Settling Washington, a Difficult Task

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The Lewis and Clark expedition signaled that the Oregon and Washington territories were open and could be settled. During the 1800’s, this region underwent a significant transformation. Factors included: religious motivation, a desire for gain, and improved transportation. Conflicts also shaped the region.

Some people were driven by religious motivation to come west to convert the natives. Most did this by setting up outposts that contained a church, while some set up mission schools. These missions were created to teach the natives how to live like white men and practice the religion of the mission. Some children were forced to live at these missions at young ages. Spokane Garry attended a mission and returned to his tribe to teach them and other local Native Americans about the white men’s ways and culture. He helped convert many of his people. Mother Joseph, someone else motivated by religion, built churches, schools, and hospitals in the Pacific Northwest with the help of fellow nuns. She built them because they didn’t exist here in the northwest and because she wanted to convert natives to Christianity, help the sick, and teach children.

Many people came west because of their desire to gain, some wanting land while others sought for wealth. Once they realized the land was open, settlers started pouring in. One interesting example of a pioneer was George Washington Bush came to Washington when it split from Oregon because he wanted to own land and the Washington didn’t have racist laws like Oregon. Others came to the region because of the wealth that could be made from the fur trade. Many worked for fur trading companies such as the Hudson Bay Company and the Northwest Company, but some lived the solo life of a mountain man. They would trap and trade with the native tribes. Gold also attracted people. Two major gold rushes were the California Gold Rush and the Klondike Gold Rush. The latter brought many people to Seattle, as it was the major supply and departure point for this gold rush.

Transportation also had a significant impact on the region. Trails west, such as the Oregon Trail, made it easier to cross America and increased the population of the west. Railroads also played a role. They brought people over to construct them. Once they were built they increased the population and made transportation faster.

Although the transformation of the Pacific Northwest was substantial, it wasn’t perfect, and there were numerous conflicts and challenges throughout this region. One challenge was sickness and disease. The settlers experienced some sickness, but it was mostly the natives that suffered. The Okanogans, for example, were overwhelmed by smallpox and the Cayuse were plagued by measles. Another challenge was fighting and violence between newcomers and native peoples. The Cayuse, for instance, blamed the Whitmans for the spread of the measles and killed the missionaries. There was also fighting between Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens and his soldiers and the natives as Stevens enforced a policy of forcing people off their tribal homes onto reservations and, in some cases, then even allowed whites to take land officially protected for the tribes, thus further shrinking their homelands. A band of the Nez Perce went to war against the US army because they didn’t want to leave their home for a reservation; under Chief Joseph, they eventually surrendered; their homeland had already been given to settlers. Even though these challenges were harmful, they had an impact on the transformation of the region.

In conclusion, the desire to spread religious beliefs, attain wealth, and acquire land, inspired people to come west. The westbound trails and railroads made transportation faster and increased the population in the west. These were the some of the factors that changed the Pacific Northwest, with both positive and negative impacts.

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