Portland, Oregon: Its History and Builders/Volume 2/Reuben Patrick Boise


When, at the age of eighty-six years, Judge Reuben Patrick Boise retired from the bench he thus terminated the longest period ever served by any judge in Oregon and eight years more in public office made his active official career cover a period of forty-three years. The record of no Oregon official has been more faultless in honor, fearless in conduct or stainless in reputation. The history of the judiciary of the state would be incomplete without mention of him, for his name is written high on the keystone of the legal arch.

From the date of his birth in Blandford, Massachusetts, June 9, 1818, until his death in Salem, Oregon, on the 10th of April, 1907, his life was one of untiring activity and usefulness. Following his graduation from Williams College with the Bachelor of Arts degree in 1843 he prepared for and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1847. He then practiced law in his native state until 1850, but the west, with its broadening opportunity, called him and by way of the Isthmus of Panama he made his way to Oregon. The year following his arrival—1831—he was appointed by Judge Pratt to the position of district attorney and the following year was elected to the office by the territorial legislature. In 1854, in connection with James K. Kelly and D. R. Bigelow, he prepared the first code of Oregon laws and in many ways was closely associated with shaping the policy and molding the destiny of Oregon during its territorial days and in the opening years of statehood. He was a member of the territorial legislature and represented Polk county in the constitutional convention, his knowledge of law enabling him to aid largely in framing the organic law of the state.

In 1857 he was appointed by President Buchanan one of the justices of the supreme court for the Oregon territory and continued in the office until the admission of the state to the Union. He was then elected one of the first supreme judges, serving until 1870, when he was reelected but resigned on account of a threatened contest of election. He resumed the private practice of law but the value of his service was too widely recognized to permit him to remain long in private life and in 1874 he was elected one of the capitol building commissioners. In 1876 he was again elected supreme judge, serving until 1878, when the legislature divided the supreme and circuit judges into distinct classes. He was then appointed by Governor Thayer one of the supreme judges and served until 1880. His preference, however, was for circuit court work and in that year he was elected judge of the third judicial district, comprising the counties of Marion, Linn, Polk, Yamhill and Tillamook, continuing in that position by reelection until 1892. Resuming the practice of law, he continued a member of the Salem bar from 1892 until 1898, when he was again elected judge of the third judicial district and remained upon the bench until July, 1904, when he retired from public life at the venerable age of eighty-six years. He served on the supreme bench for seventeen years and on the circuit bench for eighteen years, his thirty-five years' service constituting the longest period of any judge in the state. Eight years more as a public servant made his active official career cover forty-three years—said by ex-Governor Geer to be the longest official record of any resident of Oregon.

Judge Boise always took an active part in public affairs, his influence being found on the side of progress and advancement and constituting a weighty element for success in that direction. He was a fluent speaker and delivered many notable addresses before the Pioneer Society, the State Historical Society and the State Bar Association, while the address which he delivered on the occasion of the unveiling of the Jason Lee monument on the fiftieth anniversary of statehood displayed great eloquence and literary ability. He was deeply interested in educational progress, was a member of the first' school board of Portland and at different times served as a trustee and member of the board of regents of the State Agricultural College at Corvallis; of La Creole Academy at Dallas; Willamette University at Salem; and the Pacific University of Forest Grove, the last named conferring upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws. He also took an active interest in the agricultural development of Oregon and at his death owned twenty-five hundred acres near Dallas, a part of which was his donation claim, secured from the government soon after his arrival in Oregon. He also owned one hundred acres adjoining the Indian school near Salem and the home farm of sixty acres within the corporate limits of Salem. He was five times elected master of the Oregon state grange, was many times a delegate to the national grange and contributed in substantial measure to the development and progress along agricultural lines, his own farming interests proving the possibility for the production of many kinds of fruit and cereal in the northwest.

Judge Boise was married twice. In 1851, in San Francisco, he wedded Ellen Frances Lyon, to whom he plighted his troth before leaving Massachusetts, and who with her parents came around Cape Horn that year. Three children of that marriage survive: Fisher A., now a resident of Dallas; Reuben P., of Salem; and Whitney L., of Portland, who is mentioned elsewhere in this volume. In 1867 Judge Boise wedded Miss Emily A. Pratt, of Worcester Massachusetts, who with their only daughter lives at Salem. The other daughter of this union. Ellen S. Boise, was drowned at North Beach in 1891.

When Judge Boise passed away his high standing as a man and citizen and as a representative of the judiciary of the state was indicated in the articles and editorials which filled the Oregon press, commenting upon his long and honorable service. Moreover, at the time of his demise all courts adjourned, all bar associations and public bodies passed resolutions and the leading public officials attended the funeral services. Associate Justice, now Chief Justice Moore, of the supreme court, said of him: "Judge Boise has probably done more than any other man to systematize the practice of law in this state and raise it to a higher standard. He was a man whose ability and integrity were recognized by all who knew him. His work stands as a monument to his glory. He and Judge Williams have played a great part in formulating the practice of our courts."

At the funeral services his lifelong friend. Hon. George H. Williams, paid to him the following tribute: "I have but a few words to say: Our departed friend comes down to his grave full of years and full of honors. He did not attain the highest office in the gift of the people but the position to which he was elected he filled with fidelity and a high and honorable sense of duty. 'Honor and fame from no condition rise; act well your part, there all the honor lies.' Judge Boise acted well his part, for which praises and honor are due to his memory. Few men have been more fortunate than Judge Boise was in his life. He was fortunate in the enjoyment of the confidence and respect of all who knew him. He was fortunate in his family, fortunate in his friends, fortunate in those circumstances which conducted to his comfort and especially fortunate in retaining his faculties unimpaired to the close of his long and useful life. Judge Boise, when living, was the oldest lawyer in the state and now he is gone. I am the oldest lawyer and as my relations to him were quite intimate I feel like one who treads alone 'some banquet hall deserted.' When I came to Oregon, now nearly fifty-four years ago, Judge Boise was in active practice of his profession. He was prosecuting attorney, while I was judge in this district, and made an able and efficient officer. Since then for the most part of the time he has been judge of the supreme or district courts and at all times and under all circumstances he was an upright and impartial judge. Judge Boise in his private life was irreproachable and his public life was above suspicion. When a man has reached the great age of Judge Boise, honored and respected as he was, there is no occasion to mourn over his departure. It is just as natural to die as it is to live—all must die—every blade of grass, every flower, every tree, every living creature must die; it is the inevitable law of nature and it is our duty to acquiesce as cheerfully as we can in this unchanging and universal law. I know that when death severs the ties of family and kindred it is natural for the bereaved to experience a sense of sorrow, but this sorrow is greatly alleviated when those who are left behind can look back upon the record that the departed one has made with pride and satisfaction. Springtime is a suitable time for an old man to take his departure from this world. When the trees are putting forth their leaves and the buds and blossoms begin to appear and the sun is shining and the birds are singing, and when all nature is putting on the habiliments of a new life, it is fitting that an old man should pass out of the winter of his life into the springtime of another and better existence. When the sun goes down it reflects upon the clouds that hang upon the horizon a golden hue and when a man like Judge Boise dies the record of his life reflects upon those who survive a radiance that resembles the glory of the setting sun. Whatever may befall our friend in another state of existence we can have no reason to doubt that he will receive his reward for the good deeds done in the body and we can all join as we sit around his lifeless remains in saying in the sincerity of our hearts, 'Well done, good and faithful servant, rest in peace.'"