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Fort Umpqua (1836-1854) - In 1836, Hudson’s Bay Company established Fort Umpqua near the present day town of Elkton, Douglas County, Oregon. The Fort was a regional center for the fur trade and many Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians traded hides for goods there. The fort was destroyed by a fire on 15 Nov 1851 and the post finally closed in 1854 as the fur trade diminished.
Fort Umpqua History
The site for the fort was selected by Jean Baptiste Gagnier sometime in 1835. It was placed across from the intersection of Elk Creek and the Umpqua River on a known travel route for Hudson’s Bay Company traders. There was also an Indian trail from Coos River to Ash Valley and on to the Umpqua River, and upriver to the Fort.
The fort itself was a 12 ' high stockade with bastions at diagonal corners. The 90' square enclosed a dwelling for Superintendent Jean Baptiste Gagnier and his Umpqua family, a range of stores, a few apple trees and quarters for 6 employees. Outside was a barn and stable. Eighty fenced acres were under cultivation.
The post had only a small staff assigned most of the time. Three to thirteen men manned the fort but the average was five or six. The staff usually consisted of French-Canadians and some contract employees from Hawaii and Polynesia.
In 1840 the post was described by Gustavus Hines as consisting of "...three or four little log huts built on three sides of a square, and covered with cedar bark. These huts are stockaded by poles set in the ground, and rising 12 feet high; and at two opposite corners of the enclosure thus formed, there are two bastions commanding all sides of the fort, and containing means for the defense of the establishment against the attacks of the Indians...". The fort was twice besieged by Indians.
The fort became a regional trading center and production center for farm goods and livestock. Trade goods in the form of hatchets, kettles, beads and other items desired by the Indians were exchanged for fur pelts. Furs were collected and taken annually to Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River. The post also became a way point for travelers and supply depot along the Oregon-California trail for settlers. It had a significant impact on the Indian culture and quickened the pace of change all along the Umpaqua River and valley.
The fort was destroyed by a fire on 15 Nov 1851 while the commander was at Fort Vancouver. The Hudson’s Bay Company kept the operation going for another three years without the protection of the fort but the post closed in 1854 as the fur trade diminished.
Fort Commanders (Chief Traders)
Fort Umpqua is being replicated by a dedicated band of volunteers on a donated piece of land just west of Elkton, Douglas County, Oregon. A building permit has been issued and construction has begun as the pictures below indicate. The new location is on the opposite bank of the Umpqua River from the original location. Nothing remains of the fort at the original location. Updates:
- Portions of the stockade are up and the southwest bastion is up and lacks only the roofing, 5 Sep 2008.
- The stockade walls are complete including the front gate but the back gate is not yet done. Both bastions are complete. The three interior buildings are staked out but construction has not yet started. Really looks good! 6 Sep 2009
Location: Located on the west side of the Umpqua River adjacent to the bridge on highway 38 just outside Elkton, Douglas County, Oregon.
Maps & Images
Lat: 43.632596 Long: -123.570614
Recent Blog Posts:
- Stephen Dow Beckham, "Land of the Umpqua: A History of Douglas County, Oregon", 1986, Commissioners of Douglas County. ISBN 0-961-6574-0-5
- Roberts, Robert B., Encyclopedia of Historic Forts: The Military, Pioneer, and Trading Posts of the United States, Macmillan, New York, 1988, 10th printing, ISBN 0-02-926880-X, page 668-669
- Jerry Winterbotham, "Umpqua The Lost County of Oregon", ASIN: B0006P7PLQ
Visited: 6 Sep 2009, 7 Sep 2008, 17 Jun 2007, 15 Jul 2006