HON. JAMES H. KOONTZ. – It is a mistake to suppose that all the fortunes are made in the large places. Many of the most considerable competences on the coast have been gained from trade in the small towns. The career of Mr. Koontz is to the point.
Born in Belmont County, Ohio, in 1830, young James, upon coming to his physical strength, learned the trade of a carpenter and joiner, thereby acquiring a foundation for a life of independence. Living a time at Mount Pleasant, Iowa, he joined the Ellis train, and in 1862 came across the plains to Oregon, settling the following year at the little town of Umatilla on the desolate shore of the Columbia, – a heaving, driving bank of sand upon the rocks. The place has improved since the old times. Mr. Koontz had but seventy-five cents in his pocket on his arrival; and the stories which he now relates of his first days of work and semi-starvation seem curious and amusing.
By diligent application to his trade, fining employment for a time with George L. Hibbard, he soon had money and built a store at Umatilla, buying for a site ten feet of frontage for two hundred and fifty dollars. Here he remained seventeen years, doing a large forwarding and commission business. In 1864 he was appointed postmaster, and held that office seventeen years also.
In 1880 he established a branch store at Echo, Oregon, and built a large hotel at the same point in 1883, transferring all his business thither. In 1886 he made a further enlargement by building a gristmill of a capacity of eighty barrels of flour per day. This, however, was burned in1886 with three hundred barrels of flour and thirty-two thousand bushels of wheat, at a loss of nearly forty thousand dollars on a n insurance of twenty-three thousand dollars. Although thus unfortunate he was not seriously crippled, but still conducts his tore and hotel with accustomed energy, and follows up the interests of his real estate. He owns a thousand acres of land near the town. Mr. Koontz hopes to rebuild his mill, and is already forming a stock company to that end.
His first wife, Elizabeth Williams, dying at Pleasant Plains, Iowa, he is now living with Cynthia N. Hyatt, whom he married in 1856. They have three children, – Mrs. Elizabeth A. Hendley, Mrs. Flora B. Malcom, and Miss Echo L. Mrs. Koontz merits much of the reward reached by her husband, since it was by her help that his prosperity has been attained.