WILLIAM WILSON. – Mr. Wilson was born of Irish parents in 1835. “His father and mother were Irish; and he is Irish still.” His parents secured to him a common-school education; and his father, falling a victim of the cholera in New York in 1848, William assumed the management of his affairs and conducted the business until 1852, when he left home and started for California. On the Isthmus he was stricken with Panama fever and laid three weeks among strangers, convalescing only to realize the fact that his money and ticket were missing. He finally shipped, as he supposed, for California; but in fact he was aboard a trader, and for twenty-one months had to sail upon the sea, going to almost all parts of the word, but finally in Valparaiso was relieved by the American consul and sent to California. There he first found work in the humble capacity of a sand-cart driver, but in 1855 was able to establish for himself a hack and dray business, in which vocation he continued until 1859, when he was off to Frazer river and mined near Yale, British Columbia. The next year he prospected the Frazer, and was one of the discoverers of the Caribou gold mines. He made money there and was familiar with such men as Steel, Cunningham, Loren, Dillon, Kiethby, Williams, Whitney and Sweeny.
In 1862 he was one of a party of seventeen who attempted a new route from Fort Alexander on the Frazer to Victoria, via the “Bentic Orsu” route. Having constructed rafts, they attempted the descent of the Bellacola river to the mouth of the Bentic. The raft soon succumbed to the elements; and the men, provisionless and friendless, were three days and three nights in making the twenty-four miles to the point of intended embarkation on shipboard, snow having fallen to the depth of six feet during that time. In their extremity a suggestion was made that Mr. Wilson’s dog be killed for mutton. But Wilson objected to the slaughter of his favorite; and the party had to forego the feasting. The natives, not knowing the value of money, would trade dried salmon for only brass buttons and neckerchiefs. Embarking on a trader, they were a month or so in arriving at Victoria. There Mr. Wilson found employment as stage driver until the spring of 1863, when he returned to his Caribou diggings. In 1864 he struck out for the Idaho gold fields, working his passage thither from The Dalles with a pack-train. Arriving in Idaho City, money-less, he got a job shoveling tailings, worked all night, and when relieved in the morning was obliged to suggest to the foreman that he had not eaten for twenty-four hours.
Having made a stake he prospected in what is now Southeastern county, Oregon, over the ground which the writer is safe in asserting will twenty years hence be the grand mining camp of the world. That fall he came to La Grande and later assisted the elder Beagle in whipsawing lumber for his sluices, which demonstrated that at the head of the Grand river existed gold mines which Mr. Wilson’s grandchildren will read of with wonder. His experiences in the Pacific Northwest as related by himself would fill this volume. Suffice it to say that the writer feels safe in alleging that Mr. Wilson has experienced many of the vicissitudes incident upon laying the foundations of the empire which we at present enjoy.
He was night watchman of the town of La Grande for twenty-two months. He served four years in the capacity of jailer under A.C. Craig, the first sheriff elected in Union county, and followed that with four more years in the same capacity under Craig’s successor, Arthur Warnick.
Not having seen his mother, who lived in New York, for twenty-one years, he paid her a visit in 1873, and takes pride in relating that she is in good health and spirits at the advanced age of fourscore. In 1874, the seat of government being removed from La Grande to Union, Mr. Wilson returned to San Francisco, and after four years in city life came back to the Grande Ronde valley, making his home at Union, Oregon; and there we find him engaged in a profitable business. He was married in December, 1883, at Baker City, to Miss Barbara Oth, by whom he has two sons and a daughter. Besides his town property and stock, Mr. Wilson is the owner of six hundred and forty acres of Union county land.