Detailed, Early Map of Oregon and Washington Territories
Striking early J.H. Colton map of Oregon and Washington Territories published four years before Oregon statehood.
The map is dated 1853, but it was first published in 1855.
Oregon and Washington Territories stretch east to Nebraska Territory, encompassing present day Idaho and parts of Montana and Wyoming. Nebraska Territory covers the Dakotas to the east, with Utah Territory and the state of California to the south. North of the 49th parallel are “British Possessions.” A fine decorative border rings the map, although the tip of Oregon breaks the neatline to the right.
The majority of the counties of Oregon and Washington are clustered west of the Cascade Mountains. The only counties east of this range are Walla Walla and Skamania in Washington and Wascopen in Oregon.
Running from Seattle south and then along the Columbia is “Governor Stevens Route & Line of Proposed Pacific R. R.” Isaac Ingalls Stevens (1818-1862) was the first governor of Washington Territory, after it was separated from Oregon Territory. En route to his post, he also led a railroad survey that would connect the Pacific Northwest to the East.
Rivers and mountains are shown in detail, including the Lewis and Clark Forks of the Columbia River. The former is also known as the Snake River, a part of the Oregon Trail famous for its rapids. The Oregon Trail was already past its heyday when this map was made, but the impact of the settlers that walked and drove that trail is evident here. Indigenous peoples are also acknowledged, however, with the names of tribes inscribed over the areas they inhabit.
In a dotted line across the map is the route of John C. Fremont in 1843. The route ends at Mt. Hood and passes south into and around Utah Territory. This is one of five expeditions led by Fremont in the 1840s and 1850s, earning him the nickname of the Pathfinder. On the fifth and final journey, he surveyed the route for a Transcontinental Railroad. He was also on the first US Senators elected from the new state of California.
The creation of Oregon and Washington Territories
At the Convention of 1818, negotiators from Britain and the United States decided upon a joint occupation of the land west of the Continental Divide and between the 42nd parallels. This treaty was to last for ten years before being re-negotiated, but Britain asked for a review in 1826. This began twenty years of consultations and discussions that eventually ended in 1846, when the powers agreed a treaty that created the Oregon Territory. The borders of the territory were finalized in 1848.
The new territory was more densely settled south of the Columbia River. The area north of the river was called Northern Oregon and was split into two giant counties, Lewis and Clark. In 1851, the territorial legislature also added Thurston, Pierce, King, and Jefferson counties. By 1854, only 4,000 settlers lived in Northern Oregon, but they were beginning to feel alienated from their southern neighbors.
Far from the territorial seat at Salem, Northern Oregon residents and businessmen met at Cowlitz Landing in August 1851. They requested that Congress create a new territory, Columbia, to represent their interests. Congress largely ignored the Cowlitz Convention, but a second effort in November 1852 at Monticello (Longview) was more successful. The governor of Oregon Territory supported their congressional petition, arguing that the few residents of the new territory would be balanced by the vast commercial potential of Puget Sound.
Congress created the Washington Territory on March 2, 1853. They altered the name from Columbia to Washington ostensibly to honor the nation’s first president, but more practically to avoid confusion with the District of Columbia. Initially, the territory encompassed what is now Idaho and parts of Montana and Wyoming. However, Idaho Territory was founded in 1863 after gold was discovered there and Washington legislators feared their capital would have to shift east of the Cascades.
After President Thomas Jefferson completed the Louisiana Purchase, he wanted an expedition to explore and survey the vast lands that had come under the control of the United States. He chose Meriwether Lewis, an Army captain and Jefferson’s personal secretary, to lead the expedition. Lewis chose William Clark to lead with him. Clark was a land owner in Kentucky and an Army officer, where he had served with Lewis.
Both men studied extensively before setting out, reading up on medicine, botany, astronomy, and zoology. They read every available map and journal detailing the area, from Spanish, French, and British sources. Lewis gathered munitions at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, and then boarded a custom-made keelboat, which he sailed down the Ohio River to Clarksville, Indiana, where he joined Clark. There, Clark boarded the boat, taking it up the Mississippi, while Lewis took to horseback to gather more supplies, including maps and surveying equipment.
Meanwhile, Clark recruited the men who would travel with them, members of the Corps of Volunteers for Northwest Discovery, at Fort DuBois, Missouri. The final group consisted of Lewis, Clark, Clark’s enslaved man, York, 27 soldiers, a French-Indian interpreter, and a boat crew. They set out on May 14, 1804, picking up Lewis in St. Charles, Missouri and continuing up the Missouri River. On August 20, Sergeant Charles Floyd died of stomach infection; miraculously, he was the only Corps member to die on the entire journey.
The Corps traveled through Iowa and into South Dakota. In November, they arrived near what is today Washburn, North Dakota, where they set up their winter camp. They built a structure they called Fort Mandan. Nearby were the Mandan and Minitari Indians, just some of the over fifty tribes who encountered Lewis and Clark on their journey. Some groups, like the Teton Sioux, were suspicious of the soldiers, but there was relatively little violence during encounters as compared to other similar expeditions.
At Fort Mandan, Sacagawea, a Shoshone woman, met Lewis and Clark. She was pregnant and with her husband, a French-Canadian fur trapper, Toussaint Charbonneau. Although the expedition hired Charbonneau as interpreter, it would be Sacagawea who would prove integral to the success of the venture. Sacagawea gave birth in February, 1805; the Corps set out, with baby Jean Baptiste in tow, in early April.
The Corps traveled across Montana, crossing the Continental Divide. They purchased horses from the Shoshone, thanks to Sacagawea. There, she also reunited with her brother, Cameahwait, whom she had not seen since she had been kidnapped by the Hidatsa people when she was 12; she was later sold to Charbonneau.
The horses proved useful as the Corps crawled over the Lolo Trail through the Bitterroot Mountains with Shoshone guides. Cold and exhausted, the men were revived by the Nez Perce Indians, who they met near the Clearwater River, in what is today Idaho. The final leg of their journey west was on the water; they rafted down the Clearwater to the Snake River, and then to the mighty Columbia.
They reached the Pacific Ocean in November of 1805. It was time for another winter camp, which they set up near what is today Astoria, Oregon. They called their shelter Fort Clatsop, moving in on Christmas Day. It was a damp and dismal winter, and practically the entire Corps had stomach sicknesses.
On March 23, 1806, the Lewis and Clark expedition headed east. They returned to the Nez Perce, where they had left their horses, then crossed the mountains. At the Lolo Pass, the leaders split their troops. Lewis headed to the Great Falls of the Missouri River; Clark and Sacagawea to the Yellowstone River. Clark named a large rock formation near the river Pompey’s Pillar; Pompey was the nickname for Sacagawea’s son.
Lewis had a less monumental time; they got into an altercation with Blackfeet warriors, killing two of them. This was the only episode that resulted in indigenous death during the expedition. Lewis’ woes continued, as he was shot in the buttocks soon thereafter.
The men and their groups reunited on August 12, 1806. They bid farewell to Sacagawea and her family at the Mandan villages. Then, they sailed down the Missouri River to St. Louis, where they arrived on September 23.
From Missouri, the leaders traveled to Washington D. C. to report on their findings. They had traversed over 8,000 miles, made a library of maps and accounts (nearly 5,000 pages of journals), returned 120 animal specimens and 200 botanical specimens, and did so with comparatively little violence.
Lewis became the Governor of the Louisiana Territory, while Clark was named Brigadier General of Militia for the Louisiana Territory and a federal Indian Agent. Unfortunately, Lewis became an alcoholic and died of gunshot wounds in 1809. Sacagawea died a few years later; Clark became the guardian of her children. Clark himself lived a successful life and died in 1838.
The publications of the Lewis and Clark expedition
The expedition was a huge success, widely reported upon in the papers of the time. Accounts of the journey were published even before they returned, however. Lewis’ and Clark’s letters were featured in periodicals from Boston to Louisville. Matthew Carey included a paragraph about the expedition in the 1806 edition of John Newbery’s Compendious History of the World (first published in London in 1763). Having received a cache of documents, Jefferson wrote a report to Congress in February 1806; portions of this were printed as broadsides and newspaper articles and then reprinted in whole by Hopkins and Seymour of New York, as well as in London and Natchez, Mississippi.
The first complete account of the expedition came out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Zadok Cramer saw an opportunity; he purchased the journal of Patrick Gass, a Corps member, and flew the journal through printing. Cramer and his partner, David M’Keehan, released the book less than a year after the return of the Corps; they sold their publication rights to J. Budd (London) and Matthew Carey (Philadelphia); the latter published three illustrated editions of the journal.
In 1809, the pseudonymous Hubbard Lester penned a fictitious account that borrowed liberally from other sources. His work included a bogus map riddled with errors. Over the next fifty years, at least eight fictitious or counterfeit Lewis and Clark accounts were offered to readers. The last one appeared in 1846, showing that even these fraudulent accounts found an audience.
More discerning readers had to wait until 1814 for the authorized expedition account. Nicholas Biddle and Paul Allen compiled an abridged version of Lewis and Clark’s journals into a two-volume narrative. Lewis was supposed to have written the account, but his decline and death in 1809 made this impossible. The account also included a detailed map of the American West by Clark, which would remain the gold standard for the northwestern United States until the 1830s.
However, many critics found the lack of a volume dedicated to the botanical and naturalist findings a major detraction of the work. It seems that many Americans already knew the story of the expedition; they wanted more figures, images, and data. This is supported by the fact that most surviving examples of the Biddle/Allen account lack the map; there is some evidence that travelers used it for trans-Mississippi journeys. The Biddle/Allen narrative was printed in many languages worldwide, but it was only reprinted in the US once, in 1842.
G. W. & C. B. Colton was a prominent family firm of mapmakers who were leaders in the American map trade in the nineteenth century. Its founder, Joseph Hutchins Colton (1800-1893), was a Massachusetts native. Colton did not start in the map trade; rather, he worked in a general store from 1816 to 1829 and then as a night clerk at the United States Post Office in Hartford, Connecticut. By 1830, he was in New York City, where he set up his publishing business a year later.
The first printed item with his imprint is dated 1833, a reprint of S. Stiles & Company’s edition of David Burr’s map of the state of New York. He also printed John Disturnell’s map of New York City in 1833. Colton’s next cartographic venture was in 1835, when he acquired the rights to John Farmer’s seminal maps of Michigan and Wisconsin. Another early and important Colton work is his Topographical Map of the City and County of New York and the Adjacent Country (1836). In 1839, Colton began issuing the Western Tourist and Emigrant’s Guide, which was originally issued by J. Calvin Smith.
During this first decade, Colton did not have a resident map engraver; he relied upon copyrights purchased from other map makers, most often S. Stiles & Company, and later Stiles, Sherman & Smith. Smith was a charter member of the American Geographical and Statistical Society, as was John Disturnell. This connection would bear fruit for Colton during the early period in his career, helping him to acquire the rights to several important maps. By 1850, the Colton firm was one of the primary publishers of guidebooks and immigrant and railroad maps, known for the high-quality steel plate engravings with decorative borders and hand watercolors.
In 1846, Colton published Colton’s Map of the United States of America, British Possessions . . . his first venture into the wall map business. This work would be issued until 1884 and was the first of several successful wall maps issued by the firm, including collaborative works with D.G. Johnson. From the 1840s to 1855, the firm focused on the production of railroad maps. Later, it published a number of Civil War maps.
In 1855, Colton finally issued his first atlas, Colton’s Atlas of the World, issued in two volumes in 1855 and 1856. In 1857 the work was reduced to a single volume under the title of Colton’s General Atlas, which was published in largely the same format until 1888. It is in this work that George Woolworth (G. W.) Colton’s name appears for the first time.
Born in 1827 and lacking formal training as a mapmaker, G. W. joined his father’s business and would later help it to thrive. His brother Charles B. (C. B.) Colton would also join the firm. Beginning in 1859, the General Atlas gives credit to Johnson & Browning, a credit which disappears after 1860, when Johnson & Browning launched their own atlas venture, Johnson’s New Illustrated (Steel Plate) Family Atlas, which bears Colton’s name as the publisher in the 1860 and 1861 editions.
J.H. Colton also published a number of smaller atlases and school geographies, including his Atlas of America (1854-56), his Illustrated Cabinet Atlas (1859), Colton’s Condensed Cabinet Atlas of Descriptive Geography (1864) and Colton’s Quarto Atlas of the World (1865). From 1850 to the early 1890s, the firm also published several school atlases and pocket maps. The firm continued until the late 1890s, when it merged with a competitor and then ceased to trade under the name Colton.