Cedar Mill, like other frontier communities, developed with the
partition of the Oregon Country, the westward movement, the establishment
of the Oregon Territory, and the laws that provided free land for
the settlers. Until 1846, the ownership of the region remained in
question. British fur trading interests, represented by the Hudson's
Bay Company, dominated the economic structure of the area. The only
Americans were a small number of mountain men who turned to farming
when the market for beaver pelts diminished. Simultaneously, missionaries
from the East formed a few scattered settlements, followed by small
groups of farmers. By 1841, several families had crossed the plains
to establish farms in the Tualatin Valley.
Back in the states, Oregon enjoyed a growing reputation through
the 1840s for its productive farmland, its healthy climate, and
its abundant waterways. As interest about the region mounted, so
did the number of wagons crossing the plains. The westward movement
to the Willamette Valley began in earnest with the Great Migration
of 1843 when wagon trains brought over 800 pioneers who risked
the hardships of the Oregon Trail to settle in Western Oregon.English partisans
viewed the growing American settlements with
alarm. A last minute attempt was made to establish a British foothold
when the Hudson's Bay Company sent 39 families in 1841 from the
Red River colony in Manitoba to the Puget Sound and Cowlitz areas.
Finding conditions there unsuitable for farming and the Company's
terms ungenerous, the recruited Canadians moved to the Tualatin
Valley and joined the former Hudson's Bay Company employees who
were already living there. The Americans remained unintimidated
and, as more wagon trains continued to arrive, British subjects
were soon outnumbered.
1843, Tualatin Plains pioneer Joseph Meek participated with a group of Americans
in establishing a provisional government for the Oregon Country. Three years
later the boundary issue was peacefully settled, fixing the 49th parallel
as the dividing line between Canada and the United States. After the question
of sovereignty was decided, Congress acted to set up the Territory of Oregon
The year 1850 brought passage of the Oregon Donation Land Act. The pioneers
already in the area had claimed "squatter's rights" to their holdings, but
the new law provided for a Surveyor General to survey the territory for formal
land claims. Settlers completing the filing process were then secured in
legal ownership of their acreage. A maximum of 320 acres could be claimed
by both men and women, making 640 acres available to a married couple arriving
in Oregon prior to December 1, 1850. The legislation was later extended to
1855, although the individual claim size was reduced to 160 acres.
Including women as landholders was a significant step in women's rights,
as well as a means of encouraging whole families to make the arduous journey
west. As a result, a number of bachelors married in the East and hurried
to the territory; others who were still unattached took brides along the
way in order to receive greater acreage.
Mill Donation Land Claims Map.
on the map for a larger version
(65K, takes several seconds to load, but
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The unoccupied land in Cedar Mill comprised 4,300 acres, or about seven
square miles. From 1850 to 1855, sixteen claims were settled that
covered nearly the entire area. Thirteen of these claims were owned
jointly by married
couples. After 1860, when homesteaders took up two previously unclaimed
parcels, the population in the area probably exceeded 650.
The pioneers who left the area sold out claim by claim, as randomly as
they had arrived. In 1884, only two of the donation land claim holders remained
on their acreage: Samuel Walters, who was first to arrive in the immediate
area, and James Flippin, who reach the Tualatin Valley in 1845.
Samuel Walters, the original settled in Cedar Mill, came from Pennsylvania
in 1847 to set up a squatter's claim and cabin near NW Leahy Road and 107th
Avenue. At that time, his nearest neighbor was probably Colonel Hall, who
had been living on his claim south of Cedar Mill for several years.
land claim owner and first white settler in Cedar Mill, Samuel
Walters. 1871 photo with wife Naomi Oliver, and children from left
Eliel, Amos and Nancy May. (Courtesy Gertrude Walters Pearson Landauer)
When news of the California gold discovery reached Oregon, Sam was among
other early pioneers bitten by "gold fever." At age 29, Walters adventurously
joined the southern migration. Unsuccessful in his search for gold, he returned
to the area in 1851, bringing three waxen apple trees which he planted on
his re-established claim. The following year, Walters applied for a donation
land claim covering the 160 acres he was entitled to. Clearing the land was
a difficult chore, but little by little, more acreage was made ready for
the grain and food crops Walters harvested. He also supplemented his income
by working for his neighbor to the east, Joseph Smith, receiving $.75 an
acre for plowing Smith's land.
Unlike other pioneers in the area who exchanged their free land for capital,
Walters kept his entire claim for over 35 years with the exception of a one-acre
tract he donated for the Cedar Mill school in 1884. The first Walters land
transaction of record occurred in 1888 when part of the property was sold
to Thomas Leahy. Several parcels were given away as wedding presents to the
Walter's daughters, Nancy and Elizabeth, but the remaining acreage was owned
by Walters until his death in 1894.
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