A couple of important events in Oregon history happened during the middle of January.  One goes all the way back to the pre-territory days.  The other took place in 1974.

The first dates to 1837, or 178 years ago.

Oregon wasn’t even an official territory yet, let alone a state. And the first travelers on the Oregon Trail wouldn’t begin using it, officially, for another  six years.  But in January of that year, one of the important phases of establishing the Oregon of today  took place with the creation of was the Willamette Cattle Company .

At the time, all the cattle in the Oregon Country were owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company, but settlers wanted to own their own cattle, according to the Oregon Dictionary.  They wanted them not just for the beef, the Oregon Dictionary explains, but because cattle could be used for bartering purposes.

So a group of settlers created the company for “the singular purpose of buying cattle in California and herding them to Oregon,” according to the Oregon Encyclopedia.

The company, led by a man named Ewing Young, succeeded in its task, bringing several hundred head to Oregon from California.  But  it didn’t not without a hard and sometimes violent and tragic journey.

To learn more about this key part of the region’s early history, check out the Willamette Cattle Company in the Oregon Encyclopedia.

The other event happened more recently: 41 years ago, to be exact.  That’s when nine men working to restore long-distance telephone service between Medford and other parts of the state were killed in a huge mudslide on the evening Jan. 16.

The scenario leading up to the slide will sound familiar to anyone who has lived in Western Oregon for more than 20 years: Rain was pounding cities and towns from Medford to Portland to Tillamook to Newport, causing flooding and loosening soil on steep hillsides.

Then about 7 p.m. on that Friday, 54-year-old Robert Cook heard something.  First, someone yelled the word “slide” and then he heard a roar coming from the hill above.

Moments later, the 54-year-old Pacific Northwest Bell telephone plant manager was knocked off his feet by flying debris.  He got up only to be knocked down a second time.

The Oregonian dispatched reporter Paul Pintarich to Canyonville to cover the story and here is how his lead read on the front page of editions of Jan. 18:

CANYONVILLE – The bodies of three of nine men killed Wednesday in a massive earthslide near this Southwest Oregon community were found Thursday nearly a mile from where tons of sodden earth buried a telephone company relay station.

The incident remains one of the worst of its kind in Oregon history.

— John Killen

jkillen@oregonian.com

503-221-8538; @johnkillen

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