Continuity and Change in the Willamette Valley
From the 1830s until the turn of the twentieth century, the Willamette Valley in Oregon was populated by people who migrated there from throughout the United States and the world. One group that came in large numbers was the yeoman farm families of the Midwest, who migrated to the Willamette Valley during the 1830s and 1840s seeking new land and continuity in their way of life. Another group that came in large numbers were Chinese migrant workers who came to the Willamette Valley after the Civil War, who came seeking work and continuity in their way of life. As the two groups pursued their own goals, interacted with each other, and tried to preserve their ways of life, both groups were changed forever, and a new culture was formed.
During the late 1830s and early 1840s, the people living in the river valleys of the midwestern United States experienced an economic depression, floods, and the spread of diseases such as influenza and malaria. At this time, newspapers, pamphlets, lectures, and sermons had begun to spread word of the rich soil and healthful climate of the Willamette Valley in western Oregon (Jeffrey 27). As "Oregon fever" spread, it was the lure of the land that drew many yeoman farm families to travel 2,000 miles for a fresh start in Oregon. These small, independent farmers desired not land for land's sake, but land as a place to establish and provide for themselves and their families for generations (May 24). Yeoman culture was family-centered and the roles of men and women were distinct and interlocking. Husbands and wives were determined to carry their culture and ideology to Oregon and to recreate the world of their parents as they established a new life for themselves in the Willamette Valley (May 69).
Yeoman farmers from the Midwest river valleys made up a majority of the 53,000 settlers who made their way to western Oregon between 1843 and 1860 (Oregon History). The children and grandchildren of farmers who had migrated to the lower Midwest from the Old South during the 1830s, these settlers came West with the traditions of a way of life that centered on the household and the self-sufficiency of the family (May 47-48). Upon reaching the broad, fertile plains and pine and timber forests of the Willamette Valley, many migrant families settled on the rolling farmland bordering the Willamette River, a river which flows north from the Cascade Mountains. After making their land claim, there was much work to be done, as missionary Reverend George H. Atkinson described in 1847: An immigrant will come in during the autumn, put himself up a log house with mud & stick chimney, split boards & shingles, break eight or ten or twenty acres of prairie and sow it with wheat. You call upon him the next year & he will have a fine field ripe for the sickle. His large field will be well fenced with newly split fir rails. There will be a patch of corn, another of potatoes, &...