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Ewing Young
Born 1799
Died February 9, 1841
Occupation Trapper

Ewing Young (1799 – February 9, 1841) was an American fur trapper and trader from Tennessee who traveled the western United States before settling in the Oregon Country. As a prominent and wealthy citizen there, his death was the impetus for the early formation of government in what became the state of Oregon.[1] Young would trade along the Santa Fe Trail and into California, prior to the region becoming a part of the United States before moving north to the Willamette Valley.


Early life

Ewing Young expeditions to American West

Young was born in Tennessee to a farming family in 1799.[1] In the early 1820s he had moved to Missouri where he farmed briefly on the Missouri River at Charitan.[1]

In Missouri, Young was on the far western edge of the American frontier, not far from the border of Spanish-controlled Texas, New Mexico and today's American Southwest. Under the Spanish colonial system, trade between Americans and the Spanish outpost at Santa Fe, New Mexico was prohibited. However, by 1821, the new Republic of Mexico had gained its independence from Spain, and a number of American adventurers living in Missouri were eager to test whether trade with the newly-empowered Mexican authorities in Santa Fe would be allowed. After a first small group of Americans returned successfully in December 1821 from a small trading foray, Young eagerly signed up to join a somewhat larger group going to trade in Santa Fe.[2]

Early western travels

Young sold the farm he had just bought, and in May 1822, became part of the first overland wagon train to leave Missouri and head for Santa Fe, along what would become known as the Santa Fe Trail.[3] Young and the others found that they were welcomed by the new Mexican authorities.[3] For the next nine years, Young began traversing the Southwest, dividing his time between Santa Fe and Missouri.[3] In particular, the Spanish (and Mexicans) had not focused on trapping the beaver and other fur-bearing animals of the Southwest (demand was small within the Spanish trading system), however, there was significant demand for these pelts in the American and European markets.

Young pioneered trapping the American Southwest, leading many of the first American expeditions into the mountains and watercourses of today's New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. Young was 18 when he started to explore. Young and his associates would take the newly-caught peltry to Missouri for sale, purchase trade goods there, and return to New Mexico, where the American goods were sold for gold and silver coin.[3] It was during the trapping expedition of 1827-1828, that Young employed a teenaged Kit Carson.[4] Despite tension that developed with Mexican authorities (trying to restrict American activities), Young became a successful trapper and businessman, eventually setting up a trading post in Taos in modern New Mexico in the late 1820s, and taking a Mexican common-law wife, María Josefa Tafoya, the daughter of a prominent Taos family.[5]


In the Spring of 1830, Young led the first American trapping expedition to reach the Pacific Coast from New Mexico. Young's journey to California with traveling companions crossed Arizona, the Colorado River, the Mojave Desert and arrived at the San Gabriel Mission, near today's Los Angeles, California. After recuperating there, the group visited the San Fernando Mission, and headed north into California's great Central Valley, again, the first American trapping expedition to do so.[6]

Once there the group moved north to the Sacramento River where they encountered Peter Skene Ogden of the Hudson's Bay Company. The two groups jointly trapped the valley before Young’s group moved on to San Francisco Bay to trade their pelts. After this they went south to Los Angeles and then back to Taos before the year was up. Upon his return to Taos with the proceeds of this expedition, Young became one of the wealthiest Americans in Mexican territory.[7]

In the late 1820s and early 1830s, the Mexican authorities were growing worried about American settlers and influence in New Mexico, and began imposing increasingly severe restrictions on trade and trapping. Perhaps in part to avoid these restrictions, Young was baptized a Catholic in 1830 (perhaps he also became a Mexican citizen and formalized his marriage to Maria - however, if he did so, no record of these two events survives).[8]

Over the next few years Young and his group continued traveling to California to trap and trade. Then in 1834 in San Diego Young encountered Hall J. Kelley, the great promoter of the Oregon Country. Kelley invited Ewing Young to accompany him north to Oregon, but Young at first declined. After re-thinking, Young agreed to travel with Kelley and they set out in July 1834.

Oregon Country

Ewing Young, arrived in Oregon in 1834, arriving at Fort Vancouver on October 17th with Hall J. Kelley from California.[9] Though a trapper by trade, Young then stayed as a permanent settler in the Willamette Valley. The group received little assistance from Dr. John McLoughlin and the HBC or the Methodist Mission group because the group was accused by the Mexican government of California of stealing 200 horses when they left.[9] The group denied this charge saying some uninvited traveling companions had stolen the horses.[9] Nonetheless, McLoughlin blacklisted Young from doing business with the HBC.[10] Also in Young and Kelley’s party that emigrated to Oregon was Webley John Hauxhurst, who subsequently built the first grist mill in the Willamette Valley.[9] Another trapper, Joseph Gale, who would later be an important figure in Oregon history was also part of the group.[11]

Young settled on the west bank of the Willamette River near the mouth of Chehalem Creek, opposite of Champoeg.[9] His home is believed to be the first house built by European-Americans on that side of the river.[9] In 1836, Young started to build a distillery to produce alcohol.[10] Methodist Mission leader Jason Lee organized the Oregon Temperance Society and along with McLoughlin tried to get Young to stop his efforts.[10] McLoughlin and the HBC prohibited alcohol sales to the Native Americans.[10] Late in the year, U.S. Navy Lieutenant William A. Slacum arrived on the ship Loriot and helped to dissuade Young from following through on the venture.[10]

Slacum was there as an agent of the U.S. President, and also helped to put together a joint venture between all of them to purchase cattle.[10] In January 1837, Young was the leader of the Willamette Cattle Company that traveled to California with the assistance of Slacum on the Loriot, and brought back 630 head of cattle along the Siskiyou Trail, as all prior cattle in the valley was owned by the HBC and rented to the settlers.[9] Those accompanying Young on the cattle drive were Philip Leget Edwards, Calvin Tibbets, John Turner, William J. Bailey, George Gay, Lawrence Carmichael, Pierre De Puis, B. Williams, and Emert Ergnette.[12] During the drive Gay and Bailey murdered a native boy in retaliation for an attack several years earlier by the Rogue River Indians, which that attack had been in retaliation for murders that Young’s group had committed on their travel to Oregon in 1834.[1]


In February 1841, Young died without any known heir and without a will.[9] This created a need for some form of government to deal with his estate, which had many debtors and creditors among the settlers.[9] Doctor Ira L. Babcock was selected as supreme judge with probate powers after Young's death to deal with Young's estate.[13] The activities that followed his death eventually led to the creation of a provisional government in the Oregon Country.[9]

Ewing Young Elementary School in Newberg, Oregon, is named in his honor.[14] In 1942 the Liberty ship "EWING YOUNG" (hull #631 from Calships in Terminal Island, CA) was named in his honor. The EWING YOUNG served in the Pacific theater during WWII and was scrapped in 1959.


  1. ^ a b c d "Ewing Young Route". Oregon's Historic Trails. End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Retrieved 2006-12-21.  
  2. ^ Holmes, Kenneth (1967). Ewing Young:master trapper. Portland, Oregon: Binsford & Mort. pp. 9–10.  
  3. ^ a b c d Holmes, Kenneth (1967) pp. 10-20
  4. ^ Holmes, Kenneth (1967) pp 40-41.
  5. ^ Holmes, Kenneth (1967) p. 40-43.
  6. ^ Holmes, Kenneth (1967) pp. 46-48.
  7. ^ Holmes, Kenneth (1967) pp. 46-60
  8. ^ Holmes, Kenneth (1967) pp. 64-65
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Hussey, John A. (1967). Champoeg: Place of Transition, A Disputed History. Oregon Historical Society.  
  10. ^ a b c d e f Terry, John (October 15, 2006). "Oregon's Trails - Pariah eases into spirited endeavor". The Oregonian: pp. Regional News; Pg. B11.  
  11. ^ The American Rocky Mountain Fur Trade
  12. ^ "Wallamette Settlement Articles of Agreement". Provisional and Territorial Records (Oregon Provisional Government): 406. 1-13-1837.  
  13. ^ Horner, John B. (1921). Oregon: Her History, Her Great Men, Her Literature. The J.K. Gill Company:Portland, Oregon.  
  14. ^ Ewing Young History. Newberg School District. Retrieved on March 24, 2008.


  • Carter, Harvey L. "Ewing Young", featured in "Trappers of the Far West", Leroy R. Hafen, editor. 1972, Arthur H. Clark Company, reprint University of Nebraska Press, October 1983. ISBN 0-8032-7218-9
  • Holmes, Kenneth (1967). Ewing Young:master trapper. Portland, Oregon: Binsford & Mort. ISBN 978-0-832300615.  


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