Museum exhibit, class explore history of state land claims -

In the mid-1800s, the new state of Oregon was roughly mapped out at first — with hopeful land claims marked by movable stones, and plots laid out with slack, wet ropes.

by: PHOTO BY: ROXANDRA E. PENNINGTON - Museum of the Oregon Territory visitors contemplate Donation Land Claim border stone marking boundary between Larkin and Wingfield family plots in Molalla.Eventually, these methods gave way to links and chains, and a surveyor general was appointed to oversee the wild West’s first federal Land Office, where the state’s original plat maps were filed, in Oregon City. Land-claim boundaries may seem the dry domain of mapmakers, but in Oregon they were vital to the passionate story of the largest voluntary overland migration in the history of the world.

To learn the compelling details of the quest to claim “free land” in the Oregon Territory from master educator and Beavercreek resident Jim Tompkins, attend a free class with accompanying new exhibit, “Building Boundaries: Surveying and Claiming Land in the Oregon Territory” at 6 p.m. Wednesday, July 9, at the Museum of the Oregon Territory, 211 Tumwater Drive, Oregon City.

Tompkins, who has taught for more than four decades and is still a part-time faculty member at Clackamas Community College, has been described as “the high school history teacher you only wish you’d had.”

Named 1990 Oregon History Teacher of the Year, and current president of the Oregon California Trails Association NW Chapter, he’s written 10 books and numerous research articles, including “The Law of the Land,” an authoritative study on land claims and winner of the Merrill Mattes Award, published in the 2000 OCTA Overland Journal.

Tompkins will present an informative 45-minute lecture with projected images, followed by an audience Q&A, which will attempt to answer the questions of who could claim land in Oregon, how much, at what price and how.

“It was all a matter of timing,” Tompkins said. “All of these factors changed over the years with various authorities such as international law, the game of sovereignty, provisional land grants, donation land claims, homesteads and railroad grants. I have learned that there are many misconceptions about how land could be claimed and who could claim it, especially among modern authors or playwrights, who very much want to transpose modern themes of female rights onto the 19th century.”

The new “Building Boundaries” exhibit, opening the same day at the Museum of the Oregon Territory, was designed by volunteer MOOT Exhibit Manager Mark Hurlburt, and enriched by contributions from a local surveying artifact collector.

“The main feature of the exhibit will be a selection of original maps from the Clackamas County Clerk’s office from the 19th century,” Hurlburt said. “The maps show the original and earliest landowners of the county and are a definitive piece of Clackamas County history. The maps have been preserved in the collection of the Clackamas County Historical Society and will be on public display for the very first time. The maps have also been scanned, thanks to BLM, and the public can view the entire set in the MOOT research library.”

Visit for MOOT hours and information, or call 503-655-5574.

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