Tales of Pioneers
Early History of Silas J. Day,
One of the First-Comers to Southern Oregon.
The Trip West via the Isthmus of Panama in the '50s
Had its Hardships As Well As the Overland Route.
There were few in the ranks of the pioneers of Southern Oregon more public-spirited and far-seeing than the late Silas J. Day, who for many years played an active part in state and county affairs. He was responsible for many permanent improvements during his official career and transacted the public business entrusted to him in a manner that won the confidence and lasting esteem of the early settlers in this part of the state.
Mr. Day was born in Ann Arundel County, Maryland, April 3rd, 1826. He arrived at San Francisco, Calif. in the month of April 1849, and in 1851 made his first trip into Oregon, returning to California the same year. A couple of years later he decided to make his home in Oregon, and on July 13, 1853 located a Donation Land Claim on Little Butte Creek. Mr. Day was residing on his claim when the Indian war of 1855 broke out. He immediately enlisted and was elected orderly sergeant in Captain Miles F. Alcorn's Company G, Ninth Regiment, Oregon Militia, organized "to serve against the Yakima and other Indians," and, upon the resignation of Lieut. James H. Matney in 1856, was promoted to a lieutenancy in the company. He, together with the rest of the company, was mustered out of service on June 13, 1856.
Silas J. Day and Mary E. McGhee, a native of Boone County, Missouri, whose family is also numbered among the pioneers of Oregon, were married at Portland, Oregon, on May 22, 1871, and four children were born to them, Mary L., Elsie C., Silas E. and Edward M. Day.
By an act of the Legislative Assembly of the State of Oregon, approved October 23, 1872, a Board of Commissioners was appointed to lay out and construct a wagon road through Jackson, Grant and Baker counties. It was known as the Southern Oregon Wagon Road and was 313½ miles in length. At the organization of this board Mr. Day was elected chairman and continued in office until July 1874 when, its labors being completed, the board was dissolved.
He was elected county clerk of Jackson County at the June election of 1874 and in 1876 was elected county judge, holding the latter office continuously for a period of eight years. It was during his administration as county judge that the present Jackson County courthouse was erected.
After the expiration of his term as county judge, Mr. Day opened a real estate and insurance office in this city. He was also an abstractor of land titles and notary public and maintained an office here until the time of his death some few years ago.
Mr. Day was a prominent member of the I.O.O.F. In 1868 he was elected Grand Master of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows of Oregon, and in the following year was Grand Representative to the Sovereign Grand Lodge of the order in the United States.
Mrs. Day arrived in Oregon in 1854, coming by way of the Isthmus of Panama and, though but a child, retains a vivid recollection of the hardships connected with the trip. The party of emigrants with whom Mrs. Day crossed the isthmus was compelled to voyage up the Chagres River in open boats for a day and a night with absolutely no shelter from the driving rain, which fell continuously. The remainder of the distance was made on muleback. As a result of this exposure Mrs. Day's mother died and was buried at sea on the voyage between the isthmus and San Francisco. During this voyage the ship's supply of drinking water turned bad, and for three days the emigrants suffered severely from thirst.
Mrs. Day's father, J. W. McGhee, first preceded his family to the western El Dorado, crossing the plains in 1851. He was a minister of the Gospel and conducted the first religious services held in Yreka, California. In 1852 he came to Oregon and located a Donation Land Claim near where Bybee Bridge now stands. He was known to the Indians as a "Bible man," and as such held in great respect by them. Before the Indian outbreak of the '50s, Old Sam and Old Joe, chiefs of the Rogue River Indians, warned Mr. McGhee that trouble was brewing and advised him to leave the country for a time. Mr. McGhee followed this advice and returned after the uprising was quelled, only to find that his claim had been "jumped," whereupon he moved to the Willamette Valley, where his family made their home.
In 1855-56 Mrs. Day attended the Tualatin Academy at Forest Grove, of which institution Dr. Marsh was president. Among her schoolmates were a number of Walker, Owens and Spaulding children, survivors of the Marcus Whitman party massacred by the Cayuse Indians at Waiilatpu in 1847. Two of Dr. J. W. Robinson's sisters, Jane and Ellen Robinson, attended the same academy.
Since 1871, the date of her marriage, Mrs. Day has resided in Jacksonville. She shows few traces of the hardships she was called upon to endure and possesses a wealth of reminiscences of early days in Southern Oregon, when flour was sometimes an almost unknown quantity and an ounce of salt was placed in the scales and traded for an equal quantity of gold dust.
Jacksonville Post, June 19, 1920, page 1
Last revised July 3, 2011