First Advisor

Gordon Dodds

Term of Graduation

Spring 1997

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in History






Interracial marriage -- Oregon -- History, Marriage law -- Oregon -- History, Indians of North America -- Oregon



Physical Description

1 online resource, (p199.)


Beginning in the late eighteenth century, the first contacts between white and Indian cultures in Oregon quickly secured marriages between the European and American traders and trappers and indigenous women. These unions sustained economic alliances and nurtured cultural links.

But the opening of the Oregon Trail brought an influx of white men and women from America's Middle West who stored more than supplies in their wagons. They transported racial beliefs which subjugated all non-whites to an inferior status. Laws were passed by this generation of pioneers in each governmental period -- provisional, territorial and statehood -- which codified a wide spectrum of prejudicial thoughts. This thesis focuses on the interracial marriage bans which were passed in the 1860s, with special consideration given to the 1866 law which stated that it was a criminal offense for a white person to marry a black, Chinese or Hawaiian person of one-fourth or more blood, or an Indian of more than one-half blood. 2 This sweeping marriage ban was not repealed until 1951.

The purpose of this study is to examine white-Indian marriage in the context of this law which existed for eighty-five years. Primary sources are utilized extensively for each of the chapters. Catholic church records underscore the prevalence of white-Indian marriages which existed throughout the region in the years leading up to the 1860s.

The legislative tussle waged over the bill in the 1866 session is complimented by newspaper accounts and Oregon census materials. These documents show clearly how the creation of the comprehensive intermarriage law was steeped in a mixture of national issues and local motivations. This combination of national and local impulses was repeated during the repeal process in 1951.

Valuable Office of Indian Affairs documents from the mid-1880s to the mid-1930s unearth plentiful evidence of interracial marriage during these years. Indian censuses carried out on Oregon's four major reservations preserve a fifty-year legacy of marriages which flouted the law.

In conclusion, this study finds that despite the presence of an Oregon law which levied criminal sanctions against people who even attempted a banned marriage, whites and Indians continued to solemnize their relationships.


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