Hillsboro’s History

First People

This land was the home of the Atfalati people who had developed a successful civilization for many millennia before the Euro-Americans arrived. Over the years the Atfalati name was changed; they became known as the Tualatin People.

The Tualatin population was drastically reduced after explorers came to the Pacific Northwest. Beginning in 1780, a series of outbreaks of smallpox, influenza, measles, and respiratory diseases took the lives of many. When retired trappers, missionaries, and later the Euro-American settlers arrived, the indigenous people received almost no notice in pioneer generational accounts. Most Europeans and Americans got their first view of the Oregon Indian culture when their “communities were disorganized and demoralized by disease and a massive death rate.” reported Jeff Zucker, Kay Hummel, and Bob Høgfoss in Oregon Indians: Culture, History, and Current Affairs.

When David Hill arrived, the Atfalati People who had survived were settled around Wapato Lake.

David Hill named his settlement Columbia. He built a cabin, wrote back to his boyhood friend, Lawrence Hall, praising Columbia and urging Hall and his family to “pull up stakes” and come west.

Photos: Camas Meadow, Wilkes Map of 1841, Map of Wapato Lake Reservation, Found artifacts . . .

Camas Meadow on the Tualatin Plains outside Hillsboro, Oregon


Mountain Men and their Tender Ties

Who was here before David Hill?  There were not many people.

Two years earlier, on Christmas Day in 1840, the former Mountain Men and their families had arrived.

Joe Meek, Robert Newell, Caleb Wilkins, George Ebbert, William Craig, and William Doty were friends, having trapped together over the years. They had all taken indigenous women for their wives. They headed west looking for “elbow room” wanting land to build their homes.

In December 1840, Meek, Newell, Ebberts, Wilkins, Craig, Doty and their families were reunited on the west side of the Willamette River where they set up camp on a hill overlooking the falls. They all wanted land to build homes. “The camp was raised and the party proceeded to the Plains, where they arrived at Christmas and went into camp again. The hardships of mountain life were light compared to the hardships of this winter.”

The tender ties:

Mary “Pigeon” Doty (Doughty) Shoshone, the wife of William Martin Doty had arrived in the Oregon Country with their two children in September 1840.

Three Nez Perce sisters from the Rocky Mountains and their American Mountain Men husbands made it to the Tualatin Plains and were joined by other trapper families.

Virginia Meek, was the Nez Perce, wife of Joe Meek, and their baby boy, Courtney Walker Meek, was a year and a half old.

Kitty Newell, Nez Perce, sister to Virginia Meek, wife of Robert “Doc” Newell had three children. Francis Ermatinger was five, William Moore two, and Marcus Whitman, two and half months old.

Catherine Wilkins, wife of Caleb Wilkins, was the third of the Nez Perce sisters. She had one child traveling with her, two-year-old George Wilkins.

Fanny Ebbert, wife of George Ebbert, was also Nez Perce.

Isabel Craig, Nez Perce, was with her husband William Craig. She had given birth on September 10 to a baby boy, Joseph William, in Lapwai.

These American men: Meek, Newell, Wilkins, Ebbert, and Doty along with David Hill would go on to establish the provisional government.

December 1840 . . .

“The winter proved a very disagreeable one. Considerable snow fell early, and went off with heavy rains, flooding the whole country. The little camp on the Tualatin Plains had no defense from the weather better than the Indian lodges and one small cabin built by Doughty on a former visit to the Plains…but in the dryer climate in the Rocky Mountains it had not seemed such a miserable life, as it now did, where for months together, the ground was saturated with rain, while the air was constantly charged with vapor. As for going anywhere, or doing anything, either was equally impossible. No roads, the streams all swollen and out of banks, the rains incessant, there was nothing for them but to remain in camp and wait for the return of spring.”  Frances Fuller Victor, The River of the West: Life and Adventure in the Rocky Mountains and Oregon.

The trappers, their wives, and children listened to the pounding of the rain on the leather skins sheltering them.

Hunkered down in hide lodges, the wet weather made for miserable conditions. The women cooked over open fires. The men found food to eat, and wood to stay warm in the rain and snow.

Newell wrote, “The Oregon country is not all it was said to be. The climate is the worst I’ve seen.” Meek’s comment, “Well, a feller sure never go thirsty here.” They lived on boiled wheat, from the Hudson’s Bay Company.

From Judy Goldmann, great-granddaughter of Joe Meek:

A quote from memoirs of the Meek family, given by Virginia, Joe’s wife –

“Oh, but it was cold and lonesome [Dec 18, 1840]. Mr. Meek hurried and built a bark house and had a nice fire and made it nice and warm, but I couldn’t help it, I was lonesome and homesick for my people. There was plenty of game and fish in the creek [McKay] and they were never hungry. Mr. Meek would say, ‘Never mind, Virginia, never mind. In the spring you will see the nicest country you ever saw.’ Sure enough, the next spring everything was nice and green, and she found the prettiest flowers she had ever seen and the largest strawberries, but she couldn’t help being lonesome and homesick. They picked out the land for their farm, built a log house and planted a garden. She was influential in choosing their farm where the land was easily cleared.”


Puget Sound Agricultural Company

In 1836, several families in the dairy business in England were selected to proceed to the York Factory in Canada, then to Red River to work at the Red River Experimental Farm. John Johnston and his wife Joyce were one of the families. Thomas Otchin and wife Mary were also employed on the Experimental Farm in Red River. [Within six years after leaving the U.K., the Johnston and Otchin families would be living in the Glencoe area.]

In 1839 Hudson’s Bay Company signed an agreement with the Russian-American Company. The Puget Sound Agricultural Company was a joint-stock company created in 1840 to supply the trading posts of Russian America [now Alaska]. Primary stations were in the Pacific Northwest and centered at Fort Nisqually (near present-day Olympia, Washington) and the Cowlitz Farm which operated many large farms in the area of Fort Victoria on Vancouver Island.

A number of French-Canadian employees of the HBC had become farmers on French Prairie in the Willamette Valley. However, they were not interested in relocating. In 1841, a call went out to Scotland. Farmers there did not find the deal offered worthwhile.

The only successful source of early colonists for the PSAC would come from the Red River colony; however, the farmers wanted to be able to purchase their own farms. Finding many families unwilling to sign provisions, Duncan Finlayson felt pressure to get a number of willing emigrants as previously ordered by HBC. Without the approval of Sir George Simpson or the Committee, he announced that the farmers could be able to purchase the farmlands they would work on around Cowlitz Farm.

Illustration: New Archangel, 1805 Public Domain — The current name Sitka (derived from Sheet’ká, a contraction of the Tlingit Shee At’iká)

By Ginny Mapes; Advisory Historian to The Hillsboro Historical Society