Biographical Sketches of Black Pioneers

Biographical Sketches of Black Pioneers - Stories


Richard and America Bogle


In 1843, Daniel Waldo and his family emigrated to the Oregon Country in the same wagon train as Jesse Applegate. His family included his slaves, one of whom was the mother of his child, America Waldo. The Waldo family settled in the hills outside Salem, and the area around the Waldo claim is now known as the Waldo Hills. They built their home with a separate building for the slaves, including America. Daniel Waldo was a member of the 1844 legislature and voted in favor of the "Lash Law" which passed in June of that year.

Richard A. Bogle was born in the West Indies in 1835. He moved to New York City at the age of twelve, and to the Oregon Territory in 1851 at the age of sixteen. Three years later, he moved to Yreka, California, and apprenticed to a barber by the name of Nathaniel Ferber. Bogle worked for Ferber for three years before returning to Oregon and opening a barber shop in Roseburg.

Richard Bogle and America Waldo were married in 1863 and moved to Walla Walla in the Washington Territory. There, Richard tried his hand at mining, but he didn't strike it rich and later returned to his old trade of barbering. The Bogles made their money ranching, and were quite successful at it. Richard was sufficiently wealthy that he was one of the founders of the Walla Walla Savings and Loan Association, providing some of the seed capital for the organization and backing it with his good name. Richard and America had eight children together, at least two of whom went on to become barbers in Portland.

George Washington Bush

    George Bush was a veteran of the War of 1812, a former employee of the Hudson's Bay Company who had been as far west as the Pacific Coast as early as the 1820s, and a wealthy farmer and rancher in western Missouri before becoming an Oregon Trail emigrant in 1844. Along with his friend, Michael Simmons, Bush headed west in a wagon train guided by Moses Harris. He hoped to put the racism of Missouri behind him.

    Bush purchased six wagons for the journey, four of which were for other families. He and his Irish wife, Isabel, cared for children who were orphaned on the Trail. John Minto, an Englishman traveling with the Bush-Simmons Party, commented in his diary about a conversation he had with Bush. Minto wrote that Bush was concerned about how he would be treated in the Oregon Country, and he had resolved to move on if he was treated poorly.

    When the party arrived at The Dalles, Minto rode ahead to Fort Vancouver to obtain fresh supplies. When he returned to the wagon train, he told Bush of the "Lash Law" recently enacted by the Provisional Government. Bush and some of the others decided to break off from the main body of the train and look for land north of the Columbia River. As the British were still nominally in control there, they hoped for better treatment from the Hudson's Bay Company. Most of the party crossed the river and wintered in Washougal before heading north in 1845. George Bush remained in The Dalles with the party's cattle, rejoining them in the spring when the cattle could be ferried across the river.

    The story is also told that George Bush had trapped the Puget Sound area as an HBC employee in the 1820s, and he knew exactly where he was going from the moment he left Missouri.

    Though the British were less than enthusiastic about permitting American settlers north of the Columbia, the Bush-Simmons Party was granted credit to resupply at Fort Vancouver before striking out in search of good land. Bush and Simmons worked off the debt by splitting shingles at the fort.

    The group made their way north with the women driving the oxen and cattle and the men blazing the trail as they went. Progress was slow but steady all the way to Puget Sound. There, all thirty settlers in the party had to share a single cabin during the first winter. In 1846, two years after setting out from Missouri, they finally set about clearing their own land and building their own cabins.

    The land settled by George Bush and his family came to be known as Bush Prairie. The family was well-liked in the area, and they had a reputation for being generous in times of need. The winter of 1852 was a particularly hard one, and grain supplies had run low. Bush had enjoyed a fine harvest that year and had plenty of grain in storage. When tempted to sell to a buyer offering an inflated price, Bush declined saying, "I'll just keep my grain to let my neighbors who have had failures have enough to live on and for seeding their fields in the spring. They have no money to pay your fancy prices and I don't intend to see them want for anything in my power to provide them with."

    The Bush-Simmons Party is credited by some historians as having been in large part responsible for bringing the land north of the Columbia River -- the present-day state of Washington -- into the United States. They established a presence that attracted other settlers and strengthened the American claim to the area in later debates between Great Britain and the United States over partitioning the Oregon Country.

    The Bush family continued to influence Washington for at least one more generation: William Owen Bush, son of George and Isabel, was elected to Washington's first state legislature. There, he introduced the bill that established the institution now known as Washington State University in 1890.

    Moses Harris

      Also known as Black Harris and the Black Squire, Moses Harris became a wagon train guide on the Oregon Trail after spending years exploring and fur trapping in the mountains. He is thought to have first ventured into the West in 1823, and he was considered an expert in winter travel.

      In 1836, Harris helped guide the Whitman-Spalding Party to Oregon. He is credited with having helped build Fort Laramie, and he may have been in on the party of trappers who christened Independence Rock. In 1844, he guided a wagon train of 500 people over the Oregon Trail to Fort Vancouver, a train which included George Washington Bush and the Holmes and Ford families.

      In 1845, Harris was in The Dalles when Stephen Meek stumbled into town after having gotten a wagon train lost trying to cross the high desert. Harris was the only person willing to help, and after bargaining for supplies from local Indians, he led the surviving members of Meek's party to safety at The Dalles.

      Harris later helped rescue a group stranded on the Applegate Trail in southern Oregon, and he participated in efforts to explore the Cascade Mountain in search of a route better than the Barlow Road. He continued to guide wagon trains until dying of cholera in 1849.

      In 1844, James Clyman wrote a mock epitaph for his friend:

      Here lies the bones of old Black Harris
      who often traveled beyond the far west
      and for the freedom of Equal rights
      he crossed the snowy mountain heights.
      He was a free and easy kind of soul
      especially with a Belly full.

      Reuben Shipley and Mary Jane Holmes

        Reuben Shipley's owner granted him his freedom upon arriving in the Oregon Territory in 1853. Because his wife and sons were owned by another family, Shipley was forced to leave them behind in Missouri. After arriving in Oregon, he tried to buy his family, but the owner informed him that his wife had died the previous year, when he was on the Oregon Trail, and he refused to sell Shipley his sons.

        Mary Jane Holmes came to Oregon with her parents, Robin and Polly, in 1844 as the slaves of Nathaniel Ford and his family. The wagon train they came with also included black pioneer George Washington Bush and was led by renowned guide Moses "Black" Harris. Nathaniel Ford freed Robin, Polly, and their youngest child in 1850, but he did not grant freedom to Mary Jane and two of her Oregon-born siblings. Robin Holmes engaged Ford in a long court battle which ended with the court ordering Ford to free the three Holmes children in 1853, but despite this tension, Mary Jane Holmes continued to live with the Fords until she married Reuben Shipley in 1857. Even though she had been freed by the courts, Shipley was forced to pay $750 to Ford for permission to marry Mary Jane.

        The Shipleys settled in Benton County and raised six children. They were well-liked by their neighbors, and in 1861 Shipley donated two acres of his land to the county for Mount Union Cemetery. His donation included the provision that the county permit blacks to be buried in the cemetery. Reuben, Mary Jane, and one of their daughters were eventually buried there.

        Rose Jackson

          Rose came west as a slave to the Allen family in 1849. Since the Allens knew of the exclusion laws in the Oregon Territory, they planned to leave her behind, but she begged to accompany the family. With the support of the Allen daughters, the family patriarch, Dr. William Allen, relented. However, since it was illegal to bring slaves into Oregon, they were forced to smuggle Rose across the length of the Oregon Trail in a box with air holes drilled in it. Rose came out only at night to stretch and get a breath of fresh air.

          Rose's owner, Dr. Allen, died one year after arriving in the Oregon Territory; his wife later remarried, becoming the wife of Dr. William Barlow.

          Rose was credited with saving the family much misery during their first winter in Oregon -- always a difficult time for emigrants. While Mrs. Allen found work as a seamstress and made $2 a day, Rose worked as a laundress and could bring home as much as $12 a day. Though Rose was freed when the family entered Oregon, all her earnings that first winter went to support the family.

          Rose later married John Jackson, a groom for stagecoach horses in Canemah. The couple moved to Waldo Hills outside Salem and raised two children, Rose and Charles.

          William (John) Livingston

            William was born in Missouri and was a childhood friend of Samuel Clemens (better known as Mark Twain). He was later sold to Judge Ringo, who freed him during the Civil War in 1863. The following year, Livingston came to Oregon with Ringo's son. The Judge himself came west in 1865. Livingston continued to work for the Ringos in Oregon and was eventually given 40 acres of land by the Judge and a team of horses by the younger Ringo in recognition of his long service.

            Like many other settlers, Livingston worked his way up in Oregon. He worked at many different jobs through the years, but he maintained a friendship with the Ringo family and the respect of the communities in which he lived. Livingston spent some time working as a hostler in Canemah, caring for stagecoach horses at one of the relay stations where the stagecoach changed teams, and he worked at a lumber mill until he'd saved enough money to start his own business.

            He married Alice Irene Cooper in 1876, and the couple had a son, Charles, the following year. When Livingston died in 1912, he owned 180 acres of land in eastern Oregon and his estate was valued at over $15,000. Hundreds of friends and family members attended his funeral.

            George Washington

              George Washington came west with the Cochrans, a white family that had adopted him as a child, in 1850. The family settled in Oregon City, where Washington got a job cutting timber for $90 a month plus board. However, after only three months on the job, he became seriously ill and was taken to the only hospital in the area at Fort Vancouver, the former Hudson's Bay Company trading post.

              Though it was now an Army hospital, when the doctor saw how sick he was, he let him stay. Washington spent several months in the hospital recuperating, and the Cochran family moved north, across the Columbia River, to be near him. Twice a week during his recovery, Mrs. Cochran took him a home-cooked meal.

              When he was given a clean bill of health, the family moved farther north to Cowlitz Landing. The Cochrans built a cabin and began to take in boarders. George moved to the site of present-day Centralia and built his own one-room cabin. He established a pole ferry on the Skookumchuck River and often opened his home to travelers when nightfall was nearing.

              Because of discriminatory laws, Washington could not claim his land and was technically a squatter. Still, he fenced off and cleared a twelve acre farm, owned two milk cows, and was respected by whites and Native Americans alike.

              Washington's livelihood was threatened when two men decided to file a claim which included his prime land. The Cochrans came to his aid: since they had not yet claimed land in their own names, they hurried down to Oregon City and claimed 640 acres along the Skookumchuck. The Cochran claim, of course, included Washington's twelve acres.

              Once the family had lived on their claim for four years, they could sell it. Washington purchased all 640 acres for $3200, and he went on to buy still more land in the area. His farm did consistently well through the years, and he traveled to Olympia twice a year to get a good price for his grain. On one of his trips there, he met Mary Jane Cooness, a widow with one son. They were married in 1869.

              In 1872, the Northern Pacific Railroad chose a route passing near Washington's land, and he decided to found a town. With the help of his wife and stepson, he platted the town of Centerville (later changed to Centralia) and filed it in 1875. Washington divided up his property into $10 lots and offered them to anyone who would live on the land. He refused to sell to speculators.

              Washington was a generous and well-liked landlord, donating land for a park, church, and cemetery and helping to build many of the first structures in town. He owned some of them, naturally, and charged reasonable rents to attract tenants. He did not permit saloons or other disreputable businesses to become established on his property. During hard times, he forgave overdue rents and sometimes even fed and cared for sick tenants. He helped many people in Centralia buy land or start businesses by loaning them money.

              George's first wife, Mary Jane, died in 1889, and he remarried the following year. In 1891, at the age of 73, he had a son. Washington later separated from his second wife but kept custody of his son. He died following a buggy accident in 1905 at the age of 87.

              Timeline of Black History in the Pacific Northwest

                Marcus Lopez, cabin boy of Captain Robert Gray, becomes the first person of African descent known to have set foot on Oregon soil.

                York, William Clark's slave, comes west with Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery.

                Slavery is declared illegal in the Oregon Country. The infamous "Lash Law," requiring that blacks in Oregon -- be they free or slave -- be whipped twice a year "until he or she shall quit the territory," is passed in June. It is soon deemed too harsh and its provisions for punishment are reduced to forced labor in December.

                Oregon's Provisional Government passes the first Exclusion Law in the Oregon Country following the Whitman Massacre in 1847.

                Federally-appointed Governor Joseph Lane arrives to proclaim that Oregon is now a Territory of the United States.

                The Oregon Donation Land Act becomes law, granting free land to "whites and half-breed Indians" in the Oregon Territory. Note that the language of the act prevents blacks from claiming land in Oregon.

                Jacob Vanderpool, a saloonkeeper living in Salem, becomes the only person known to have been kicked out of the Oregon Territory because of his skin color.

                An attempt to pass an exclusion law in California is defeated. The idea is periodically resurrected until the Civil War, but never again gathers as much open support as during this attempt.

                Washington Territory is formed.

                Oregon's Exclusion Law is repealed. Following the gold strikes in southern Oregon, pro-slavery forces advocate forming a new state in southern Oregon and northern California, but the movement fails when Californians reject the idea of reducing the size of their state.

                The pro-slavery separatists in southern Oregon bring an amendment to vote but again fail to carve a new federal Territory out of the southwestern region of the Oregon Territory. Although slavery is illegal in the Territory, a bill to protect slave property in Oregon is proposed in the Territorial Legislature. It is voted down on the grounds that it would grant special rights to slave owners. Meanwhile, a new exclusion law is added by popular vote to the constitution's Bill of Rights.

                Just prior to statehood, Oregon elects its first state officials. Governor "Honest John" Whiteaker, as well as many lesser officials, were well known for their pro-slavery views. In California, an exclusion law again threatens to pass the state legislature. Despite its failure, pervasive racism along America's West Coast inspires many black settlers to head north to British Columbia.

                On February 14, 1859, Oregon becomes the first state admitted to the Union with an exclusion law written into the state constitution.

                The Civil War begins in the East. The Knights of the Golden Circle, an anti-Union, pro-slavery group, opens chapters in many Oregon communities. Their ultimate goal in the Northwest is to secede from the US and found their own Pacific Coast Republic.

                Oregon adopts a law requiring all blacks, Chinese, Hawaiians, and Mulattos (an archaic term referring to people of mixed ethnic heritage) residing in Oregon to pay an annual tax of $5. If they could not pay this tax, the law empowered the state to press them into service maintaining state roads for 50 cents a day. Interracial marriages are banned in Oregon; it is against the law for whites to marry anyone 1/4 or more black.

                The Knights of the Golden Circle become openly militant, but the group falls apart when it becomes apparent that the Union will win the Civil War.

                The Civil War ends at Apomattox Courthouse. The Thirteenth Amendment, banning slavery in the United States, passes by referendum in Oregon.

                Oregon's citizens do not pass the Fourteenth Amendment, granting citizenship to blacks. The state's ban on interracial marriages is extended to prevent whites from marrying anyone who is 1/4 or more Chinese or Hawaiian, and 1/2 or more Native American.

                Fourteenth Amendment passes in Oregon.

                The Fifteenth Amendment, granting black men the right to vote, is added to the US Constitution despite failing to pass in both Oregon and California. This federal law supersedes a clause in the Oregon State Constitution banning black suffrage.

                An attempt is made to amend the Oregon Constitution to remove its ban on black suffrage. The effort fails despite the fact that the clause in question was rendered moot following the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, as noted above. Further attempts to remove the language prohibiting blacks from voting were made in 1895, 1916, and 1927.

                A ban on interracial marriages in the Washington Territory is lifted.

                Washington gains statehood. The state constitution includes a ban on racial discrimination in schools.

                California passes its first civil rights legislation.

                The Portland chapter of the NAACP, the oldest continually chartered chapter west of the Mississippi River, is founded.

                Oregon repeals its exclusion law, amending the state constitution to remove it from the Bill of Rights.

                The Oregon State Constitution is finally amended to remove a clause denying blacks the right to vote.

                The Supreme Court declares California's law banning interracial marriages to be unconstitutional.

                Oregon repeals its law prohibiting interracial marriages.

                Oregon voters ratify the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

                Slavery in the Oregon Country

                  Although slavery was declared illegal in 1844 by the Oregon Provisional Government, many people brought slaves with them across the Oregon Trail. Due to the length and difficulty of the journey, most slave owners brought only a few slaves West -- often a single longtime family servant and generally no more than a family of slaves, or at least those members deemed able to survive the trip.

                  The ban on slavery in the Oregon Country had nothing to do with abolitionist leanings. In fact, the opposite was true: slavery was outlawed as a means of keeping the black population in Oregon to a minimum. Owning slaves was widely tolerated in the Northwest, and while some slaves successfully sued for their freedom or the freedom of loved ones, no whites were ever forced to free their slaves upon entering the Oregon Country after 1844. However, some did follow through on promises to free their slaves upon arriving in Oregon, and a small population of free blacks gradually became established in the Pacific Northwest.

                  Slaves were too valuable for many owners to willingly give them up. Nathaniel Ford, an emigrant of 1844, brought with him three slaves: Robin and Polly Holmes, and their daughter Mary Jane. Ford had promised to free the Holmes family after he had established himself in Oregon, but in 1850 he agreed to free only Robin, Polly, and their infant son -- the Fords kept three other children, including Mary Jane. After a long court battle, the other children were freed by order of the court in 1853. The judge cited the fact that slavery was illegal in the Oregon Territory as the reason for his decision. Although she had been freed, Mary Jane Holmes continued to live with the Fords until her marriage in 1857, and her husband had to pay Nathaniel Ford $750 for permission to marry her.

                  Not all relationships between slave and master were so antagonistic. In 1849, Rose Jackson willingly traveled the Oregon Trail inside a box in the back of a wagon, coming out only at night to stretch and get some fresh air. Her owners credited her work as a laundress with helping the family survive their first winter in Oregon.

                  Racism became more widespread and severe along the West Coast in the years leading up to the Civil War. The California legislature almost passed exclusion laws twice, prompting many free blacks to head north to British Columbia. Some slaves still held in the old Oregon Country escaped north, as well. In 1860, a boy held by James Tilton, Surveyor General of the Washington Territory, escaped to Victoria, BC, and was protected by the British. Nothing came of Tilton's protests to the Secretary of State in Washington, DC.

                  Pro-slavery groups agitated repeatedly to form a new federal Territory -- and eventually a new slave state -- out of what is now southwestern Oregon and northern California. Significant gold strikes in that area in the early 1850s lent some weight to the forces backing this plan, but the first effort in 1854 was thwarted when California refused to cede any of its land. A second attempt in 1857 also failed.

                  Also in 1857, a bill was proposed in the Territorial Legislature to protect the property of slave owners. While ostensibly intended to protect the interests of slave owners passing through the Territory, it was almost certainly intended to legalize slavery by allowing slave owners to keep their slaves after moving to the Oregon Territory. Forces opposed to the bill defeated it by arguing that it would grant special rights to slave owners which were not enjoyed by the citizens of Oregon.

                  With statehood imminent in 1858, Oregonians elected their first slate of state officers and legislators. Pro-slavery forces made an excellent showing at the polls, as Governor "Honest John" Whiteaker and other officials elected that year were well known for their views on blacks. Still, Governor Whiteaker was judged to have ably guided the newly minted State of Oregon through the Civil War. One of his contemporaries, Judge Matthew Deady, said of him, "Old Whit ... Wrong in the head in politics, he is honest and right in the heart."

                  Oregon's early racial politics were dominated by a wish to simply be free of the problem altogether by not allowing blacks to settle here. There was a degree of consensus between the pro-slavery and abolitionist sides to ignore the problem and hope it stayed in the East. Ignoring the problem, however, gave tacit approval to scofflaws who continued to hold slaves after settling in Oregon

                  Exclusion Laws

                    In June, 1844, the Provisional Government of Oregon enacted its first laws regarding the status of slaves, and therefore blacks, in the Oregon Country. Slavery was declared to be illegal, and settlers who currently owned slaves were required to free them within three years. Any free blacks age 18 or older had to leave the area, men within two years and women within three. Black children were permitted to stay in the Oregon Country until they reached age 18.

                    The original exclusion law was the infamous "Lash Law" which subjected blacks found guilty of violating the law to whippings -- no less than 20 and no more than 39 strokes of the lash -- every six months "until he or she shall quit the territory." It was soon recognized that this punishment was far too severe, and the law was modified before it went into effect.

                    The new version, enacted in December, 1844, replaced the whippings with forced labor. If a black person was tried and found guilty of being in the Oregon Country illegally, he or she was to be hired out publicly to whomever would employ them for the shortest amount of time. After the period of forced labor expired, the "employer" had six months to get the black individual out of Oregon. Failure to do so was punishable by a fine of $1000. This law was to go into effect in 1846, by which time those who wrote it doubtless hoped that most blacks would have left Oregon, but it was repealed in the 1845 session of the Provisional Legislature.

                    Another exclusion law was passed in September, 1849, which simply forbade blacks from settling in the newly-declared Oregon Territory. Any already in residence were permitted to stay. In 1851, Jacob Vanderpool, a Salem boarding house and saloon owner, became the only person known to have been exiled from the Territory under Oregon's exclusion laws. The law under which he was charged and sentenced was repealed in 1854.

                    Oregon ratified its state constitution in November, 1857. On the popular ballot for the constitution, there were also two other referendum issues on which citizens were asked to vote. Oregonians rejected slavery but approved adding a new exclusion law to the constitution. This law became part of Oregon's original Bill of Rights.

                    When Oregon's constitution was submitted to Congress for approval, some Northern legislators complained about the exclusion law. However, others saw it as a structured way to avoid bloodshed over racial issues and the spread of slavery. Thus, in February, 1859, Oregon became the only state admitted to the Union with an exclusion law in its constitution. After several unsuccessful attempts, the state constitution was finally amended in 1926 to remove the exclusion law from the state Bill of Rights. Over 60,000 voters declined to vote on the issue when casting their ballots. A separate clause in Oregon's constitution banning black suffrage was repealed the following year. Of course, these laws had long since been superseded by federal laws and amendments to the US Constitution following the Civil War, but they remained enshrined in the state constitution for 60 years.

                    Exclusion laws seems bizarre and reprehensible today, but they were not uncommon in the Nineteenth Century. Settlers in the Oregon Country brought the idea with them from their old homes in Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. Both Illinois and Indiana had exclusion laws on the books in the Nineteenth Century, and all four states denied free blacks the right to vote and restricted their ability to testify in court. Some state and local laws required blacks to post a bond to guarantee their good behavior or to produce proof of their freedom upon the demand of any white person.

                    The fact that exclusion laws were enacted in Oregon was attractive to some prospective emigrants. Oregon seemed so far away from the United States in the 1840s that some of the settlers probably thought that they really did have a chance to avoid the issues of race and slavery by simply legislating away people of African descent. Some Oregonians supported the laws because they feared the violence that surrounded the politics of slavery in the East; others feared that enslaved blacks would take their jobs if they were brought West in significant numbers; still others were simply out-and-out racists.

                    Following the killings at the Whitman Mission in 1847, a wave of racial paranoia swept through the Willamette Valley. Many Oregonians convinced themselves that blacks and Indians might collaborate, joining forces to wipe out all the whites in the Oregon Country. Some went so far as to argue that without the exclusion laws, African Americans and Native Americans might intermarry and eventually reduce the white population to a threatened minority. As noted, the modified "Lash Law" was repealed in 1845; the fear following the Whitman Massacre led to the exclusion law of 1848.

                    There was no organized abolitionist movement in Oregon the way there was in the East, but many white friends of black settlers submitted petitions to the Provisional and Territorial Legislatures asking for exemptions for their friends. In addition, there were many petitions to repeal the exclusion laws submitted through the years. They even succeeded once or twice, but the laws were never out of force for long.

                      Interesting page but some of the information on America Waldo at the top ("Richard and America Bogle") is incorrect. Daniel Waldo could not be the father of America Waldo Bogle because she was born in Missouri June 1844, but Daniel Waldo & his family left Missouri on the wagon train to Oregon in June 1843. See: