The Troubled Life of Peter Burnett: Oregon Pioneer and First Governor of California

The Troubled Life of Peter Burnett: Oregon Pioneer and First Governor of California

by R. Gregory Nokes
The Troubled Life of Peter Burnett: Oregon Pioneer and First Governor of California

The Troubled Life of Peter Burnett: Oregon Pioneer and First Governor of California

by R. Gregory Nokes


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Few people in the nineteenth-century American West could boast the achievements of Peter Burnett. He helped organize the first major wagon train to the Oregon Country. He served on Oregon’s first elected government and was Oregon’s first supreme court judge. He opened a wagon road from Oregon to California. He worked with the young John Sutter to develop the new city of Sacramento. Within a year of arriving in California, voters overwhelmingly elected him as the first US governor. He also won appointment to the California Supreme Court.

It was one heck of a resume. Yet with the exception of the wagon road to California, in none of these roles was Burnett considered successful or well remembered. Indeed, he resigned from many of his most important positions, including the governorship, where he was widely perceived a failure.

Burnett’s weakness was that he refused to take advice from others. He insisted on marching to his own drum, even when it led to some terrible decisions. A former slaveholder, he could never seem to get beyond his single-minded goal of banning blacks and other minorities from the West.

The Troubled Life of Peter Burnett is the first full-length biography of this complicated character. Historians, scholars, and general readers with an interest in Western history will welcome R. Gregory Nokes’ accessible and deeply researched account.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780870719325
Publisher: Oregon State University Press
Publication date: 05/15/2018
Edition description: 1
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 3 Months to 18 Years

About the Author

R. GREGORY NOKES is the author of Breaking Chains: Slavery on Trial in the Oregon Territory and  Massacred for Gold: The Chinese in Hells Canyon. He traveled the world as a reporter and editor for The Associated Press and the Oregonian. A graduate of Willamette University, he attended Harvard University as a Nieman Fellow. His reporting on the 1887 murders of more than thirty Chinese gold miners in Hells Canyon resulted in a formal designation of the site as Chinese Massacre Cove and was the basis for an Oregon Public Broadcasting documentary. Greg and his wife, Candise, live in West Linn, Oregon.

Table of Contents

Preface ix

Part I Tennessee and Missouri

1 Death of a Slave 1

2 Sinking into Debt 7

3 Burnett and the Mormons 10

Part II Oregon

4 Fleeing Debt on the Oregon Trail 19

5 Marcus and Narcissa: Dying for a Cause 41

6 A Short Oregon History: Astor's Debacle 47

7 Burnett's Not-Going-to-Happen Big City 51

8 Rewriting Oregon 61

9 The Lash Law: "Disgrace and Infamy" 65

10 Considering His Options 71

11 Those Darned Debts Again 77

Part III California

12 Lusting for California Gold 85

13 Sutter: "They … Ate My Good Indians!" 95

14 Samuel Brannan: The Midas Touch 104

15 Spoils of an Unwanted War 109

16 Selling Sacramento 113

17 Matching Wits with the General 119

18 Slavery and the Border 129

Part IV First Governor

19 Stumbling Out of the Gate 136

20 Squatters Everywhere 147

21 Racing toward Statehood 152

22 A Governor Resigns, hut Why? 161

23 Rescue at Sea 171

24 On the Court with Archy Lee 178

25 Terry and Broderick at Ten Paces 189

26 Finally, the Good Life 195

27 Retreating to Religion 200

Epilogue 205

Appendix A Moving On: Men of Ambition 211

Appendix B Estimated Immigration on the Oregon Trail, 1840-60 218

Appendix C Oregon's Exclusion Act and Lash Law, June 18, 1844 219

Appendix D California Fugitive Slave Act of 1852 221

Notes 223

Bibliography 249

Acknowledgments 257

Index 261

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