Biography of Col. James Taylor
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COL. JAMES TAYLOR. – The immigration of 1845 was large, and furnished many of the leading men of the Northwest, among that number being Colonel James Taylor of Astoria, Oregon. Although now past eighty years of age, he is still one of the active citizens of a city which boasts of many men of energy. He is one of the fathers of the place, not only in point of time, but as owner of considerable property in the city and adjacent country, embracing the heights west of the city, which will one day be occupied with handsome residences, as they command a magnificent view of the estuary of the Columbia river, and Young’s Bay, and its beautiful rivers, also of the imperial Saddle Mountain or Swallatache, and a wide view of the main ocean beyond the Clatsop Plains.
The Colonel is of Scotch and Irish descent, and was born in Bedford county, Pennsylvania, in 1809. When thirteen years of age his father moved west to Mansfield, Ohio, and bought a farm near by, where he spent his boyhood. The winter of 1830-31 found him teaching a six-months’ school in the neighborhood. The following summer he joined an older brother who had preceded him to Fort Findlay, now the city of Findlay, Ohio, then a wilderness, including the great black swamp of the Maumee country, and inhabited by several tribes of Indians, including the Wyandottes, Ottawas and others, who lived by hunting, and whose peltries were the principal trade then in that new country. He and his brother were largely engaged in trade with the natives until they were moved by the government still farther west; and the country was rapidly settled up by the Whites.
Mr. Taylor, now being married to Miss Esther de Armon, and being fond of the adventures of a pioneer life, and believing the Pacific coast still offered a fine field for his ambition and prospects for such a life, in the latter part of the winter of 1845 resigned the office of registrar of the land-office which he then held in Ohio, and organized a small company, consisting of Orville Risley, wife and two children, Levi Rice and one child, A.E. Skinner, Hiram Smith, Noah Huber, C. Main, William Savage, Abel George, E.C. Crow, J.C. Creighton, and eight or ten others, whose names are like-wise well known in our early annals. They repaired with wagons, horses and much other outfit for the journey by the Ohio and Missouri rivers to the general rendezvous near Independence, Missouri, where Mr. Taylor purchased cattle and other supplies for the journey; and, with five fully equipped teams, they were off by the 10th of May for the long trip. That was a favorable year on the plains; and at the rendezvous and on the plains many life-long acquaintances were made. Stephen Meek, a mountaineer was selected as guide. He will always be connected with the disastrous expedition into what is called the cut-off, where Meek himself became bewildered; and the whole company that followed him was lost in the sands and lonely Ironstone Mountains of Middle Oregon. The starving emigrants endured much suffering, but finally found their way out. Taylor’s party was not in this scrape, as it followed the old route by Snake river and the Grande Ronde valley to the Umatilla and Columbia river.
Soon after starting on the journey from the rendezvous, it was seen that the whole army, upwards of two thousands persons, with thousands of loose stock, besides horses and yoke-cattle could not travel in one company. The Colonel’s party, with General Palmer’s small company, in which was a Lieutenant McDougall of the United States army, who was fleeing on account of an unlucky duel which he had fought at St. Louis, set off by themselves and pushed ahead. On this side of the Rockies they met Doctor White and party en route for the East, who delivered a speech to the emigrants, concluding with the advice to keep on the old route down Snake river; and Doctor Whitman also met them at the foot of the Blue Mountains, and traveled with them down to the Columbia river. Upon arriving at The Dalles, they found that Captain Samuel K. Barlow had preceded them and was cutting a road across the Cascade Mountains, pushing out to the foothills to assist in getting a road across to the Willamette valley. They took only as many horses as were necessary to carry the families across, and drove the loose stock, having left their wagons and supernumeraries behind. They made the crossing safely, reaching Oregon City October 10th, having made a quick and prosperous trip of only six months from Ohio, eight months being the usual time of former emigrations.
In the spring of 1847 Colonel Taylor took his family to Clatsop Plains, buying out a still earlier settler, and securing the farm which he still owns. The Indian trouble of 1847-48, caused by the massacre the fall before of Doctor Whitman, family and others, induced him to take his family back to Oregon City for safety; and he himself served in the Cayuse war. Seeing the beauty and fertility of the Cayuse country, and as George Abernethy, then Provisional governor of Oregon, had declared that country open to settlement by the Whites, and by order had stationed a company of soldiers at Fort Waters, the Whitman station, Colonel Taylor, Captain Philip Thompson and Captain Absolem Hembree determined to colonize the Walla Walla country. They went to the Willamette valley for settlers, and also purchased several thousand dollars’ worth of cattle to be driven to the prospective home. But this flourishing enterprise was dissipated as with a breath by the news of gold mines in California. Settlers and soldiers alike made a stampede for the mines, leaving but few, mostly women and children, to take care of the whole of the Oregon country, and fight off the Indians.
The Colonel and his partners sold their stock of cattle; and with his family he remained at Oregon City, not going to the mines, but with General Lovejoy and Medorum Crawford built sawmills and carried on the lumber business until January, 1850, when the mills with much sawed lumber and logs in the boom were carried away by the great flood of that winter. This left our pioneer many thousand dollars minus. The summer of 1849 found much gold dust drifting to Oregon from the California mines, which could not be used well as a currency; and, having no coin in the country except what the Hudson’s Bay Company shipped in, and which was used to buy up the dust at a very low figure, the Provisional legislature then in session passed an act establishing a mint to coin the dust so as to be used as a currency. Colonel Taylor was made comptroller of it, and commenced coining in September of that year, and continued until the winter following, when Governor Lane, appointed by the President of the United States, arrived and assumed jurisdiction over the country, and declared such coining unconstitutional, and caused its suspension. Thus originated the noted Beaver Money, which gave Oregon its first circulating medium and materially raised the price of the gold dust.
In the spring of 1851 he again returned with his family to his Clatsop farm, ever his stand-by, and engaged in farming and stock-raising until the fall of 1855, when he moved to Astoria, where he now resides. In the meantime he kept up a trade by shipping and driving cattle to Victoria and British Columbia, which was then a remunerative business. In 1854 the Colonel went into a sheep speculation with Jacob Rinearson, W.H. Gray and Robert McEwen. He furnished each about three thousand dollars to go East and buy sheep and drive them to Oregon. Rinearson bought horses and cattle instead, and sent them to California. Gray succeeded in getting about six hundred head through to Astoria in safety; but, in crossing Young’s Bay to get to Clatsop Plains, the scow upon which he had them was wrecked, drowning all the animals. McEwen delivered about three hundred and fifty at Oregon City, which were distributed over the country. Though not remunerative, this venture gave a start of sheep in the country.
As the country has grown, the Colonel has found the management of his farm and large real-estate interests at Astoria sufficient to occupy his attention; and he built a handsome residence on the site of the old fort of John Jacob Astor’s time (1811), where he still lives. Mrs. Taylor, of the De Armon family of Pennsylvania, was also a pioneer of Ohio, and has been to the social life of Oregon what her husband has been to its business interests. Of their five children, one son is a merchant in Astoria; and another is the judge of the fifth judicial district of Oregon. Their oldest daughter is the wife of Captain White, U.S. revenue marine. Another daughter is married and is living in Portland; and a single daughter is at home.
The Colonel has never been a politician in the usual acceptation of that term, but in 1857 was the first Republican ever elected to an Oregon legislature, but was counted out, however, by brother Whigs and Democrats on account of his politics, which could not be tolerated at that early day by the old parties then dominant.
Thus pleasantly situated, in an exceptionally vigorous old age, surrounded by their children, and by the result of their labors, these venerable pioneers enjoy the life and the state which they have done so much to establish.