Enterprise, Wallowa County, Oregon
One of the largest funerals in the history of the town of Union marked the obsequies of the pioneer editor and politician, E. S. McComas. The funeral was held at Union, Wednesday afternoon, September 6 at 3 o’clock, and was attended by a great gathering of pioneers. The body was laid to rest beside his mother, brother, and son.
The deceased leaves a widow, one daughter, an adopted son and three sisters, Mrs. Alice M. Bell of Enterprise, Mrs. Esther E. Pursel and Mrs. Mary R. Thomson of Union. Mrs. Bell received word of her brother’s extremity Saturday afternoon and went at once to his home near Wallowa, and was at his bedside when he passed away, Monday, September 4.
Following is a graphic account of the busy, useful life of Mr. McComas, largely taken from his own diary.
Elgin Recorder: — E.S. McComas, for forty-nine years a resident of Eastern Oregon, died at Wallowa on Monday last. He was born, to quote his diary which is before us, “In Adams County, Ohio, on January 23, 1839, and at the age of four years came with my parents to Montgomery County, Indiana. My father was a native of Kentucky, of Scotch-Irish ancestry, and my mother was born in Ohio, of Dutch-English parents.” His education was, as he says “absorbed while shivering in the back seat or roasting up against a hot stove in the old-fashioned log school houses so common on the frontier in Indiana and Iowa.”
“In the fall of 1860,” says the diary, “I was living in Johnson County, on Pleasant Valley, and although not quite twenty-one years of age, I believed I was capable of teaching school.” The writer tells of his experience in quelling the turbulent spirits of a country school, which must have been nearly as exciting as Indian fighting. Later on he became involved in a hot discussion of the question: “Resolved, that the present war is as much the fault of the Northern abolitionist as the Southern secessionist.” McComas says. “The prominent part I had taken in the discussion made me a shining mark, and the position I had taken in the debate made it very inconsistent for me to enlist, so it was decided at a family council that I should be outfitted with the funds I had coming from teaching, and with the little assistance I could render to go to Salmon River, which at that time was attracting widespread attention.” So he started for the West on the 14th day of May, 1862, his first objective point being Omaha, Nebraska. The journey up the Platte was uneventful until he reached Fort Laramie where the soldiers gave him rations and permitted him to sleep on the parade grounds. McComas here had a desperate fight with a soldier who assaulted him while asleep.
He shot the soldier, but not seriously, and the next morning the affair was satisfactorily explained to the commanding officer, and McComas again struck out on his long trail. McComas’ journey across the plains was full of incidents of great interest, especially to the old pioneers of Eastern Oregon. On the 16th day of September, 1862, the train camped “near what is now known as the Jenkins Corral, in the now suburbs of the thriving mining metropolis of Easter Oregon, Baker City.” Here the train broke up, McComas and “Old Bone” moving to the mining town of Auburn, then to Crystal Fountain Spring, “made famous, at least locally, by the beautiful poem written by Hon. M. C. Brainard, ex-county judge and treasurer of Union County.”
Says the diary: “In the spring of 1866 I was nominated by the Democratic party for county clerk, to which I was elected, being the first county clerk of the new county of Union, which had been cut off from Baker by an act of the legislature of 1864. In 1867, I was married to the girl I left behind me in Iowa in 1862, but who had the nerve to brave the dangers of an ocean trip from New York to San Francisco and on to Portland, and thence by steamer to Umatilla, where I met her and we were married by Hon. Joseph Wilson, Circuit Judge of this district, at the Western Hotel, where Umatilla, now an almost deserted station on the O. R. & N., was a flourishing city of about twenty-five hundred busy people…..At the session of the legislature in 1870, I was elected Register of State Lands for the newly created land district.” In this position McComas did good service for the people, keeping many of them from losing their homes by securing from the legislature action that made it possible for them to settle with the state.
In July 1870, he established in partnership with John E. Jeffrey, the Grande Ronde Sentinel. Says the diary: “When it became generally known that a democratic weekly paper was about to be established in La Grande, a consultation was held among the ‘truly loyal’ and, under the firm name of Baker, Coggin & Co. material for another paper was soon on the way, and there was much rivalry, each side rushing nobly to the front, and the subscription lists grew rapidly, but, owing to some delay in shipping some of our material, the Sentinel lost the honor of being the first newspaper published in the Grande Ronde valley by a nose.” On the 4th day of April 1874, a fire destroyed property belonging to McComas amounting to probably thirty thousand dollars, leaving him with an indebtedness of $15,500. He gave notes for the amount, repurchased, in company with Jap H. Stevens, the Grande Ronde Sentinel, moved it to Union and changed the name to the Mountain Sentinel. They built up a business worth about $500 per month and McComas paid every dollar of his debts with interest. About three years ago he moved to Elgin, where he entered into business with R. C. Mays and others. While here he was interested in every movement for the city’s benefit, though old age curtailed his activities. Last spring, he moved to the town of Wallowa, in Wallowa County, where death terminated his adventurous career.
Enterprise Record Chieftain, Wallowa County, Oregon, Sept. 14, 1911
Contributed By: Charlotte Carper