Joel Palmer Papers, 1783-1982

Abstract of Disbursement--S.H. Culver-Rogue River Valley Abstract of Disbursement--Joel Palmer Appointment-- Joel Palmer Articles of Incorporation-Columbia River Rail Co. Diary, 1854 Diary, 1856 Authorization to Establish Union League Council Diary, 1860 Diary, 1861 Diary Diary excerpts, 1853 Diary excerpts, undated Diary excerpts, 1854 Diary excerpts, 1872 Interview with Joel Palmer by Hubert Howe Bancroft Land Claim--Daniel Harvey to Joel Palmer Land Claim--Indian Dick Johnson Benjamin Alvord to Joel Palmer Jesse Applegate to Joel Palmer Benjamin L. Bonneville to Joel Palmer W. B. Bonney to Joel Palmer Addison Crandall Gibbs to Joel Palmer J. M. Keeler to Joel Palmer Joseph Lane to Joel Palmer John H. Mitchell to Joel Palmer G. W. Manypenny to Joel Palmer E. Palmer to Joel Palmer O. C. Pratt to Joel Palmer
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Identity elements

Reference code

Mss 114

Name and location of repository

Level of description



Joel Palmer Papers, 1783-1982


  • 1848-1880 (bulk) (Creation)
  • 1783-1982 (Creation)


.9 cubic feet, (2 document cases)

Name of creator


Biographical history

Joel Palmer, pioneer leader and author, was born October 4, 1810 in Ontario, Canada. The son of Quaker parents who moved to New York at the start of the War of 1812, Palmer moved to Bucks County, Pennsylvania at the age of sixteen. In 1830 he married Catherine Coffee and following her death married again to Sarah Ann Derbyshire (1836). Shortly after marrying Sarah, he moved to Indiana and worked on the canals. In 1843 and 1845, he served as a representative in the Indiana legislature.

During the spring of 1845, Palmer started overland to Oregon. During his journey he kept a diary of his experiences, which was published in 1847 as Journal of Travels over the Rocky Mountains.This publication served as a guidebook to immigrants for information on equipment and route details. The next year he returned to Indiana and made a second trip back to Oregon.

Palmer served as commissary-general of volunteer forces in the Cayuse War, and as peace emissary to persuade neigboring tribes not to join the Cayuse Indians. After the war, Palmer left for California and upon his return laid out the town of Dayton, Oregon, in Yamhill County, where he filed his donation land claim and built a sawmill. In 1853, he became superintendent of Indian affairs for the Oregon Territory. Serving with distinction, Palmer had the difficult task of securing Oregon lands from warring Indian tribes while preventing the outbreak of hostilities. During his tenure, he negotiated 9 treaties of cessation. He was removed as superintendent in 1857 for pursuing too lenient an Indian policy.

Palmer served as speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives in 1862 and state senator, 1864-1868. In 1870 he was defeated as the Republican candidate for governor. He died June 9, 1881 in Dayton, Oregon.

Content and structure elements

Scope and content

The papers consist of four groups of materials acquired by the Oregon Historical Society at various times. The first group, designated Mss 114, consists of correspondence (1848-1869) concerning the conduct of Indian affairs in Oregon, enlistment of a state militia, and efforts to establish a Union League Council. Correspondents include Benjamin Alvord, Jesse Applegate, Benjamin Bonneville, Samuel Culver, Addison C. Gibbs, and Joseph Lane. Also included is a diary (1857) kept by Palmer while on a voyage from Oregon City to Washington, D.C. via Panama; typescript copies of diaries (1854, 1856, 1860-1861) recording his travels throughout the Pacific Northwest; hand written copy of an agreement (1854) between the United States, represented by superintendent of Indian Affairs, Joel Palmer, and the Calipooia Indian tribe; and articles of incorporation (1862) of the Columbia River Railroad Company.

The second group of materials, designated Mss 114-1, consists of letters sent to Sarah Ann Palmer from various relatives, and receipts and other ephemera of Joel Palmer. Among these are hand written copies of poems dated 1783, possibly from one of Palmer's ancestors.

The third group within the collection, designated Mss 114-2, contains mostly biographical information about Palmer, along with letters written by his descendants and letters relating to the dedication of a statue of Palmer in 1971.

A fourth group of papers, designated Mss 114-3, consists of general correspondence, primarily political and military in nature, legal papers, and a survey of an unidentified Indian reservation.

The final group of materials, designated Mss 114-4, includes a manuscript poem, Bristol, England, 1784; letters from Palmer to General Joseph Lane and others; manuscript copy of report to the U.S. Secretary of War or the Commissioner of Indian Affairs from General Joseph Lane, ca. 1849; a letter from W. B. Bonney to Joel Palmer, 1850 Jan. 17; letter to Joel Palmer from Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Bonneville, 1855 Mar. 27; printed copy of the treaty between the United States and the Rogue River Indians, 1855; manuscript extracts from "Articles of treatry made at Port Orford," 1857 Sept. 20; hand drawn map of the Columbia River and its tributaries, undated; and a pamphlet titled "History of the Grand Ronde Military Block House," 1911.

System of arrangement

The collection is arranged in five series corresponding to groups of materials received at various times:

Mss 114, 1848-1869
Mss 114-1, 1783-1896
Mss 114-2, 1849-1982
Mss 114-3, 1850-1880
Mss 114-4, 1784-1911

Conditions of access and use elements

Conditions governing access

The collection is open to the public.

Physical access

Technical access

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Languages of the material

  • English

Scripts of the material

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Acquisition and appraisal elements

Custodial history

Immediate source of acquisition

The collection was assembled by the Oregon Historical Society from a variety of sources.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information


Related materials elements

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Portions of the collection are available on Mss Microfilm 114, Oregon Historical Society Research Library

Related archival materials

Eleven black and white photographs of the Joel Palmer House and of Dayton, Oregon are located in the photographic collections of the Oregon Historical Society Research Library.

Notes element

Specialized notes

  • Citation: Joel Palmer papers, Mss 114, Oregon Historical Society Research Library
  • Processing information: Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Alternative identifier(s)

Description control element

Rules or conventions

Finding aid based on DACS (Describing Archives: A Content Standard)

Sources used

Archivist's note

Finding aid prepared by Tod Welch and Geoffrey B. Wexler - 2006 July 27

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