Oregon History

Oregon’s racist past part one BCE – 1920: A timeline of exclusion, segregation & trauma

Together Anywhere develops new ways to travel, through innovative application of modern technologies. We provide unique experiences and connection through entertainment, education, nature and community. As we stand by our mission, we would be complicit to not recognize what is going on across our state, our country, and our world right now.  As we haveContinue reading “Protected: A timeline of race and trauma in Oregon”

Together Anywhere develops new ways to travel, through innovative application of modern technologies. We provide unique experiences and connection through entertainment, education, nature and community. As we stand by our mission, we would be complicit to not recognize what is going on across our state, our country, and our world right now. 

As we have been preparing to publicly and commercially launch our app, we must pause yet again. This time, not for fear of death from COVID-19 but for fear of the death of our own morality. This is not a time to distract and tell people about vacation and road trips. It is a time to LEARN. TO LISTEN. AND TO STAND UP.

This is a follow up to the personal perspective related to the experience of race in Oregon and our message is the same:




An audio summary of race in Oregon that we share on the Together Anywhere Audio Guides app:

Rather than try to write a research paper on the multi-layered history of race and ethnicity, we have adapted an article regarding significant events in Oregon’s history related to race and immigration.

This timeline is re-posted and adapted with permission from the Oregon Center for Educational Equity:

Looking Back In Order to Move Forward

An Often Untold History Affecting Oregon’s Past, Present and Future

Timeline of Oregon and U.S. Racial, Immigration and Education History


Time Immemorial

The geographical region now known as Oregon was one of the most linguistically rich places on earth with over 30 distinct languages, some of which remain alive today. There are different theories about the history of these first peoples. The origin stories of many of the Native American societies state that they were created in essentially those geographical locations where they were when first encountered by Europeans.


12-14,000 BCE (Before the Common Era)

Physical evidence in the historic Modoc Klamath and Paiute territory excavated by Luther Cressman in 1938 and later by UO anthropologists from 2002-2010 scientifically confirmed the ancient human activity in Oregon. The site is accepted by anthropologists as one of the oldest known inhabited sites in North America. 10,000+ year old sandals and other artifacts are displayed at the University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History in Eugene.


7,300 BCE

A body of a prehistoric man found on the banks of the Columbia River on the Washington-Oregon border in 1996 was dubbed by dominant culture scientists, the Kennewick Man. Using the rights guaranteed in the Native American Graves Protection & Repatriation Act, the Umatilla tribe sought custody of the remains for reburial. The U.S. Supreme Court awarded scientists jurisdiction over the skeletal remains since no genetic link could trace him to the Umatilla Tribe. In 2015, further DNA findings confirmed The Ancient One was Native American, so the tribes who claim him as their ancestor could begin the process of reclaiming his remains under NAGPRA. He was returned to the tribes in 2017.


400 – 500 CE (In the Common Era)

Historical and archaeological research provides evidence that Kanaka (Native Pacific Islanders) and Chinese visited and traded with indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest at least a thousand years before Europeans arrived.


After 16,000 documented years of indigenous people living here, Spanish explorers claimed for Spain the land they sighted off the Oregon Coast north of the forty-second parallel near the Rogue River.


Captain Gray and crew entered and named the Columbia River. This expedition gave the U.S. claim to the Oregon Territory. Marcus Lopez, cabin boy of Captain Robert Gray, became the first person of African descent known to have set foot on Oregon soil and the first to be killed by Native Americans near Tillamook.


York (William Clark’s Black body servant—slavery’s version of a valet) came west with Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery. A Shoshone woman, Sacajawea, acted as a skilled interpreter and guide to explore and document the Pacific Northwest. Sacajawea had been taken prisoner by a rival tribe and then sold to a French Canadian trapper who later described her as his wife. She carried and cared for her infant son on the trip. The mission was part of U.S. expansion plans for the Louisiana Purchase and beyond. The southern and western boundaries of which were undefined at the time. The journey supported the country’s sense of “manifest destiny”: the belief that the U.S. was justified and in fact ought to occupy and rule all land from the Atlantic to the Pacific.


Fur traders employed by New York merchant, John Jacob Astor, built a trading post named Astoria. They traded mostly for beaver pelts and became the first permanent White residents of Oregon.

1830s – 40s

The Hudson Bay Company listed a substantial number of Hawaiian and Tahitian workers. By the 1840’s, 40% of the laborers at Fort Vancouver were Pacific Islanders working as cooks, gardeners, servants, millers and sailors. They were forced to live outside of Fort Vancouver in a segregated area called Kanaka Village. Though this early presence in Oregon makes them an integral part of its history, their story has been invisible to most Oregonians.


At Fort Vancouver, the first school in the Oregon Territory was established to teach the Métis (children of White fathers and Indian mothers) boys at the fort.


The first school in what was to become the state of Oregon opened exclusively for White students in Marion County.


Encroachment and settlement by missionaries (the Whitmans and Spaldings) into Oregon also brought a measles outbreak. Many Indians lacking immunity to White diseases died. Distraught with grief, a group of Cayuse men sought revenge. The altercation was reported by the Whites as a “massacre” when in fact far more Indians died from the measles infestation. The national attention blaming all Indians directly led to the violent U.S. military response called the Cayuse War.


The first Oregon university opens. Wealthy White Oregonians attended Willamette University after private grammar schools. 


Oregon’s territorial government adopted a measure “prohibiting slavery” that required slaveholders to free their slaves with the added requirement that all Blacks must leave the territory within three years.


Acts to prohibit slavery and to exclude Blacks and Mulattoes (mixed race) from Oregon were passed. The infamous “Lash Law,” required that Blacks in Oregon – “be they free or slave – be whipped twice a year until he or she shall quit the territory.” It was soon deemed too harsh and its provisions for punishment were reduced to forced labor.


Sandwich Islander Tax Bill was designed by the all-White territorial leaders to not only raise revenue but to ensure that Pacific Islanders would never become permanent residents of Oregon. People of Color were wanted as a labor force and as a source of revenue, but not welcome members of the state. White employers were required to pay a tax of $5 for each “Kanaka” (a term for workers from the Pacific Islands) they brought into the Oregon Territory and $3 annually for each “Kanaka” in their service.


Three decades of continuous conflict between Whites and Indian tribes started with the Cayuse War continuing until Indian tribes were forced onto and confined to reservations. Anson Dart, Oregon Territory’s first Superintendent of Indian Affairs, organized reservations on remote, semiarid land east of the Cascades. Tribes of the coast and Willamette Valley balked at the move. Efforts to obtain reservation land west of the Cascades ran afoul of the Oregon Donation Land Claim Act. This law sanctioned homesteading without regard for the legal obligations to Indian titles to the land. Only a few remote parcels of land not yet encumbered by White claims were procured as reservation land.


President Polk appointed Joseph Lane as Governor of the new Oregon Territory. Lane was raised in North Carolina and held southern pro-slavery beliefs. He had fought in and supported the Mexican American War to expand U.S. control of the North American continent. In 1849 he began his duties by overseeing the surrender and execution of five Cayuse Indians accused in relation to the “Whitman Massacre.” (see 1836 entry) Lane County is named after him.


US established the Territory of Oregon. Samuel Thurston an elected territorial delegate informed Congress that the “first prerequisite step” to settlement was removal of Indians. The 1850’s was tragic for most Native Peoples in Oregon as White Settlers conducted a “Race War” to drive Indians from their traditional gathering grounds and government representatives pushed confusing treaties that were not honored leading to most Native peoples of the Willamette Valley relocated to the Siletz and Grand Ronde reservations. These reservations effectively marginalized and oppressed their very ways of life. Confined to reservations and suffering persistent ravages of disease, inadequate housing and starvation, the population of Native Peoples continued to decline. Annual deaths exceeded birth rates well into the 20th century demonstrating striking legacy of the inhumanity of reservation policy.


The Oregon Donation Land Act was enacted by the U.S. Congress to promote homestead settlement in the Oregon Territory; swelling the ranks of emigrants on the Oregon Trail. It granted free land to “Whites and half-breed Indians” in the Oregon Territory. This act dispossessed Native peoples and prevented many non-Whites, especially Blacks and Hawaiians, from claiming land in Oregon even if they had already settled here whether they had previous deeds to the land or not.

1850 – 1855

Indian agents signed more than 20 treaties negotiating rights and land titles of Oregon tribes. Most of these treaties were not approved in the Senate, but tribal leaders believed in the promises made to them in the process. Ratified treaties were those that extinguished Indian land titles in the Willamette Valley forcefully moving tribes to reservations outside the valley.

Mid 1850’s

Mexican mule packers dominated the overland trade routes between northern California and southern Oregon. They supplied the Second Regiment Oregon Mounted Volunteers during the Rogue River Indian Wars. They played a very valuable role in communication and transportation of supplies throughout the Oregon Territory.


Jacob Vanderpool, a Black owner of a saloon, restaurant and boarding house in Salem, was the only person known officially to have been kicked out of the Oregon Territory because of his skin color based on the Exclusion Laws.


Robin Holmes, a former Oregon enslaved person, successfully sued to free his 3 children oppressed in slavery on a farm near Rickreall. Slavery in Oregon continued despite the ruling in Holmes v. Ford with Oregon slave holders still reporting owning people who were enslaved on the1860 Census. A major result of this case was that Oregon law was changed to disallow testimony by African Americans against Whites in Oregon courts.


Oregon’s Exclusion Law was repealed, to be replaced three years later by amending the Oregon Constitution with similar exclusionary language to keep Blacks out of Oregon. (Racist language was not removed from the official Constitution until 2000.)1855After the gold strikes in southern Oregon, pro-slavery forces advocated forming a new state in southern Oregon and northern California. It failed when Californians rejected the idea of reducing the size of their state but resurfaced in 1941.



Rogue River Indian Wars ended. Native Americans forced onto 2 newly created reservations: Siletz and Grand Ronde.


Oregon residents voted against slavery but in favor of excluding “free Negroes” from the state. The state’s African American population faced either leaving the state or suffering southern-style segregation, discrimination and racism. Meanwhile, a new exclusion law was added by popular vote to Oregon Constitution’s Bill of Rights.


Just prior to statehood, Oregon elected its first state officials. Governor “Honest John” Whiteaker, as well as many lesser officials, were well known for their pro-slavery and White supremacy views.


On February 14, 1859, after the all-White US Congress accepted Oregon’s petition, it became the only state admitted to the Union with an “exclusion law” written into a state’s constitution; prohibiting slavery yet ordering all “Free Blacks” out of the state.1860’sLarge numbers of Asians, primarily Chinese, began to arrive mostly to mine and construct railroads.


Mexican miners joined the Oregon Gold Rush but often faced prejudice and discrimination. One of the important technologies they brought with them was the arrastre, a large, but inexpensive, stone device for crushing quartz to remove the gold.


The Knights of the Golden Circle, an anti-Union/pro-slavery group, opened chapters throughout Oregon. Their ultimate goals were to secede from the U.S., support the Confederacy, and create a Pacific Coast Republic.


Oregon adopted a law requiring all Blacks, Chinese, Hawaiians (Kanakas), and Mulattos (an archaic term referring to people of mixed racial/ethnic heritage) residing in Oregon to pay an annual tax of $5. If they could not pay, the law empowered the state to press them into service maintaining state roads for 50 cents a day. Also, interracial marriages were banned. It was illegal for Whites to marry anyone 1⁄4 or more Black.


Portland ordinance required Chinese laundries to pay $25 quarterly fee. (Later declared unconstitutional)


The Knights of the Golden Circle, a White supremacy group in Oregon, were openly militant in their support of the Confederacy. The group fell apart when it became apparent that the Union was going to win the Civil War.


It became illegal in Oregon to entice an “Indian” or “half-breed” to leave the reservation. Discrimination, strict segregation and cultural assimilation was enforced to control Native peoples as White settlers took over the most fertile and resource-rich Indian lands, confining tribes to desolate reservations far removed from their traditional lands.


Oregon’s citizens did not pass the Fourteenth Amendment, granting citizenship to Blacks. Exclusion Laws were still in effect making it illegal for Blacks to live in Oregon.


It was illegal for Whites and Blacks to marry in Oregon. The White state legislature also banned interracial marriages to prevent Whites from marrying anyone 1⁄4 or more Chinese, or Hawaiian, and 1⁄2 or more Indian.


Even though the total Black population in Oregon in the 1860’s numbered 128, African American children were prohibited from attending public schools. Portland assigned Black and Mulatto children to a segregated school. (Census of 1870 lists Oregon’s total population at 90,923.)


Portland School District opened the “Colored-School” for 26 African American boys and girls, as a compromise since they opposed integration. It closed in 1873 and 30 Black students were spread among 21 classes in the existing schools.


Corvallis College was designated as the Agricultural College of Oregon and established for White people (later OSU) under the Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1862. (part of the on-going appropriation of Indian lands). It became the first state-supported institution of higher education and was charged with training White teachers to teach White students.


Mexican vaqueros drove large herds of cattle from California to eastern Oregon helping to develop the ranching business in that part of the state and therefore settlement.


Oregon’s first public high school opened in Portland for White students — what is now Lincoln High School.


The Nez Perce Tribe was attacked by the U.S. Army in their NE Oregon homeland. Chief Joseph and his people refused to submit to be forced to go to a reservation which was against their treaty rights. Instead, Chief Joseph tried to lead 800 of his people to safety in Canada. Fighting for their survival against the U.S. Army all along their 1100-mile journey, they were trapped just 40 miles from Canada where they hoped to be free from U.S. persecution. After a five-day fight, with only 431 remaining Nez Perce, Chief Joseph made his speech of surrender stating: “From here to where the sun sets, I will fight no more forever.”


Chemawa Indian Boarding School opened in Salem as the third Indian boarding school in the nation. These schools were designed to force assimilation of Indian children into White culture and teach them vocational skills. Students were prohibited from speaking their tribal languages or practicing any of their traditional customs/culture. (This Indian School still operates in Salem, but their mission is to honor unique tribal cultures while providing accredited successful education in support of Alaskan Natives and Native American youth. In 2019, in testimony to Congress, numerous problems were reported at the federally run boarding school: serious health and safety issues, academic weaknesses, lack of financial oversight, retaliation for complaining and overall poor cultural support for the Native youth.)


By this date, the U.S. government had forced most Indians of the Northwest onto reservations.1880’sHostility and violence toward the Chinese, who were the largest ethnic minority group in Oregon, were wide spread. Chinese immigrants were driven by mobs out of Oregon City, Mount Tabor and Albina. Many of the over 9,000 Chinese living in Oregon felt compelled to move into sections just outside city centers to establish China Towns for their protection and commerce.


An attempt to amend the Oregon Constitution to remove its ban on Black suffrage failed despite the fact that the clause in question was rendered moot following the passage of the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (Further attempts to remove this language prohibiting Blacks from voting were unsuccessful in 1895, 1916 and 1927. Many racist and discriminatory sections in the Oregon Constitution were not changed until 2000)


The Oregon statewide railroad system was completed connecting all regions of the state. Oregon remained relatively isolated until completion. The Central Pacific’s Chinese immigrant workers received $26-$35 a month for a 12-hour day, 6-day work week and had to provide their own food and tents. White workers received about $35 a month and were furnished with food and shelter. Chinese workers saved as much as $20 a month which many eventually used to buy land. They earned a reputation as tireless and extraordinarily reliable workers. 12,000 of the Central Pacific railroad’s 13,500 employees were Chinese immigrants.


Members of the “Anti-Coolie League” burned the homes and Chinese markets and dynamited two laundries before giving all Chinese 30 days to leave Portland. Even though the mayor activated the militia and police to intervene against the threats, many Chinese returned to China or migrated to San Francisco to leave the hostile environment in Oregon. 


Near Enterprise, Oregon, a brutal massacre of at least 34 Chinese gold miners was covered up. Though a trial by their White peers acquitted 3 White men of murder and mutilation of the bodies, the ring-leaders fled the area and were never tried. Rumors put the figure from $3,000 to more than $50,000. The trial attracted little attention from the press, and local White people swept the mass murder under the rug for more than a century. In 1995, a county clerk opened an old safe in the Wallowa County Courthouse and found a long-secreted cache of documents detailing the White community’s complicity with the massacre.


Banning Chinese immigration contributed to a dramatic increase in Japanese immigrants to Oregon: typically young males arriving without families. They came to work on railroads, in lumber and canning industries and as farm workers. Many restaurants and businesses posted signs reassuring customers that they employed no Asian help.


The all-White Oregon Historical Society started as an elitist organization of White pioneer ancestors focused on White dominant culture genealogy and history. It was no less exclusive and biased than the White Daughters of the American Revolution. They focused on proving and preserving the history of the White dominant culture pioneer experience as the single historical record rather than focusing on research/documentation of an inclusive, diverse history of Oregon.


Alonzo Tucker, an African-American living in Coos Bay, is the only documented lynching of a Black man in Oregon. No charges were ever brought against the mob who killed him. Other forms of murder of Blacks in Oregon were recorded though.


The Advocate started as a weekly newspaper for the “intelligent discussion and authentic diffusion of matters appertaining to the colored people, especially of Portland and the State of Oregon.” It featured birth/death announcements, society news, and general good news about African Americans. Articles about segregation, lynching, employment opportunities and race issues related to the realities of “Jim Crow” laws (laws of racial segregation directed against Blacks). They advocated for civil rights on the local, state, and national agenda. The newspaper challenged attempts to deprive Black people of their rights and their humanness.


Oregon ranked seventh among states outside the Southwest with Mexican born migrant workers. Between 1910 – 1925 Mexican workers were contracted to work on sugar beet farms and on railroads. Farm workers marked the first Mexican families to settle permanently in the state. Oregon’s agriculture relied on the large numbers of Mexican resident and migrant workers until wide- spread mechanization in the 1950’s.


Fueled by racial prejudice against “turbaned fellows” and Hindus, Whites violently rioted against East-Asians in Portland. Two hundred local residents, including prominent members of the community, attacked the town’s East-Indian population forcibly placing them on trains and sending them out of Portland.


The Portland chapter of the NAACP, the oldest continually chartered chapter west of the Mississippi River was founded in 1914. Two years later, with the release of D.W. Griffith’s racist and violently anti-Black sensational film about the Civil War and Reconstruction (Birth of a Nation), these Black leaders persuaded the Portland City Council to pass an ordinance banning the showing of any film that would stir up race hatred. Despite this law, several White theaters showed it. President Woodrow Wilson showed the film in the White House and heralded it as an epic movie giving support to the racist KKK who had a resurgence of violence against Blacks.


Portland Board of Realty approved a “Code of Ethics” prohibiting realtors and bankers from selling property or providing mortgages in White neighborhoods to People of Color. Maps of these restricted areas had red lines thus the term “Red Lining”.

Part Two will look at the last 100 years of racism in Oregon.