Biography of Catherine S. Davis
CATHERINE S. DAVIS. – One of the beautiful and happy lives among the pioneer women of our state is that of the lady named above. It has, to some extent, been spent amid the utmost dangers, difficulties and privations, but nevertheless has been constantly adorned by works of devotion and benevolence. Hers is a life made beautiful not so much by wealth or technical culture as by patience, fortitude and good works.
She was born of Dutch parentage in the State of New York, January 23, 1811. Her father, William K. Sluyter, one of the Knickerbockers, moved to Pennsylvania when she was nine years old, and nine years later to Ohio. In that state she was married at the age of twenty-one to Benjamin Davis. In 1838 they, with their children, moved to Indiana, settling near where Plymouth now stands. In 1847 herself, husband and six children joined the train of Captain Peak to cross the plains to Oregon. The journey was without startling incidents during its earlier sages, with the exception of some annoyance from the Pawnee Indians, and the exaction of toll by them. At Fort Hall, however, the train divided, that portion to which Mr. Davis belonged taking the southern or Applegate route through the desert and Modoc country and the Rogue river valley. Almost from the point of departure from the old track, there were threats, shootings and surprises from the Indians with frequent returns of bullets from the immigrants, especially was this the case in the Modoc country. In the Rogue river valley, also, having escaped many of the minor harassments of a troublesome enemy, they were threatened with complete annihilation. Two hundred warriors surrounded their camp, having separated themselves from their women and tents. There were no more than eighteen men capable of bearing arms in Mr. Davis’ train; and in case of an onset the results would have been doubtful. Mr. Davis, however, by a clever ruse, kept them off. Having a cook-stove with a drum in the back part of his wagon, which had a fire in it and from which smoke was issuing, he made signs that this was a cannon or some sort of explosive machine, and at his word would destroy them. Noticing its resemblance to artillery, of which they may have had some notion, and not daring to tempt its gaping mouth, they gradually withdrew and let the train pass.
Arriving at a point two miles north of the present site of Eugene, the beauty and manifest fertility of this land led Mr. Davis and his wife to secure here a claim for a home. The following years were spent amid the privations common to all the pioneers of that early day. With but seventy-five cents left from the journey, they were compelled to trade off a portion of their cattle for flour and seed wheat; and, to get these, Mr. Davis was obliged to go to the Luckiamute, sixty miles away. A cow for twelve bushels of wheat and a yoke of oxen for a thousand pounds of flour was how the trade stood; and this provisioning seemed sufficient for the winter’s supply. But long before seeding time in the spring, the flour was exhausted, by reason of Mrs. Davis’ unstinted hospitality to the many weary and hungry parties who still came straggling through the mountains. Then the family were compelled to live on boiled wheat, and this without salt, when that article was gone. In the spring an abundance of milk, and unlimited quantities of delicious wild strawberries, without sugar, varied their bill of fare. It was at about this time, however, that Mr. William Dodson, of the upper forks of the Willamette, happened by and discovered their lack of money and the difficulty that Mr. Davis experienced in providing for his family, and insisted upon loaning him, without note or interest, an amount sufficient to purchase provisions at Vancouver, one hundred and forty miles away.
Notwithstanding the difficulties of these early days, Mrs. Davis remembers them with great pleasure. She glad her children in buckskin suits and supplied them with plenty of butter and cheese. She was skilled in midwifery and became nurse to the families scattered here and there in the upper Willamette valley, being south from Mary’s river to the Calapooia Mountains to alleviate the sufferings of those in sickness or trouble. She continued this practice until her failing eyesight compelled her to desist. No one ever passed her house without food or good cheer.
Seven children grew up in this home, one son being born after their arrival in Oregon. The death of Mr. Davis in 1858 left Mrs. Davis with the three younger children to educate. She lived on the old place until 1874, when, the last of the children having married and moved away, she broke up housekeeping and has since lived with her children, as she felt inclined. With the exception of the loss of her eyesight, her health remains good.