The mild winter wore away, and I learned little. Spring came, and still no word of any land expedition out of Canada. We and the Hudson Bay folk still dwelt in peace. The flowers began to bloom in the wild meads, and the horses fattened on their native pastures. Wider and wider lay the areas of black overturned soil, as our busy farmers kept on at their work. Wider grew the clearings in the forest lands. Our fruit trees, which we had brought two thousand miles in the nursery wagon, began to put out tender leafage. There were eastern flowers—marigolds, hollyhocks, mignonette—planted in the front yards of our little cabins. Vines were trained over trellises here and there. Each flower was a rivet, each vine a cord, which bound Oregon to our Republic.
Summer came on. The fields began to whiten with the ripening grain. I grew uneasy, feeling myself only an idler in a land so able to fend for itself. I now was much disposed to discuss means of getting back over the long trail to the eastward, to carry the news that Oregon was ours. I had, it must be confessed, nothing new to suggest as to making it firmly and legally ours, beyond what had already been suggested in the minds of our settlers themselves. It was at this time that there occurred a startling and decisive event.
I was on my way on a canoe voyage up the wide Columbia, not far above the point where it receives its greatest lower tributary, the Willamette, when all at once I heard the sound of a cannon shot. I turned to see the cloud of blue smoke still hanging over the surface of the water. Slowly there swung into view an ocean-going vessel under steam and auxiliary canvas. She made a gallant spectacle. But whose ship was she? I examined her colors anxiously enough. I caught the import of her ensign. She flew the British Union Jack!
England had won the race by sea!
Something in the ship’s outline seemed to me familiar. I knew the set of her short masts, the pitch of her smokestacks, the number of her guns. Yes, she was the Modeste of the English Navy—the same ship which more than a year before I had seen at anchor off Montreal!
News travels fast in wild countries, and it took us little time to learn the destination of the Modeste. She came to anchor above Oregon City, and well below Fort Vancouver. At once, of course, her officers made formal calls upon Doctor McLaughlin, the factor at Fort Vancouver, and accepted head of the British element thereabouts. Two weeks passed in rumors and counter rumors, and a vastly dangerous tension existed in all the American settlements, because word was spread that England had sent a ship to oust us. Then came to myself and certain others at Oregon City messengers from peace-loving Doctor McLaughlin, asking us to join him in a little celebration in honor of the arrival of her Majesty’s vessel.
Here at last was news; but it was news not wholly to my liking which I soon unearthed. The Modeste was but one ship of fifteen! A fleet of fifteen vessels, four hundred guns, then lay in Puget Sound. The watch-dogs of Great Britain were at our doors. This question of monarchy and the Republic was not yet settled, after all!