Rural Life in Willamette Valley Oregon

The second installment of the series on the best of North America to pursue a rural lifestyle includes information on Willamette Valley Oregon climate, economics, crime, recreation and people.

| November/December 1986

Cream of the country: Willamette Valley, Oregon. The second in a series of the best sections of America to live a rural lifestyle. 

Rural Life in Willamette Valley Oregon

Between 1840 and 1870, a half-million people traveled the arduous Oregon Trail. By horse, wagon, and on foot, they left Missouri (and civilization) behind and set out on a 2,000-mile, six-month journey across vast, treeless plains, countless treacherous rivers, forbidding desert, and steep mountain passes. At the Snake River, in what is now southeastern Idaho, the Oregon Trail branched. To the south lay the Great Basin, the Sierra Nevada, and California. After the '49 gold strike there, the fever to go west became epidemic.

Many of the Oregon-bound pioneers, however, preferred rich land to gold. The deep wagon tracks of those who turned north still mark sections of their route along the Snake, across the Blue Mountains, to the Columbia River. From there, a perilous boat trip or a treacherous route around Mt. Hood brought them to their final destination: Oregon's 100-mile-long, 30-mile-wide Willamette Valley (pronounced Wil-LAMM-ette).

This amazing stretch of land, bordered on the east by the Coastal Range and on the west by the Cascades, was named the French Prairie after its first homesteaders, French-Canadian fur trappers, who were encouraged by the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Vancouver to retire on the open meadows in the middle of the valley to help secure British claim to the territory.

The trappers were followed in 1834 by American Methodist missionaries. They came to convert the Northwest natives, but they also spread the gospel of this new "Garden of Eden" to the folks back east. Nine years later, these settlers created a provisional American government at their mission on Mill Creek at Chemeketa, now Salem, the capital of Oregon.

Early arrivals found 11-foot-tall elephant grass; thick oak forests; hillsides covered with huge, straight evergreens; and nuts, berries, and game in abundance. Winters brought torrential rain, but Oregon was also a land of rainbows. In 1846, J. Quinn Thorton wrote of the countryside, ". . . the clusters of trees are so carefully arranged, the openings so gracefully curved, the grounds so open and clean, that it all seems to be a work of art; and these beautiful avenues are calculated to cheat the imagination into the belief that they lead to some farmhouse or pleasant village."

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