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GEOGRAPHY OF OREGON.
be convenient to present a general view of the Columbia River and its branches.
The Columbia enters the Pacific Ocean between two points of land, seven miles apart - Cape Disappointment on the north, and Cape Adams on the south, of which the former is in the latitude of 46 degrees 19 minutes, (corresponding nearly with Quebec, in Canada, and Geneva, in Switzerland,) and in longitude of 47 degrees west from Washington, or 124 degrees west from Greenwich. The main river is formed, at the distance of two hundred and fifty miles from its mouth, by the union of two large streams, one from the north, which is usually considered as the principal branch, and the other, called the Sahaptin, or Snake, or Lewis's River, from the south-east. These two great confluents receive, in their course, many other streams, and they thus collect together all the waters flowing from the western sides of the Rocky Mountains, between the 42d and the 54th parallels of latitude.
The northern branch of the Columbia rises in the Rocky Mountains, near the 53d degree of latitude. One of its head-waters, the Canoe River, runs from a small lake, situated in a remarkable cleft of the great chain, called the Punch Bowl, at the distance of only a few feet from another lake, whence flows the westernmost stream of the Athabasca River, a tributary to the Mackenzie, emptying into the Arctic Sea. This cleft appears to be the only practicable pass in the mountains north of the 49th degree of latitude, and through it is conducted all the trade of British subjects between the territories on either side of the ridge. It is described, by those who have visited it, as presenting scenes of the most terrific grandeur, being overhung by the highest peaks in the dividing range, of which one, called Mount Brown, is not less than sixteen thousand feet, and another, Mount Hooker, exceeds fifteen thousand feet, above the ocean level.
At a place called Boat Encampment, near the 52d degree of latitude, Canoe River joins two other streams, the one from the north, the other, the largest of the three, running along the base of the Rocky Mountains, from the south. The river thus formed, considered as the main Colunibia, takes its course nearly due south, through defiles, between lofty mountains, being generally a third of a mile in width, but, in some places, spreading out into broad lakes, for about three hundred miles, to the latitude of 484 degrees, where it receives the Flatbow or M'Gillivray's River, a large branch, flowing, also, from the Rocky Mountains on the east. A little farther south, the northern branch unites with the Clarke or Flathead River - scarcely inferior, in the quantity of water supplied, to the other. The sources of the Clarke are situated in the dividing range, near those of the Missouri and the Yellowstone, whence it runs northward, along the base of the mountains, and then westward, forming, under the 48th parallel, an extensive sheet of water, called the Kullerspelm Lake, surrounded by rich tracts of land, and lofty mountains, covered with noble trees; from this lake the river issues, a large and rapid stream, and, after running about seventy miles westward, it falls into the north branch of the Columbia, over a ledge of rocks. From the point of union of these two rivers, the Columbia turns towards the west, and rushes through a ridge of mountains, where it forms a cataract called the Chaudière or Kettle Falls. Continuing in the same direction eighty miles, between the 48th and the 49th parallels, it receives, in succession, the Spokan from
the south, and the Okinagan from the north, and, from the mouth of the latter, it
pursues a southward course for one hundred and sixty miles, to its junction with the great southern branch, near the 47th degree of latitude.
Of the Sahaptin, or Lewis, or Snake River, the great southern branch of the Columbia, the farthermost sources are situated in the deep valleys or holes of the Rocky Mountains, near the 42d degree of latitude, within short distances of those of the Yellowstone, the Platte, and the Colorado. The most eastern of these head-waters, considered as the main river, issues from Pierre's Hole, between the Rocky Mountains and a parallel range called the Tetons, from three remarkable peaks, resembling teats, which rise to a great height above the others. Running westward, this stream unites successively with Henry's Fork from the north, and the Portneuf from the south. Some distance below its junction with the latter, the Lewis enters the defile between the Blue Mountains on the west, and another rocky chain, called the Salmon River Mountains, on the east, and takes its course north-westward, for about six hundred miles, to its union with the northern branch, receiving many large streams from each side. The principal of these influent streams are the Malade or Sickly River, the Boisé or Reed's River, the Salmon River, and the Kooskooskee, from the east, and the Malheur and Powder River, from the Blue Mountains, on the west.
Of these two great branches of the Columbia, and the streams which fall into them, scarcely any portion is navigable by the smallest vessels for more than thirty or forty miles continuously. The northern branch is much used by the British traders for the conveyance of their furs and merchandise, by means of light canoes, which, as well as their cargoes, are carried by the boatmen around the falls and rapids so frequently interrupting their voyage. The Lewis River and its streams offer few advantages in this way; as they nearly all rush, in their whole course, through deep and narrow chasms, between perpendicular rocks, against which a boat would be momentarily in danger of being dashed by the current.
From the point of junction of these two great branches, the course of the Columbia is generally westward to the ocean. A little below that point, it receives the Walla-Walla, and then, in succession, the Umatalla, John Day's River, and the Chutes or Falls River, all flowing from the south, and some others, of less size, from the north. Near the mouth of the Falls River, eighty miles below the Walla-Walla, are situated the Falls, or Chutes, as they are called, of the Columbia, where the great stream enters a gap in the Far-West range of mountains. Four miles farther down are the Dalles, or rapids formed by the passage of the waters between vast masses of rock; and thirty miles below these are the Cascades, a series of falls and rapids extending more than half a mile, at the foot of which the tides are observable at the distance of a hundred and twenty miles from the Pacific.
A few miles below the Cascades, a large river, called the Willamet, (the Multonomah of Lewis and Clarke,) enters the Columbia from the south, by two branches, between which is an extensive island, named Wappatoo Island, from an edible root, so called, found growing in abundance upon it. Twenty-five miles from the mouth of this river are its falls, where all its waters are precipitated over a ledge of rocks more than forty feet in height. Beyond this point, the Willamet has been
GEOGRAPHY OF OREGON.
traced about two hundred miles, in a tortuous course, through a narrow but generally fertile valley, to its sources in the Far-West chain of mountains, near the 43d degree of latitude. In this valley were formed the earliest agricultural settlements by citizens of the United Stat west of the Rocky Mountains; and, from all accounts, it appears to present greater advantages of soil and climate than any other part of the country drained by the Columbia.
Descending the Columbia forty miles from the lower mɔuth of the Willamet, we find a small stream, called the Cowelitz, entering it from the north; and, thirty miles lower down, the great river, which is nowhere above more than a mile wide, expands to the breadth of four, and, in some places, of seven, miles, before mingling its waters with those of the Pacific; it, however, preserves its character as a river, being rapid in its current, and perfectly fresh and potable, to within a league of the ocean, except during very dry seasons and the prevalence of violent westerly winds.
The Columbia may generally be ascended, by ships of three or four hundred tons, nearly to the foot of its cascades: the navigation, especially of the lower part, is, however, at all times, difficult and dangerous, in consequence of the number and the variability of the shoals; and it is only in fine weather that vessels can with safety enter or leave its mouth, which is guarded by a line of breakers, extending across from each of the capes.
The other rivers which drain the parts of this territory near the sea are numerous, but generally small, the majority being merely brooks, which disappear during the dry season. The Umqua, near the 43d degree of latitude, and the Chekelis, which empties into Bulfinch's Harbor, are the principal of those streams; but neither of them offers any facilities for commercial communication.
Of the chains of mountains traversing Oregon from north to south, the most remarkable is the westernmost, for which the name of Far-West Mountains has been here proposed, running northward from California at the distance of eighty or a hundred miles from the Pacific coast. Under the 49th parallel, where the base of the chain is washed by the easternmost waters of the Strait of Fuca, it is divided into three distinct ridges, one of which stretches north-east, to the Rocky Mountains, separating the waters of the Columbia from those of Fraser's River; another overhangs the sea-coast north-westward; and the islands of the North-West Archipelago, which mask the shore of the continent from the 49th to the 58th parallels, may be considered as a third ridge, extending through the sea. The principal peaks of this chain, in Oregon, are Mount Baker, near the 49th parallel, Mount Rainier, under the 47th, and Mount St. Helen's, the highest of the range, which rises, probably, not less than fifteen thousand feet above the ocean level, due east of the mouth of the Columbia. South of that river are Mount Hood, near the 45th parallel ; Mount Jefferson, so named by Lewis and Clarke, under the 44th; Mount Shasty, near the 43d; and Mount Jackson, a stupendous pinnacle, in the latitude of 41 degrees 40 minutes, which has been also called Mount Pitt by the British traders. Some of these peaks are visible from the ocean, particularly Mount St. Helen's, which serves as a mark for vessels entering the Columbia; when seen from the highlands farther east, they present one of the grandest spectacles in nature. This chain is entirely of volcanic formation; and it must contain active volcanoes, as there are no other means of accounting for the showers of ashes which occasionally fall in many parts of Oregon, particularly in the vicinity of Mount St. Helen's. The latest of these supposed eruptions took place in 1834.
The country between the Pacific coast and this westernmost chain consists, like the part of California similarly situated, of ranges of lower mountains, separated by narrow valleys, generally running parallel to the great chain, and to the coast. Its superficial extent may be estimated at about forty-five thousand square miles, * of which a small proportion only, not exceeding an eighth, is fit for cultivation. The climate, like that of California, is warm and dry in summer ; very little rain falling between April and November, though it is violent, and almost constant, during the remainder of the year. Snow is rarely seen in the valleys, in which the ground frequently continues soft and unfrozen throughout the winter. The soil, in some of these valleys, is said to be excellent for wheat, rye, oats; peas, potatoes, and apples; fifteen bushels of wheat being sometimes yielded by a single acre. Indian corn, which requires both heat and moisture, does not succeed in any part of Oregon. Hogs live and multiply in the woods, where an abundance of acorns is to be found; the cattle also increase, and it is not generally necessary for them to be housed or fed in the winter. The hills and the flanks of the great mountains are covered with tinber, which grows to an immense size.
A fir, near Astoria, measured forty-six feet in circumference at ten feet from the earth; the length of its trunk, before giving off a branch, was one hundred and fifty-three feet, and its whole height not less than three hundred feet. Another tree, of the same species, on the banks of the Umqua River, is fifty-seven feet in girth of trunk, and two hundred and sixteen feet in length below its branches. - Prime sound pines," says Cox, “from two hundred to two hundred and eighty feet in height, and from twenty to forty feet in circumference, are by no means uncommon.” The land on which these large trees grow is good; but the labor of clearing it would be such as to prevent any one from undertaking the task, until all the other spots, capable of cultivation, should have been occupied. From the peculiarities of climate above mentioned, it is probable that this country cannot be rendered very productive without artificial irrigation, which appears to be practicable only in a few places; and that consequently the progress of settlement in it will be much slower than in the Atlantic regions of the continent, where this want of moisture does not exist.
About one hundred and fifty miles east of the Far-West Mountains is another chain, called the Blue Mountains, stretching from the Snowy Mountains northward to the 47th degree of latitude, and forming the
* The Strait of Fuca, which bounds this region on the north, is in latitude of 484 degrees; and, assuming the 42d parallel as the southern limit of the territory, its extreme length is 64 degrees, or less than four hundred and fifty miles English. Its breadth — that is, the distance between the Pacific shore and the great chain of mountains which forms the eastern boundary of this region - does not average a hundred miles; and, by multiplying these two numbers, forty-five thousand square English miles appears as the superficial extent of the westernmost region of Oregon. It has, however, been gravely asserted and repeated on the floor of the Congress of the United States, that the valley of the Willamet, which is but an inconsiderable portion of this region, contains not less than sixty thousand square miles of the finest land; and many other assertions, equally extravagant, have been made, and are believed, respecting the vast extent of land in the country of the Columbia, superior in quality to any in the United States.
western wall of the valley of the Lewis, the great southern branch of the Columbia. North of the 47th degree are other ridges, which appear to be continuations of the Blue Mountains; but they are less defined, and are distinguished by other names. The region between the Blue and the Far-West Mountains embraces several tracts of country comparatively level, and some valleys wider than those of the Pacific region; the soil is, however, less productive, and the climate less favorable for agriculture, than in the places similarly situated nearer the ocean. The most extensive valleys are those traversed by the streams flowing into the Columbia from the south, between the Far-West i ange and the Blue Mountains, particularly the Walla-Walla, and the Falls or Chutes Rivers: the plains, as they are called, though they are rather tracts of undulating country, are on both sides of the northern branch of the Columbia, between the 46th and the 49th parallels of latitude. The surface of the plains consists generally of a yellow, sandy clay, covered with grass, small shrubs, and prickly pears; in the valleys farther south, the soil is somewhat better, containing less of sand and more of vegetable mould, and they give support to a few trees, chiefly sumach, cotton-wood, and other soft and useless woods. The climate of this whole region is more dry than that of the country nearer the Pacific; the days are warm, and the nights cool ; but the want of moisture in the air prevents the contrast of temperature from being injurious to health, and the country is represented, by all who have had the opportunity of judging by experience, as being of extraordipary salubrity. The wet season extends from November to April; but the rains are neither frequent nor abundant, and they never occur at any other period of the year. In the southern valleys there is little snow; farther north it is more common, but it seldom lies long, except on the heights. Under such circumstances, it will be seen that little encouragement is offered for the cultivation of this part of Oregon. On the other hand, the plains and valleys appear to be admirably adapted for the support of cattle, as grass, either green or dry, may be found at all times, within a short distance, on the bottom lands or on the hill sides. The want of wood must also prove a great obstacle to settlement, as this indispensable article can only be procured from a great distance up the north branch of the Columbia, or from the Pacific region, with which the passages of communication through the mountains are few and difficult.
The country farther east, between the Blue Mountains and the Rocky Mountains, appears to be, except in a very few small detached spots, absolutely uninhabitable by those who depend on agriculture for subsistence. It is, in fact, a collection of bare, rocky mountain chains, separated by deep gorges, through which flow the streams produced by the melting of the snows on the summits; for in the lower grounds rain seldom falls at any time.
On the borders of the Lewis, and of some of the streams falling into it, are valleys and prairies, producing grass for cattle; but all the attempts to cultivate the esculent vegetables have failed, chiefly, as it is believed from the great difference in the temperature between the day and the succeeding night, especially in the summer, which is commonly not less than thirty, and often exceeds fifty, degrees of Fahrenheit's thermometer. * North of the 48th parallel, the climate is less dry, and the
* The thermometer was seen by Wyeth, at Fort Hall, on the Lewis, near the 43d parallel of latitude, at the freezing poini in the morning, and at ninety-two degrees of Fahrenheit in the middle of a day in August. Frosts occur at this place in nearly every month in the year.