Biography of Col. W.W. Chapman

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Among men now living there are none around whom clusters so much of the history of Portland as the one whose name heads this memoir. He is the strongest link between the infant days and the stalwart manhood of our city. But the results of his labors in behalf of Portland, great and far-reaching as they have been in good, by no means complete the record of his long and useful life. Years before American civilization had gained a foot-hold in this portion of the Pacific Northwest, he had borne a leading part in laying the foundations of the State of Iowa, projecting and formulating measures which have since become established to the western limits of the continent. As one of the earlier pioneers of Oregon he found a new arena for his powers, and here for nearly a half a century he has exerted an influence upon political and business forces eminently beneficial, while his whole public career has been singularly free from personal or selfish motives. A hard fighter in everything, a man of direct methods and perfect integrity, he has maintained his opinions fearlessly, honestly and sincerely. No one can read the story of his public endeavors without feeling his heart warm toward this venerable man of over four score years, who upon many occasions in days gone by, when others were timorous or doubtful, dared to stand alone, and with admirable courage, and at times with seeming obstinacy, to do valiant service for the city and State of his adoption.

Preceding pages of this volume treat so largely of Col. Chapman’s part in the progress of important events in Portland’s earlier history that much necessary to a distinct sketch of his career will be omitted here. For a more complete biography of this prominent Oregon pioneer, and one of the founders of Portland, it is necessary to refer the reader to the history of Portland, as told throughout this work. We now produce the plain story of his life, not with any purpose of lauding a man who cares little for praise, and is in little need of it, but with the simple aim of doing justice to one whose varied efforts have done so much for this portion of the Pacific Northwest.

William Williams Chapman was born at Clarksburg, Va., August 11, 1808. At the age of fourteen his father died, and he was thenceforward thrown chiefly upon his own resources, although assisted to some extent by a kind brother and faithful mother. After obtaining what information and mental discipline was to be gotten at the public school, he secured a position in the office of the Clerk of the Court, of which the eminent jurist, Henry St. George Tucker, was Chancellor. In these endeavors at self-improvement he was much encouraged, and indeed assisted by a kind lady, Mrs. Sehon, mother of the eminent Methodist minister of that name. He also was given free access to the libraries of the noted members of the bar in that city. Receiving in due time, from Judge Lewis Summers, Daniel Smith and Chancellor  his license to practice, he at once took up his residence at Middlebourne, Tyler County, Va. The spring following (1832), he was married to Margaret F., daughter of Col. Arthur Ingraham, a farmer of note, and also a prominent public man who served twenty years in the Legislature of the Old Dominion, and afterwards removed to Illinois, but made his last home in Iowa, where he died.

In the autumn of 1833, Mr. Chapman went to McComb, McDonough county, Illinois, and in the spring of 1835 moved out to Burlington, in the “Black Hawk Purchase” now a part of Iowa. Those were early times for even the Mississippi States, and this region was then reckoned as a part of Wisconsin, and was attached to the Territory of Michigan. It may be inferred that Mr. Chapman was a man of mark, with a penchant for forming a new society, or he would never have been in that new country. This presumption is confirmed by the fact that we find him the next year appointed prosecuting attorney by John S. Horner, acting governor of Michigan. In 1836 he was appointed by President Jackson United States Attorney for the Territory of Wisconsin, established upon the admission of Michigan as a State. The most exciting litigation at the time was with reference to “jumping” land claims. The settlers had a court of their own before which jumpers were tried, and by it summarily ejected from their hold, if found guilty. Mr. Chapman proved to be on the side of the settlers, defending a body of them before the court. Military officers and men, including Gen. Taylor, afterwards President, and Jefferson Davis, his son-in-law, used in those days to come around sometimes to remove “squatters,” as the settlers were contemptuously called. That was before the present land laws, and the public domain was opened to legal settlement only as thrown open by proclamation of the President, who sometimes proceeded upon the idea that new land should not be settled up until all the “offered” land was occupied; while the settlers preferred to live and take land where they pleased. On account of his friendship, the Iowa settlers were willing soon after to, and did send Mr. Chapman as delegate to Congress.

In 1836, he removed to Dubuque, and in 1837, removed back to the neighborhood of Burlington. In 1838, Iowa was set apart as an independent Territory, through the efforts of G. W. Jones, a delegate from Wisconsin, and upon the election held September 10, Mr. Chapman was found to be successful over three other candidates. In Congress he became very active. The first bill prepared by him was for the opening of a military road from Dubuque through Iowa City to the southern bound of the State, for another to run from Burlington west, and for still another to run east and terminate at De Hague, a place in Illinois. It was essential to get this latter road in order to cross the extensive low bottom lands on the east or Illinois side of the Mississippi River, which were flooded during the summer freshet. On account of the opposition of Van Buren to internal improvements in the States, Chapman omitted to mention in his bill that De Hague was in Illinois, and the President not being aware of this fact signed the bill, contrary to his own policy of non-state improvement.

In 1836, at an election in Dubuque county, Wisconsin Territory, now a part of Iowa, Mr. Chapman, then twenty-six years of age, was elected Colonel of the Militia by a most flattering majority, which was particularly gratifying to him from the fact that his acquaintances had made him believe that they were all voting against him. Some told him that he was too young and inexperienced, and he overheard others saying: “It won’t do, he is too young,” etc.; but when the votes were counted and he found that he had received the almost unanimous support of electors of his town-ship, he too, felt able to enjoy the joke. His commission as Colonel, issued December 2, 1836, is signed by H. Dodge, Governor of Wisconsin Territory, and attested by J. P. Horner, Secretary. He qualified December 30, of the same year by taking the oath of office before Warner Lewis, “a justice of the peace in and for Dubuque county.”

The act creating Iowa as a Territory fixed the Northern boundary of Missouri as the southern boundary of Iowa. One point determining this line was the Des Moines Rapids. Missouri, anxious to acquire a large tract to the north, claimed that these rapids were in the Des Moines River, while Iowa claimed that the rapids meant were those in the Mississippi River, above the mouth of the Des Moines, bringing the line some twenty or thirty miles further south. Governor Lucas, of Iowa, advising with Col. Chapman, promptly occupied the disputed territory with Militia, in order that Missouri might not be first on the ground, as it would be difficult to oust a State from her actual holding, while a territory might be easily cut up. Missouri hastened to send up her troops, but found the field already in possession of Iowa. Chapman rode out, advised a stay of all proceedings, and urged that the contestants should await the action of Congress and of the Supreme Court. Missouri felt reasonably confident, as she had Benton and Linn in the Senate, and three able men in the House at Washington, while Iowa had but one unknown delegate. But when the contest before Congress came, Chapman was able to present a mass of testimony to the House, from the writings of French missionaries and others, showing that the Des Moines Rapids were in the Mississippi River. Seeing the case going against them, the Missourians hastened to get a bill into the Senate in their favor, and Dr. Linn was pushing this measure with all the vim of his great abilities. It was then, as it is still, unparliamentary for a member of one House to interpose in the proceedings of the other, but Chapman, although but a young man, felt no hesitancy in honoring this custom in the breach, and sent a written communication to the Senate, protesting against the action of Senator Linn in bringing forward the question of boundary in a body where Iowa had no representative, and referred them to the fact that this question was then pending in the House. As a result of this communication, action in the Senate was stayed.

While the decision was still in suspense private overtures were made from the Missouri members to persuade the Iowa delegate to let go his hold, and Benton proposed to Chapman, if he would yield, to grant great favors and an early admission of Iowa into the Union. But in reply to all of this Mr. Chapman could only say that he was entrusted by the people of Iowa to hold their line as claimed by them, and this view eventually prevailed.

Col. Chapman was the first man in Congress to propose a permanent pre-emption law. In former times there was no regular or legal way for the settler to acquire public land wherever he might choose in the United States territory and it was customary for Congress to pass a bill from time to time granting existing settlers the right to pre-empt the lands which they might have occupied. This was a cumbrous, and in many cases a dilatory way of granting title to settlers, and it was while a bill to grant a special pre-emption was before Congress, that Col. Chapman proposed a standing law providing for pre-emptions to be a permanent arrangement for prospective as well as actual settlers. The idea was novel, and met with some ridicule, but it has long been so much a part of the land policy of the Government that it seems as if it must be almost as old as the statute book itself.

In 1844, Col. Chapman was chosen a member of the State convention to prepare a constitution for Iowa. In that body he originated the measure to transfer in the face of the act of Congress the grant of five hundred thousand acres of land to the State for internal improvements for the use of schools. Such a proposition was then unheard of, but has become the policy since followed by all the new States. He also proposed the measure providing for the election of judges which was then wholly an innovation, and although there has been much question of its wisdom, it is a policy that has extended wholly over the West and to the East in many instances. Col. Chapman is himself a firm believer in the usefulness of the plan, for while the judges are thus more subject to the entanglements of politics, they are also more immediately responsible to the people, and are removed from executive or legislative patronage.

Although having accomplished so much for the young State of Iowa, and having become so well known among her citizens, with a large future opened to his enterprise and ambition, he was led by a spirit of adventure, and perhaps even more by the instinct that his greatest strength was in establishing and formulating principles for future States, to seek a new field where political and business forces were yet in embryo, and determined upon Oregon as the most promising field for his endeavor. The choice has been most fully justified by the result.

On the 4th of May, 1847, from Oskaloosa, Mahaska County, Iowa, Col. Chapman and family set out for their journey across the plains to Oregon. The family consisted of himself and wife, and seven children. Nearly 100 emigrants started in the train with Col. Chapman. The long journey of over six months, replete with dangers and hardships, came to an end on November 13, 1847, when Mary’s River was reached near what was then called Marysville, now Corvallis, Benton County. The party at that time consisted of the Chapmans, Gilberts, Starrs and Belknaps. Being anxious to see the seat of Oregon, and especially to make the acquaintance of the leading men of the young settlement, Col. Chapman, shortly after his arrival, made a trip on horseback to Oregon City, or the Falls, as it was then called. At this quaint little capital, and then indeed the metropolis of the region west of the Rocky Mountains, were congregated Oregon’s early heroes. Here he met and formed a pleasant acquaintance with Judge S. S. White, Col. B. Jennings and Gov. Abernethy. From them he learned pretty much all of the history and prospects of the young commonwealth, and with his aptitude for formulating a distinct policy, foresaw almost from that moment his own future work in our State. He at first decided to make his home at the Falls, but was finally induced by Dr. Wilson, of Salem, to make that place his residence.

In February, 1848, he with his family reached Salem, where they were furnished quarters in the lower story of the Methodist, or old missionary academy building, and were treated as members of the doctor’s family. In this place he remained for some time, although school was kept in the upper story of the building.

With the facility of the pioneer, he turned his hands to manual work, and as spring came engaged in making a garden, and also righted the fences that enclosed the big field upon a portion of which the State House now stands. He also picked up as rapidly as possible the threads of legal activity in the State, attending during-the spring and summer several terms of court, held under the auspices of the provincial government by Judge Eugene Skinner. The last of these was on Knox’s Butte, in Linn County, and became memorable for its abrupt adjournment from the report of gold in California.

Mr. Chapman was no less interested than the rest, and although not excitable, made speedy arrangements for the comfort of his family during fall and winter, and in a party containing also Mr. Alanson Hinman, of Forest Grove, J. B. McLane, of Salem, and Mr. Parrish, of Linn County, packed across the mountains to the mines on the Sacramento. The whole of Oregon was moved, and this little party had swelled to a considerable army by the constant aggregation of other little parties on the way; but before Sutter’s Fort was reached the company broke up into little bands scattering out in all directions to the gulches and bars of Northern California. Some of these early settlers were lost to our State forever, going nobody knows where in the world, while others, having made little fortunes, came back to Oregon to spend their days in peace and plenty, and to assist in making our State the glory of the Northwest.

After mining with good success until autumn Mr. Chapman made a somewhat indefinite tour to San Francisco, with an eye to the establishing some kind of a center of trade or society, thinking a little of forming a combination with Sutter to build a city at Sacramento; but he discovered that the quick mind of Judge Burnett had already grasped the idea and seized the position. At San Francisco he remained a considerable time, and was about to visit the other mines of California, but meeting with Gov. Lane, who was on the way from Washington, was persuaded by him to come on to Oregon. He arrived in February or early March, 1849. Proceeding at once to his home in Salem, he was soon elected representative to the first territorial legislature chosen and convened upon the order of the new governor. During this session he was appointed to draft a code of laws, but under a technical construction of the organic law this act was declared void.

At the end of the session in 1849, he decided upon a removal to Oregon City and remained there for a short time, but upon a close examination concluded that this could not be the place for the seaport emporium and consequently made a thorough exploration of the lower Willamette to the Columbia. with the result that he concluded Portland to be the place where transportation by land and by ships could most readily meet. He found Portland built on a section of land owned by Gen. Stephen Coffin and Mr. D. H. Lownsdale and in this claim he bought a third interest. Although Portland had a natural advantage, her success as the chief city depended upon her making use of that advantage, and only by showing an enterprise equal to that of a dozen other rival places could the favor of nature be turned to account. Mr. Chapman, with his family and household effects was “bateaued” from Oregon City to Portland on the first day of January, 1850, and in the spring and summer following cleared and erected upon the block upon which the county courthouse now stands a frame building for a residence and with his family dwelt therein until the fall of 1853.

The town proprietors of Portland, as Messrs. Coffin, Lownsdale and Chapman were called, at once engaged in all enterprises which they deemed calculated to advance the interests and prosperity of Portland as the commercial metropolis of Oregon.

The period which immediately followed Col. Chapman’s arrival in Portland has been so thoroughly treated in another part of this volume that it is only necessary to refer to it, should the reader desire to gain a full idea of the important work carried through by Col. Chapman and his associates, in laying the foundations of the city. The purchase of the Gold Hunter, the founding of the Oregonian, the opening of the Canyon Road, the enlargement of the town plat and the improvement of the streets, were enterprises which Col. Chapman urged forward, liberally expending his time and money to insure the growth and prosperity of the city. The struggle to maintain the embryo city was not an easy one. Prospective towns with powerful hacking sprang up and contested every inch of the way. How the proprietors finally triumphed over every rival is an interesting story which is fully related in preceding pages. The hard blows aimed at Portland by rival points on the Columbia and Willamette were all met and parried by the energy and foresight of the proprietors, Col. Chapman leading in every contest and allowing no personal sacrifice to stand in the way of the city’s growth and development. For valuable service at this critical period of Port-land’s history, no one is entitled to a higher meed of credit.

The important part he bore in the long legal struggle over the title to the Portland land claim is a subject treated of in a separate chapter in this volume and needs not to be entered upon here.

In the fall of 1853, becoming impressed with the profit to be made in the cattle business, Col. Chapman acquired the Hudson Bay improvements at Fort Umpqua, in what is now Douglas County, and although retaining his interests at Portland and continuing in the practice of law, removed to the Fort with his family, himself returning to Portland about once a month to see to his interests in the city. At his new residence Col. Chapman continued to improve and cultivate his farm and herd his cattle.

In the fall of 1855, while Col. Chapman was attending court at a distance from home, news was brought that there was a great Indian uprising on Rogue River, with depredations committed between Jacksonville and Cow Creek. This was the beginning of the war of 1855-6. Under the proclamation of the Governor, Col. Chapman began at once to gather a company, of which he was elected captain. No sooner was this responsibility laid upon him than he went to Portland, riding day and night to procure arms for his men, and returning took from his own farm, wagons, mules and horses for the equipment of the company. Proceeding thus by forced marches toward the seat of war at the Little Meadows, stopping at Roseburg only long enough to be mustered in proper form as Company I, of Major Martin’s battalion, he proceeded expeditiously to join the main command.

At the assembling of the officers at the Meadows, Col. Chapman advised that the Indians be pursued and thereby held together, and protested against withdrawing file forces. He also favored the building of a fort and leaving a strong garrison, being impressed with the belief that if the forces were withdrawn the Indians would at once scatter out and fall upon the settlement, while if they were followed and pursued and held together, they would be prevented from perpetrating outrages. A majority of the officers differed with him and by their decision the troops were withdrawn. His foresight, however, was but too terribly verified by the massacres committed soon after the troops were withdrawn. During the winter that followed the movement of troops was of little concern, and the forces were reorganized. Lamerick was chosen Brigadier General by the Legislature and appointed commander of the 2d Regiment of Oregon Volunteers. At an election John Kelsey was chosen Colonel and Mr. Chapman, Lieutenant Colonel. James Bruce, than whom there was never an abler or better officer, or one more intelligent or more ready to carry out a command to the letter, was chosen Major of the 2d or Southern battalion, and Latshaw, an able and energetic officer, Major of the 1st or Northern. At a council of war held soon after the forces were gathered together, to decide upon a plan of campaign, Col. Chapman, basing his opinion upon the experience of the last year, advised to press the Indians and unite, them as closely as possible, compelling them to concentrate at some point, probably at the Meadows. This place, the fastness of the Indians, was a rocky cliff, or bluff, on the south side of Rogue River, opposite a wide strip of clear meadow lands. To cross the meadows, and ford the swift and dangerous river in the face of an enemy concealed among the rocks and trees was an impossibility. Col. Chapman, therefore, advised that a force, the Southern battalion, be sent down the south side of the river by way of the Port Orford trail to attack the Indians from the rear of their stronghold, and another force, the Northern battalion, be sent to co-operate on the north side, and if the Indians fled across the stream to be there to meet them. By this strategy the enemy must be crushed between the two battalions. This suggestion was adopted, and at the request of Gen. Lamerick, Chapman reluctantly consented to take command of the Southern battalion with headquarters at Vannoy’s ferry. At once he began concentrating his forces, which were scattered at various places in Southern Oregon, and soon set out with a battalion numbering over three hundred men, all hardy, sturdy soldiers, good fighters, and mostly miners. Moving to Hay’s, on Slate Creek, where the Indians had left tracks by recent depredations, scouts were sent out to find the enemy, and it was soon ascertained, as was anticipated, that the savages had concentrated in the presence of the large force coming after them, and had retreated to their great stronghold opposite the Big or Lower Meadows. This was a point a little below their place of defense of the previous year, which was called the Upper or Little Meadows, and was a stronger position, being better defended on the north. Returning to Vannoy’s, preparations for a simultaneous movement were made. The men were dismounted, only animals sufficient for the commissary were allowed, and the expedition on both banks moved forward. There was a point on the Port Orford trail known as Peavine Camp, high on the ridge, not far from the Meadows on the south side, to which Chapman was to repair with his force, and from this point watch the trail below on the north side, at a place where it came down to Rogue River, that he might ascertain the movement of Lamerick and the Northern battalion, whose force would be visible there as he went by. Reaching Peavine, Chapman waited some time in the snow, which still hung on the high ridge, but failed to discover his superior, and at length was told that his flag had been seen on the Upper Meadows. Scouts were sent ahead and found the Indians in force under the bluff opposite the Lower Meadows, and all preparations were made for an attack, the men being eager for the work; but just at this juncture a message was received by Col. Chapman from Gen. Lamerick that he had learned that it would be impossible for Col. Chapman to reach the Indians on the south side and ordering Chapman and his battalion to cross the river to the north side and join him. Chapman and his men were annoyed at this intelligence and command, and for a time thought seriously of disregarding the order, but upon consultation, it was decided not to make the attack but to rejoin Gen. Lamerick, which they did. At the Meadows, considerable fighting was done across the river. Major Bruce was ordered, by Gen. Lamerick with a small command, to cross the river, but was unable to cross in the face of the Indians. This led Col. Chapman to plan a movement by which the South-ern battalion was to go down on the south side of Rogue River, and the Northern battalion to go down on the north side, which he partially carried out, but it was broken by the order of Gen. Lamerick (before mentioned) to join him on the north side. At length the Indians chose to leave their camp. Then an advance across the river was made, when Gen. Lamerick found them gone and occupied their deserted camp. Gen. Lamerick then made an order for the army to retire from the further pursuit of the Indians; part to Illinois River, part to Jacksonville and part to other places. On the same day before these orders were put into execution, Col. Chapman seeing that if these orders should be carried out the whole plan of the campaign would be broken, the Indians left free to destroy the lives and property of the settlers, and the volunteers left with the same unsatisfactory results as after the unfruitful campaign of the year before, urged Gen. Lamerick to build a fort near by, to hold and keep the Indians in check. At this suggestion the General took offense, but said he would refer the matter to a council of war. At this council Chapman was called upon to explain his views, which were at once endorsed by every member of the council and it was decided to erect a fort, which immediately was done. It was named Fort Lamerick. Major Latshaw was placed in command here, and the remaining troops were sent to various points. Lamerick went to Jacksonville and Chapman to Roseburg. Latshaw, a brave and vigilant officer, soon reported to Col. Chapman that he had found the Indians on John Mule Creek, and was only waiting orders to attack them, and asked also for a supply of provisions. Chapman at once issued the order for an attack and sent off the provisions. In pursuance of Col. Chapman’s order, Major Latshaw promptly attacked and defeated the Indians, and by this blow and the timely aid he gave the regular army then coming up Rogue River, the war was ended. The Indians surrendered to the United States troops, having some natural distrust of the settlers and soldiers amongst whom they had been pillaging and murdering.

Resuming civil life, the Colonel removed in the latter part of 1856 to Corvallis with his family. The admission of Oregon as a State was now taking definite form, and it was supposed as a matter of course that the Colonel would be a member of the Constitutional Convention from the Corvallis district. There was, however, at that time, much division of opinion on the subject of slavery, and what provision in
respect to this institution should be inserted in the instrument constituting Oregon a State. A meeting of the Democratic party was held at Salem, and while returning with a number of his party friends to Corvallis, the subject was broached, and Col. Chapman frankly said that he would be opposed to slavery, as it was a thing that could not be established in such a community, and that a movement to attempt this was uncalled for. He expressed no hostility to the South, but believed that the attempt of such a social change as this policy contemplated would be only evil. From that moment he was dropped and Judge Kelsey was selected for the place. Among those who discarded the Colonel were a number who afterwards became prominent republicans.

During this or the following year, he visited Eugene City, and purchasing extensive farming property, removed hither with his family. While here, occurred the election of Territorial and State Representatives, and he received the nomination to a seat as territorial member. The number of candidates being large, a very lively canvass was conducted, for a part of the time at least the whole legislative ticket stumping together. The Colonel bore a large part of the burden of this work.

As the contest for Senator drew near a strong movement was set on foot to elect Chapman. He would have been a very strong candidate but for a number of reasons, chief among which was his opposition to slavery in Oregon, his party could not allow him the honor. He was also spoken of as a worthy man for the position of United States District Judge. While the party managers were trying to adjust these claims of his friends, and at the same time not injure the party by offending other aspirants for these positions, the Oregon Legislature being still in session, news was received from Washington. that the Colonel was appointed Surveyor General of Oregon, and he himself received at the same time, a letter from Gen. Lane, strongly urging him to accept. Feeling for the General the strongest friendship and personal attachment, he consented to do so, and all the party claims were speedily adjusted.

In 1861, believing it unbecoming to hold office under a President whose election he had opposed, he tendered the resignation of his office, and was succeeded, after some time, by P. J. Pengra.

During the fall of 1861, Col. Chapman, with his family, returned to his old homestead in Portland, and in the early part of the year 1862, erected the residence at Twelfth and Jefferson streets, which has ever since been the family home. During the years of his later residence in Portland, the Colonel has practiced law extensively, especially in land matters. He has, moreover, spent a life of energy and a magnificent fortune in his efforts to secure for Oregon its one great desideratum-eastern railroad connections.

Pioneering the way in laying broad the foundations of our State, and contributing by his wise foresight to the material prosperity of Iowa and Oregon in their organic laws, Col. Chapman is also to be credited more than ally other man or dozen men in proposing safeguards in matters of railway construction in Oregon. In 1863, the first rumble of railroad agitation was felt in the State. To connect Oregon with the Pacific system then extending across the plains, a bill was introduced in Congress with a land grant subsidy for a road from a junction with the Central Pacific Railroad in California, northward to Portland or the Columbia River, and so great was the desire for railroad connection that the people of the State were favorable to the scheme on any project likely to accomplish the object. A meeting was held in Eugene City on the day the surveyors reached that point. Great enthusiasm prevailed and a meeting was called for the purpose of endorsement of the scheme which was then pending in Congress, and the approving voice of the people was of course to be presented to Congress as an aid to the passage of the bill. Col. Chapman happened to be present and learning the object of the meeting, and seeing that under the terms of the bill as introduced, the builders would begin at or near Sacramento and continue toward Portland as fast or slow as they pleased; that as they built toward Portland the trade would necessarily run to California, even till they would be in sight of Portland; and that it would inevitably work greatly to the disadvantage of Oregon and her commercial metropolis, wherever that might be; he therefore determined upon a remedy, and when the meeting was organized submitted and procured the passage of the following preamble and resolutions:

WHEREAS, We learn that the surveying party on the contemplated route for the Oregon and California railroad has arrived in the Willamette Valley, and that the chief engineer, Mr. Elliott, is now on a tour in the lower counties for the purpose of learning facts respecting the route and the means to be obtained in aid of the survey and improvement; therefore

Resolved, That all grants of land and other aids by the Government of the United States, and means to be appropriated, should be expended in equal proportions in Oregon and California, and commencing the work in Portland, Oregon, and progressing southwardly, and at Sacramento, California, progressing northwardly, so that each State and section may derive equal advantages therefrom, while the road shall be in process of completion.

Resolved, That we do hereby recommend that several organizations be effected in Oregon for the purpose of receiving the aid of the Government and executing the work within the State.

The preamble and resolutions were unanimously adopted. On Col. Chapman’s return to Portland the subject was brought before the people of the city; two public meetings were held and the proceedings of the Eugene meeting were endorsed, with memorials and petitions to the same effect forwarded to Congress. The result was that the measure was modified as was requested. Senator Nesmith, in his later days, told Chapman that he well remembered the circumstances, and that upon the receipt of the proceedings in Oregon he did just as was suggested, and on the 25th day of July, 1866, the act of Congress passed.

Independent of the advantages that have accrued to Portland, to Oregon, and, indeed, to the whole Pacific Northwest, through the modified provisions of the bill as it became a law, causing the immediate and early construction of the road from Portland southward through the Willamette, Umpqua and Rogue River Valleys, infusing new life and increased energy into our people, it inaugurated new and important enterprises, developments and prosperity in Oregon, surpassing the most sanguine expectations of our people. So that instead of the last spike in the construction of the entire road being driven at Portland, it was driven and celebrated at Ashland, near the southern boundary of our State. Thus, in the very embryo stage of railroad construction in Oregon, Col. Chapman gave the guiding hand and struck the key note for provisions in the interest of his adopted State which will redound to her benefit through all the future.

After all has been said relative to these momentous matters, and when all the wheat is separated from the chaff of personal vaunt as to each one’s share in the upbuilding of the superstructure of our Statehood and commercial relations, the name of Colonel Chapman will tower. above them all, conspicuous for foresight, and undaunted perseverance-quailing not before numbers and power-until the object of his effort was attained. It illustrates a character which never admits failure, and as such is a glorious example to our rising youth.

While the Colonel thus kept his eye vigilantly upon the process of railroad construction in our State and determined that corporate abuses should, so far as possible, be forestalled by adequate legislation, he was no less watchful of our commercial interests, with reference to navigation of our rivers and improvement of legislation for the sake of securing connection by ship with foreign ports. A member of the legislature of 1868, his attention was directed to the fact that our commerce with European and Atlantic ports were suffering greatly from lack of towage at the mouth of the Columbia river. As member of a committee to examine the causes and propose a remedy for this unhappy condition he found that from the experience of Captain Coro, some years previous, it was deemed unremunerative to operate a steam tug upon the bar. He, therefore, prepared a report setting forth this fact showing, also, that it was not lack of water so much as lack of wind that had led to disasters at this place, and calling attention to the fact that so long as the mouth of the Columbia was considered dangerous by shippers, it would be avoided, or at all events, excessive rates would be charged, which fell with double severity upon the people of Oregon; not only compelling them to pay high tariffs on all their imports, but particularly compelling the producers to pay the added charges upon all exports. He pointed out that the wheat of Oregon was then taken in steamers to San Francisco and while the price in Portland was but seventy cents per bushel, in San Francisco it was a dollar and eight cents per bushel. He urged that this condition was working disastrously to the agricultural interests of the State, and proposed as a remedy that a tug boat be secured for the bar by means of a State subsidy. He reported a bill providing for a powerful steam tug boat, sufficient for towing vessels across the bar in all weather when it could be crossed by the best class of steamers or sailing vessels: with proper approval and license of United States inspectors. To secure such a tug boat the bill provided a subsidy of thirty thousand dollars to be given in five successive years; it directed that the license of all pilots, except those of the master of the tug boat and of the pilots employed upon her, should be revoked; and that the fees for towing and piloting sail vessels should be reduced to the rate of eight dollars per foot for the first twelve feet of draft, and ten dollars for any excess-the same as for piloting steam vessels. This was a reduction of twenty-five per cent. To prevent exorbitant rates of pilotage and of towage on the river from Astoria to Portland, the tug was allowed, in case of absence of employment on the bar, to tow to Portland, at rates to be fixed by the Pilot Commission, keeping, however, a sufficient pilot boat always near the bar in case of need.

The operation of this bill, which was passed almost unanimously, was most beneficial. By Captain Flavel, of Astoria, the tug boat was furnished, and it was but a few years before our large commerce sprung up between the Atlantic and European ports and Portland.

But important as was Col. Chapman’s part in the foregoing events, his contest with the Northern Pacific Railroad Company, surpasses them all. It shows the capacity of one sharp, strong mind to rout a powerful combination of financiers and legislators, and reflects a credjt upon the unofficial strategy and statesmanship of Oregon, which ought to be known fully in all our borders. But, strange to say, this action, by which the prestige of Oregon was secured, is almost unknown. It is known that the Northern Pacific somehow once got a staggering blow, by which her contemplated monopoly of the Pacific Northwest, was completely broken. But so quietly was the blow given, and so little did our knight care to blow his trumpet, that none knew where the thrust came from. Col. Chapman was, in the years alluded to, one of the most earnest to get a railroad for Oregon to the East, and knew fully the whole political and financial situation with reference to it, as well as having a complete grasp topographically of the region to be traversed. The following will remind and inform many of the hard work he did in behalf of Portland and the whole State of Oregon, and gives a concise history of important legislation.

The first charter was granted to the Northern Pacific Railroad about the year 1864, together with a land grant, but without authority to issue bonds or mortgages. As an argument with Congress, it was to be built the subscription to stock. When their bill was before Congress, it was proposed that the people of Oregon have a land grant for a railroad from Salt Lake to Portland; but to negative this, the Northern Pacific agreed to, and did add a branch to Portland. The main line was to run near the northern boundary of the United States, across the Cascade Mountains, and the Branch, down the Columbia to Portland. After several failures, in 1870, the company having conceived the idea of antagonizing Portland and her trade, got a bill before Congress for an extension. Or, rather, it was a joint resolution. It was an unparalleled ambiguity and deception. It provided that the main line be transferred to run via the Columbia Valley to Puget Sound, and the Branch, across the Cascade Mountains to Puget Sound. In a joint resolution of the year previous, Congress granted an extension of the branch and the right of way for it from Portland to Puget Sound, but positively and expressly refused the right to issue bonds or mortgage. Now, by this joint resolution of 1870, the main line being authorized to run via the Valley of the Columbia, it was to be noted that this valley was on both sides of the river, and the road could therefore be legally located on either side. Instead, therefore, of its taking the place of the branch, on the south side to Portland, as Congress and our Congressmen supposed it was to be located, after surveying every-where, and on both sides of the river, it was located on the north side of the river, ignoring Portland and the branch line it was intended to embrace.

As soon as the joint resolution was published, before any survey was made, Col. Chapman informed the citizens of Portland that it was the intention to locate the road north of the river and leave Portland out, so that Portland would lose not only the original branch granted expressly to and for Portland, but also the main line intended by Congress to take its place. The people were incredulous. In 1871, Col. Chapman being in attendance upon the Supreme Court of the United States, procured from the commissioner of the general land office a copy of the map of the location of the road on the north side of the river, attested by the commissioner’s own signature.

This great wrong to the people of Portland and Oregon is the foundation of Col. Chapman’s war upon the Northern Pacific Company from that day to the present. Not only so, but a fraudulent deprivation of Portland and Oregon of both the branch
and main line, was a source of great wrong and inconvenience to the public, and has given rise to unending controversy.

But the wrong to Portland and Oregon was not the only one committed by authority of that ambiguous resolution. The United States was cheated out of millions of acres of public lands in this wise. First, the transfer of the main line by way of the Columbia to Puget Sound, increased its length one hundred and forty miles on a line where Congress said in the joint resolution of 1869, there should be no land grant, bonds, or mortgage. The increased length of one hundred and forty miles, with a width of forty miles, equaled five thousand, six hundred sections, or three million five hundred and eighty-four thousand acres. But this is not all. The line from Portland to Wallula, two hundred and fourteen miles, upon this transfer from State to Territory, was increased by twenty sections per mile, or four thousand two hundred and eighty sections, two million seven hundred and thirty-nine thousand two hundred acres. Furthermore, the whole land grant of two hundred and fourteen miles between Portland and Wallula, has for many years been withheld from settlement.

To return to the subject of the road on the south side of the Columbia, between Portland and Wallula: After the land grant for this road was taken away from Portland by the joint resolution of 1870, the public being in great need of the road, from Portland up the Columbia River, some of the citizens of Portland, including Col. Chapman in the number, inaugurated measures for the construction of a road from Portland to Salt Lake. Part of the line was surveyed, and at times the prospects were very favorable. On one occasion, when their bill in the house was progressing under favorable circumstances, the Credit Mobilier broke out and crushed all railroad bills. There were several contests with the Northern Pacific Company after they had taken from Portland the branch grant under pretense of giving them the main line, and then taking the main line also.

The most noted and telling of these contests was one late in the seventies, when Col. Chapman, in one of his unceasing efforts for the promotion of the interests of Oregon and Portland, prepared, and had introduced in the United States Senate, a bill in aid of the Portland, Dalles and Salt Lake Railroad. At this date such had become the opposition to further land grants to railroads that an original grant was impossible. This bill, therefore, provided for the construction of the Portland and Salt Lake roads upon the Columbia, as a common road for the Northern Pacific and Salt Lake line, to be built as a common road with the land grant then tied up idle on the north side of the river. It further provided that the Northern Pacific should build this common road, but if they failed to commence the road at Portland within ninety days, and to prosecute the work diligently, the Salt Lake company, or any other company building that line, might build it, but it should, nevertheless, be a common road for both. There were provisions for the construction of the Salt Lake road after leaving the Columbia River. The bill was referred to the railroad committee of the Senate. Col. Chapman having drawn the bill appeared alone in its behalf, while the great attorneys and others appeared for the Northern Pacific in opposition to the bill. On behalf of the Northern Pacific the point was made that their road was only constructed to Bismarck, and they could not construct a road on the Columbia River until they should reach Ainsworth, or Snake River. Still they could assign no reason why another company should not build the road on the Columbia, if when built it was to be a common road for both the Northern Pacific and Salt Lake lines. The propositions of the bill were so fair that the committee reported it to the Senate and recommended its passage.

Shortly after, an article appeared in a morning paper of Washington City, stating that all differences between the Oregon people and the Northern Pacific were settled, and the bill was to be re-committed to the Senate Committee, and be amended to suit the Northern Pacific Railroad Company. This was wholly new to Col. Chapman, who was thus referred to as the ” Oregon People,” and he sought to appear before the committee in opposition to the new arrangement, but was refused. The bill in the interest of the Northern Pacific was reported back to the Senate, and Chapman sent to the Senate a written protest against the bill as amended. This protest was sent to the printer without being read, and the bill was taken up and passed in its absence. This was one of the most extraordinary and unjustifiable transactions, taken all in all, known among men having any claim to honesty and fair dealing. But the fraud was not complete until the bill should pass the House of Representatives, to which it was then sent and placed on the Speaker’s table.

It would be supposed that under the circumstances Col. Chapman would have submitted to the result and abandoned the contest, but not so. Far-seeing, full of energy, foresight and feeling that the interests of Portland and Oregon were at stake, he never lost sight of his object. He never was out of the House of Representatives one minute while the bill was pending.

The Speaker took up the bill to refer it to a committee, knowing that Chapman could meet it in open house. A certain man objected, and it went back on the table. Chapman concluded that it was the intention of this man when it would be his turn and in order, to move to suspend the rules, and pass the bill without debate. He ascertained from the Speaker’s list of members to be recognized to move to suspend the rules, where this man stood, and when he would be reached, and then wrote a scathing review of the bill, and had a sufficient number for all the members printed and sealed up, and purchased a sufficient number of envelopes, not failing to be in his seat every moment the House was in session. In the evening previous to the day when by Chapman’s calculation this man of the Northern Pacific would move to pass the bill under a suspension of the rules, Chapman invited the vice-president of the Northern Pacific to his room in the hotel where both lodged, to effect compromises, but the vice-president was so confident of success that he would consent to nothing. After he left, Chapman put the printed articles into the envelopes all ready for the next day. Next morning with his documents in hand he visited the House and just as the House was about to meet, when too late for consultation, he placed prominently in view upon each member’s desk a sealed envelope containing one of these printed reviews, on the theory that the member would want to see what was inside first. The letter was scarcely read, the House was in business order, and, as calculated, the Northern Pacific man was on his feet talking loudly in a firm voice, “Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and pass the Northern Pacific Railroad bill.”

It required a two-thirds vote to suspend the rules and pass the bill. The vote was taken, and instead of a two-thirds vote for it, there were two-thirds against it, and the bill was lost. Chapman, solitary and alone, against the officers, attorneys, and lobbyists, came out victorious, and Portland still held the fort. After the battle a courteous recognition took place between Colonel Chapman and Mr. Wright, president of the Northern Pacific. After the vote was announced, Chapman went out at the front door of the hall and started away, but advancing a few steps, for some reason turned back, when Mr. Wright came out of the hall door facing him and advancing with an outstretched arm and the sorrowing words, “0, Colonel, how could you have hit us such a slap over the face?” To which Chapman replied, “All is fair in war.”

The result of this victory was that the Northern Pacific was deprived of obtaining and holding the right of way and control on the south or Portland side of the Columbia, until their road, then completed to Bismarck, should reach Snake River, when without building on the south side they would by the branch which they transferred to Portland, build across the Cascade Mountains to Tacoma, still holding the right of way and the land grant unbuilt upon, exactly as they have done with the main line on the north side of the river. It was foresight of such intention and anion by the Northern Pacific Company, that induced Colonel Chapman to insert in his Senate bill that was re-committed, the provision that the Northern Pacific company might build the common road on the south side of the Columbia, if they “would begin within ninety days and prosecute the work diligently; otherwise, the Salt Lake Company might build it.”

Another important result of this signal victory was that the way was left open and straightway seized upon, and the road was built by the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company.

During his long career of public life and private enterprise, Col. Chapman enjoyed the comfort, pleasure, encouragement and assistance of a wife, who was “a very help indeed.” Her life was one of the utmost fidelity to every sentiment of duty, through all the trials and privations of frontier life, and of pioneering in a new world; she was a faithful companion, a hospitable neighbor and a loving wife and mother. Mrs. Chapman lived for upwards of twenty-seven years at her home in Portland, where she died in 1889, in the seventy-fourth year of her age.

Of the eleven children of Colonel and Mrs. Chapman, six are living. The venerable father still resides at his old homestead, which is part of the original ” Portland Townsite,” and of the portion of his own and Mrs. Chapman’s donation laud claim, which was set off to her by the United States Government. His mental vigor has never failed him, and although an attack of paralysis, resulting from over exertion in preparing for and conducting an important land case, in November, 1888, rendered his right limbs almost useless; he otherwise has good health and is gradually recovering the use of his limbs, notwithstanding he is now in the eighty-second year of his age.

This record shows that the life of Col. Chapman, has been throughout, the life of an active, useful, far-seeing and courageous man. It has been a life spent largely for public purposes, and its fruits through all time will remain no small part of the heritage of the people of the Northwest.




MLA Source Citation:

Harvey Whitefield Scott. History of Portland, Oregon: with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Prominent Citizens and Pioneers. Portland, Oregon. D. Mason & Company, 1890. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 23 April 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/oregon/biography-of-col-w-w-chapman.htm - Last updated on Mar 29th, 2013

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