Pioneering From The Santiam To The Calapooia

Horner Museum Tour Guide Series

Pioneering from The Santiam to the Calapooia:
The Land of Linn

By Floyd Mullen and Kenneth Munford

Linn County in the central Willamette Valley of western Oregon stretches from the Willamette River 70 miles to the east to the summit of the Cascades Range and from the Santiam River on the north 35 miles south a little beyond the Calapooia River. It is approximately bounded on three sides by the rivers that drain it and on the other by snow-capped mountains.

The County encompasses 2,297 square miles, nearly 1.5 million acres, and ranges in elevation from 200 feet along the Willamette to 10,495 feet at the top of Mount Jefferson.

The western quarter of the county is mostly a flat prairie interspersed with buttes that rise abruptly from the valley floor. In the next quarter, the rolling foothills are intersected by small valleys with rich bottom lands and pastured hillsides. The eastern half is continuous forest on the western slopes of the well-watered Cascades Range.

About one-third of the county is owned by the federal government, mostly by the U.S. Forest Service, and a small part by the Bureau of Land Management. Another third in private ownership is also forest land, with Willamette Industries, U.S. Plywood, Weyerhaeuser, and other timber companies owning large tracts. Timber and related industries are the county's largest business.

Between 1845, when the first white settlers arrived, and 1976, the white population increased from 0 to 83,400 with Albany (22,800), Lebanon (8,550), and Sweet Home (4,500) the largest cities. The county bears the name of Dr. Lewis F. Linn, who, like Thomas H. Benton, was a U.S. Senator from Missouri and is best known for his attempts from 1838 to 1843 to bring about Congressional action to bring the Oregon Country under the protection of the United States.

Santiam and Calapooia Indians lived in this area but were not numerous or warlike when the first white settlers arrived. White men's diseases--smallpox, measles, "fevers," etc.--had depopulated western Oregon for half a century. By 1851 there were probably fewer than 600 Indians in the whole county; many of these were moved to the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation in 1856. Little is known of the ancestors of these people. The mounds they left along the Calapooia River, widely publicized by Prof. John B. Horner in the 1920s, have received some study since then, but not enough research has been accomplished to draw definite conclusions.

Fur traders from Astoria explored the Willamette Valley, beginning in 1812. Methodist missionaries visited the Indians in the 1830s, and Jason Lee made trips through the land of Linn on his way to the Umpqua in 1838 and 1840. For the most part, however, the grassy plains and deep, dark forests were an empty, briefly explored land when the immigrants of 1845 began pouring in and staking claims.

The first settlements arose either along the rivers, where boats could reach them or where ferries crossed them, or along the edge of the foothills, where fields were well drained and year-round roads had firmer footing than across the swampy, brushy, frequently flooded lowlands.

An Indian path, the Molalla Trail, skirted the foothills along the east side of the valley from the Clackamas River to the McKenzie River and beyond. Early fur traders and other travelers used it and in 1851 it was designated as the Territorial Road from Oregon City to Spore's Ferry (near Springfield). The Molalla Trail came into Linn County crossing the North Santiam in the vicinity of Stayton and came south through Scio to Forks of the Santiam, the plains area between the North and South branches of the county's principal river.

Most of the early settlers, however, urging their jaded oxen to one more supreme effort at the end of their 2,000-mile journey across half a continent, came along a trail farther to the west. It crossed the Santiam below the juncture of the North and Santiam Rivers.

It is at this crossing where we start our historical tour of the Land of Linn.

Hale's Ferry, Syracuse, and Santiam City

Milton Hale (1821-1911) from Kentucky and his wife, Susannah H. Brown (b. 1821 in N.C.), and their 2-year-old daughter came by covered wagon to Oregon in 1845. When they reached the Santiam River, south of which were no settlements, they forded it. On the south bank 7 miles above its mouth and near present Jefferson they found a delightful spot for a home and an orchard. They staked out a claim, reforded the river, and returned north to spend the winter at Molalla.

Next spring when they returned, the swollen river could not be forded. With axe, adze, auger, and a large pocket knife, Hale constructed a ferry boat, using two fir trees shaped into large canoes and pinning them together with split puncheons. Other immigrants following his wagon tracks soon arrived at the river and awaited completion of the boat to be ferried across. Hale's ferry became the principal means of crossing the Santiam for years to come. It was designated to be on the east side of Territorial Road; as early as 1848 Hale ran ads in the Oregon Spectator.

The Hale donation land claim (DLC) of 640 acres ran for nearly a mile along the river bend and south to include Hale Butte. Next to the ferry slip, Hale laid out a town called Syracuse, where a store, hotel, blacksmith shop, and dwellings were built. A rival town, called Santiam City, with similar services, grew up on the north bank.

While playing cards in a store in Santiam City, Hale's brother Elias got into an argument with a man named Lyndall, who became so enraged that he hit Elias over the head with a kraut maul and killed him. The murderer escaped to Astoria and was never apprehended. Milton never allowed cards to be played in his house after that.

Syracuse had a post office in 1850 but it was moved to Santiam City two years later. Jacob Conser, who operated mills on the Santiam, was the first postmaster, but he did not stay long. He found what he considered a better ferry site two miles upstream, where he started his own community.

Meanwhile, Hale helped Abner Hackleman and Hiram Smead (or Smeed), who had crossed the plains with him, build the first cabin in Albany. Hale later acquired property there and operated a ferry across the Willamette. In 1854 he helped found a company to build a bridge between Syracuse and Santiam City, but it was never built.

The Great Flood of December 1861, which washed out so many low-lying settlements along the Willamette (Linn City, Champoeg, Orleans, etc.) also eliminated these two towns and they were never rebuilt. Conser's Ferry, on higher ground, survived and grew into the town of Jefferson and became the traverse for the Territorial Road, the O&C Railroad, and the Pacific Highway (99E).

The Milton Hales had 11 children. Their second child, June, probably the first white child born in Linn County, died at age 6 and was buried in the cemetery opposite the ferry slip where three young diphtheria victims had been buried in the winter of 1847-48. Today the Hale-Simonson cemetery is no longer maintained and there is no public access to it.

The road south from Syracuse follows the trace left by Hale's early customers--the Earls, the Knoxes, the Haights, M.C. Chambers, and G.H. Baber--as they sought land to claim as their own. By the end of 1847 an estimated 50 families had moved into Linn County.

Railroad And Highway Crossing. These are the old O&C, now the main line of the Southern Pacific, and 99E, connecting Jefferson and Albany.

Hardscrabble Hill

Named by settlers from Virginia, where hard-to-climb hills of unproductive soil were known by this term. The former Scravel Hill School building is now maintained by a congregation of the Church of God.

Haight House

When Granville H. Baber (1817-1898) started building this house on his 640-acre DLC in 1846, he had to bring the lumber all the way from Oregon City. Pioneers called it the "Little White House" because it reminded them of the President's house in Washington, D.C. It was remodeled in 1915 and again in 1969. Baber sold the property to his wife's brother-in-law, Silas Haight. Ownership subsequently passed to Henry Haight, to Clair Haight, and to LeAnn Haight Cool, the present occupant.

Knox Butte

James Knox (1788-1884), a cousin of President James Knox Polk, came west in 1845 in Abner Hackleman's wagon train. He and his wife, Letetia Smith (1795-1878), were from Pennsylvania where their first five children were born. Three more were born in Ohio. Their eldest, Rebecca Ann (1821-1891) was a young widow when they came to Oregon; she married Silas Haight in 1846. Eliza Jane (1823-1874) married Granville Baber. Sons George (b. 1830) and Ellis L. (b. 1831) claimed or bought land in this vicinity. Daughter Mary Margaret (b. 1836) married M. Carey Chambers when she was 15 so that together they could claim 640 acres. Their square mile is on the southwest side of Knox Butte where District No. 19 school has stood for more than a century. The parents' claim was on the north slope of the hill that bears the family name.

The Corvallis & Eastern Right-Of Way

Bond Road on the left leads to Nathan Bond's DLC. A half mile further, the row of brush on the right and Cyrus Road on the left are along the old grade of the C&E Railroad. From here this ill-fated line ran northeast toward the North Santiam canyon. This was the railroad Colonel Hogg, Wallis Nash, and others endeavored to build from Yaquina Bay through Corvallis and Albany and across central Oregon to Boise City, Idaho. It never succeeded in crossing the Cascades. The SP still operates a section of the line from Shelburn, 8 miles northeast of here, as far as Mill City.

Cottonwoods Intersection

To many generations of college students and other young people, "Cottonwoods" meant Saturday night dances. The ballroom still offers a place to chat and dance three nights a week at 8 p.m.

A half mile north of here the first Christian (Disciples of Christ) congregation in Linn County was established in 1851 and a church was built in 1854.

Here we leave the old wagon road that goes on south to Lebanon and take the newer Highway 226, east into the area known as Forks of the Santiam. In the brown building on the right at the intersection, Floyd Mullen graduated from grade school.


When the narrow-gauge Oregonian Railway built up the valley in 1880, they named the station here for the Crabtree family, 1846 settlers northeast of here. Although young compared with other communities on our itinerary, the town has an elderly look. Note, for example, the board sidewalks beside the old store, now a tavern. Floyd Mullen's grandfather built the now abandoned two-story house on the south side of the main street in the early 1880s. The Christian church dates from 1909-1910.

Being bypassed by the relocation of Highway 226, Crabtree appears to have slumped as a commercial center, but it has a rosier day coming. As early as 1852, the editor of the Oregon Spectator predicted that the Willamette Valley can sustain a population of 3 million people. Not all of them will crowd into cities. Towns like this will grow.

The Crabtree Family. John J. Crabtree (1800-1892) from Virginia and Malinda (or Melinda) Greary or Yeary (1808-1898) from Kentucky were married when he was 25 and she was 17. Five children were born to them in Virginia. Five more arrived in Missouri before they started west from Independence in May 1845. Twins Jasper and Newton were born in a covered-wagon box on a raft floating down the Columbia on October 22. Three more children arrived later. The mother lived to be 90, the father 92.

The Crabtrees did not have to build their first shelter. One or more Packwoods, Elisha, Sr. (ancestor of Senator Packwood), or John or William, also from Virginia and in the 1845 migration, came south in the valley ahead of the Crabtrees. They staked a claim, built a cabin, and left; some say they were frightened away by Indians.

The Crabtrees spent the winter of 1845-46 in Yamhill or Tualatin country and came south the next spring. The Packwood place was exactly what they were looking for--plenty of water, grass, trees, and fertile soil. They moved into the abandoned cabin. When the Packwoods returned, rather than kicking the squatters out, they sold the property to them and left to see more of the west.

The 640-acre claim the Crabtrees filed on surrounded the place where Highway 226 crosses Crabtree Creek. The original house was near a spring on the side of Hungry Hill a half mile north of the creek. The old Crabtree house off Freeman Road is of later construction. Several Crabtree sons and daughters bought or claimed land in the vicinity. Two great granddaughters of John and Malinda are said to be still living on the original claim.

Richardson Gap

As we turn east at the foot of Hungry Hill, Franklin Butte is on the left (north) and Rogers Mountain ahead to the northeast. The valley between is Richardson Gap, where W.W. Richardson took a DLC. Members of his family settled hereabouts in the 1850s. Many sections on Rogers Mountain and the Cascades foothills to the east are O&C lands, originally given to the Oregon and California Railroad as a subsidy but revested in 1916 and now managed for public benefit by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. About 14 percent of Linn County's revenue comes from O&C lands.


"The only place in the world," said Believe-It-Or-Not Ripley, "where a river empties into a creek!" Where Roaring River joins Crabtree Creek, William Larwood settled in 1888. The town he expected never came, but Linn County has turned the delightful location into a 6-acre park. The water wheel in the creek was built about 1900 by Lee Gaines to operate a generator for electricity. The County Parks Department rebuilt the wheel in 1977-78 and wants to preserve the covered bridge.

Rockford White Park

For the County's newest park, Rockford White, a life-long resident of the community, donated 37 acres on the beautiful Roaring River.

Fish Hatchery

One of the 16 hatcheries operated by the Oregon State Game Commission. About 10 million eggs of rainbow and steelhead trout are taken annually, with about 1.5 million kept for hatching. This is the home of Herman, a 60-year-old, 80-pound, 6-foot sturgeon, who has lived at Roaring River since 1932. Herman the Sturgeon for many years regularly visited the Oregon State Fair.

School District #1

The first public school district in the County was organized in the Pleasant Valley area in 1854. What is often called the Gaines School District stood on the crest of the hill under two oak trees that are now preserved by Roscoe Gaines, a descendant of the original settler.

Providence Church and Cemetery

Joab Powell (1799-1873), a 300-pound, square-jawed, "grizzly bear of a man" with a "stentorian voice," had preached the Baptist circuit in Missouri for 20 years before coming to Oregon in 1852. Through the mid-Willamette Valley he continued his vigorous exhortations against sin and Satan and in two decades, it is claimed, baptized 3,000 souls. He had no formal education and could scarcely read or write. Others, perhaps his wife Ann Beeler or their 4 children, read to him and he committed to his retentive memory much of the Bible and the whole hymnal.

The Powells took a land claim a mile north, between here and Crabtree Creek. At the home of neighbor John Powell in April 1853, a group of immigrants, mostly from Jackson County, Missouri, met and established the United Baptist Church of Providence. The 20 charter members listed on the tablet in front of the church they built in 1856 include Elder Joab, Joab, Jr., and seven other Powells; Elder J.G. and four other Berkleys; Elder R. Cheadle, three Moores, a Snoderly, and a Davidson.

Other ministers served this pulpit, but Joab Powell become the most famous here and elsewhere, a legend in his own time. The church had 400 members at one time. It still welcomes visitors to the 10 a.m., 11 a.m., and 7 p.m. services on Sundays.

As Chaplain of the Oregon Legislature on one occasion, Joab gave a remarkably brief invocation: "Lord, forgive them, for they know not what they do!"


Elmore Kees (1812-1859), another member of Abner Hackleman's covered wagon train of 1845, came to these falls of the Santiam in 1848 and took a 637-acre DLC. His younger brother, Morgan, helped found Lebanon. Another brother, Jacob, helped Elmore put the waterpower to work. Kees Mills, they hoped, would become the manufacturing center of the Willamette Valley. They built a grist mill, a sawmill, a short railroad--with wooden 4x4 rails and pulled by oxen--to bring logs down to the sawmill, and a ferryboat to cross the Santiam. They planted an orchard and arranged for a school. Indians and trappers came to the trading center with pelts to exchange.

After Elmore Kees died in 1859, a vigorous litigation among the Kees heirs resulted in a momentous victory for one side. John Ambler, a local wit, said it was like the Battle of Waterloo. The name stuck.

Heavy snows in 1885 broke the roof of the sawmill. The grist mill closed 2 years later. A hosiery mill on the same site proved unprofitable and was turned into a woolen mill. It burned down in 1898 and was not rebuilt. Waterloo had plenty of water power but was too far from markets to compete with other manufacturing centers.

This area has a long reputation as a recreation center. People came for mineral waters. A dance floor and later a skating rink under a large maple was popular with young people on summer Sundays and evenings. Swimming and picnicking have attracted families from the valley for generations. Linn County has responded by building a l26-acre park, one of its most beautiful.

The town has been incorporated since 1883, and today has a city hall that measures 15 x 20 feet. The population has been less than 200 for a long time.

Sweet Home

This community got an early start but lived quietly nested in its little valley for 80 years before the booms started. Settlers in the 1850s came over a trail from the south through Brownsville and Crawfordsville before a road from Lebanon was built along the South Santiam. The post office dates from 1874. The town laid out a century ago had only four blocks. By 1886 it had 60 people, a flour mill, a steam sawmill, a school, and a church. It was incorporated in 1893.

A history written in the 1930s reads, "Recently, almost overnight, the sleepy little village was transformed into a pulsing, pushing, boom town, with logging operations and sawmills multiplying on every hand ... Around a billion feet of the best timber in Oregon has to pass through Sweet Home for geographical reasons." The Oregon Electric opened its (non-electrified) line to Sweet Home on April 1, 1932. U.S. Highway 20 over the Santiam Pass was completed in the same decade. World War II created a tremendous demand for lumber. Then came another boom with construction of Green Peter and Foster dams, completed in June 1967.

The remarkable East Linn Museum provides a graphic display of the heritage of the community. Even the building itself is a museum piece, having been built as a one-room school six miles to the east, then moved here in 1921 to become a church (Nazarene) for half a century. It became a museum in July 1976, maintained by energetic volunteers.


At the top of the hill as we approach Holley, gaze fondly into the lovely valley to the southeast. It may not be there forever. The U.S. Corps of Engineers has a plan to build a dam and turn the valley into a reservoir.

Holley gets its name from the Oregon grape, which settlers mistook (and misspelled) for holly.

The Christian church was organized in 1871, the first building erected in 1875, the present chapel in 1897.


Richard Finley built a grist mill on the Calapooia in 1847-48, long before Philemon Crawford founded the town and started a post office in 1870. Sawmills were built in 1850 and 1851 and in 1906 the largest sawmill and planing mill in the County were built nearby. The County's third public school district was established here.

In the early decades of this century, Crawfordsville became famous for its annual rodeo and round-up, which featured horse racing, Indian gatherings, and buckaroo contests.

The County Parks Department plans to preserve the 1932 covered bridge no longer in use. McKircher Park, between the highway and the river, is adjacent to the site of Finley's 1847 grist mill.

Presbyterians. Missionaries, ministers, and elders of several denominations of Presbyterians pioneered in the Oregon Country. The Whitman-Spalding group in the Walla Walla country represented the New School Presbyterians. Old School adherents established churches at Clatsop Plains, Eugene City, Brownsville, and Marysville. J.A. Cornwall of the Cumberland branch started churches at La Creole, Marysville, Abiqua (Silverton), McMinnville, and Spring Valley. The Associate Presbyterians' first minister was T.S. Kendall, of whom we hear more later. The Associate Reformed branch sent Wilson Blain to Oregon.

Union Point

Rev. Wilson Blain (1813-1861) and his wife Elizabeth (b. 1820) and three children born in Indiana came to Oregon in 1847; three more children were born to them in Oregon. They lived for a time in Linn City, across the Willamette from Oregon City, where he preached and served as editor of the Oregon Spectator, and as a member of the Territorial Legislature.

About 1851 they came to Linn County and took a DLC on the Territorial Road three miles south of Kirk's Ferry. Blain set about organizing an Associate Reformed congregation at the Union Point Settlement. One of the elders was Josiah Osborne (or Osborn) (1809-l880), another member of Hackleman's 1845 wagon train, who had worked in 1847 at the Whitman mission as a carpenter. He, his wife, and two small children escaped in the Whitman Massacre by hiding under a loose plank in the floor of the Indian room of the mission and then walking 20 miles to Fort Walla Walla.

At Union Point, a church of which only the foundation stones remain, was built on a knoll overlooking the valley.

Even before coming to Oregon, Blain had tried to heal the long-standing rift between Associate and Associate Reformed Presbyterians. Here in Oregon, where congregations were small and widely dispersed, he saw the possibility for reunification. He and Dr. Kendall, Associate Presbyterian minister at Oakville, became good friends. They joined forces and established the first United Presbyterian church at a meeting at Union Point in October 1852.

Associate and Associate Reformed groups in other sections of the country took similar action a few years later and in 1858 the two branches became the United Presbyterian Church on a national scale. The first congregation organized under the new name was the UP church in Albany in 1853.


This settlement on the main eastside wagon road through the Willamette Valley grew up around Alexander Kirk's ferry on the Calapooia after 1846. After the Whitman Massacre in 1847, Whitman's colleague, Rev. Henry H. Spalding, and his wife Eliza--who with Narcissa Whitman had been the first white woman to come overland to Oregon--and their children moved to this community. Spalding took a DLC and organized and taught a subscription school. He became the first postmaster in 1850. Eliza died that same year. Spalding later remarried and eventually returned to his Nez Perce mission at Lapwai, Idaho.

When early settler James Blakeley laid out the town in 1853, he named it for his Uncle Hugh L. Brown, the first store keeper. Linn County's first government was organized in Spalding's school 2 miles east of south Brownsville. Because this was the populous part of the County, most of the elected officials were local residents. They did not function effectively. All but the sheriff, who was injured and could not travel, left temporarily for the California gold mines. Albany became the county seat in 1851.

Brownsville has made a strenuous effort to preserve its heritage. The Moyer House built in 1881 by John Moyer and his wife (Hugh Brown's daughter) and the Brownsville Museum are owned by the County but maintained by residents of the community.


Richard Finley, proprietor of the Crawfordsville grist mill, built another mill here in 1858. It burned down and was rebuilt, heavy timbers for the structures both times being hand-hewn and dragged here from Crawfordsville. The town of Boston was platted in eleven residential blocks and a city square, with streets named Franklin, Main, Fulton, Jackson, and Washington. It had a carding mill, a blacksmith shop, two stores, and a saloon. Finley and his partners sold out to the Thompson family, under whose name the enlarged mill still operates as a feed mill.

The post office established in l869, like the town, did not stay here long. When the O&C Railroad was extended through the valley 1 1/2 miles to the west in 1871, the post office and business moved to Shedd. Only the mill remains as a photogenic reminder of old Boston.

Kendall Country

Rev. Thomas S. Kendall (1809-1870), a native of Ohio, came to Oregon in l845, also in Hackleman's wagon train, with his two daughters, Miranda, 9, and Julia, 7. His wife Nancy Williams had died six years previously.

A minister of the Associate Presbyterian Church, Kendall organized a congregation in Molalla before coming to Linn County. When he was circuit riding, his daughters often rode with him, one fore and one aft, on a single horse. He took a DLC of 323 acres on the Calapooia and built a bridge across the river. In 1850 he organized a congregation at Oakville. With the Associate Reformed Presbyterians in Union Point he helped organize the United Presbyterians, and took part in the expansion as new congregations arose in Albany in 1853, at Table Rock in the Rogue River Valley in 1854, at Kendall's Bridge in 1854, in the Mohawk Valley, and at Harmony, near Halsey.

Oakville Church and Cemetery

In 1878-79 the Oakville Willamette Presbyterian congregation built this church in which regular services are still held. It has been remodeled several times, the basement added in 1932.

The first Oakville church was in the cemetery, one mile north of the present church. Rev. Kendall's grave is supposed to lie beneath the spot where his pulpit stood. The plaque reads: "Site of the meeting place of the first Wi11amette Church, the first Psalm-singing congregation in Western United States. Est. 1850. Organized as United Presbyterian, 1852, Thomas S. Kenda1l, D.D., minister in whose memory this tablet is placed by relatives."

A Glimpse into the Future

As the Willamette Valley grows to the population of 3 million promised by the 1852 editor of the Oregon Spectator, some communities we have seen on this tour will develop, perhaps even Crabtree, Richardson Gap, Larwood, Waterloo, Sweet Home (for sure), Holley, Crawfordsville, Brownsville, Boston, and Oakville.

Along the Willamette on our left as we approach Corvallis, Fischer Island may become a vast recreational area. The Morse Brothers of Tangent, who are mining gravel there now, have presented a 30-40 year plan for developing lakes for swimming, water skiing, and fishing and sites for picnicking, camping, and recreational condominiums.

The Land of Linn will change, but it may not be overwhelmed. Thoughtful planning for balanced industrial, commercial, and residential growth, accompanied by an appreciation of its dramatic heritage, may well help retain the pioneer spirit.

Additional Readings

Floyd Mullen, The Land of Linn. Albany: Published by the author, [1972] 1976.

Margaret Standish Carey and Patricia Hoy Hainline, Brownsville; Halsey; and Shedd. Brownsville: Ca1apooia Publications, 1976, 1977, 1978.

Donna M. Wojcik, The Brazen Overlanders of 1845. Portland: Published by the author, 1976.

Robert C. Clark, History of the Wil1amette Valley.

Charles H. Carey, History of Oregon.

Linn County Pioneer Memorial Association, History of Linn County. (Oregon Writer's Project, Works Projects Administration) c1938.

Historical Atlas Map of Marion and Linn Counties Oregon [1876] 1976.