Pioneer Days in Coos and Curry
"When I first went to Port Orford, in 1852," said William H. Packwood of Baker, "there was not a permanent settler, so far as I know, in the Coquille or Coos Bay country, nor in the whole stretch of country to the southward, clear to Crescent City, California. The whole country was unknown--a wilderness of timber and brush--and the mountains were full of game of all kinds, deer, bear and, best and most numerous of all, elk that roamed the country. Port Orford was an open roadstead. It had a small store, post office and saloon and a detail of United States artillery under command of Lieutenant Wyman, and our company, Company C, First United States Dragoons.
"As soon as we were back from a Rogue River trip, all hands were put to work building quarters for the post at Port Orford. We made our buildings of heavy logs, which could, if occasion demanded, be used as forts against Indians. For our horses and mules we had canvas-covered sheds. The steamer from San Francisco to Portland called about once a week. There was at this time, in Port Orford, J. E. Franklin and a Mr. Tyler. They had a little sawmill near the lagoon. I was never at the mill and do not think they were ever able to do much of anything. Franklin afterward went up to the Umatilla country and located near where Athena now is. Tyler was an old sailor and is no doubt 'over the river' long since. Two other men I remember well were James M. Gamble, who afterward became a prominent man, connected with telegraph companies. The other man was the famous Oakland multimillionaire F. M. Smith, the railroad man, well known as the 'borax king.' All were then as poor as 'Job's turkey." Spanish Mary kept a small store. Later she married a Mr. Sutton, an engineer, and the last time I saw them was in Portland. They were charitable and liberal, and no one deserving ever failed to receive help from them. I do not know, but I believe that both of them are now 'over the river.'
"These are about all the oldtimers, except Jake Summers, Charley Foster, Fred Unican, Simon Lundry [and] Randolph Tichenor, who were all at Port Orford in that early day.
"Back of Port Orford was the finest body of cedar timber I ever saw. I went out with one or two others of our men and staked a claim. It was all unsurveyed, so all we could do was to post a notice and do some work. Soon after doing so a Captain Munson came to see me at our quarters and said that Nephas and Tichenor, in looking around for a location for the mill, had found a spring of water on my claim and wanted it. I told him to tell them to go ahead. I could not hold the claim. He said they would pay for it. I told him whatever they did was satisfactory to me. That evening he came back and gave me $125 in coin, and on that claim Nephas and Tichenor put up the first sawmill for cutting white cedar ever built in Oregon. This was in 1852. I have no idea how long they ran their mill. It was in the sixties that a fire came nearly burning Port Orford and the whole country. In the early days one or two cuts were all that was taken from a tree. Captain Tichenor took up a claim and had his family there at the time. Later on he married a second time, and now lies buried on the hill north of where our soldiers' quarters were, with his two wives, one on each side of him."
Coos Bay Times, Marshfield, February 5, 1915, page 4
SLAUGHTER OF INDIANS BY THE VIGILANTES RECALLED
Colville and Randolph City Miners 74 Years Ago Attack
Sleeping Red Men in Settlement on Coquille River.
MARSHFIELD, Or., Jan. 28.--(Special.)--Seventy-four years ago on the morning of January 28, 1854, 40 miners from the Colville or Randolph City mines, seven miles north of what is now Bandon, at the mouth of the Coquille River, led by George H. Abbott, raided three Indian settlements on the river, which had all told 75 persons, including the children, and devastated the district. The Indians were taken unawares, and when the massacre was over, 15 males and one adult female were dead.
Mr. Abbott's report to F. M. Smith, sub-agent at Port Orford, the next day, said: "The Indians are sitting about the ruins of their smoldering homes." Mr. Abbott signed the report as "captain commanding Coos County volunteers."
That incident of early days, termed "murder" by Sub-Agent Smith, was the subject of a dispute which was never settled in the minds of fair-minded people, for the miners submitted evidence of varied aggravations which the Indians had perpetrated upon the persons and the property of the miners, while Chief John, badly wounded in the massacre, stoutly maintained there had been no offense by the Indians which warranted anything more than a powwow and a definite understanding between the tribe and the whites.
Mines Attract Tough Characters.To this day there are those who look upon the incident as one of the blackest crimes ever committed in Oregon under the guise of plausible excuse. The mines in those days were peopled by admitted tough characters, and there was, on the other hand, a claim that the miners, who numbered about 250, with 50 or more whites residing in the vicinity, were not aware whether the Indians had in their tribe that many warriors or several times that many, and whether or not they could not call in other tribes to aid in wiping out the whites.
Numbered among those who participated in the massacre and who signed subsequent documents relating to the affair were the following: George H. Abbott, leader and general spokesman; A. F. Soap, chairman of secret meetings held prior to and after the massacre; William Packwood, secretary; John Grolonis, a witness; B. J. Bell, J. E. McClure, B. J. Burns, W. J. Berry and J. C. Danford, a committee appointed to seek aid from the United States military station at Port Orford, and who made a special report to Sub-Agent Smith, following the massacre. There were also X. E. Scott and J. B. O'Meally, chairman and secretary of several meetings held to consider the Indian situation; John A. Pension was a witness who swore to incidents of Indian insolence. William Whike was another who was conversant with troubles from the Indians.
In substantiation of reasons for their attack upon the Indians, four reports were made by the executives of the whites' councils, and among the complaints enumerated were: Indian riding white man's horse without permission; the Indians swore at them in English; the Indians did not want them about their settlements; an Indian shot at a crowd of whites who were standing near the ferry house; the Indians cut the rope holding the ferryboat; they had shot across the river at whites; they had committed thefts from houses; that, on being invited in to discuss affairs, Chief John had sent back an insolent reply and said he would kill any white man who approached his encampment. Various other sins were laid at the doors of the Indians.
A rather significant outcome of the massacre was contained in Captain Abbott's report made to Sub-Agent Smith the day of the massacre, January 28, 1854: "I almost forgot to say that our loss was none, either in killed, wounded or prisoners."
Sleeping Indians Attacked.Farcical, almost, was a portion of his report: "And I can say, to the credit of both officers and men, that they behaved like soldiers and avoided innocent bloodshed as much as possible." They had attacked the three Indian settlements at daylight, when the unsuspecting Indians were sleeping.
The whites had accused the Indians of storing arms and munitions, preparatory to an attack upon the miners. Sub-Agent Smith's report of the subsequent investigation showed the ludicrousness of this claim. There were but five powder-and-ball arms in possession of the natives, and two of these were unserviceable. Although the whites, to make their claims good, afterwards said the arms had been destroyed in the fires which burned all but a single hut, a search of the ashes and ruins disclosed no signs of firearms, and the miners' statements regarding preparation by the Indians were found incorrect.
Sub-Agent Smith, who reported to Joel Palmer, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, Territory of Oregon, at Dayton, February 5 following the massacre, found a woeful state of affairs in connection with the prior and subsequent activities of the so-called Coos County volunteers.
January 27 the word went out for a gathering of whites at the ferry, which was on the south side of the river, and 40 men responded to the invitation. The vigilance committee had prepared a report of the situation to be sent to Sub-Agent Smith, asking him to forward them soldiers from Port Orford to help protect the whites. This was prepared, or at least signed, January 27, but the report was enclosed to Smith afterwards, following the scenes of the morning of the 28th, it having been decided at the meeting of the day before that it was not policy to wait for orders from Port Orford, only 28 miles away, and so the slaughter took place before any aid had been requested.
On being informed of what had taken place, Sub-Agent Smith proceeded to the scene, finding the Indians dispersed and in hiding, fearful of further atrocities by the whites, although a truce had been arranged the day following the carnage. Chilliman, an Indian, was used as interpreter both by the miners and Mr. Smith. Through his offices, Chief John and others were induced to come in and discuss affairs. They were not inclined to make any complaint, but on promise of protection from the government, the details of the massacre and the charges lodged against the Indians were learned and discussed.
The Indians were ready to make peace at any price and remove from the "homes of their forefathers," if Mr. Smith [so] advised. Chief John was interested in the safety of his people, and only consented to talk when he had been assured that there would be peace in the future.
Shot Fired at Duck.Chief John had been accused of shooting across the river at the white once only, but he explained this incident by saying he had shot at a duck and was not aware there were any whites in the vicinity. He denied firing at men at the ferry house. One of the miners corroborated the chief's statement he had shot at a duck.
None of the Indians had shot at men standing near the ferry house, they all declared. Chief John had not sent insolent replies to the miners when they desired a conference, but he admitted that some of the tribe had done so. The Indians admitted they did not want the whites in their country, and incidents of theft were owned to, and they had ridden the miners' horses without permission.
Mr. Smith reported at great length to Joel Palmer, who forwarded the voluminous report to the Department of the Interior on March 11, 1854.
Indians Have Few Arms.There was an opera bouffe element in the proceedings of that immediate situation--if it were not remembered how the Indians were slaughtered. The miners, several times the strength of the Indians, had called for help from the military post at Port Orford. Sub-Agent Smith, in reporting, said there were only four soldiers at the fort. The miners had claimed the Indians were possessed of a regular arsenal, when they had but five arms, and the miners themselves had but 14 serviceable rifles and shotguns and 11 pistols, making 25 arms in all.
At the meeting of the miners of January 28, held after the morning surprise, measures were adopted to prevent the Indians from obtaining arms, and it was resolved: "That if any person or persons sell, barter, or in any way dispose of any gun, rifle, pistol, carbine or other firearms, or any powder, lead, caps or other ammunition, to any Indian or Indians, such person or persons so offending shall be deemed guilty of a high misdemeanor, and shall receive for the first offense 30 lashes upon the bare back, and for the second offense shall suffer death."
Rough Element Intimidates.The organization could really be termed nothing more than a vigilance committee, for there were no law enforcement officers in this part of the state at the time, as Sub-Agent Smith set out in his reports when he said there was no way to punish the lawless whites, as there was no justice of the peace in the area, and men who abhorred the massacre were afraid to come into the open and make a stand for decency.
Only the military could be invoked in case of strife or lawlessness, and four soldiers would not have made much of an impression on the rough mining element which was the majority of inhabitants at the time.
Oregonian, Portland, January 29, 1928, page 8 Read official correspondence concerning the massacre on this and subsequent pages.
Oregon Man's Letter Throws New Light on the Death of Grimes
Refuses to Believe Early Basin Prospector Was Murdered by Comrades.
WHOLE PARTY SCATTERED AND NONE GOT BENEFIT
BAKER, Ore.--Editor Statesman, Boise, Ida. Dear Sir: Some time last summer I cut from your Sunday paper a photo of a pioneer's grave on Grimes Creek--that of George Grimes. I now have before me your Sunday paper of November 5, in which there is an account of Mr. Grimes by a Mr. Wilson, who seems to believe Grimes was murdered. His account and information as to Grimes would seem to be from the time of finding the body of Grimes in December, some four months after he was killed. Now I can believe that he found Grimes' body and that Grimes was dressed and shot in the back, but that he was murdered by anyone of his party I do not believe.
Matters of history as important as the discovery of mines such as Boise Basin mines should be as correct and truthful as it is possible to make them. I was in a position to know much about what occurred in the mines in 1862. Our firm, Knight, Abbott & Packwood, had a store at Auburn, in Baker County, Ore., and we did the outfitting for and were interested directly or indirectly with nearly all the prospecting parties, as Auburn was the outfitting point or starting point. What I know of Grimes is hardly hearsay, but firsthand knowledge.
Independence Camp Started.In June or early in July we sent out a prospecting party having 12 interests, of which Abbott and I took two shares. They left Auburn and prospected south and westerly. On July 4 they struck a fine prospect on Granite Creek, about 45 miles from Auburn. The first gold found was panned by Jack Long, a packer whom I knew when he was working for the United States on Siletz Reservation in 1857. Twelve claims were located and a town called Independence laid out. It was so named on account of the gold being found on Independence Day. Abbott and I were given $2000 for our shares. It is surprising and almost beyond belief now to think back how quickly all such news traveled at that day, without roads, stages or telegraphs. But so it was, and long before July was gone quite a population and flourishing mining camp was in bloom at Granite Creek.
Grimes was one of them. I do not remember him personally, although I have no doubt I met him at Auburn, but I have his story from John Wilson. Wilson was with Grimes at Granite Creek, as I remember. He said that when Grimes crossed the plains in the 'Fifties he pointed out the range of mountains on the right, east of the Boise Valley, and said he believed rich gold mines lay back of those mountains. This was long before gold was found in eastern Oregon or Idaho. He went on down to Willamette Valley and had lived about Oregon City. He was a carpenter.
Grimes Goes to Mines.He was not a miner, but when gold was discovered and being worked here in Eastern Oregon, he pulled out for the mines and came direct to Auburn. From there he went over to the new find at Granite Creek, but he was not satisfied, Wilson said, and kept up his talk about the mountains he saw when crossing the plains, and which he believed were full of gold, and his determination to go and prospect them.
He finally got seven men to go with him. Wilson was one of them. They outfitted at Auburn about the last of July or early in August. From there they followed Grimes' lead.
After getting over to Grimes Creek they camped and looked around a little. They went up on a bar or bench from the creek in the pine timber (and the picture you have of a pioneer's grave, Grimes', is exactly as described to me by Wilson). They sank a prospect hole, I think about 10 or 12 feet deep, or it may have been less. They found a prospect which they believed would pay. It was now a Sunday, and I have no doubt they washed up and put on clean clothes for Sunday.
Grimes Takes a Walk.About noon, or a little after, Wilson said Grimes wanted to see about something at the prospect hole and started from camp to go up on the bar. From what Wilson said I do not believe they were doing any work that day, or intended to do any. They were just taking a look around, as miners often do of a Sunday, and figure out what to do next week--probably look over ground they intended to locate. And it being the discovery hole or shaft, by all miners' rules at that time, giving two claims for discovery, Grimes may have wanted to look it over again (as I do not remember Wilson saying a word about location of claims) before putting up notices and staking claims. Grimes lit out for the prospect shaft soon after. Some of the others started out, and when they had gotten on the edge of the bar they heard a shot just ahead of them and looked up and saw two Indians skulking and running in the pine timber above and about opposite the prospect hole. There were two Indians, and I think he said they only saw one rifle.
They hurried up to the prospect hole to find Grimes, believing the shot was fired at him by the Indians. When they got up there they found Grimes dead, and I think, from what Wilson said, he was stooping over doing something, and I have no doubt was shot in the back. He was dead and there is no reason to believe he saw the Indians, from what Wilson said. They had seen no Indians before this or any signs of Indians, so were careless in going around. He said they buried Grimes, dressed as he was, in the prospect hole he had located and helped to dig, and that night or early next morning they broke camp and got away.
Never Went Back.I do not believe they ever made a location. If so, Wilson, for one, never went back, in my opinion, for he soon after was connected with Grenzeback of The Dalles in mining operations in Owyhee County, for we had one order on them for 1432 pounds of supplies from our store at Boonville. I do not believe they ever made any locations, or looked up any claims at that time or did anything to organize a mining district. They called it Grimes Creek because he led them to it and was killed and buried there. They left and each one went his way. There was nothing to hold them together. They told the story of the find, and while the prospect was fairly good, it was largely exaggerated. This was, I believe, about the 11th of August 1862.
The news soon reached Auburn, Florence and other camps. By September there were parties from Florence and other northern camps, Marion Moore, Colonel Fogus and Captain Relf Bledsoe. A little later Moore's Creek was found--Idaho Basin. I outfitted and was one of a company of eight from Auburn. Captain Crouch of Roseburg was at the head. We went up in September or early in October and located eight claims on Moore's Creek, eight claims on Buena Vista Bar, eight Hill claims and water rights from Moore's Creek. We came back to Auburn in November. It was said a miners' meeting had been held and claims laid over until March (a custom among miners declaring claims laid over--not jumpable except in the working season). Captain Crouch said he had to go down for the winter to Roseburg and all were to be on hand in March. I told them it was a mistake to do so, that a regiment of soldiers could not, in my belief, put us in possession of our claims next March. In February 1862 I sent a man to look after my claims. All our claims were gone, and our locations, I have been told, were among the best on Moore's Creek and Buena Vista Bar.
Thinks Death Caused Rush.As to Grimes having been murdered by any of his comrades, I do not believe it for a moment. I can hardly conceive such a thing happening, from what Wilson told me, nor can I conceive of any motive. Who could benefit by it? The party was the same as other parties prospecting for mines. No, Grimes had an idea, a belief, or whatever we may call it, that there were rich mines in the mountains. He had that idea for years, and when the time came that he could do so, he followed his idea out, and in doing so he lost his life, and that caused greater excitement than finding the gold.
The two combined caused a rush to that country that resulted in finding one of the richest placer mining districts in Idaho, and while they would have no doubt been found later on, I do think his name should stand out prominently in Idaho history and a monument should be erected to his memory, designating him as the discoverer of the Boise Basin mines, as it is due solely to him. A small amount would do it, and it should be in a place like that shown in your photo of a pioneer's grave (Grimes', for it is according to and agrees in detail with the account give me by one of the men who helped bury him).
Miners Respected Rights.Miners as a rule in the early days had a very great respect and regard for rights of discoverers, and it may have been that when Grimes Creek was made a mining district and laws passed, some provision was made to protect Grimes' rights. As to Grimes, Mr. Wilson said he was a common man, a carpenter, and was wholly carried away with the idea of finding gold in the mountains to the right and east of Boise Valley--when you were traveling west. He had that idea for years, and it was proved correct, although he only lived to know that his idea bade fair to prove correct, and that his life was a forfeit in doing so.
I think his discovery and death hastened, possibly by years, the discovery of mines that have yielded more than $100,000,000 up to this time, and I think his memory should be, and no doubt will be, preserved and honored in Idaho history. And you could claim for Grimes that he:
"Belonged to the legion that never were listed,
They carried no banner nor crest;
But, split in a thousand detachments,
Were breaking the way for the rest."
Yours very respectfully,P.S.--I knew of your old-time Boise residents, Wilson, George and Mark Ainslie, Jacobs, Bilike, B. M. Durrell and Moore, Captain Bledsoe, James A. Pinney, George H. Abbott, Soldier, and all over the divide, also my old friend, Judge Kelley, former owner of the Statesman. Hon. John Hailey, my old friend since 1854, is still with us, but it is sad to think back of the friends now no more.
WM. H. PACKWOOD, SR.
Idaho Statesman, Boise, December 31, 1916, page 4
CONSTITUTION FRAMER IS LAST OF STURDY MEN
Captain William H. Packwood, Participator in Stirring Events
of Early Oregon, Pays Visit to Roseburg.
BY W. A. PETTIT.
ROSEBURG, Or., Nov. 25.--With pathetic interest the world notes the passing away of the old empire builders, and too often it is unaware of their eminent achievements until too late. Their modest lives in old age obscured them from the public gaze and the reporter's pen. Thus it is that the floral wreaths that should have been bestowed upon them during life come only, if at all, after death.
One of these old heroes and argonauts of the Old Oregon--decrepit and bowed over with the weight of 80 years--is here visiting the scenes of his early days. This is Captain William H. Packwood of Baker City.
Fifty years ago he was a member of the convention which framed the constitution of the state of Oregon. Of the 60 members which composed it, he is the last. Of this body, the late Federal Judge Matthew P. Deady was president. Of its sturdy men in after years two became Governors, four United States Senators, two members of Congress, one a Federal Judge, six Judges of the State Courts, and one became Attorney General of the United States and Mayor of Portland City. One enjoyed the distinction of being successively member of Congress, Governor and United States Senator.
Regiment Travels West.Captain Packwood was born in Illinois in 1832 and served in youth as a clerk in the city of Springfield, the home of Abraham Lincoln, whom he often met passing to his law office.
In 1848, a rifle regiment was mustered in at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, for service in the distant Oregon Territory. In this Packwood enlisted for five years. A military escort was required to conduct General Wilson, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Pacific Coast, to California, and it was selected from the rifle regiment, with Packwood as one of its troop. It was also an escort for Major Reynolds, United States Paymaster for Oregon, who came with his official attendants as far as Fort Laramie, and of this number Matthew P. Deady was an assistant teamster.
When the escort reached California, the people there were in feverish excitement over the new gold discoveries, and most of the soldiers at once deserted and scattered to the gold fields.
Great Officers in Camp.Those left wintered in Sonoma. Here was stationed Joseph Hooker, then a young military officer, who afterward in the Civil War became the celebrated General Joe Hooker, of Lookout Mountain fame. Charges were preferred against him for some offense, and he was court-martialed and found guilty. At this trial Packwood was detailed as orderly for the judge advocate, who was W. H. Halleck, who became another of the noted Union generals at the beginning of the war.
There were other young officers there at the same time whom Packwood met and who became afterwards known in history as General Alfred Pleasanton, General Persifor F. Smith, General Casey and General Lyon.
In 1850 the rifle company was sent to Oregon, and the men were stationed at Vancouver. They came in the revenue cutter Ewing to the Columbia River. The ship was commanded by Captain McArthur, father of the late Judge L. L. McArthur, of Portland. The company was soon ordered back and went to California. It was then that the Indians along the coast and in Southern Oregon were becoming troublesome. The siege and terrible fight of Battle Rock, at Port Orford, and the massacre of the T'Vault party at the mouth of Coquille River had aroused the settlements, and the regular troops were called for.
Men Saved in Storm.The rifle company, now transferred to the First Dragoons, with Packwood still in the ranks, was ordered to proceed at once by sea to Port Orford, in Oregon. The ship proved to be unseaworthy, old and leaky, and for almost the whole distance the soldiers were constantly employed in pumping out the inrushing waters of the sea which entered the broken seams. To add to their misfortunes, a heavy fog set in when near their destination, and with this a terrific storm arose, and the ship became unmanageable and was driven upon the beach a short distance above Coos Bay.
As the tide receded the weary crew and soldiers began to remove the commissary stores and munitions, which after united effort, amid much excitement, were soon brought ashore beyond high water. Every life was saved, and the ship soon went to pieces.
Remaining there four months until a way through the unknown forests should be exploited, the survivors then made their way down to Port Orford. This at once became an important military post, other companies being sent there as a further protection. Gold discoveries were now frequent along the beach and in the mountains, and the most celebrated of these was on the coast above the mouth of the Coquille, and by a zealous old Virginian, was named Randolph.
At one time it became a large mining town, and single miners often washed out of the sand in their primitive methods as high as $50 to $150 a day. One of the merchants and packers here was Major Ball, the nearest kin of General Washington--descending from Mary Ball, Washington's mother, and of kin to Charles Washington, the General's brother. He was heir to Balls Bluff, where in a battle of the Civil War Oregon's Senator Baker was killed.
Whites Are Vigilant.Captain Packwood was one of the early miners at Randolph. These mining settlements again aroused the Indians, and the whites assembled at different places for defense. Forts were established and companies formed, and a mutual feeling of hostility pervaded whites and Indians.
The terrible Indian war of 1855-56 was about to sweep over Southern Oregon. The regular soldiers were not sufficient. Captain Packwood was chosen to command the volunteer companies, and he was commissioned by Governor Curry, the Territorial Governor, as Captain of the Coquille Minute Guards.
The Captain's recital of the adventures in which his company participated during this trying ordeal would read more like romance. Fort Roland and Fort Kitchen were welcome places of refuge for the threatened miners and settlers. The prairie and the forest they once occupied have since been grown in grasses and grains for over half a century and their history and names entirely forgotten except in the memory of a very few aged survivors, such as the subject of this sketch.
Forts Guard Settlers.The troops at Port Orford often gave timely service. One in command there was Major Reynolds, afterwards the lamented general killed while leading his forces in the first day's fight at Gettysburg. At the same fort was Stoneman, later a general under Grant and Sherman in the Southern campaign of the Civil War. He also became Governor of California. In the same war Captain Packwood often met A. J. Smith, E. C. Ord, Augur and Kautz, all of whom were distinguished cavalry generals in the Civil War. It was of General Ord's father it was said that he was the son of England's King George IV by lawful wedlock with a Mrs. Fitzherbert, when he was the Prince of Wales. This was shown by disclosures of documents long concealed in the Bank of England. Ex-United States Senator Cornelius Cole, of California, and an old resident of that state in the '50s, knew the Ord family there in those days and in his recent memoirs mentions this incident.
One whose property was entirely destroyed by the Indians of the Coquille in those wars was Henry H. Woodward, now a resident of this city. He is 85 years of age. Captain Packwood, after serving as delegate from Curry County to the constitutional convention, was later elected as the first Assessor of Coos County under the state.
He then followed the gold excitements to Eastern Oregon in 1862, and was one of the founders of the early mining town of Auburn, which he says soon had 40 mercantile stores and a floating population of 3000 people. It was the outfitting point for the numerous placer gold mines far and near. In a few years the precious metal was extracted from the shallow ground and the people abandoned the town. Now there is not a vestige left!
Packwood Appointed to Office.A new county was demanded and created and named Baker in honor of Oregon's Senator killed in the war, and Packwood was appointed the first County Superintendent of Schools for the then-immense territorial empire which the county embraced.
He was also active in promoting some of the most extensive mining ditches in all that country, and also engaged in the development of several well-known quartz mines there.
In the Bannock Indian War of 1877-78 he was chief of the scouts for Malheur district, under General O. O. Howard, who had been one of the great generals of the Civil War.
In the late years of his life he has been and now is an honored citizen of Baker City, where for five successive terms he was elected city recorder.
Patriotism Thrives in Woods.The Captain grows young again as he narrates the incidents of struggling society in the backwoods before the days of wagon roads, post offices or telegraphs. No store was nearer than 40 miles. As he dwells upon a Fourth of July celebration 50 years ago [reportedly in 1859] in the dense myrtle and maple forests of the Coquille River, he becomes intensely interesting. The settlers and miners and trappers came from afar on horseback and in canoes.
Some were dressed in buckskin garments and wore moccasins. Every man carried a rifle.
If rents were made in their one-time "Sunday-go-to-meeting" clothes, they were patched with pieces of flour sacks, often displaying the brand of the mill, such as "Alviso Flour," or "Baker Mills," and the old Captain's eyes twinkled as he related how, as at the sunset the last planks were laid on the ample cedar platform bedecked with ferns and mistletoe boughs, the assemblage was called to order by the cow horn and soon the well-strung violins of [Samuel] Dement and Getchell proclaimed the hour of hilarity in music, song and dance.
Then the whirling mass of pioneer men and women were tripping the light fantastic to the "French Four." Then old-time songs and the swelling notes of "The Old Kentucky Home" awoke the stillness of the sylvan groves, and then the rustic dance was again resumed.
All around were cheery fires which lighted up the arena. On tables around which the noonday feast had been enjoyed were still loads of barbecued elk, deer and bear meats, with plentiful remains of roast chicken, luscious blackberry pies, and the well-baked bread of the Dutch oven, with rich yellow butter and fine-flavored honey, brought to the grounds by the wives and sisters of the pioneer settlers. Nearby under a great white cedar tree was a well-constructed barbecue pit, with great irons still loaded with roasted meats.
Orations are Heard.A colony of Baltimoreans had recently settled there and became a valuable accession to the country. They were a literary and musical people. They brought the first piano to Coos County.
They selected a young boy speaker to deliver the oration, who in recent years became Binger Hermann, Oregon's Representative in Congress. The old miners and Indian fighters selected Captain Packwood, and so two addresses were delivered. The Baltimore boy, fresh from the eastern schools, had prepared a classic oration and delivered it to the satisfaction and applause of the entire assemblage.
The Captain, who had spent so much of his life on the Indian frontier and in the army, found it more difficult to prepare, but fortunately had preserved a copy of a Corvallis newspaper, then edited by James Slater, and which contained a Fourth of July address he [i.e., Slater] had delivered the year previous. It was a model of oratory.
This the Captain had memorized, and this he delivered to the backwoods audience and concluded with deafening applause. It was the surprise of the day and the talk for years. The Captain, however, did not enjoy his fame, for he had a misgiving which followed him and annoyed him until long after. When residing in Eastern Oregon, he met Mr. Slater, who had been a Representative from Oregon and was then elected United States Senator, and the Captain entertained him on the eve of his departure to Washington.
Taking him aside, he explained to him in confidence how in the years gone by he had committed to memory and delivered to a Coos County assemblage of pioneers the Senator's Fourth of July oration as his own, and with which he, the Senator, had several times enraptured a Benton County audience, and he felt he had done the Senator and the old settlers a wrong by thus appropriating that splendid oration and obtaining credit for it as his own composition. The Senator leaned over, and whispering in the Captain's ear, said:
"Do not be at all annoyed; feel perfectly easy; that oration was not mine--I stole it from Patrick Henry."
Oregonian, Portland, November 26, 1911, page 13
William H. Packwood, of Baker, came to this city yesterday to spend a few days during "Elk Week." Mr. Packwood is the only survivor of the constitutional convention held in Salem, in the months of August and September 1857. He came to Oregon with the Mounted Rifles, Colonel W. W. Loring commanding. Of that body of troops Mr. Packwood and George H. Abbott, of Soldier, Idaho, are the only survivors.
"Personal Mention," Morning Oregonian, Portland, July 8, 1912, page 16
CONSTITUTION PIONEER RECALLS 65 YEARS HERE
William H. Packwood, Honored Guest of Legislature,
Is Spry as Youth as Well as Reminiscent on Visit to Portland.
BY ADDISON BENNETT.
Few men can trace their residence in Oregon back to 1850 and still be able to tell of the happenings of the 65 intervening years as intelligently and precisely as can William H. Packwood, of Baker, who is passing a few days in the city after having been the honored guest of the Legislature at Salem. Mr. Packwood was born at Jordan's Prairie, Jefferson County, Illinois, October 25, 1832. He is more than 82 years of age, but one would not think it to look at him. To converse with him, you are assured that he is in full possession of every mental faculty, and certainly he is strong physically.
In escorting him to the art department of the Oregonian to have his picture taken, Mr. Smith, in charge of the art department, though it would be asking too much for the old gentleman to walk up the four flights of stairs into the tower. Bless my soul! He pranced up those steps like a kid on a lark.
When Mr. Packwood was a little less than 15 years old, he enlisted in the United States Mounted Rifles, Captain J. B. Backenstos being the recruiting officer and later his captain. Captain Backenstos has a son who has been for many years living in Portland, being at present engaged at the city hall. Early in 1849, during the Fillmore administration, General Wilson, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Pacific Coast, was ordered to make an inspection of the various agencies.
Trip Made to San Francisco.A convoy of 25 men was selected from Mr. Packwood's regiment, and he was one of the lucky ones. So they marched across the plains from St. Louis to San Francisco. The balance of the regiment was ordered to Vancouver post, and they came over by the northern route, passing the first winter in Oregon City.
General Wilson and his party arrived in San Francisco in January 1850. Mr. Packwood says there were no sidewalks in that city at the time of this visit except one short stretch of boardwalk. About April 5, 1850, the members of the Packwood party who had not deserted were ordered to join their regiment at Vancouver. The revenue cutter Ewing, which was only a little schooner, was ordered to bring them up. Captain McArthur, great-grandfather of our Congressman-elect, C. N. McArthur, was in charge of the Ewing. They had a rough passage of 12 days up as far as the Columbia River bar. Then the storm ceased and it became so calm that the captain could not bring the vessel in over the bar. So a whaleboat was dropped down, a painter made fast from this to the Ewing and a dozen strong men at the oars soon had the vessel anchored opposite Astoria, or Fort George.
Only Four Soldiers Are Left.By this time there were only four of Mr. Packwood's fellow soldiers left with him. The others had deserted, and most had gone to the mines. With these and half a dozen men from the Ewing, Captain McArthur was rowed in the whaleboat up to Vancouver, stopping one night at St. Helens and reaching Vancouver the next night.
He remained at Vancouver about a year and then was sent to Benicia, Cal., going down on the schooner Lot Whitcomb. Soon he and his fellow troopers started for Port Orford in the schooner Lincoln. Drifting into Coos Bay channel, the vessel was wrecked nearly opposite Empire City. Much of the equipment was saved; no lives were lost, but the vessel was a total wreck. Then they had to hew their way out and were four months in getting out and up to their destination.
Mines Attract After Army Term.When Mr. Packwood's term of enlistment expired, September 23, 1852, he made his way down to Curry County, to the vicinity of Sixes River, where there was a big mining excitement. He made his home there for nearly nine years, in the meantime being elected a member of the constitutional convention of 1857. Mr. Packwood is today the only member of that convention living. It does one good to hear Mr. Packwood talk of the personnel of that convention. While he only modestly mentions his own labors, he avers that the legal talent of the convention was never even approached by any territorial convention held in this country.
In 1870 Mr. Packwood removed from Sixes to Baker and has made his home there ever since. His fellow citizens feel proud of him, not only because of his old age and his part in the early affairs of Oregon--they feel proud of him as a man, looking upon him as one of the typical good citizens of a little city where there are many men of mark and merit.
Mr. Packwood is so rugged, like a sturdy oak, that it would not surprise anyone to see him live to become the oldest citizen of the state. The next dozen years will tell the story, and he certainly looks rugged enough to live to be a centenarian.
Oregonian, Portland, February 20, 1915, page 9
WILLIAM H. PACKWOOD DIES AT AGE OF 85
Last of Famous Pioneers Answers Call.
Mantle of Death Envelops Noted Indian Fighter.
CAREER FULL OF ROMANCE
Signer of Constitution, Baker's Most Distinguished Citizen,
Led Adventuresome Life as Gold Hunter, Official, Civilizer.
BAKER, Or., Sept. 21.--(Special.)--Closing a life that for more than half a century was interwoven with Oregon history, death came at 1:30 this afternoon to Judge William H. Packwood, aged 85, who was the last surviving member of the group that signed the state constitution when Oregon was admitted to the Union.
Judge Packwood was venerated by innumerable friends in all parts of the country and was revered by thousands of men who had been in his employ during the years that he was identified with the growth of the state. Traces of his work appear in every corner of Baker County.
Three children survive. They are Mrs. J. L. Rand and William H. Packwood, of Baker, and Jefferson Packwood, of Seattle. Two daughters are dead. There are 14 grandchildren.
Career Full of Romance.Funeral arrangements had not been completed today, but they will be conducted from St. Francis Cathedral.
No man in Baker County had a history more interesting than that of Judge Packwood.
Few pioneers there are in Oregon who can point to a record such as Mr. Packwood's, from the day when he first set foot on Oregon soil in 1849 to the time of his death. Mr. Packwood, bowed under the weight of his 85 years, was still an active citizen, and at the time of his death was concluding a book on the early pioneer history of Oregon, a work to which he devoted the major portion of his recent months. In this history, George H. Himes, of the Oregon Historical Society, has expressed intense interest and declares that it will be an invaluable addition to the historical records of Oregon.
Lad Lincoln's Friend.Mr. Packwood was born at Jordan's Prairie, north of Mount Vernon, Ill., October 23, 1832, and lived there until he was 15 years old. In his youth he met and talked to Abraham Lincoln and could recall conversations he had with the man who was to become America's greatest President. When a boy of 15, in the summer of 1848, he obtained the reluctant consent of his parents and enlisted for service in the Mexican War. He never saw service in Mexico, but instead started on a march to Oregon in May 1849, serving as an orderly until he joined his regiment at Vancouver.
Mr. Packwood used to recount in an interesting manner how, at Astoria, he saw the timbers which had been gathered for the keel of the first steamboat to ply the waters of the Columbia, the Columbia, which made its first trip up the river in 1850.
Warring Indians Subjugated.The youthful pioneer went back to California in the following year and served with Major Wessels in making treaties with the Indians of California. That same year trouble arose with the Indians of the Coquille and Coast tribes, and Mr. Packwood was put in command of an expedition and started by boat to Port Orford. The schooner Lincoln, however, was wrecked in a storm at Coos Bay, January 3, 1852, and this it was which linked Mr. Packwood's early life with Curry and Coos counties and which made it possible for him later to become a member of the constitutional convention. Some supplies were saved from the wreck of the Lincoln, and after camping for a short time Mr. Packwood took his command overland to Port Orford and subjugated the turbulent redskins. He was discharged from army service September 23, 1853, after having served five years.
Although he had not yet reached his majority, Mr. Packwood was at last a free agent to do as he wished. He formed a partnership with George H. Abbott and took up mining, made a little stake and then he and Mr. Abbott bought horses, sold their claims and, after packing and freighting for a while, took up ranching in Curry County. Indians became troublesome, and the youth was made lieutenant of a volunteer company, captained by Mr. Abbott. They subjugated the Indians again and then, in December 1854 he went prospecting to California. He returned to Oregon and in 1855 was elected captain of a company to enter the Indian war. He was commissioned captain of the Coquille Guards by Governor George L. Curry. He took an active part in the Indian war and was instrumental in bringing about the surrender of the three warring tribes.
Lure of Gold Wins.Mining again attracted the young pioneer, and he went in 1857 to the Sixes River mines and soon after was elected by unanimous vote of Curry County to represent it at the state constitutional convention. He was then a youth of 25 and had never even voted, but had taken part in making laws in mining camps and had presided as chairman at miners' meetings. He was worried somewhat as to his qualifications and appealed to Mr. Abbott, his old partner, for advice.
"Be yourself," was Mr. Abbott's sole advice, and thus equipped he joined the convention made up of citizens who were destined to become leaders in Oregon's affairs. Of that little body of men which drew up Oregon's constitution, two later were Governors, four were United States Senators, two were Representatives to Congress, one was a Federal Judge, one became Attorney General of the United States and Mayor of Portland, one State Attorney General, six judges of state courts, one Mayor of Portland, and one had the triple distinction of being successively Representative to Congress, Governor and United States Senator. Of all this list of distinguished pioneers and the others who were members of that convention, Mr. Packwood was the survivor.
Auburn Waterworks Built.The elk in the Oregon seal was placed there at Mr. Packwood's suggestion at that historic convention, while he was also active in the debate on the many questions which came before the body.
It was not long after this that Mr. Packwood went to Siletz and Yaquina, where he was sub-agent for the Indians. He did not stay there long, but returned to Coquille, where he raised cattle and horses and then was elected county assessor, not even knowing he was a candidate until election day.
Business reverses took his ranch away from him in 1862 and, interested in the Blue Bucket strike in Eastern Oregon, he left for this section and helped lay out the town of Auburn, then the mining center of the entire district. He engaged in merchandising, freighting and packing at once, and the first year he was there organized the Auburn Water Company, which after many years became the greatest water company in the entire Baker district, and the plant, which cost $225,000, is now giving water to the city of Baker.
Stump Taken for Lincoln.Among his earlier experiences in Baker County was one which he never liked. He was elected one of three judges to try a Frenchman for poisoning his partner. The Frenchman was convicted by a jury and was hanged. This was in 1862.
The same year, October 16, Mr. Packwood married, soon after being appointed school superintendent for the newly created Baker County.
Among the achievements which he recalled with pride was that he signed the first call for the Union Republican Party in Baker to send delegates to the convention, and he stumped every precinct in the county for Abraham Lincoln.
He had not been in Baker County long before his mines failed and he lost $45,000. He did not have the money, but Mr. Packwood always paid his debts and for years was busy in paying for something which many men might have easily evaded.
For many years then, until 1887, he gave his time to organizing water companies and building ditches in the county. In 1888 he was elected police judge of Baker City and held that office for five years.
Career Active Until Last.The call of gold again was heard by Mr. Packwood in 1893, when he was 61 years old, and he went to Port Orford to engage in beach mining, but he found that the reports of the strike had been colored and he returned to Baker and went with the Columbia Gold Mining Company. Soon after he became assistant postmaster of Baker, then Baker City, and he held that position until he was 78 years old, when he resigned.
For the last six years Mr. Packwood was retired from active business, but he kept an interest in public affairs which was little short of amazing. There must have been something in that historical convention which brought a community of interests among its members. Like the late George H. Williams, Mr. Packwood was an ardent football follower, and never a game was played but he was on the sidelines "rooting."
Oregonian, Portland, September 22, 1917, page 1
Last revised October 2, 2016