Biography of Francis Fletcher
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FRANCIS FLETCHER. – Mr. Fletcher was among the very earliest of the settlers of Oregon, being here two years before the establishment of the Provisional government, and has consequently seen the great development of this state and coast form its earliest inception; and he has himself been one of the most active to induce the progress of the last fifty years. He was born in Yorkshire, England, March 1, 1814, and, at the age of fourteen years, crossed the water to Ontario, Canada, and afterwards to Peoria, Illinois. In 1839, in company with Amos Cook and others, he started for Oregon.
An interesting bit of his life’s history is the chapter dating from the spring in which he left Peoria. It was then and there he heard Reverend Jason Lee, who had been to Oregon, lecture upon the then almost unknown Pacific Northwest; and he was fired with a resolve to come to the land of the setting sun. A company of sixteen men was formed, of whom our subject was the most conspicuous. They started early in May and went to Independence, Missouri, where they exchanged their wagons for pack animals, and after one week’s delay went forward upon their trip across the mountains, deserts and plains to Oregon. After traveling about one hundred and fifty miles, they saw their first Indians, a sight which so weakened two of the party that they turned back. The party traveled on the Sante Fe’ route and met Sublette’s company returning from the Rocky Mountains to St. Louis with furs. Two men who joined them at Independence had been over the route before, and led the party through a vast plain of three days’ travel, which was the feeding ground of numerous herds of buffalo that did not seem to be more wild than a band of domestic cattle that had been raised on the range. In fact the party had to send one man ahead to drive the buffalo out of the way so that the pack animals could be driven along the trail.
At the junction of the Santa Fe’ and Fort Bent roads the party separated, thirteen men going to Santa Fe’, and the rest, eight in number; among whom was our subject, going to the Fort on the South Platte. There they tried to get a guide for the rest of the journey but were unable to do so, and so remained there two months. During their stay at the fort they hunted buffalo; and one day while away from camp some Indians came and stole the most of their best horses.
In September four of the party, Amos Cook, James Holman, R. Kilborne and Mr. Fletcher, started with a trading party for Brown’s Hole on Green river, where they wintered, not having been able to get a guide or to proceed. There they met Doctor Newell, chief trader, and wife, William Doty, Jack Lanison and Joe Meek, besides several others. In the latter part of February the entire party started for Fort Hall, taking up two months’ time on the trip, which could have been made in twelve days of summer weather. Some days only four or five miles could be traveled. Streams were crossed on the ice; and wherever they could find the snow blown off from the steep hillsides they would stop to let their animals graze. Long before they got through their stock of dried buffalo meat gave out. They had nothing to eat; and, as there was no game to kill, they bought a fat dog of Doctor Newell’s wife, which they killed and ate. Finally they met some friendly Indians, form whom they purchased some buffalo meat, and arrived at Fort Hall not much the worse for their rough experience. There they remained awhile, recruiting themselves and horses until a party of traders arrived from Fort Boise, who after a short stay returned, our party accompanying them.
From Fort Boise they proceeded to The Dalles under the guidance of an Indian. From there they proceeded down the Columbia to Vancouver, where Doctor McLoughlin gave them a hearty welcome. From there they went down the river six miles, swam the stream with their stock to Sauvie’s, went from there to the Tualatin Plains, and thence to the Yamhill river where Lafayette now stands. Here they crossed the river and went to where Wheatland was afterwards built, going into camp on January 7, 1840, having been thirteen months on the way from Peoria. The party remained on the Willamette river until the fall of the year, when Fletcher and Cook went back to the Yamhill. When the town of Lafayette was laid off, they settled and remained there, rearing families and becoming leading men of their section.
In 1843 Mr. Fletcher married Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Andrew D. and Polly Smith. He passed from earth October 7, 1871, at the age of fifty-eight years, greatly mourned by his family and deplored by the community. He left a widow, six sons and two daughters, all of who are now living. A man of great natural force of character, of frontier kindliness and generosity, he was known everywhere during the early days.