JAMES W.F. OWENS. – This gentleman was the eldest son of the pioneer Thomas Owens, and came as an infant in arms with his parents to Oregon in 1843, his birthplace having been Platte county, Missouri. In 1853 he removed with his parents to the Umpqua valley, and, amid the beautiful scenes of that almost unearthly region, grew to a vigorous manhood. His only education was received during a six months’ term of school at Dallas; but, having a phenomenal memory, this laid the basis for his large information of later years. He was one of those men who devour books and entertain very positive opinions upon the important subjects of life.
The free and withal romantic life of a stock-raiser suited his bent; and in that business he was very successful. Marrying Miss Nannie L. Stevens of Ohio in 1864, he made for himself a cozy home, and gathered about him the comforts of life. Four children came to bless his life; and his early prospects were equal to those of anyone in our state. he owned for a long time a ferry on the Umpqua river, but made his residence at Roseburg. Gaining the confidence of the people, he was elected to the Oregon legislature in 1874 on the Independent ticket. During those years he was also very active in the Good Templar lodge, and was advanced to the most honored positions in that order, being elected state deputy in 172. In 1877 he went heart and soul into the work of organizing the State Grange. In that year the local association erected a warehouse at Roseburg; and for nearly ten years it was in charge of Mr. Owens.
He gained the entire confidence of the city and county in a business way; and when, in 1886, he entered into the wool business, he was heartily supported and accredited by the whole community. His operations were bold and well designed. His former business methods, however, proved inadequate for his present large dealings. Trusting solely to his memory, – hitherto a safe and ready recorder, – his affairs began to pass from his control. Transactions and promises upon which he relied had no written proof of their existence, and their failure threw him into distress. Buying wool very heavily for a Boston company on a margin, the market began falling, and he was called upon to make up the deficiency. He was led into this large deal by the advice of the house at Boston. The failure of the market and the drafts upon his credit exhausted his own means; and his numerous friends were doubting as to making further advances.
With a sensitiveness born of integrity, and the final belief that he had not only ruined himself but entangled his friends, and fearing that he had no written proof by which to clear himself from the suspicion of delinquency or even of dishonesty which some would be sure to indulge, the burden of such a prospect for the time darkened his mind and clouded his reason; and in that despairing state he took his own life, – as a terrible protest of his innocence of wrong.
His honor has since been perfectly vindicated, although for a time it was viciously assailed; and there is no man whose loss has been more deeply deplored. In politics he was ever on the progressive side, examining public questions with reference to their bearing upon the welfare of the masses, and their furtherance of public morals. He was the principal originator of the Prohibition party in Oregon, and the founder of and a large contributor in the Prohibition Star, or more recently the Pacific Express.
His family of a wife and four children are living at Roseburg, and are comfortably provided for.