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Biography of Robert J. McWilliams

ROBERT J. McWILLIAMS. – Robert J. McWilliams has been for many years identified with the pioneer business interests of Oregon, particularly in the line of lumbering and preparing materials for the construction of steamboats. He was born in New York in 1825, and in 1839 emigrated to Michigan, where he assisted his father in opening out a farm, and after the age of twenty entered upon the business of lumbering, with which he remained until 1850, when he crossed the plains to California, and remained until his trip overland to Milwaukee, Oregon, in 1851.

At that young city, then a rival of Portland, he leased the sawmill of Lot Whitcomb, and subsequently that of Collins & Torrence, opposite Milwaukee, which was run by steam. His lumber sold readily at from forty to fifty dollars per thousand, and laths at sixteen dollars. In 1854 he erected and furnished at Mlwaukee the Veranda Hotel at a cost of fourteen thousand dollars, the best then in Oregon. In 1856 he worked for or in the sawmill of Bradford & Company at the Cascades for four years, and sawed the lumber for the steamer Hassalo, long known on the Columbia, and also prepared the planking for the bottom of the steamer Colonel Wright, built for the Upper Columbia traffic.

In 1857 he was married to Miss Olive W., daughter of Lot Whitcomb, who built and launched the steamer Lot Whitcomb on the 25th of December, 1849, at which event the captain of a vessel was killed by the bursting of the cannon that was being fired on the occasion. The boat was a side-wheel, high-pressure, double-engine, walking -beam steamer, with Captain J.C. Ainsworth as captain. and pilot, and Joseph Myrack, assistant pilot and clerk, and Jacob Kamm engineer. She was sold to a California company in 1882.

Many of Mr. McWilliams’ early enterprises led him among the Indians, as when in 1854 he accompanied Green Arnold to the Umatilla country, and was with him barricaded by the Cayuses for more than a week. The years of 1863-64-65 were spent in mining expeditions seventy-five miles from Lewiston, in a place called Elk City, while his family remained at Milwaukee.

The Grande Ronde proving attractive to his mind, he accepted employment in a large livery stable at La Grande, known as the Cattle Stable. As proprietor of the “Our House” hotel for two years, and afterwards of the Sixteen-mile House, as keeper of the Clover Creek Station, and in different enterprises at La Grande, he passed the years until his removal to Summerville in 1874. At that point he was instrumental in reopening the Thomas and Ruckle Blue Mountain road. He also carried the Wallowa mail, and increased the service from two to seven times per week. The sixteen days of the first years he carried the same. He also purchased the Patton sawmill of Summerville, and conducted the same, together with two livery stables. Afterwards, in 1887, he removed to the town of Elgin in Indian valley, Oregon; and this beautiful section in his present home.

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