The Gibson Family

By Edith Starbuck


            During the Revolutionary War Feb. 12, 1780, a son, named Samuel, was born of Scotch-Irish parentage to Gunyon and Eleanor Gibson in South Carolina. At the age of twenty-two Samuel wedded Tabytha Kennedy, a red-haired Scotch girl, and two years later found them in Tennessee. Whether they were not pleased with their Tennessee home, or the tales of the new country to the west were still more enticing, certain it is that the spring of 1806 found them pioneering in the territory of Missouri.

            They had reached their new home by pack train, and started life in the simplest manner. A little clearing was made in the forest and a tiny cabin built. All the furniture they possessed had to be made by the head of the family and all the clothing and household linens were spun and woven by the capable hands of thrifty Scotch Tabytha.

            For a start of livestock they had been fortunate enough to secure once precious pig. Because the menace of wild animals, for greater safety they had placed the pig-pen quite near the cabin. One day while Tabytha was at home alone she heard loud squeals of distress, and hastening to learn the cause what was her dismay to behold a big bear attacking her cherished porker. But what could she do? She was unarmed, for her husband had taken the gun with him. Every moment her indignation rose higher and higher at the thought of that bear feasting off the pig which they had counted upon to assure them a supply of meat for future years. By the time she had spied the ax she was so angry there was not room for any thought of fear. Seizing it she leaped over into the pig-pen and swung her weapon to such good purpose that not only was the pig saved, but when Samuel returned home he found the larder richer by some good bearsteaks and a warm bearskin robe in process of making.

            Samuel and Tabytha Gibson were the parents of twelve children, eleven of whom lived to reach maturity. There was Mary, Thomas, George, Cynthia, James Daviess, Phillip, Albert, Anthony, Eleanor, Guyon and Delilah.

            The sixth child, Daviess, was born July 30, 1812, and in 1839 he married Sophronia Ingalls in Pike County Illinois. Sophronia Ingalls was born near Bangor, Maine, the daughter of Israel Ingalls of pre-Revolutionary stock and Mary Lord Ingalls, a descendant of Governor Lord of Colonial fame. Daviess and Sophronia Gibson made their home in Pike County, Samuel Gibson, his father, having also settled in the same neighborhood. Here the mother, Tabytha Gibson died in 1847.

            Ten years after their marriage, when the reports of the Oregon country had excited the whole nation, Daviess Gibson became interested. His wife suffered constantly from malaria in Illinois, and he hoped a change of climate might benefit her. But he was no mind without thorough investigation, to rush into a change so hard to remedy. Some of the Ingalls family, his wife’s people, proposed to make the new country their home, and accordingly he and his brother James, and brother-in-law, Joseph Ingalls, decided to accompany them, see the country and return to Illinois to take their own families out later if they were pleased with the prospect.

            In that summer train of ’49 went Arthur Ingalls, Henry Ingalls and wife, and the families of two of their sisters, Elizabeth Ingalls Butler and Roxia Ingalls Keiser. Crossing the plains was in reality Roxia’s honeymoon trip. They were six months on the way and had an uneventful journey, with nothing worse to meet than the unavoidable weariness of so long a trip by so tedious a method. Game was plentiful, Indians not unfriendly, and their chief dangers were the natural exhaustion of their draft oxen and prevalence of mountain fever. Fortunately though some of them were quite ill with the fever none of the company lost their lives.

            Arriving in Oregon, Daviess Gibson found work at his trade, carpentry, which paid good wages. He helped put on the first real shingle roof in the village of Portland, receiving twelve dollars a day for his labor. After some time in the Willamette Valley the three men set out for the California gold fields, where they worked long enough to earn money for their passage home via the Isthumus of Panama, arriving late in the fall of 1850. James Gibson preferred to settle in Texas; but on arrival home they found that, advised by letter that Daviess Gibson and Joseph Ingalls intended removing to the new country, others of the family had gone forward with the emigration of 1850. Among these were Albert and Guyon Gibson, with their families.

            Many of their relations and neighbors planned to join them in crossing the plains in 1852. After his return to Illinois, Joseph Ingalls was married to Daviess’ sister, Delilah, youngest child of Samuel Gibson.

            Daviess Gibson was made captain of the train of forty wagons which crossed the Mississippi river on April 1, 1852, landing at Louisiana Missouri. So accurate was his memory of the trip of ’49 that he said there was never but one night in all their journey when he did not have a definite mental picture of the place they were to make camp, with some idea of its natural advantages.

            Fourteen of the wagons belonged to his own or his wife’s people. These were his father, Samuel Gibson and an orphan granddaughter, Zerelda, who was married to Ben Hayden before the train left the settlements in Missouri; his brother George Gibson and family; William Taylor and family, (his sister Eleanor’s husband); Joseph Ingalls and famil; and Mrs. Mary Lord Ingalls, his mother-in-law, with her two youngest sons, Lyman and Theodore. Lyman was nineteen and Theodore seventeen at this time.

            Of their neighbors the following well-known families accompanied them: the Duniways (father and step-mother of Ben Duniway who was already in the Oregon country); the Brents family, parents of the late Thomas H. Brents, well known judge of Walla Walla; the Haydens, Wylies and Spicers.

            There were many children in the train-Daviess’ own brood, George, Breese, Myra and Cass, their cousins, Sam, James, Sarah, Frances and Frederick Taylor, Wallace Ingalls, and Sam, Benton, Mary Ellen, Porter and Douglas Gibson (children of George Gibson). Then there was Tom, Isabelle and Rebecca Brents, and several each in the Duniway and Wylie families.

            This was a much more difficult trip than that of ’49. Increased emigration had multiplied the perils in many ways. It had depleted the natural supply of feed for the animals, reduced the wild game on which they had counted to supplement their food supply, greatly excited the suspicions and fears of the Indians and driven them to war like demonstrations, and worst of all polluted the water supply.

            Their train met with all the profoundest experiences of life by the way-birth, marriage, death. Before they reached their destination Mrs. Wylie gave birth to an infant which, following the death of the mother from mountain fever, in the absence of any supply of milk, starved to death in spite of the efforts of kindly women to prepare substitutes.

            Cholera smote the train while in the Platte, for this was the season which went down in history as the dread “cholera year”. Samuel Gibson was the first of their company to be smitten-June 8, 1852. Lyman Ingalls also fell a victim, and Eleanor Taylor saw all of her family but one son, Sam, cut down by it within the space of twenty-four hours-her husband, two sons, daughter, and brother-in-law, Newton Taylor. By press of circumstances she was compelled next day to take up the lines and drive a team the rest of the way. They were now so short of men that there was none to do it for her.

            Daviess Gibson, many years in advance of his day in practical knowledge, maintained that the cholera infection was in the water, and begged the people to boil all used for drinking purposes. His own immediate family took this precaution, and none were stricken except his son Breese and Theodore Ingalls, who drank from a water hole while driving loose cattle. But by prompt administration of a huge dose of camphorgum, blue mass and opium Daviess was able to save their lives.

            While many were terrorized by the cholera and fled in panic hoping to our run it, Sophronia Gibson proved her heroic mettle. Though not naturally robust, she was untiring in her care of the sick. Her arms cradled the dying spasms of many a victim, and often her clothing was covered with the spewings of the unconscious patients. Yet she did not contract the disease-surely proof enough that her husband’s theory of the contagion was correct.

            While not suffering direct attack by the Indians, they had a number of anxious days when they considered their escape from trouble to be by a narrow margin. Once a band of warriors, mounted on ponies, came galloping up, divided and raced along either side of the train before they had time to form a barricade with their wagons, evidently tempted to make an attack while they had the emigrants at a disadvantage; but the plentiful supply of guns-many women were armed as well as the men-doubtless discouraged the savages.

            One day a barefoot, hatless, ragged man came limping into their camp claiming their protection, and telling a wild tale of robbery by the Indians. Inasmuch as he retained an old brass-stocked English dragoon pistol they felt his tale did not bear investigation, for it seemed improbable that Indians, who were so crazy for firearms, once having him in their power would have allowed the weapon to slip through their fingers.

            However, they were very short of able-bodied men; and beside they felt they could hardly desert even a whiteman’s dog in that desolate country, to they permitted him to come along to assist Theodore Ingalls for his board. All went well for a short time, until he began to feel secure, and his mean, quarrelsome disposition began to manifest itself. He began ordering Theodore about as if master of the outfit; but they advised the lad to bear it patiently while in that unfriendly country for the good of the train.

            One morning, however, while yoking the oxen, he became so angry because Theodore did not jump to do his bidding at once that he drew his gun and began to chase the boy about the wagon. Soon, passing the rear of the wagon, Theodore had the chance to grasp his own rifle, and he immediately turned the tables on “Mr. Johnny Bull” and kept him hopping around that wagon himself at a lively rate. Joseph Ingalls, seeing the situation, called to his brother, “Don’t shot, ‘Dore.” I know he’s a skunk, but you must not shoot him.” Feeling ran so high in the train that the stranger slipped away as mysteriously as he came. They always suspected that he had committed some crime in another train before coming to them for refuge.

            Arrived at the trying forty-mile desert between the Big Sandy and Green River, they planned to cover as much of the distance as possible by a forced night march, and then try to reach the first water supply the next day. Good fortune awaited them, for in the night a thunder storm brought a heavy rain, and they covered the desert without discomfort to their oxen.

            Soon afterward their cattle were stampeded one night and the best of their stock driven off by Mormons disguised as Indians. Daviess Gibson had invested his ready money in fine stock before leaving Illinois, believing it was as safely transported in that form as any and could be relied upon to bring good returns as soon as he arrived in Oregon. His best mare and best cow were now stolen, and this greatly reduced the family means. Death had claimed too many of their men to permit the risk of pitched battle for recovery of their property, even had they been able to track and overtake the thieves.

            On Snake River the draft oxen began dying from exhaustion and starvation. The Indians were starving, also, and they would eat the dead bodies of these cattle. One night the train was awakened by weird and blood-curdling howls, and immediately made preparations for attack. They thought the herders had been attacked, and sent out scouts to learn if this was true. In their turn the herdmen were alarmed, believing the train to be endangered. Daviess Gibson expressed belief that the awful din was really the wail of mourning; and morning proved this correct. The Indians had eaten a carcass and were dying of ptomaine poisoning.

            Provisions were running low, and some families lost all their draft animals and had to abandon their wagons and proceed on foot, carrying only what they could pack on their backs. Some tried to float down the river in the wagon boxes but soon came to grief in the rapids and some were even drowned. Those who still had oxen, abandoned everything they could spare-tents, bedding, furniture, cooking utensils and even bacon and flour. They tried to help the women and children, but were obliged to leave the men to shift for themselves. Everybody walked as much as possible, to spare the weakened oxen.

            Shoes wore out and the hot sands and sharp rocks cut their feet until the travelers actually left a trail of blood behind them. They resorted to the expedient of walking close behind the wagons in the fresh wagon tracks, where the sand was cooler.

            Scarcity and poor quality of food induced a terrible dysentery and some were near death from it. After nursing her son, George, through an attack, Sophronia almost lost her own life from this plague.

            In the Blue Mountains the mountain fever attacked them. It was here that Mrs. Wylie was taken away from her family and her husband almost followed her. He was saved by the cold packs which Daviess Gibson administered to him. It fell to Sophronia to mother the poor little orphans in addition to her own flock.

            One night when they camped they were astonished to see off to one side an apparently abandoned tent. Something made Grandmother Ingalls apprehensive, and peeping within she saw an unconscious man lying wrapped in blankets. She insisted that the men investigate, and after some difficulty they succeeded in arousing him enough to learn that he had been stricken with fever, and being without any close friends in the train he insisted that they go on and leave him in his tent, since he felt too desperately ill to travel. They had reluctantly consented to his plan. How he beginning to improve, and the train felt they must not leave him there alone.

            But where could they make room for him? Grandmother said she would take him in with Theodore and herself and they brought him on to Oregon. He returned to his family in Ohio, and one day in relating his experiences he told this story of the woman who befriended him in his weakness, mentioned her name. A hearer, William Lord, asked, “What was her given name?” “Mary,” he replied, “I do believe it is my long lost sister, from whom we have not heard for years,” Mr. Lord responded. Securing her address, he wrote to her and so the contact with her people which had been broken because of poor mail facilities of the day, was once more established, much to her joy.

            As friends in Oregon were aware that  the train was coming in ’52, and as the time for arrival drew near they sent out a relief train to meet them. Arthur Ingalls and Ben Duniway, with pack horses and provisions, met them in extreme Eastern Oregon. Sophronia had seen so much sorrow and suffering by the way that even the relief of tears had long been denied her. When she saw her brother, and realized that their safe arrival was now practically assured, the dreadful strain was released, and she wept like a child.

            Now they had food enough, the pack horses could relieve the weakened oxen and the grass for the animals was now more plentiful. On Tygh Creek they found Guyon Gibson awaiting them with fresh yokes of oxen to help them over the Cascade Mountains.

            All three of the men in the relief train found loved ones had fallen to the plague of cholera. Guyon’s father, brother-in-law, nephews and niece were no longer of the company; Arthur’s brother Lyman  was missing, and Ben Duniway’s step-mother was gone.

            Notwithstanding the steepest and most dangerous roads of the whole trip were still ahead of them, this timely help from their friends and relations brought them safely through. They came to Oregon City on the first of October, and were regaled upon a new dish, the royal salmon, for which the Indians were at that time fishing at the falls of the Willamette.

            In Clackamas County, a few miles from Woodburn, they stopped a few days to rest with their people who had taken homesteads there-William and Roxcia Keiser, Henry and Sarah Ingalls and Albert and Mary Gibson. Then they proceeded to Cincinnati-now known as Eola-on the banks of the Willamette. Here they found  the Butlers had established a general merchandise store; and here the family made their home the first winter. All the Ingalls and Gibson families found homes within a day’s journey of Salem. Daviess bought a section of land near the summit of Eola Hills. Here three more children were added to the family-Mary, Dorr and Sarah.

            It is said that the old Gibson homestead is the only one in that vicinity that is still owned and operated by descendents of the pioneer owners. This place is owned by Dorr Gibson, and operated by his son, Fred.

            Mary died before reaching maturity, but of the other children all married except Breese. George married Laura Holmesly, daughter of an early pioneer of Clackamas county. Mary married Thomas Starbuck, who emigrated to Oregon in 1863-too late to be classed among the pioneers. Cass married Melinda Miller of Dallas, Dorr married Harriet Patrick and Sarah married William Patrick of the Spring Valley district.

            Strangely, while there are many descendants of the four Gibson brothers who settled in Oregon, Daviess is the only one who has male descendants of the fourth generation to perpetuate the family name. These are the three sons of Lee Gibson, eldest son of Dorr-Billy, Paul and David.

            The family passed through all the hardships and privations common to pioneer life, but the parents lived to a good old age, Daviess being eighty-two. They won, through hardship, to peace and plenty in their old age, and saw their chosen land develop into a rich and important commonwealth, a heritage they might be proud to pass on to their children’s children.




John Eakin Lyle

By Julia Veazie Glenn


            John Lyle’s schoolroom in Illinois during the winter of 1844 and ’45 was enlivened by a recurring debate of the “Oregon Question.” It was the topic of the day. The boundary line between Great Britain and the United States was still in the dispute. Would congress persist in dilatory tactics and lost control of the shores of the Pacific? Abandon all claim to the mighty Columbia? These questions were on the lips of every settler.

            On the closing day of the term, one after another of Lyle’s pupils said good-bye, adding the information that he would not report for the spring term as his people were striking the Oregon trail. Lyle laughed and replied that his pupils might not escape so easily; that perhaps the schoolroom would overtake them in Oregon. He said it lightly, but when they had gone and he was gathering up quills and papers and leather bound school books he wondered suddenly if in the fabled Oregon country might lie the life and opportunities for which he sought. He had felt the patriotic impulse to go, but he was not at heart a frontiersman. He liked the formalities of life. He loved Tennessee where he was orn and where he had passed his schooldays and later college years. There, he had felt, were conditions better adapted to his abilities and training than was border warfare.

            Yet he could not banish from his mind the picture of Oregon painted by imaginations of that day.

            On the banks of the Columbia within fortified walls dwelt the chief factor of the Hudson Bay Co. Dr. John McLaughlin, whose flowing white locks and imposing stature, as well as his lordly manner, awed the savage heart of the Indian. Dr. John McLoughlin, representative of a powerful British monopoly, able, by a life of the finger to hinder any movement of the few American settlers toward development of trade or of natural resources. To incur his displeasure might precipitate an international conflict, which would doubtless be the sequel for an Indian uprising and massacre of the Americans.

            Opposing the Hudson’s Bay Company was what? Memorials to Congress etched that picture “an infant colony-praying for the high privilege of American citizenship,”  “struggling toward a provisional government in a land without the protection afforded by law.”

            Jason Lee and Marcus Whitman had ridden across the continent pleading for “more men, men and American institutions” to make Oregon “American and Protestant rather than British and Catholic.” John Lyle’s fist clenched. He would make good the threat and set his school in the midst of the valiant colony.

            He walked to the door. The day was bleak. Tall, fair, blue-eyed, carefully dressed, with school books under his arm, john Lyle stood facing the West. The sinking sun reddened the sky. His thought leaped. Who could foretell the future. The little school might grow into a great college. Was Oregon not a land of promise, long coveted by many nations-a land of great rivers and magnificent harbors, where ships came and went, bearing rich cargoes?

            A fertile land of gracious climate where winter was unknown. There, surely, gentle living would quickly flower.

            That evening when his good friend Amos Harvy asked if Lyle would accompany him to Oregon and drive the second wagon, Lyle accepted.

            His business affairs were quickly settled. He was thirty, unmarried and heart-whole-free to go and free to return. A farewell latter to his sister and his brothers, with whom he held in common a paternal estate in Tennessee, came easily for all were young. It was harder to announce the decision to put so many miles between himself and his uncle, John Eakin, who upon the death of Lyle’s parents had taken the lad to his own home near Knoxville, given him a father’s affection and supervised a careful education.

            Lyle faced the hazards of the journey across the plains with zest. He had no family for whose comfort and safety he would be constantly anxious. He had no wagon to load, for which he was devoutly thankful when he witnessed the choosing and discarding of farm implements and loved household goods.

            What did he need? A sturdy saddle-horse, a good gun and a sharp knife. He pulled out the strong birch chest and packed it. Into it went an inkwell and quills, a small Bible, a dictionary and a number of books, some old favorites and some school books; simple toilet articles, changes of clothing and boots, white shirts, ties and a few fancy vests. He was ready to wind his watch, put his money in his wallet, a pipe in his pocket and be off.

            A parting friend presented him a letter of introduction to Miss Ellen Scoot. Her father, Felix Scott, had risen to political prominence in Missouri, where he had caught “Oregon fever.” Perhaps, said the friend, Lyle would meet Miss Scott on the plains. If not, to be sure to find her in Oregon. Lyle smiled at the pretty name-Ellen Scott-and tucked the neat, hand-folded envelope into his wallet-nor guessed that it had been inscribed by the hand of destiny.

            It was by the Platte that the two wagon trains camped together and Ellen Scott and John Lyle met. She was nineteen and as free from care as he-the journey to her, a long gala day. Hearts were young and eyes were bright and there were merry hours around the camp fire at night, within the barricade of covered wagons, beneath the starry, open skies. There was dawn, and noon, and twilight in which to talk of adventure and danger braved and of the high sweet hopes that were winging toward the land of the setting sun. Love came then, as now, with roseate promise.

            Ellen Scott was one of a family of fair people, tall and of dignified presence. On the way to Oregon were Felix Scott, his wife Ellen, three daughters, Ellen, Harriett and Juliet, and sons Felix junior, Marion, Nimrod and Rodney. Felix Junior and Marion, life their father, became known in pioneer days for intrepid spirits and generous hearts. It was Felix who was in 1862 opened the McKenzie Pass. The achievement is commemorated by a stone at McKenzie Bridge. Rodney was several times a member of Oregon legislature, County Judge and a Regent of the State University. In the same company were Eugene Skinner and family, for whom the town of Eugene is named, and James William, well known in Polk county.

            The trains met once again before the Scotts turned off at Fort Hall for a winter in California. Ellen and John parted with the promise of meeting the next summer in Oregon.

            Spring and summer and autumn had come and gone before John Lyle with his wagon had climbed the last mountain and forded the last river of the long journey. Then the swing down the Columbia on rafts brought him face to face with Dr. McLoughlin, “autocrat of the Columbia.” Lyle marveled at what he saw and found no explanation. Dr. John McLoughlin, protector of British interests on the Pacific, at the cost of his own position, was furnishing goods and shelter to needy American immigrants, advancing necessary supply and trusting without security to payment when the first crops came in. No man, British or American, could fathom the workings of the McLoughlin mind in those days. So all distrusted him.

            Almost immediately Lyle opened a school at the residence of Col. Nathaniel Ford who had come to Oregon the preceding year and had located on a donation land claim near what is now Rickreall. He had built a double log cabin with a fireplace in each end and generously gave the use of one room for the first school in Polk county, taught by John E. Lyle during that winter of ’45 and ’46.

            Lyle bordered with Col. Ford, and in so doing stepped into the niceties of living, which he had dreaded to forego in coming to Oregon. The Fords represented pioneering “deluxe.” Not only were they cultivated people and well-to-do, but also they had with them three negroes who performed the farm and household labor. It was a happy winter for Lyle. Mrs. Ford and her daughters were dainty women. The two older daughters, Josephine and Mary had attended “The Female Seminary” at Columbia, Missouri. They had marched  at the laying of the cornerstone of the Columbia University, July 4, 1840, and rejoiced that their names were placed in the stone. That evening their father had taken them to the ball-two charming little figures, in full-skirted white dresses with long tight-fitting waists, very short sleeves, long white silk gloves and blue ribbon sashes, white hose and black slippers with ribbons round the ankles tied in a bow. Young Markus Ford had attended Bacom College, Harrodsburg, Kentucky. Col. Ford who was surveying and assisting in locating land claims brought home the news of the valley.

            Children came from neighboring settlements to attend the school and boarded with families near Col Ford. The Applegate children came from Salt Creek where Jesse, Lindsay and Charles Applegate had located. Among the pupils was little Mary Embree who many years ago became Mrs. Thomas Hayter. She gives the list of scholars, as she today (1924) remembers them:

            Sarah and Caroline Ford, Mary and Thomas Embree, Amanda Tharp, Caroline and Pauline Goff, Ann and John Howard, Gertrude Applegate and two Applegate boys.

            For the next term she adds: Martha Howard, Millie Ford, three Blevens children and three Beagle children.

            On February 5, 1846, there was published at Oregon City, the first issue of the “Oregon Spectator” which was the first newspaper published in American Territory West of the Rocky Mountains. In the issue of March 19, 1846, we find the following notice:

                        Jefferson Institute

            Is located in the Rickreall Valley, one mile West of the residence of Col. W. Ford. The first session of the school will commence on the second Monday of next April and continue twenty-four weeks. Scholars from a distance can be accommodated with boarding in the neighborhood. Terms of tuition, $8.00 per scholar. John E. Lyle, Teacher.

W. Ford, James Howard, William Beagle, Trustees. (Dated) March 7, 1846.                            Jefferson Institute was held in a log cabin built expressly for a schoolhouse on the land claim of Carey Embree. It is to Mary Embree (Mrs. Hayter) that we must go for details of the first school days in Polk County. Benches made of long planks were placed along the walls and the children sat facing the wall, using for a desk a puncheon, a wide board, propped against the walls. Pens were made of sharpened goosequills, many of them kept in readiness by Mr. Lyle. The first pencils were lead bullets hammered flat and long. Ink was made by squeezing the juice from Oak balls and letting it stand on iron fillings. The writing paper was blue and probably purchased of the Hudson’s bay Company. The pioneers had brought school books; Carey Embree bought enough to keep the children advancing for three years. The Bible was read in the morning, each child reading a verse. There was a lunch period, also recess, during which the boys played ball with knitted balls on one side of the house, while on the other side the girls jumped the rope with ropes made of braided rawhide.  

            A pulpit was placed in Jefferson Institute. The cabin was used for Church and for all general gatherings. Lyle was a Presbyterian. Denominational differences were ignored, and missionaries of all churches were welcomed. Mac Waller preached there, as did John Boone and Glen O. Burnett. People came from miles away and through the Sabbath morning in those early days could be heard the men’s voices urging on their ox teams as they approached the Institute. Hospitable cabins welcomed the arrivals and happy hours of visiting followed the religious services before the slow moving oxen were turned homeward.

            In summer additional shelter for the congregation was provided by setting forked tree limbs upright across the front of the building and covering them with fir boughs. The young girls sometimes decorated the room by filling the fireplace with greens and inserting yew boughs in cracks along the log walls. When they had finished, says Mrs. Hayter, they carefully swept all litter from the doorway with branches of snow-berry.

            Court, too, was held in Jefferson Institute during that year. The first provisional county circuit court was convened on September 6, 1846. On a high steel shelf in the vault of the Polk county court house lies a little time-worn volume that bears on yellowed leaves the clear and legible record of the first circuit court of Polk county. In some miraculous way these records escaped when the Court House burned in 1898. On the first page of the old record is written:

            “Be it remembered that, at a circuit court, begun and held at the Jefferson Institute, within and for the county of Polk, on the first Monday in September, it being the sixth day, A.D. 1846, when were present Hon. A.A. Skinner, judge of the Circuit Court. Oregon Territory, and Benj. F. Nichols, sheriff of said county. When the court was opened in due form of law by the sheriff the court ascertained that no vanire for grand jury had been issued, also that the office of the clerk of the county court was vacant,  proceeded to the appointment of J.E. Lyle, clerk, pro. tem. Of the circuit court for Polk county, and the oath of office was administered to him. There being no prosecuting attorney present and the member of the bar present refusing to act pro tem. The court proceeded to the business of the docket.”

            Lyle’s records are a clearly written and plain exposition of the court proceedings. He was clerk “pro tem.” both of the provisional court and later district court-always “pro. tem.” For Lyle was a Whig in a county of Democrats and voted the Whig ticket, it is said, when but one other man in the county voted with him.

            In June ’45 Felix Scott and family with pack horses through Southern Oregon from Sutter’s Fort in California. They came saddened by the recent death of Harriet. They went to the Joseph Watt home near Amity. The June air was sweet with the fragrance of  wild roses and of the wild orange blossom and the strawberries reddened on sunny hills when John Lyle and Ellen Scott met again. Before the leaves had turned to gold the wedding day was set. They were married November 3, 1846, by Glen O. Burnett at the home of Joseph Watt where Felix Scott was then living. John and Ellen mounted their horses and rod to the Ramage neighborhood, where he taught school for a short term of school. During the winter they returned to Jefferson Institute where a cabin near the school had been built for them. Mrs. Scott had kept slaves busy at the looms for a year before she came to Oregon and brought bolts of linen cloth, table cloths and sheets. So Ellen Lyle was well supplied with linen, had a dozen dresses and a feather bed and pillows for housekeeping. Each of her granddaughters had today a square of one of the first hand-woven tablecloths. The supply of dishes and cooking equipment was very limited until after 1849. Older house keepers had managed to tuck dishes into feather beds and bring them safely but the first brides had rather sorry looking tables. A Dutch oven, a three legged skillet, a crane and kettle over good oak coals could broil grouse, roast potatoes, brown hominy, bake salt-rising ginger bread-what more could one desire?

            Carey Embree presented Elle Lyle with her first broom of broom corn, grown in his garden and made by his own hands. Previously she had used one of those in general use, made of hazel stick finely split and peeled back and bound together with buckskin sinew, making long-handled broom. In the spring there was a fine garden in the lowland by the creek. There were school and church and court and kindly neighbors, and Ellen and John Lyle were so content that when they rode up through the valley and found that Mitchell Gilliam had decided to sell the rights to his claim they took it. A portion of that original claim is the “Lyle Farm” now owned by Harriet Lyle Veazie, daughter of John Lyle and Ellen.

            It must have been about this time that a store was located on that land. Bits of stone from the chimney still lie on a little mound in the oak woods, marking where the old territorial road wound by. The only articles in existence known to have ben brought at the store are two pictures treasured by Mrs. Frank Collins (Elizabeth Gilliam). She tells that her father, Colonel Cornelius Gilliam, took her and her sister Retta to the store in the cabin. The little girl saw the pictures and were so captivated that Colonel Gilliam purchased for on the “Morning Prayer” and for the other the “Evening Prayer.” The two little girls were transported into solemn rapture. They looked into each other’s eyes and vowed to reassure the pictures as long as life should last and that the first to die should leave hers to the other. The two hang on Elizabeth’s walls.

            “Simple days,” you say, perhaps, “and free from care.”

            Recall for a moment the year 1847. The Indians as they saw more and more land claimed by the whites were becoming sullen and threatening. The boundary line was settled, but no United States government provided and, worse still, no recognition of legislative or judicial acts of the Provisional Government. Anxiety over land titles was becoming acute. The man who braved the hardships of the journey across the plains to win the “square mile of land” wanted to be assured of a title. There were no troops and no supplies for military defense. It was not pleasing to remember that if trouble came all munitions of war were to be found in the store houses of the Hudson’s Bay Company at Vancouver where James Douglas, Chief Factor, (Dr. McLoughlin had resigned) acted under strict and explicit order from London. War with the Mexicans was in progress in California.

            There had been no effort to improve or even mark a road from the Western states or Oregon. There was not even a provision for transportation of mail across the continent. The isolation was becoming intolerable. Oregon was politically non-existent November 29, 1847, was the day of the Whitman Massacre. Then horror, fear of the Indians, suspicion of the Catholic priests, distrust of the British, and burning of humiliation over the indifferences of the United States!

            Jefferson Institute was used as recruiting station for troops to be sent against the Cayuses. School was held, court convened, the women smiled and tended their little flower gardens of hollyhocks and love-apples, of French pinks and feverfew and watched with grave eyes the medicinal beds of peppermint and catnip, tansy and hoarhound. They smiled and listened always for the hoof beats that might herald a messenger from the fighting men.

            Harriet Lyle was born in the cabin near Jefferson Institute. When she was a few weeks old, Ellen Lyle mounted her horse, took her infant daughter on her knee and rode to her father’s house in Amity. When she returned she carried a little chair on her foot.

            During the first winter in Oregon, Felix Scott, Sr. had whiled away the dark days by fashioning a little chair out of an ox-bow and yoke that had been used in crossing the plains. The raw hide seat he made of the hide of a cow that had died on the plains. He designed it for his tiny daughter Linn but she had no love for it so it went to Harriet Lyle. The little chair is still in existence.

            In the summer of ’48 came the gold rush. Incredible it seems that women of the valleys who had lived in daily dread since the Whitman Massacre should consent to let their men go for any amount of gold. But they did. Many claims were held by women and young boys and little children. John Lyle was gone a few months and brought back $1000 in gold. He taught in the Applegate settlement (1848) and then at La Fayette with young Matthew P. Deady as assistant. Oregon was recognized as a territory, donation land rights were upheld, and on August 20, 1850, Ellen Lyle mounted in her horse and took baby Joan in her arm and John Lyle mounted his horse with little Harriet on before they rode away to the home on La Creole.

            They used the log cabin that Mitchell Gilliam had built and added to it as need demanded. An agent for “Luellings Traveling Nursery” came by and Lyle took a number of fruit trees. That they flourished is evidenced by an entry in an old ledger used by W.C. Brown in his pioneer store. The entry is dated October 25, 1856. John Lyle is credited with three bushels of apples at $24.00. The aged trees blossom bravely and in the spring the old orchard is sweet with the fragrance of the flowering cherry, the plum, the pear and the apple. There one finds the old favorites, the Golden Sweet, Gloria Mundi, Rambeau, Red June, Sweet June, the damson plum, the little summer pear, the gourd pear, the pound pear, the concord grape.

            An old record relates that on May 9, 1851, a meeting of the county court was held at the residence of John E. Lyle, north of La Creole, and the members of that court were Harrison Linville, David R. Lewis and Thos. J. Lovelady; H.M. Waller County clerk. At that meeting it was ordered that a court house, two stories high should be erected at Cynthian, located where North Dallas now stands, and later changed by legislative act to “Dallas.” The county donation square on which the court house was located was a portion of the John E. Lyle claim.

            The dimensions of the court house were as follows: Thirty-four feet in length by twenty-four feet in width, the lower story nine feet in height and the upper store six feet in height. This court house with an addition of twelve feet served until 1859. That it was promptly completed we find in the first circuit Court Record:

            “Term of District of the United States in and for the county of Polk and Territory of Oregon begun and holden at the Court house in Cynthian”-“on the first Monday of October, the same being the sixth day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and fifty-one.”

            The next public service on record in which Lyle was concerned was the establishment of La Creole Academic Institute. A glance through the records, beginning February 5, 1855, reveals that it was a far-seeing project. The minutes are signed by Horace Lyman, Secretary. “The meeting called for the purpose of establishing an Academy at or near Dallas was help pursuant to call at the Court House and came to order by choosing Mr. Harvy to the chair, H. Lyman, Secretary.” Trustees elected were R.P. Boise, N. Lee, Wm. Lewis, I. Roberts, J.E. Lyle, F. Waymire, A.W. Sweeny, J.M. Frederick and Horace Lyman. The trustees were to draft a charter, select a location and report at the next meeting. It was decided at this meeting that “the provisions of the charter be made such as to leave with the teacher at the time employed, whether or not the exercises of morning and evening prayer should be had.”

            R.P. Boise was elected president of the Board of Trustees, plans were presented for the building and each Trustee was requested to act as solicitor to obtain funds for the institute. F. Waymire made “the offer of twenty acres on the South side of La Creole” for S. Shelton, which offer was “subsequently raised to twenty-five acres upon the offer of J.E. Lyle and W. Lewis to donate 40 acres each should the Institute be located on the South side of the creek.”

            Under date of July 12, 1855, we are told that the “Trustees proceeded to the Seminary grounds to lay them out.” “Upon measuring them it was found that the ground donated, owing to the withdrawl of Mr. Leavens was insufficient, however laid out, to be of much immediate service of the Institute.” “The day wore away” without a decision and the Trustees adjourned until 8 o’clock the next morning.

            The next morning the Trustees met and evidently had done effective work overnight. “Present were R.P. Boise, H. Lyman, J.E. Lyle, W.P. Lewis and Nicolas Lee-a quorum.” Lewis raised his donation to 40 acres, Shelton raised his to 32 acres and Lyle still offered the original 40 acres. Deeds were made out, the Trustees “fixing upon the spot where to place the building, laying off twenty-four rods square for the Academy grounds, and laying off a street of eighty feet all around with total one hundred feet by one hundred and fifty feet bordering, the several deeds were all signed, acknowledged and delivered.”

            A good day’s work was that! Not only was “La Creole Academic Institute” located and endowed with land, but a site for Dallas arbitrarily fixed, with the wide streets that are so dignified. Lots facing the Academy square were offered for sale at $100 each. A little later it was considered expedient to donate lots to certain individuals such as merchant, taverner, blacksmith, cabinet-maker and the like, provided they would “commence building early next season.”

            The first teach of la Creole Academic Institute was Reverend Horace Lymann, with Miss Elizabeth Boise as assistant.

            At this time John Lyle began to see within his reach the house of his dreams, the spacious home which should adorn a sightly spot on the highland back from the creek. Little by little he and Ellen had saved toward it but now the herds were large and thriving and the top drawer in the mahogany chest of drawers was almost full of gold coin. They had spent happy years in the log cabin and it was a cozy place. There was a little cook-stove in the kitchen and in the living room a fireplace where oak fires glowed, with bellows and hand-wrought poker and tongs and shovel at hand; the big clock and brass candlesticks on the shelf above. There were mahogany table and mirror, with rawhide seated and wooden Windsor chairs about the room. Many friends crossed the flat stone doorstep, neighbors, attorneys and judges who came to court and many travelers going to or returning from the Nesmith-Owen Grist Mill.

            The contract for the house now standing on the Lyle Farm was let to Wm. Pitman in 1858. J.M. Campbell, one of the carpenters, a few years ago gave the following details of the buildings: “The sills of the house are 12x12 and rabbited to receive the boxing, which is 2 inches thick and all jointed and groved and tongued, that is, both edges are groved and tongues put in. The lumber was all kiln dried before it was worked. There was not a planer mark in the whole house, flooring, ceiling and everything else dressed by hand, the mouldings of the cornice were all made by hand. Pitman had the contract by the piece and square-floor, ceiling, roof, etc., by the square 10 ft. square or 100 ft. Doors, window frames, the stairway, etc. by the piece. Joseph Vanarks built the stairway.”

            The front door is hand-made, was “grained” and has the position of the lock reversed-with the keyhole upside down as would now say. The key is six inches long.

            In ’59 the Lyles were settled in the new home. That year Lyle planted a grove of trees on the North, of the house, firs, maples and silver poplars. The three firs at the corner on the Ellendale road, and the poplar in front of the house are some of those trees. A hard winter in eastern Oregon devastated the herds he had sent there, and in order to make good the loss Lyle went to the mines in Eastern Oregon. He was taken ill almost immediately after reaching his destination and died there in 1862.

            His children were Harriet, Joanna, Alonzo, Alfred, Felix, William and Julia. Alonzo, Felix and Julia died in infancy.

            John Lyle was allotted seventeen years in Oregon. He made good use of them. His work has endured. It is sixty-two years since he passed. Great-grandchildren play on the hill with the wagon that he made for the amusement of his own children in 1859. The old records lie clean and legible in the worn volume on the court house shelf. The academy lands and funds materially aid the Dallas High School. The spacious house stands amid the spreading trees that he planted so long ago. The few who still remember him say that John Lyle was a gentleman and a scholar.



The Dempsey Family

By Harriet B. Sibley


            It is recorded in the Pennsylvania archives that one Cornelius Dempsey, served in the Revolutionary War in a militia company in Chester County in 1780-1. Cornelius Dempsey or Dimsey as it is written in the records of Northumberland county where this family lived during the Revolution and until 1812, owned a farm of about 220 acres in Buffalo and West of Buffalo Townships. His wife was Ann Iddings, a relative of General Anthony Wayne through his mother, who was Elizabeth, a daughter of Richard Iddings and Margaret Phillips of Chester county.

            When Cornelius decided to enlist in the army, he took his wife and three small children, James, Mary and an older daughter, to Philadelphia on horseback, and left them with his wife’s people. They were there during the siege and capture of Philadelphia by the British. It was during this time that Cornelius Dempsey, having returned to his farm in Northumberland County, his oldest little daughter became very ill, and Ann Dempsey tied a letter around the neck of the family dog, which had been left with her, telling him to go home to his master. The dog traveled the distance of over 130 miles and Mr. Dempsey came on horseback to Philadelphia, but too late to see the child, which was buried before he arrived.

            In the fall of 1786, Cornelius Dempsey met with accidental death while building a log house in Northumberland county, a piece of timber falling upon him. He left three minor children besides his widow. The children, Mary, James and Jonathan, grew up and James married Susannah Piper. In 1812 they all moved to Jackson county, Ohio. Ann Dempsey lived with Jonathan, and died in Ohio. James and Susannah had eight children, the youngest of whom was Isaac Iddings Dempsey, born in Ohio, August 21, 1820.

            In 1837 the family removed to Knox county Illinois, where Isaac met and in 1840 married Nancy Ferguson.

            Nancy Ferguson was born in Hart County, Kentucky, Feb. 19, 1820. She was the daughter of James Ferguson and Martha Maxey. The Fergusons came from Virginia and settled in Hart county, Kentucky, after the Revolutionary War. Martha Maxey was a daughter of Ephriam Maxey and Nancy Woodfin of Hart County. An extract from the will of Ephriam Maxey proved in 1825, reads as follows: “I give and bequeath unto my beloved wife Nancy Maxey the plantation whereon I now live, as well as all my personal property….during her natural life or widowhood for the support of herself and children…..”

            “I give and bequeath unto my daughter Martha Ferguson, a negro girl I own and that she holds now in possession, together with one hundred and seventy-five dollars worth of property which she has already received.”

            About the year 1832 James Ferguson with his family consisting of his wife and six children, his brother Hugh and sister Polly, with their families went north and settled in Knox County, Illinois. James and Martha Ferguson had eight girls and two boys. Their daughter Cynthia was the first white child born in Orange township, Knox county. She was born May 6, 1833. Polly Ferguson, the sister of James and Hugh married Turner Roundtree in Hart county, Ky. Her daughter was Betsy Roundtree Murphy, one of the oldest settlers of Monmouth, Oregon. James Ferguson served as a Major in the Black Hawk Indian War in Illinois, and his brother Hugh as fifer. James and Hugh married sisters, and Hugh’s descendants are living in Oregon-Mrs. Amanda Ruble of Amity and Frank Ferguson, who has served as Sheriff of Yamhill county. James Ferguson and his wife died in Illinois, he in 1841 and she in 1861.

            James Dempsey, the father I.I. Dempsey, was a judge in Jackson County, Ohio. He died at Knoxville, Illinois in 1859.

            The children of Isaac and Nancy Dempsey, all born in Knoxville, Ill., were Julia who married William E. Goodall; James A., who married Alice I. Embree; Chestina, who married Isaac Newton Davidson, and Mary, who married David Ostrom Bronson.

            After coming to Oregon in 1862, the family lived for the first winter in Monmouth. A few years later they moved to Rickreall where the reminder of the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Dempsey was spent. Mr. Dempsey was elected as representative to the State Legislature in 1866, and in 1884 was elected County Judge. In politics he was a Democrat. The town of Rickreall was first named Dixie by him.

            Theodore C. Thorp owned a flour mill at Falls City before there was any town there. In the year 1865 this mill was moved to Rickreall by I.I. Dempsey for a one-half interest in the same. In 1869 T.C. Thorp deeded his interest to Abel Uglow who purchased Mr. Dempsey’s interest in 1870. This mill property was deeded in 1875 to James Morrison and Thomas Young. Morris and Young sold to Kratz, Washburn and Munch in 1872. The property passed into the hands of Geo. White and Andrew McDaniel and the mill was destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt and became the property of Frank Gibson, The Dallas Bank and Chet. Coad, and later of Peter Cook and William Rowell.

            During the last few years of the life of Isaac I. Dempsey, he was blind. He died on June 25, 1887, his wife on Oct. 3, 1894, and they are both buried in the Burch cemetery east of Rickreall.


                        My Trip Across the Plains

                        By Mary J. Dempsey Bronson

                        (Written by Mrs. Bronson in 1915)

            In the spring of 1862 I left my home in Knox County Illinois to come to the Western State of Oregon. WE had quite a company of our own, my father I.I. Dempsey, having three four-horse teams, a carriage and two other horses, two men for each wagon, besides my father and a man to care for the loose horses; making in all twelve persons with my parents, two sisters and one brother. I often wonder how my mother and sisters ever managed to cook for so many on such a long journey. The man who cared for the two horses was a baker by trade and he was to do all the baking, but he made such a complete failure with his first baking, he was never asked to bake any more. We thought he had an object in doing it so he would not have any more to do.

            We crossed the Missouri River at Omaha where we met with many other travelers coming to the west. They formed into a company and elected my father captain of the train. I do not remember how many wagons there were with us, but there was quite a large company. We kept close together for fear of the Indians, stopping before night to let our horses feed on the green grass. Our wagons were all formed in a circle to make a corral at night for the horsed to be placed in, and men stood guard all night. In the morning they were taken out to feed again. One night a young man who was standing guard got sleepy, got into our carriage, and was found fast asleep. I had a cage of canaries in there, and he was laughed at more than he liked, about guarding my birds instead of the horses.

            Oh, the long dreary, hot days we had traveling up the Platte River; through the deep sand we would travel for miles and miles without see-have to carry our wood with us to do our cooking. Some people used buffalo chips, but we never did. We brought a small iron cookstove with us; the only one in the train. When we would stop for a few days to rest our horses, our stove would never be idle.

            We had some musicians with us; my uncle and cousin both played the violin, and another young man rattled the bones. Some evenings they would smooth down the sand and dance for a while. It was the first dancing I ever saw. One Irish woman in the train came bare-foot all the way. Some of the boys said she could strike fire with her heels. Another one wore bloomers; a very sensible way of dressing for such a trip. They called her “the wild goose”. One family had a small child; they brought their cow with them; the only one on the train; she came all the way through; would take the lead in the morning as if she knew where she was going.

            We passed through several different tribes of Indians and many Indian villages, but did not have any trouble with them. Many thought the most of the murdering was done by the Mormons. One morning a company of Cheyennes came to us all dressed in their war paint and feathers which created quite a little excitement. Our little baker got frightened and was found giving away all our bread to keep on the good side of them. They were not hostile with us, but were warring with the Pawnees across the river, and came to us to inquire if we had seen their enemies.

            We saw deer, bear, buffalo, antelope and wolves and many a lonely grave by the side of the road where some one had left a loved one. I suppose we had had as pleasant a trip as most any other travelers making so long a journey. We had no serious illness and our company was very agreeable. Sometimes when the dogs would get into a fight the men would lost their tempers.

            When we got to where there was no danger of Indians, our company began to scatter out to different places. Quite a number stopped at the beautiful valley situated in the Blue Mountains called Grand Ronde. It is said that two thousand located in that valley in 1862, while eight thousand passed on down the Columbia.

            We arrived at the Willamette, the land of red apples, the first of October, and thought we had got to paradise, after being without fresh fruit all summer. The first year we lived on David Whiteacre’s farm three miles north of Monmouth. The next year we lived on Dr. Boyle’s farm three miles east of Dallas, and in 1865 my father moved the Thorp Flouring Mill from Falls City to Rickreall for half of it. Mr. Thorp and he were partners for some time.

            It seems strange that we would leave a good home, many friends and relatives to come to Oregon, but we came to be away from civil war. We lived in the north; our sympathies were with the south. Oregon was so far away, they did not hear much about the war; no railroads across the plains; you had to go around by Panama or travel the long dreary road we came over. If we sent a letter back to our friends, it was a long time in getting there and cost us ten cents. Polk County had then but five towns that I remember: Dallas, Independence, Eola, Rickreall and Monmouth. Dallas had but two stores, run by W. C. Brown and John Waymire, who had also a flouring mill. Dry goods and groceries were all sold over the same counter. Mr. Robb had a Drug Store and William Clinghan a saloon. Mr. T.J. Lovelady ran the only hotel, which stood where Stafrin’s Drug Store now stands. There were two churches, the Methodist and Baptist. The Baptist is the same as they use it now, only remodeled. The Methodists have built a new one. The old jail is the same as when we came here. The merchants had to bring their goods with teams from Portland or have them come to Independence by boat and then bring them here. Not many buildings are standing today that were here when we came, and not many people living today that lived here then.

            My first picnic in Oregon was a May Day Picnic on Mt. Pisgah. Miss Roxy Moore was crowned queen of May. Her crown was a wreath of apple blossoms. My first watch meeting was at the Baptist church. When they thought it was about time for the New Year to come, they inquired if any one had a watch. There was none in the house and they had to send out and borrow one. Very few people possessed a watch in those days. A.C. Gibbs was Governor of Oregon. The population of Oregon in 1860 was only 52, 405. She had been admitted into the union only one year before. In 1869 the railroad was completed from the east to San Francisco. In 1869 they commenced building a railroad on each side of the Willamette. Five years later the east side road was furnished to Roseburg. The roads were both completed 19 years later. The Northern Pacific was built in 1883. Portland, when we came, had about as many inhabitants as Dallas has today.   


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