Becoming Oregon: Letters to Asahel Bush II

The Becoming Oregon project provides historians, researchers and students from around the world with internet access to 500 original letters written to Asahel Bush II (1824-1913). Bush was founding editor of the Oregon Statesman newspaper and later became one of early Oregon’s wealthiest men by co-founding the Ladd & Bush Bank in Salem, Oregon. Bush’s Pasture Park in Salem was once the farmstead of Bush and his family, and was donated to the city along with their 1878 Italianate home, now operated as the Bush House Museum.

The handwritten letters to Asahel Bush II in the 1850s and early 1860s were preserved by the Bush Family following his death in 1913. During the Works Progress Administration’s Historic Records Survey in the late 1930s, these historic letters were rediscovered and transcribed. Multiple copies of these typewritten transcriptions were gathered into sets by correspondent then placed at the University of Oregon Library, the Oregon State Library and later at the Bush House Museum. Continuing efforts to reproduce and interpret these historic letters were untaken by a University of Oregon photo-reproduction project in 1942 and the Oregon Historical Society’s microfilming project in 1964.

This first phase of the Becoming Oregon project has been funded through grants from the Oregon Heritage Commission and the Oregon Cultural Trust, and completed with the assistance of Diane Huddleston, James O’Shea, Christopher Pollard, Bob Speckman, and Ross Sutherland. In the coming years the Bush House Museum will continue adding to this webpage until all the letters to Asahel Bush II, during his years at the Oregon Statesman, are available online.

Letters by Date

Find a list of letters in chronological order, from oldest to newest, at the above link.

Letters by Author

Letters from specific authors, organized alphabetically by last name, will be available soon..

Asahel Bush II & The Oregon Statesman

Born in Westfield, Connecticut, Bush became an apprentice printer and was later admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in 1850. He was invited west by Samuel Thurston, a Congressional delegate from the Oregon Territory, who wanted to ensure his re-election by establishing a newspaper that was pro-Democrat. First published on March 28, 1851, in Oregon City, Bush and the Oregon Statesman helped organize the Democratic Party of Oregon in 1852.

When the Territorial Government moved to Salem, the Oregon Statesman and Bush followed. Through editorials in his newspaper, Bush continually sparred with Thomas J. Dryer of the Portland Oregonian and William L. Adams of the Oregon Argus, published in Oregon City. Bush was pro-Democrat, Dryer pro-Whig/Republican and Adams pro-Whig. Their colorful attacks on political candidates and the issues of the day is now known as the Oregon-style of Journalism. In addition to Bush’s political influence through the Oregon Statesman, he had a key role in the Salem Clique which included some of the most powerful and politically active Democrats in the Territory.

Many of the leading members of the Salem Clique, including Federal Judge Matthew Deady, U.S. Senator James W. Nesmith and Oregon Supreme Court Justice Orville C. Pratt were regular correspondents with Bush. They shared information on political campaigns, candidates and elections throughout the Oregon Territory which was sometimes published in the Oregon Statesman. At other times their letters were marked PRIVATE or CONFIDENTIAL when providing Bush with information that should not be made public. In 1863, Bush sold the Oregon Statesman, following the early death of his beloved wife Eugenia from tuberculosis. He established Salem’s first bank in 1868.