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ASAHEL BUSH. – The subject of this memoir, Asahel Bush, of Salem, is no ordinary man. His strong personality, quick and clear perception, energy and persistence of purpose, together with his strong common sense, would have made him distinguished in almost any walk of life.
Mr. Bush was born at Westfield, Massachusetts, on June 4, 1824. His father, whose name he bears, was a person of prominence in the community, being frequently chosen to fill its public offices. His mother’s name was Sally Noble; and both his father’s and mother’s families were among the oldest of the town, having settled there in the early part of the seventeenth century. The homestead on which he was born has been in his father’s family, in a direct line, for a century and a half, and is now owned and occupied by one of his descendants. Asahel attended the common school of the neighborhood, and then the academy of the village, until his father’s death, which occurred when he was but fifteen. Soon after this he quit school and went to Saratoga Springs, New York, where he spent upwards of three years learning and working at the art of printing. Then he worked a few months at Albany, on the state printing, where he doubtless got some idea of the art of politics as well as printing. From there he went to Cleveland, Ohio, where he remained about a year.
As a striking contrast to the present means of locomotion, it may be mentioned that he made the trip from Schenectady to Buffalo in a “line boat” of the Erie Canal, occupying about a week on the voyage.” Cleveland was then but a small place, and farther up the lakes were Racine and Sheboygan, hopeful rivals of Chicago, then an aspiring young town, more noted for its adhesive mud than anything else. From Cleveland he returned to his native village, where he read law and edited the country Democratic paper. He also held the ancient office of town clerk, which he resigned on leaving for Oregon in July, 1850. In may of the same year, he was admitted to the bar of the superior court, sitting at Springfield.
Mr. Bush arrived in Oregon via the Isthmus of Panama in September, 1850. On the meeting of the legislature at Oregon City, in the December following, he was chosen chief clerk of the House of Representatives. There the writer first met him; and a handsomer, quicker witted man, with a keener or truer scent for a fellow mortal’s foibles, he thinks he never knew. They roomed together that busy but happy winter, where was laid, “when life was young,” the foundation of a friendship that has survived the mutations of nearly forty years. It was understood at the time that he had the material on the way from “the States” for the publication of a Democratic newspaper. He soon won recognition as a leader among the Democratic members of the legislature. During the session, an act was passed creating the office of territorial printer. This office he continued to hold, by successive annual elections, until the state was admitted to the union. At the general election in June, 1858, he was elected state printer on the Democratic ticket, and held the office until the general election in 1864, when he was succeeded by Henry L. Pittock.
In March, 1851, he commenced the publication of the first distinctively Democratic paper in Oregon, and conducted the same with marked professional and pecuniary success for the next ten years, – during which time the government of Oregon was carried on by the Statesman and its friends, – sometimes called the “Salem Clique.” This autocracy was not always as kind to and considerate of the dissatisfied and refractory among its subjects as it might have been, and sometimes administered justice to them untempered with mercy. But it had one supreme virtue. It generally kept shams and knaves out of office, and never permitted or winked at any peculation of public funds.
During his editorial career, Mr. Bush performed a great deal of labor. He started with empty pockets, but with willing hands and an active brain. Often he might be seen at the case setting up his saucy, trenchant, sinewy editorials, and spicy, pungent paragraphs, without copy. Industrious, temperate and economical beyond the average of men, he gained on the world from the first issue of the Statesman. But, though provident and thrifty in a marked degree, no taint of dishonesty or meanness in business has ever touched his name. He also maintained a constant correspondence with the captains over tens and fifties and more, all over the territory, and by this means, in conjunction with the columns of the Statesman, maintained an almost autocratic control over public affairs.
In the division of the Democratic party in the presidential election of 1860, he adhered to the Douglas wing, and actively supported Stephen A. Douglas for President. At the outbreak of the war he supported the Union cause, and in 1862 was a member of the convention of that year which put a Union state ticket in the field. In that body he successfully opposed the appointment of a state central committee, as looking to a permanent organization, which he did not favor. At the succeeding presidential election in 1864 he supported McClellan. Though a party man, and ready to give a reason for the faith that is in him, he is in the habit of reading his ticket, and not disposed to vote for a fool or a rogue merely because his name is on the ticket.
In 1861 Mr. Bush was a member of the board of visitors at the military academy at West Point. With him was David Davis, afterwards a justice of the supreme court and a United States senator, and also James G. Blaine, then editor of the Kennebec Journal, but not otherwise known to fame. In the early sixties he was a silent partner for four years in the mercantile firm of Lucien Heath & Co., at Salem; and in 1868 he engaged in banking at the same place in company with William S. Ladd. After some time, he took the business into his own hands; and now it is practically carried on under the old firm name of Ladd & Bush, by his son and namesake, Asahel N. Bush, Jr. He has also been interested in milling at Salem, Oregon City and Albina.
It is said that when he first commenced banking, if a person applied to have a note discounted, he did not consider the security of the indorser, but applied the test which had worked so well in politics, and said “yes” or “no,” as he happened to like or dislike the cut of the applicant’s “jib,” – the cast of his countenance. However, he soon “caught on,” and “Bush’s Bank” is one of the well-known and reliable moneyed institutions of the county.
In 1878 he accepted the appointment of superintendent of the penitentiary, under the belief that the institution was costing the state much more than it should. He held the place for four years, without taking any salary for the first two. He managed it as he would his own business, without reference “to the good of the party,” and the result was that the expenses were reduced from one-fourth to one-half what they had been in former years. At the Democratic convention in 1888, he was chosen chairman of the state central committee. In this position he disgusted some of the “crumb-picking” newspaper people by not subsidizing them for the campaign. One of these came to him and said, seriously, as if the issue of the campaign depended on it, “Mr. Bush, unless my paper is supplied with money, I am afraid it will die;” to which he replied, “I think then it had better die;” and sure enough it did.
In 1854 Mr. Bush married Miss Eugenia Zieber, the daughter of John S. Zieber. Mr. Zieber was born in Maryland. He removed to Pennsylvania, and from thence to Oregon in 1851, where he was subsequently appointed surveyor general of the territory. Mrs. Bush was a very attractive, winning woman, a faithful wife and a devoted mother. She died early in life, in the year 1863, leaving a family of four young children, three girls and a boy, to whose training and comfort their father has devoted himself ever since. The eldest, Estelle, was married some years since to Claude Thayer, and resides on the Tillamook.
Mr. Bush has a picturesque, suburban place and farm just south of Salem, where he resides and occupies himself with the charities of the neighborhood, his books, meadows, poultry, and kine. The residence, built under his direction, is large and roomy, on a commanding site, amid a widely scattered group of grand old Oregon oaks. There he is spending the evening of his busy life peacefully and pleasantly. When his race is run, few person, if any, in Oregon, will be more missed or longer remembered. Mis Sally and Eugenia, his two single daughters, bright, pleasant women, live with him, and help to lighten the shadows of increasing age. They materially aid him in entertaining his friends, and in dispensing a hospitality that suggests the home, habits and tastes of an old-fashioned country gentleman.