Independence and the surrounding area were originally occupied by the Kalapuyan Indians. The Kalapuyans were semi-nomadic hunters and gatherers who were attracted to the abundant food supply along the fertile shores of the Willamette River. The river also served as a major transportation route for the natives. It was not until the advent of the Euro-Americans that permanent settlement of the area began. Prior to 1841, the only Euro-Americans to venture into the Independence area were transient trappers and explorers.
The 1841 census estimated the total population of the Willamette Valley at approximately 400. The highest concentration of the population was in the Mill Creek and French Prairie area of Marion County. By 1849 the Territorial Census estimated the population of Polk Co. at 1,174, a substantial growth in an eight year period. Growth in the area occurred due to many factors: the discovery of gold in California, the availability of fertile soil in the Willamette Valley and the promise of a mild climate and the passage of the Donation Land Claim Act of 1850. This was the beginning of the great western migration, which brought many settlers into the Willamette Valley.