surrounding states (California, Alaska, Wyoming and Utah). The roots of the movement can be traced back to 19th century, as the Columbia District and the Oregon Territory are considered by many to be the precursors of the Cascadia. In addition to the geographic aspects of the would-be country, Cascadia would be united by the natural resources and particular economic sectors to which these areas are oriented. Today, Cascadia has a significant, although loosely organized supporter base that seems to be gaining both local and nation-wide popularity thanks to the proposed concept of a country oriented towards ecology, sustainability, dynamic and modern governmental models, strong and supportive social program and a very strong accent on civil liberties and human rights.
Oregon’s landscape is quite diverse, ranging from rain forests in the Coastal Range to dry, barren deserts in the southeastern portion of the state. The state is known for its beautiful landscape, with mountains, lakes, forests and waterfalls.
Geographically speaking, the state is traditionally divided into eight regions: Oregon Coast, Willamette Valley, Rogue Valley, Cascade Mountains, Klamath Mountains, Columbia River Plateau, Oregon Outback and Blue Mountains.
Western Oregon consists mostly of mountains, with some of the highest mountain peaks in the United States, such as Mount Hood. These mountains are mostly of the volcanic origin. The Juan de Fuka Plate is a tectonic plate that constantly threatens the region with volcanic and seismic activity.
The Columbia River, one of the nation’s largest rivers, constitutes a large portion of Oregon’s northern border and it is considered to be a major factor not only in the state’s social, cultural and economic development, but also in certain geological processes. Today, the river has several large hydroelectric dams that are highly significant for the state, not only in terms of power and flood control, but also for salmon fishing, commerce and transportation.
Some of the important national parks and historic areas in Oregon include Crater Lake National Park (famous for its scenic lake, the Pumice Desert and the Pinnacles), Jon Day Fossil Beds National Monument (famous for extraordinarily well-preserved fossils of plants and mammals), Newberry National Volcanic Monument, Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument and Oregon Caves National Monument. Oregon also shares several important parks and monuments with other states: Oregon Trail, California Trail, Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, Lewis and Clark National and State Historical Parks and Nez Perce National Historical Park.
As for the state parks in Oregon, the most interesting ones include Smith Rock State Park, famous for its rock-climbing opportunities, Silver Falls State Park, with a trail that passes 10 waterfalls, and, on the shore, Ecola State Park and Shore Acres State Park. It is worth mentioning that the world’s smallest park, the Mill Ends Park, is also located in Oregon.
Climate in Oregon, especially in the western parts, is heavily influenced by the Pacific Ocean. The weather is generally mild throughout the year, but the state does often get periods of severe cold or hot weather. Large urban centers are humid and mild and the less populated areas in high desert regions of Oregon are generally dry.
Population of Oregon
At the 2010 U.S. Census, Oregon had a population of 3,871,859. The racial makeup in the state was 78.5% non-Hispanic White, 11.7% Hispanic or Latino, 3.6% Asian, 1.7% Black or African American, 1.1% Native American, 0.3% Pacific Islander, 0.1% of another race and 2.9% from two or more races.
The largest ancestry groups in Oregon are German, English, Irish, Scandinavian (Danish, Swedish and Norwegian), American, French, Italian, Scottish, Dutch, Polish, Russian and Welsh.
The largest religious denominations in the state are Protestant (Evangelical, Mainline and other) and Roman Catholic. The state also has large Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim and other communities.
Major cities in Oregon are Portland, Eugene, Salem, Gresham, Hillsboro, Beaverton, Bend, Medford, Springfield, Corvallis, Albany and Tigard.
As for the economy, Oregon’s biggest assets today are agriculture, forests, tourism and, since the 1970s, high technologies. In agriculture, the most important products include hazelnuts (95% of all domestic hazelnuts in the USA come from Oregon), grapes and wines, cranberries, wheat, cattle, sheep, poultry and dairy products.
Oregon is famous for its vast forests and timber was traditionally among the most important products in the state, with the state economy relying greatly on it. However, devastating forest fires and over-harvesting have created serious problems in the sector and in the period 1989-2001 there was a 96% drop in the amount of timber from federal forest lands (on the other hand, the production of timer in private-held forests always remained constant). The state tried to boost the sector by shifting towards finished wood-related products, but the industry of timber and related sectors remained in decline.
In the 1970s, high-tech sector was among the major employers in the state, especially companies such as Tektronix and Intel. The expansion of this sector led to the creation of the so-called “Silicon Forest”, but the dot-com bust in early 2000s hit the technology industry in Oregon hard, many lost their jobs and a lot of smaller businesses had to close. Today, benefiting from relatively cheap power and favorable climate, many major companies (including Facebook and Google) are building large datacenters in Oregon.
Largest corporations with headquarters in Oregon are Nike, Inc., Precision Castparts Corp., FLIR Systems, StanCorp Financial Group, Schnitzer Steel Industries, Portland General Electric, Columbia Sportswear, Northwest Natural Gas, Mentor Graphics and TriQint Semiconductor.
Oregon Government and Legislature
Oregon has the same separation of powers as the federal government and consists of the executive, legislative and judicial branch. The Oregon Legislative Assembly consists of the Senate with 30 members and the House of Representatives with 60 members. The executive branch consists of the state governor, who serves a four-year term and is allowed to run for no more than two consecutive terms.
The Supreme Court is the highest body of the judicial branch and consists of seven elected justices. Currently the Supreme Court of Oregon includes the only two openly gay supreme court justices in the United States.
There are nine federally recognized Native American tribes in Oregon and the state maintains formal relationships with all of them.
Oregon is politically split by the Cascade Range into Western Oregon, which is generally liberal, and Eastern Oregon, which is more conservative. In fact, it is one of the most politically polarized states in the USA.
Education in Oregon
The Oregon University System consists of seven public universities and one affiliate. The state’s flagship institution of higher learning is the University of Oregon in Eugene. Other public universities are Oregon State University in Corvallis, Portland State University in Portland, Western Oregon University in Monmouth, Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Eastern Oregon University in La Grande, Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls and Oregon Health and Science University. In addition, there are seventeen community colleges in the state.
There is also a number of private institutions of higher education in Oregon, such as the University of Portland, Marylhurst University, Reed College, Concordia University, Cascade College, Western Seminary, Pacific University, Lewis and Clark College, Warner Pacific College and others.
Major highways in Oregon include I-5, I-205, I-105, I-305, I-405, I-82, I-84, which are all interstate highways, as well as a number of U.S. Highways and State Routes. The state has a number of scenic highways, such as Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, Hells Canyon Scenic Byway, Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, Volcanic legacy Scenic Byway and others.
Cycling is very popular in Oregon and the state has a number of bike paths, such as 40-mile Loop, Interstate 205 Bike Path, Pacific Crest Bicycle Trail, U.S. Bicycle Route 20, Bear Creek Greenway and Lewis and Clark Bicycle Route.
Amtrak provides passenger rail service on Oregon with the Coast Starlight, the Amtrak Cascades and the Empire Builder services. Transit and commuter rail is provided by the MAX Light Rail, the Portland Streetcar and the Westside Express Service. There is also a number of heritage railways for tourists and excursions.
The largest airport in Portland is Portland International Airport. Other large commercial airports in the state include Eugene Airport, Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport, Redmond Municipal Airport and Southwest Oregon Regional Airport.