About Ewing Young

The Remarkable and Adventurous Life of Ewing Young

   

Ewing Young is an important American pioneer who is buried at Ewing Young Farm, where the Ewing Young Distillery is located. 


About 125 yards away from the Distillery stands the magnificent Ewing Young Oak, an Oregon Heritage Tree planted in 1846, that marks Ewing’s grave site. The tree and grave are wholly contained on the 147-acre Farm property, which is the epicenter of the 50 square miles Ewing Young claimed as his own back in 1834.  Ewing's burial site and tree were so honored because he is an important figure not only in the history of Oregon but also the westward expansion of the United States.


Ewing Young’s remarkable—and little known—true life story inspired us to create a distillery at the Farm.  Establishing a Distillery named for Ewing Young at his final resting place, in the heart of his original land claim, is a natural tribute to his saga. 


Of Scots-Irish lineage, Ewing Young was born during the 1790s to American revolutionaries.  He left his Tennessee home at age 14 to apprentice as a carpenter. Ewing's adventurous nature eventually led him to fur trapping and trailblazing—including the Santa Fe Trail—in the wild Southwest, where he was among the first Americans to arrive via wagon train in 1822. He settled in Taos for several years and married María Josefa Tafoya, the daughter of a prominent Mexican family. 


Ewing’s physical stature and strength, intelligence, courage, forceful personality, and entrepreneurial abilities made him an imposing leader everywhere he went. Ewing Young became known to the Mexicans as “El Impresario” and to the Americans as “The Captain.”  (He also answered to Joaquin, because Ewing was difficult for some to pronounce.)   His daring, courage, and audacious nature are the source of several fascinating stories from this period.


After the bottom fell out of the fur trade, Ewing Young left Taos and decided to explore the unsettled Oregon Country he had heard about. He arrived in Oregon in 1834 with about 40 horses and staked his 50 square mile claim in the Chehalem Valley between the Red Hills of Dundee and the Chehalem Mountains,  the epicenter (and small portion) of which is the present-day Ewing Young Farm. 


Ewing Young established the westernmost farm in the wild Oregon Country. An enterprising man, Ewing eventually established the area’s first grist mill, saw mill, trading post, and even a bank that loaned money to American settlers. And, he established the first distillery in the Oregon Country.


When Ewing arrived in the Oregon Country, the area and trade were controlled by Great Britain through its Hudson’s Bay Company (“HBC”) agent and Fort Vancouver Chief Factor, John McLoughlin. There was no love lost between John McLoughlin and Ewing Young. McLoughlin refused to trade with Ewing, and hoping to stem the tide of American migration, McLoughlin would trade with but not sell livestock to the handful of American settlers in the Oregon Country. Ewing and his men managed to survive and prosper without help from the HBC and were the only area settlers who were wholly independent of the British. 


In 1836, to the chagrin of McLoughlin and the nearby Methodist Mission, Ewing Young began distilling "ardent spirits," also known as white lightening or unaged whiskey. By 1837, McLoughlin and local temperance society devotees had put an end to Ewing’s distillation enterprise by offering him a large sum of money to cease his spirits production. In a letter to the HBC, Young agreed to “cease the production of ardent spirits…for the present” and reserved the right to begin distilling again at any time. 


More than 180 years later, we are fulfilling Ewing Young's—and our—distillery dream.


Ewing accepted the money, and as head of the newly-formed Willamette Cattle Company™, left for the Mexican province of Alta California (present-day Monterey and San Jose) to buy cattle. Back in the Oregon Country, they thought they’d seen the last of Ewing Young. 


Months later, Ewing shocked everyone when he returned to the lush Chehalem Valley along with more than 600 head of Mexican longhorn cattle he had driven through the rugged terrain of the areas now known as Northern California and Southern Oregon. Ewing’s 1837 cattle drive was the first documented in North America and was featured on the front page of the New York Times.


With this audacious masterstroke, Ewing Young helped break the Hudson’s Bay Company’s stranglehold over American pioneers in the Oregon Country. Ewing was happy to breed cattle and sell the American pioneers all they needed. The trickle of Americans coming to Oregon soon turned into the flood of American westward migration on the Oregon Trail.


The rest is history. 


As we like to say at Ewing Young Distillery, Ewing Young helped take The Oregon Country from Great Britain without firing a shot—he did it by pouring a shot.™


Ewing Young was never content with the status quo, and he led an adventurous life. He was a carpenter, farmer, fur trapper, Sante Fe Trail blazer, cattleman, and all-around American maverick, eventually becoming the wealthiest man in the Oregon Territory.

 

When Ewing Young died in 1841, the need to probate his estate led directly to the formation of Oregon’s first provisional government. The official history of the State of Oregon, Volume 1, page 1, starts at the funeral of Ewing Young, held where the splendid 173-year old Ewing Young Oak continues to flourish at the current-day Farm. 


We are eager to share more stories of this man who accomplished so much in his brief life—he died at 41 (or was it 45? or 51?--conflicting information exists)—and we plan to do so, along with other noteworthy but little-known American Pioneers, in the Distillery’s tasting room.  


We look forward to welcoming you to Ewing Young Distillery. 


Ewing Young is a Federally-registered trademark.


Artist’s depiction of Ewing Young by Alfredo Rodriguez – no known images exist.  Licensed to American Pioneer Spirits at Ewing Young Farm LLC by the artist.  


Image Copyright 2018 American Pioneer Spirits at Ewing Young Farm LLC