Jesse Applegate

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Jesse Applegate

Jesse Applegate (1811-1888) was an American surveyor, pioneer, and rancher. He is best known for his efforts in the settlement of Oregon, which he helped create as a U.S. territory.

Jesse Applegate was born in Kentucky on July 5, 1811, the son of a Revolutionary War soldier. In 1821 the family moved to Missouri, where Applegate grew to thin, wiry manhood. He attended Rock Spring Seminary (later Shurtleff College) at Shiloh, III., and studied mathematics and surveying under John Messenger. Later he taught school and continued private study with Justus Post to perfect his skills as a surveyor.

His education completed, Applegate became a clerk in the surveyor general's office in St. Louis, then worked in western Missouri as deputy surveyor general and farmed in the Osage Valley. In 1832 he married.

In 1843, because of economic hard times and the growing slavery controversy, Applegate joined a wagon train bound for Oregon. He took with him a large herd of cattle and was placed in charge of all the cattle. In Oregon he settled in the Willamette Valley, where he farmed and operated a mill, as well as did survey work. In 1845 he led a pioneer party that opened a southern road into Oregon by way of the Rogue and Humboldt rivers.

A Whig (and later a Republican), he was instrumental in organizing local territorial government in Oregon as a member of the legislative committee. Also, it was he who persuaded the British employees of the Hudson's Bay Company to support this provisional government, thereby bringing political unity to Oregon. He served on the committee that drafted Oregon's appeal for territorial status in 1847 and was principal author of the final draft.

In 1849 Applegate moved to southern Oregon to establish a ranch in the Umpqua Valley. He built a large home, which he called the Yoncalla, raised beef for sale to miners, and dispensed liberal hospitality to visitors. He was known to neighbors as a man who could walk 60 miles in a day.

Using his large library, Applegate wrote extensively for the newspapers, corresponded with prominent public men, and served his political party. He was a member of the Oregon constitutional convention of 1857, but left before it completed its work. Applegate had a hot temper and a dictatorial nature, working best when he was in sole command.

In later years he was called the Sage of Yoncalla, and to his home came such prominent visitors as Schuyler Colfax and Samuel Bowles. He helped throw Oregon's vote to Lincoln in the Republican convention in 1860 and promoted unionist sentiment during the Civil War. He also promoted the Oregon and California Railroad but refused to be subservient to railroad interests. He died on April 22, 1888.

Further Reading

Applegate's A Day with the Cow-column in 1843 (1934), written during his trek to Oregon, helped popularize that state. See also his autobiographical Recollections of My Boyhood (1914). There is background on the history of Oregon and on Applegate's later career in Joseph Schafer, A History of the Pacific Northwest (1905; rev. ed. 1918); Charles H. Carey, A General History of Oregon: Prior to 1861 (2 vols., 1935-1936); and Melvin Clay Jacobs, Winning Oregon: A Study of an Expansionist Movement (1938). □

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