OSU Libraries | OSU Home

The Troubled Life of Peter Burnett

Oregon Pioneer and First Governor of California

R. Gregory Nokes

6 × 9. B&W photos. Bibliography. Notes. Index. 288 pages.

2018. ISBN 978-0-87071-932-5. Paperback, $19.95.


Available May 2018

Few people in the nineteenth-century American West could boast the achievements of Peter Burnett. He helped organize the first major wagon train to the Oregon Country. He served on Oregon’s first elected government and was Oregon’s first supreme court judge. He opened a wagon road from Oregon to California. He worked with the young John Sutter to develop the new city of Sacramento. Within a year of arriving in California, voters overwhelmingly elected him as the first US governor. He also won appointment to the California Supreme Court.


It was one heck of a resume. Yet with the exception of the wagon road to California, in none of these roles was Burnett considered successful or well remembered. Indeed, he resigned from many of his most important positions, including the governorship, where he was widely perceived
a failure.


Burnett’s weakness was that he refused to take advice from others. He insisted on marching to his own drum, even when it led to some terrible decisions. A former slaveholder, he could never seem to get beyond his single-minded goal of banning blacks and other minorities from the West.


The Troubled Life of Peter Burnett
is the first full-length biography of this complicated character. Historians, scholars, and general readers with an interest in Western history will welcome R. Gregory Nokes’ accessible and deeply researched account.

Member of AAUP