GREEN B. SMITH. – There are few names more widely known among the pioneers of Western Oregon than that which stands at the head of this sketch. Few lives have been more full of adventure. After a long life actively spent among the trials and vicissitudes incident to a frontier life, he finally yielded to the fiat of nature; and, in obedience to the summons that must come to all, he passed over the dark river. His death, which leaves but a comparatively small number of that old pioneer’s phalanx of 1845, who marched two thousand miles across a trackless desert to found a home in the far West, occurred on the 7th of May, 1886.
Mr. G.B. Smith was born in Grayson County, West Virginia, September 10, 1820, and was the son of George and Nancy (Hamilton) Smith. At the age of sixteen years, his parents removing to St. Joseph county, Indiana, he accompanied them thither, assisting in the cultivation of the farm until 1840, when he emigrated to Platte County, Missouri, and there remained until the spring of 1845.At this period, accompanied by his brother Alexander (who died at the Sandwich Islands in 1850), Mr. Smith joined a train composed of sixty-six wagons at St. Joseph, Missouri, under the command of Captain T’ault, and commenced the long journey across the plains.
After successive changes in the leaders of the party, that well-known veteran, Stephen Meek, undertook to conduct them into the Willamette valley by the old Columbia route; but unfortunately, when at the place since called Silver lake, located west of the Blue Mountains, the guide found himself at fault, and declared himself to be absolutely lost; upon which the emigrants became so incensed that they affirmed that Meek must hang, a determination which so alarmed him that he made his escape at dead of night, leaving his wife behind under the care of the late Nathan Olney.
It now forced itself upon their minds that he Columbia route lay to the northward; but such was their distress for lack of water that this knowledge availed them little. Scouring the desert to the east of the present Prineville for five days, they found none; therefore they turned to the northward, and, after one day and night’s travel, discovered that with which to slake their parched throats. Their supplies too had given out; and they were compelled to kill some of their cattle, and eat their flesh without salt. After traveling some days, the waters of the Des Chutes river were reached; and there the party were met by Black Harris, a mountaineer, who had learned from the Indians that there were emigrants lost in the country. Harris led them to the river opposite what is now known as Tygh valley, Wasco county.
It now became necessary to cross the Des Chutes; but the Indians had given them to understand that it was a difficult feat either for man or beast. Undeterred, however, the wagons were unshipped from the wheels and tightly caulked; but yet another difficulty presented itself. How was a guy rope to be conveyed to the opposite bank? Happily there was a young man in their midst whose courage was equal to the hazardous task. In him we find that worthy pioneer, Prier Scott (now living near Corvallis), who volunteered to swim the stream, an exploit he accomplished; and their wagons and supplies were ferried over. The beasts were made to swim; and not a thing was lost. Not long after that, they arrived at The Dalles, where they obtained a supply of provisions from the Methodist Mission, then under the charge of Reverend A.F. Waller; and there, building a raft and shipping their wagons and goods upon it, they went with the current down the Columbia to the Upper Cascades; while the cattle were driving along the southern shore of the river to the same point. There the Indians were hired to assist in swimming the cattle across the river, which being successfully accomplished the route was again taken to the Lower Cascades. There they were assisted by men and boats from the Hudson’s Bay Company’s fort at Vancouver, where they were furnished with clothing and provisions by Doctor McLoughlin.
Having wintered at the mouth of the Washougal, some fifteen miles above Fort Vancouver, in the month of March, 1846, Mr. Smith and his brother moved to Benton county; and he took up his residence about twelve miles north of Corvallis and engaged in farming and stock-raising, his original Donation claim being still owned by his family. By industry, economy and the exercise of good judgment, Mr. Smith soon became one of the most prosperous men and the largest taxpayer in the county. He was a man of superior intelligence and marked individuality of character. He represented his county in the territorial legislature in 1849, and although he took an active interest in public affairs, and an open stand on questions of public interest, he had no ambition for political promotion, but was as true as steel to his friends. He was twice married, in the first instance in 1848 to Miss Eliza Huggard, a native of Missouri, who died one year after. By that union he had one son, Alexander. He was married secondly, in 1830, to Miss Mary Baker, a native of Tennessee, who survives him. The issue of this last marriage is one son, John, who now resides in Corvallis.
The emigration of 1845 contained large numbers of the best specimens of true manhood that can be found in the history of any country in the civilized world; and the subject of this sketch was not inferior to any in that whole band of pioneers. In all the elements of character that constitute the true citizen and representative of the highest type of an American, he was the peer of any. He was public spirited, and gave liberally to the various public enterprises and charitable institutions in his county; and there were no schemes for the improvement of his city or county, or for the betterment of the condition of his fellowmen, that were properly presented to him, but that received his encouragement and liberal aid and assistance.
His life-work is done; and his character stands out as grand and as simple as the colossal pillar of chiseled granite that marks his last resting place.