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July 18th, 2012 MARTY SMITH | Dr. Know
 

Dr. Know: Beaver State Indeed

Was Oregon originally established as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Hudson’s Bay Company?

drknowILLUSTRATION: Hawk Krall

(Author’s note: In honor of Oregon History Month, an observance I made up, I’m devoting July to history questions.)

I recently heard that Oregon started as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Is our state really nothing more than the profit-drenched fever dream of a bunch of neo-feudalist robber barons? 

—Aaron F.

Simmer down, comrade—you’re splashing hemp oil on my spats. You don’t seriously believe that colonial powers would sign over a chunk of land the size of Oregon to private business interests, do you?

If so, you’re grossly underestimating the rapacity of 17th-through-19th-century capitalism. The actual area controlled by the Hudson’s Bay Co. at its peak was on the order of 2.5 million square miles, which makes Oregon’s 98,000 or so square miles seem like a walk-in closet.

Here’s how it went down: In 1670, Britain’s king turned over the central third of modern-day Canada to some Rich Dudes, who immediately set about killing, skinning and selling the pelts of every beaver they could find.

Meanwhile, some Other Rich Dudes realized there was open land to the southwest of HBC’s claim, and started the copycat “North West Company” to terrorize this region’s fur-bearing creatures as well.

The Oregon we know and love started as the North West Company’s “Columbia District,” which was to the NWC what an individual Wendy’s is to the larger Wendy’s corporation.

By 1824, the two companies had merged and John McLoughlin (of Southeast McLoughlin Boulevard fame) was appointed as the Columbia District’s manager, probably when the previous manager got busted for not putting expiration dates on the salad dressing tubs.

Now, of course, McLoughlin is known as the “Father of Oregon.” So work hard and get promoted—if your Taco Bell should ever happen to become a U.S. state, you too can go down in history.

 
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