A General History of Lane County

A Brief History of Lane County

Lane County was created January 28, 1851, by the territorial legislature.  It then comprised "all that portion of Oregon Territory lying south of Linn County and south or so much of Benton County as is east of Umpqua County."  It's eastern boundary, presumably, was the Rocky Mountains.  On Dec. 22, 1853, its eastern boundary was fixed at the summit of the Cascade Range, with a small portion at the mouth of the Siuslaw River on the coast. Linn and Benton Counties, created earlier, became its northern boundaries, with Lincoln County added in 1893.  On the south, much of Lane County was givin a fixed boundary in January, 1852.   The county was named for General Joseph Lane, first Territorial governor of Oregon, subsequently a delegate to congress, and after the admission of Oregon into the Union, United State Senator.  The first election was held in June, 1851, but is was not until September, 1852, that the governmental machinery was put into motion.  That same year, 1852, the original town site of Eugene City was platted and recorded, while in 1853, by a vote of the people she was established as the county seat.

A longer version of the Lane County's history is also available, as are her boundary changes.

Three Great Tribes

When the first white explorers and settlers arrived, the area which became Lane County was home to three tribes:  the Kalapooians, the Wailatpuans and the Yakonans.  The Kalapooia occupied the watershed between the Umpqua and Willamette rivers.  The Cayuse, of theWailatpuan tribe, lived on the headwaters of the Umatilla, Walla Walla and Grande Ronde rivers.  Their territory also extended from the Blue mountains to the Des Chutes river, part of the original Lane County.  The Yakonans were represented by the Siuslaw people, who lived along the Siuslaw river.

Lane County's Early Settlers*

*Although this is a short list, more biographies from throughout the county will be added as time permits.  My very special thanks go to Elaine Roberts and Maureen Ellis, members of the Cottage Grove Genealogical Society, and Donna Carr and Paul Wilson, members of the Oregon Genealogical Society for their help in preparing many of these biographies!  If you would like to prepare a biographical sketch for someone for posting here, please contact the web master.

A list of the original members of the Lane County Pioneer Association  organized at the Lane County Court House in 1883 is posted on the Tillamook County GenWeb site.

A Glowing Description in 1884

Lane County is one of the largest, as it is one of the most productive agricultural counties of Oregon.  It extends from the Pacific ocean on the west to the summit of the Cascade mountains on the east, a distance of about one hundred miles in length, and from Douglas county on the south to Linn and Benton counties on the north, an average width of fifty miles, comprising as a whole seven thousand square miles or thereabouts.

Of this vast territory about one-third or one-fourth is valley land, and embraces all the upper Willamette valley, which is in every sense the largest body of good agricultural land, and the most beautiful and attractive portion of Oregon, the soil being very rich, producing abundant crops of grain and grass.  The remaining three-fourths are hilly and mountainous, the rolling foot-hills contiguous to the valleys, being either open prairie lands, or ground covered partially with timber and brush but affording excellent natural pasture and protection to animals. It may be mentioned as a curious fact that while nearly all of the hills are destitute of timber on their southern slopes, their northern sides are generally densely wooded, but this should not  act as a discouragement, for the table lands are usually fertile and produce the cereals, grasses, fruits, etc., in profusion. Lane county is beneficently supplied with pure fresh water.  The principal tributaries of the Willamette river -- the McKenzie, Middle Fork and Coast Fork -- rise near the snow peaks in the Cascade mountains and flow in a westerly and northwesterly direction through the county, uniting and forming the main river before reaching its northern boundary.  The Coast Fork, which drains the southeast portion of the county, and the Middle or Main Fork, which rises in its eastern part form a junction about five miles southeast of Eugene City; the McKenzie Fork flows out from among the snow-capped "Sisters" in the northeast corner of Lane County, and is noted as one of the coldest and purest streams in Oregon, and joins the main river about five miles below the county seat. Besides these, there are the Long Tom river, which has its birth in the Calapooia and Coast Range of mountains, flows in a northerly direction through the west side of the Willamette valley in Lane county, and finally mixes its waters with those of the parent stream in Benton county.  The Siuslaw river flows in a westerly direction and falls into the Pacific ocean in latitude 43 degrees 58' north. Its principal tributaries are the North Fork and Lake Creek, both of which enter from the north, the former joining below the head of tide water, and the latter seven miles above, it being nearly equal in size to the main stream at their junction. Tide water extends up the Siuslaw for a distance of twenty-five miles, and the volume of water flowing in at the head of tide is calculated to be in the neighborhood of three thousand cubic feet per second. The width of the river at its mouth is one-third of a mile. Passing up the stream the channel gradually widens for four miles, forming a small bay three-fourths of a mile wide; thence it narrows by degrees to the head of tide water, where it is but thirty rods in breadth.  The fairway, which is free from mud flats and drifts, and is confined within smooth permanent banks, has an average depth, in the distance of twenty-five miles of tide water, of forty feet, while, there is but one point where the surroundings are less than twenty feet, and that particular spot is situated fifteen miles up stream from the mouth, and, even there, fourteen feet of water is found at low tide or twenty feet at the top of the flow.  The distance from deep water inside to deep water outside the bar is very short, about five hundred feet. Here the entrance is peculiarly easy, from the fact that the channel extending from anchorage to anchorage runs out to sea at right angles to the line of breakers, so that a vessel in entering is not thrown sideways to the surge and consequently not in danger of being beached.   It will not be necessary for us here to touch upon the Willamette river for her many perfections will be recounted at length as we proceed with our work.

From the Illustrated History of Lane County Oregon published by A. G. Walling, 1884, Portland, Oregon and The Centennial History of Oregon 1811-1912, Volume II published by The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, Chicago, 1912.

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