The Great White Eagle

Standing at least 6'4", he cast a giant of a shadow on the economic and early development of the Oregon frontier. For twenty-one years his thundering voice and towering presence was the only influence of law and order over an expansive empire two and a half times the size of Texas. He had absolute control, and maintained it peacefully and sovereigntly with a compassionate sense of justice.

With ghost-like faded gray eyes and an unseasonable crop of mourning white hair, Dr. John McLoughlin's unmistakable features require little or no introduction as the crowning characteristics of, "The Father of Oregon". With an over-whelming sense of compassion, and generosity beyond reproach, it's of little wonder that he became fondly regarded as, "The Great White Eagle." John McLoughlin, did indeed, walk taller and cast the greatest shadow that ever fell so humbly on our beloved state of Oregon.

Early Family Life

Born Oct. 19th, 1784 in Parish La Riviere du Loup, Canada [abt. 120 miles south of Quebec], of an Irish Catholic father and a Scotch Presbyterian mother, John was baptized Catholic on November 5th. His paternal grandfather was born in the parish of Desertegney, Ireland, and emigrated to Canada where he married, Angelique Fraser. Angelique was born in the parish of Beaumont, Canada, the daughter of Malcom Fraser, a Scottish Highlander, and niece of Canada's famed explorer, Simon Fraser. John McLoughlins father died when he was a young boy, and until age 16 he was raised in the home of his maternal grandfather.

Time would also prove successful for John's siblings, as well as himself.An elder brother David became famous as the personal physician of the king of France, and sister Marie Louise was the Mother Superior of Canada's oldest and most respected girls' Ursuline convent.

In order to fully understand the chain of events that led young John McLoughlin on his epic career with the Hudson's Bay Company, you must first understand the enviorment by which his young impressionable mind had been set, and the influence that his granduncle, Simon Fraser, had on the direction that his life would take.

Granduncle Simon Fraser & The North West Fur Co.

In 1792, John's granduncle, Simon Fraser became an apprentice clerk in the North West Company of Montreal. In 1801 he became a partner and was selected to oversee the company's activities to the land west of the Rocky Mountains. It was during this time that he became famous for one of the greatest expeditions in Canadian history. Discovering a route to the Pacific had become a great priority for the North West Company. Fraser was sent out to explore the river which was believed to have been the Columbia. On May 28, 1808, he set out with a small company of men [23] to follow the river to the Pacific. Traveling for 36 days, and through 520 miles of untamed ruggedness, brought about the discovery of an unknown river at the mouth of the Musqueam. The river which wasn't the Columbia - was so named the Fraser River.

On Becoming a Doctor

Since many of John McLoughlins youthful days were spent at his granduncle Simon's home, it can be easily understood how the fur trade business and great explorations, may have been born quite naturally into his blood.

None-the-less, at age 14 John began to study medicine with Dr. Sir. James Fisher of Quebec, Canada, and in 1798, he crossed the Atlantic toScotland in order to enter the University of Edinburgh. In 1803, at the youthful age of 19, John was granted his license to practice surgery and pharmacy.

First Appointment & His Hair Turns White

Upon returning from abroad, John's granduncle, Simon Fraser, once again influences his young life by obtaining an appointment for him as medical officer for the North West Fur Company, which by this time was a fierce competitor of the Hudson's Bay Company.

In 1816 a skirmish broke out between the two companies, which appears to have embroiled both, Simon Fraser and his nephew, Dr. John McLoughlin. The murder of, Robert Semple, governor of the Red River colony ensued, whereupon blame was placed on a group of innocent Indians. As a representative of the Northwest Fur Company, John McLoughlin stepped forward to accept the responsibility in order to free the innocently accused. Instead, he was abruptly arrested for the murder, placed into a canoe and taken across Lake Superior. In a horrible turn of events, midway the canoe collapsed, spilling John McLoughlin and his accusers into the icy waters of the lake. While many others drowned, John barely survived the horrible ordeal himself. It is said, that it was this incident that turned McLoughlin's hair white over night. Simon Fraser, along with several other men, were also charged in the affair. On October 30th,1818, charges against all were dismissed, marking the end of Simon Fraser's long career with the North West Fur Company.

John McLoughlin continued his employment and partnership with the North West Company until the merger of 1821, wherein it was absorbed by the "Hudson's Bay Company". As one of 25 Chief Factors, he was paid a handsome share of the newly-consolidated company. Personally appointed by Governor George Simpson to head up a base of operations from Ft. Vancouver, Dr. McLoughlin was well on his way to carving his niche in history.


John McLoughlins first son, Joseph, was born of a Chippewa Indian woman. Whether they had been married or not, remains a mystery. In about 1812, John McLoughlin married, Marguerite (Wadin) McKay, by whom he had four children. Marguerite, who also had been previously married, brought into the marriage her own three children.

Born in 1775, at St. Lawrence,Quebec, she was the French-Indian daughter of Jean Etienne Wadin and Marie Deguire, and the widow of Alexander McKay. McKay was a member of the Astor party, and died at the massacre of the American ship Tonquin.

Marguerite Wadin McLoughlin died Feb. 28th, 1860, three years after the death of her husband. Both, are buried at their family home in Oregon City.

A Bit About The Children

The oldest son, Joseph, as mentioned above, was born of an Indian woman and it is unknown whether she was McLoughlin's wife, or not. He was born in 1809 and died in 1848 at the age of 49. He was married to a woman named Victoria, and by occupation was a farmer. They had no children.

John Jr., born August 18, 1812, was considered "the problem-child", and passed from one relative to another. In 1840, he was sent to his brother-in-laws at Ft. Stikine in British Columbia. On April 20, 1842, he was shot and killed, at the age of 29. Whether it was his questionable character, suicide, or accidental, the company failed to investigate his death. This never did sit well with his father, and was said to have bothered him greatly right up until his own death, and was a contributing factor to his resignation from the Hudson's Bay Company. One story circulated suggests that John Jr., was set-up to be murdered, in order to bring disgrace to the Doctor, so that he could be removed from his powerful position.

Daughter Maria Elizabeth, born 1814 at Ft. William, was of very frail health and unable to make the trip out to Oregon with the rest of the family. She stayed with McLoughlin's sister at the Ursulines convent, until she married, William Randolph Eppes, in 1832. They had five girls and one boy. Her husband passed away in 1849, just prior to the birth of their last child. Dr. McLoughlin made monthly payments to Maria until his death in 1857.

His second daughter, Maria Eloisa, [Eloisa], was born Feb. 13th, 1817, also at Ft. William. Like her elder sister, she also stayed with her aunt at the Ursulines convent while receiving an education, but unlike Maria, Eloisa did make the trip out west in 1825. She became a favorite at the Fort and took up her mothers duty as hostess. In 1838, she married William Glen Rae, the chief clerk at the fort. In 1840 Rae was sent to Ft. Stikine to establish a new post. Then, in 1841 he was sent to San Francisco [Yerba Buena], to do the same. Eloisa joined him there in 1842. She gave birth to two sons and two daughters, one son having died shortly after birth. William Glen Rae committed suicide under mysterious circumstances, and she and her surviving children returned to Oregon City in 1846. In 1850 she was married to Daniel Harvey, who ran the McLoughlin flour and sawmills. Together, they had two more sons and one daughter. In 1867 they removed to Portland, where one year later her husband and eldest son from her first marriage, passed away. Elosia died in 1884 at age 67.

The youngest son, David, was born February 11, 1821, also at Ft. William. Unlike his sisters, David was educated at Ft. Vancouver. He later lived in Paris with John's brother David. Convinced by his father that his future was in Oregon, David took a position as a clerk with the Hudson's Bay Company, but resigned in 1849. He then spent many years prospecting in Idaho and in British Columbia. About 1866 he married, Annie Grizzly, daughter of Chief Grizzly of the Kootenai Indians. He then rejoined the Hudson's Bay Company in British Columbia. When Annie received 160 acres from the government in Porthill, Idaho, they returned and built a home there. They had eight girls and one boy. David received one-third of his fathers estate, but had squandered it all by 1901, and had to be given a fare and clothing just to attend a celebration in Portland in honor of his father. He died in 1903.

Thomas McKay, who was the son of Marguerite Wadin McLoughlin, and her first husband, Alexander McKay, was born about 1797 or 1798. He was at Ft. Astoria when his father was killed in the Tonkin Massacre, and did not see his mother again until she came out west as Dr. McLoughlin's wife.

It is unknown how many wives Thomas had, but he had six sons and two daughters, among however many it was. His first wife was Timmee, Chinook princess, daughter of the highest Chinook Indian chief, Chief Concomley.His second wife was a Umatilla Woman, of which little is known, and his third wife was Isabelle Montour.

Thomas McKay led wilderness expeditions in the Willamette Valley, Fraser River Valley, the Umpqua, Klamath Country, and Snake River Valley.In the early 1820's, he and his men built a fort in the Roseburg area which is reported to be the first non-native structure in what is now Douglas County. He was also employed by the Hudson's Bay Company, but retired in 1833, and settled near Scapoose and became a U.S. citizen. In 1834, Dr. John McLoughlin sent him to Idaho to establish Ft. Boise situated on the Boise river, and in 1847, he participated in the group formed to retaliate against the Cayuse Indians involved in the Whitman Massacre. He died in 1849, and is buried in an unmarked grave in Scappoose, Oregon.

Dr. McLoughlin Arrives

Personally appointed by Governor George Simpson, in 1824 John McLoughlin arrived at Fort George [Astoria, Oregon] near the mouth of the Columbia River to further establish an administrative headquarters and supply depot for the vastly expanding Hudson's Bay Company.His duties in-part, were to create a mercantile arm of the British government; to monopolize the fur trade business, maintain peace upon the numerous tribes of Indians, and to prevent agricultural settlement of the region. Finding the facility at Astoria to be grossly rundown, unfertile and too far from inland trade facilities, in 1825 McLoughlin moved the northwest headquarters to a more favorable location on the northern side of the Columbia. He built the new site at Belle Vue Point and named it, Fort Vancouver.

The new fort was nearly 750 Ft. long and 450 feet wide with a stockade about 20 feet high. There were about 40 buildings inside the fort. The fort housed a school, a library, pharmacy, power house, chapel, officers, warehouses, workshops, a blacksmith shop, and the largest manufacturing facility west of the Rockies. Fully contained, behind the fort were fields of grains, an orchard and vegetable garden.

The Indians, of whom Dr. McLoughlin maintained a very good relationship, were not allowed inside the stockade and would conduct their trading through a porthole in the door. In 1829 a ship arrived from Boston, bringing with it a horrible fever which broke out amongst them. Dr. McLoughlin spent much of his own time tending to the ills of the stricken, but within four years over 30,000 Indians lay dead.

The fort flourished under the leadership of Dr. McLoughlin. With no military force, what-so-ever, he was able to maintain law and order by his own personality and by the cooperation of his officers and employees. There were no Indian wars in the Oregon Country until after his resignation.

In 1841 Dr. John McLoughlin was knighted by Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace.

American Expansion - The Death of Fort Vancouver

By the 1840's Simpson and McLoughlin were at complete odds with each other on how the district should be run. With the arrival of the American immigrants, coupled with the gradual decline in fur trading caused by over trapping, and the fatal errors of Dr. McLoughlin, the death of Fort Vancouver would not be long to follow.

The British knew that they couldn't keep the settlers out of Oregon, but they wanted to control as much of the land as possible. Discouragment came in the form of tall tales of fierce Indians, poor farming conditions, and terrible weather.

Even though it was against the policy of the Hudson's Bay Company, Dr. McLoughlin was sympathetic to the plight of the settlers and offered them aid.Often arriving sick, hungry, and without provisions, his kindly heart extended them credit, fed and clothed them, cared for the sick, and supplied them with seed for farming.

Sir George Simpson, and other officials of the Hudson's Bay Company criticized him severly for his soft-headedness. McLoughlin replied to their sharp comments in the following lines of this famous letter:

"But what else could I do as a man having a spark
of humanity in my nature? I did not invite the Americans
to come. To be frank, I greatly regretted their coming,
but they did come, covered with the dust of travel,
worn out by fatigue, hardships and dangers incident
to a very long and perilous journey... The Bible tells me
that if my enemy is hungry, I must feed him, if naked, I must
clothe him, but these destitute men and helpless women and
children were not my enemies, and I am sure that God does
not want me to do more for my enemies than these..."

The following was written by Oregon Emigrant John Boardman:

"Well received by Dr. McLoughlin, who charged nothing for the boat sent up for us, nor for the provisions; but not satisfied with that, sent us plenty of salmon and potatoes, furnished us house, room and wood free of charge, and was very anxious that all should get through safe."

Written by Emigrant James Nesmith:

"Dr. John McLoughlin, from his own private resources, rendered the new settlers much valuable aid by furnishing the destitute with food, clothing and seed, waiting for his pay until they had a surplus to dispose of."

In 1845 Dr. McLoughlin resigned his position with The Hudson's Bay Company, after refusing to follow Simpson's policy of letting American immigrants perish for lack of needed aid.

Oregon City & The Dispute Over His Land

Upon conclusion of his employment with the Hudson's Bay Company, Dr. McLoughlin paid $20,000 for the title of the land at Oregon City which he had claimed in 1829, on the companies behalf. He built a beautiful home near the fallsand brought his wife, son David, daughter Eloisa and her three children to reside there, only to be met with hostility from his neighbors. A conspiracy to strip him of his claim began as soon as Oregon became a part of the United States in 1849. It was asserted that because John McLoughlin was a British subject, he was not entitled to the land claim. In hopes of solving the dispute, John immediately applied for U.S. citizenship, but the dispute continued and he eventually lost. They did, however, allow him and his family to continue occupancy of the home. He remained and became a prominent citizen of the Oregon Territory.

Samuel Thurston, the Oregon Territory's Delegate to Congress, and Jason Lee wrote into the Donation Land Act a section which gave most of McLoughlin's land claim to the legislature. They also made false statements to the Supreme Court in an attempt to discredit John McLoughlin.

He continued to live in his house and remained a prominent citizen of the Oregon Territory. In 1851 he served as mayor of Oregon City, winning 44 of 66 votes. He continued to provide aid to the needy immigrants by providing them with employment. He built houses, sawmills, gristmills, and even a canal around the falls all at his own expense. He gave away 300 lots of private and public use, including land given to a Catholic school, and Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Catholic, and Congregational churches, and land for a city jail.

Sadly, John McLoughlin died a heart-broken man, September 3, 1857, before the dispute and legal action could ever be rectified. He was buried in the churchyard of St. John's Catholic church in Oregon City.

The State of Oregon released the property to his heirs in 1862, and in 1907Oregon Historical Society President Frederick V. Holman, gave the following eulogy at the dedication of the McLoughlin Institute at Oregon City:

"I shall merely mention that conspirators against Dr. McLoughlin took for themselves parts of his land claim and, by means of malicious misstatements, caused Congress unjustly to deprive him of all the rest of his land claim, and thus humbled and humiliated and impoverished the grand, the noble, the generous Father of Oregon."

In 1957 by Oregon Legislative Assembly, Dr. John McLoughlin was given the title, "The Father of Oregon."

..... Oregon State Archives - John McLoughlin: Father of Oregon
..... McLoughlin House National Historic Site
..... End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center (Oregon, City)