History of Oregon by Oregon Historical Society

Oregon Boundaries Historic Viewer

How to Use the Oregon Boundaries Historic Viewer

At the top of the Oregon Boundaries Historic Viewer you will find three tabs that designate three different maps. The map that you see before you (the base map) is an 1833 map of the Oregon Territory.

To see how boundaries have changed from 1833 to 1860, click on the gray band above the 1860 tab. You will now see a portion of an 1860 map of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. Click on the arrows to drag the 1860 map across the 1833 map. You can also click on any portion of the 1860 map and drag it back and forth to view changes in Oregon’s boundaries. To obtain a complete view of the 1860 map, click on the 1860 tab. Use the same procedure with the 1868 tab to see how Oregon Territory boundaries have changed from 1833 to 1868.

With the constant rearrangement of international, territorial, and state borders in the West throughout the 19th century, there was a large market for maps and atlases in schools, businesses, government institutions, and homes. These three maps, published in 1833, 1860, and 1868, show Euro-American political boundaries of the Oregon Territory (also known as the Oregon Country), and the development of the current state of Oregon. The viewer also demonstrates how Euro-Americans have ordered and arranged their occupancy on the land and how they present this type of information in a readable form. When political borders were established within the Oregon Country (click on this link to read more about the Oregon Country at the end of this page), maps solidified and enforced political supremacy and permanence by creating a visual record for the public.

Map #1 – The Oregon Territory, 1833

The Oregon Territory map, copyrighted by the engraving firm, Illman & Pilbrow, was published in 1833. On this map, the Oregon Territory is colored in green, the British possessions are shaded in pink, and Mexico’s holdings are marked in yellow. Black lines designate major river systems while smaller tributaries and mountain ranges are shaded in gray.

By 1833, the British, Americans, and Indians held claim to the Oregon Territory. After the War of 1812, the Americans and the British ratified a treaty in 1818 that allowed both countries to settle and commence with trade from the 42nd parallel (the current Oregon/California border) to 54 degrees, 40 minutes north (today’s Alaska-British Columbia border). In 1819, Spain relinquished all territorial claims north of the 42nd parallel and in 1821 Mexico gained independence and acquired former Spanish territories (marked in yellow on this map). By 1824 Russia agreed to cede all claims south of the 54th parallel. When you look at this map does your perception of Oregon or the Pacific Northwest change? Can you make out the borders that will define Oregon when it becomes a state in 1859? Why do you think the geography of the Oregon Country was important to the British and the Americans? Look for clues to this question in the location of rivers and mountains and their relationship to the Pacific Ocean.

Map #2 – Map of Oregon, Washington Territory, and British Columbia, 1860

The second map, published in 1860 by S. Augustus Mitchell, who dominated the map and atlas publishing industry between 1831 and 1890, shows the new state of Oregon in relation to the Washington Territory and British Columbia. From 1818 through 1846, the British and Americans continued to enforce their claims to the Oregon Country. Each country hoped to attain the important harbors of the Puget Sound and navigation of the Columbia River. By the early 1840s, American settlement of the region, especially within the Willamette Valley, challenged British claims to the territory.

In 1846, the United States and Britain agreed to a treaty that gave the United States all territory from the 42nd parallel to the 49th parallel and as far east as the Continental divide. As settlers continued to fill the Willamette and Rogue Valleys, as well as the Puget Sound region, government control within the Oregon Territory (click on this link to read more about the Oregon Territory at the end of this page) became more difficult and ineffective. In 1853, the Washington Territory was carved out of the northern portion of the Oregon Territory. Government treaties made with the Indians and the relocation of Indians onto reservations throughout the 1850s and 1860s greatly reduced their land holdings and made more land available for white resettlement. In 1859, Oregon was granted statehood with its present boundaries.

Map #3 – Map of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana, 1868

In 1863, the Idaho Territory was carved out of the Washington Territory and was further divided into Idaho, Montana, and Dakota Territories from 1864 to 1868. Washington became a state in 1889 and Idaho in 1890. Although Washington and Idaho were still territories when the 3rd historic viewer map was published in 1868, their borders are near to what they are today.

The development of Oregon’s current boundaries was a complex process involving political negotiations and maneuverings, demographic reordering, and cultural reconstruction of the region within a relatively short time period. As this historic viewer reveals, the creation of boundaries was not arbitrary, but was carefully crafted according to geographic and economic areas of interest. The various nations that claimed the Oregon Country were interested in having unrestricted access to rivers and harbors because these waterways and ports would facilitate commerce and trade. What do you think these three maps meant to Euro-Americans who viewed them in the 19th century? How do you think the representation of boundaries made Oregon a “real place” for the newcomers that resettled on the land?

Oregon Country

The Oregon Country was a geographical region defined and marked by Euro-Americans who explored and claimed the area from the late 1700s until the mid-1800s. The region stretched from the Continental Divide to the Pacific Ocean and reached from the 42nd parallel (the current Oregon/California border) to 54 degrees and 40 minutes north (the current Alaska/British Columbia border). The Spanish were one of the first Euro-American groups to explore and map the Pacific Coast beginning in the 16th century. French, Russian, British, and American governments each had their own interests in the region and claimed various parts of the country. By 1824, both the Spanish and the Russians relinquished all claims to the territory and the United States and Great Britain held joint occupancy of the region until 1846 when the United States gained possession of the land through the Oregon Treaty. The Oregon Territory was officially established in 1848.

Oregon Territory

In 1846 the United States and Britain negotiated a treaty which gave the U.S. claim to all lands north of the 42nd parallel, the current Oregon/California border to the 49th parallel (excluding Vancouver Island) and east to the Continental Divide. A provisional government was formed in 1845, which promptly lobbied the U.S. government for territorial status. The geographical region was officially formed as the Oregon Territory in 1848 and included the current states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and western Montana.