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The Souvenir of Western Women/Roads and Railways—Early History

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Roads and Railways—Early History

By J. GASTON

IN all ages of the world the development of nations and the progress of civilization have been in direct proportion to the construction of highways for travel and transportation between contiguous and distant communities. The absence of means of travel and transportation has been the characteristic of barbarism; and the development of such means has always marked the dawn of commerce, progress, and prosperity. This principle has been clearly illustrated in the history and settlement of Oregon. The native Indian population built no roads, not even trails; and they had no intercourse with surrounding tribes except the casual canoe or the occasional pony. Everything stood still in barbaric solitude, until Lewis and Clark, one hundred years ago, aroused the red man from the silence of ages.

The first wagon road constructed to let population into Oregon within the territory, now composing the States of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and a part of Montana, which has been used continuously since its original location in 1845, is the road over the Cascade Mountains south of Mt. Hood, known as the "Barlow Road." It was located by Joel Palmer and Samuel K. Barlow, and was opened much of the distance over the mountains in great danger and distress by the starving, freezing immigrants of 1845. The awful trials endured by the pioneers who opened that old road, where the heroic mothers of Oregon carried their children over the ice and snows of the Cascade Range, can never be comprehended by the gentle women who, in palace cars, with every luxury of modern life, visit the Lewis and Clark Exposition. To the courage, fortitude, and energy of these unconquerable souls is due the honor of founding civilization, establishing law and education, and maintaining religion on the Pacific Coast of North America.

This old "Barlow Road" was also one of the first roads to receive a charter from the provisional government, and the only one constructed under such a charter. The road leading from the East into Southern Oregon was opened subsequent to the Barlow route, and was mainly the work of the Applegates who settled in Umpqua Valley; and the greater portion of it, like the "Oregon Trail," was in no sense a constructed road, but a trace passing over open ground. But as soon as the Territorial Legislature was organized we find the public interest in constructing free highways fully manifested, along with ample provisions for free public schools, and for seminaries, academies, and colleges.

The wagon road era may be considered the first stage in the development of Oregon. Owing to the great distance between this section and the centers of population in the Union, and to the fact of its being beyond the pale of foreign immigration, the increase of population was slow; so that when the feasibility of railroads in the state was first discussed there could not have been more than 60,000 population in Oregon.

The agitation in favor of railroads in Oregon was started, contrary to the general experience, not by men of capital able to build roads, but by men without capital, and with views and plans somewhat ahead of their time. The first tangible effort, continuously pushed until the actual construction of a railroad was commenced, started at Jacksonville, in Southern Oregon, in 1864. In 1863 S. G. Elliot, a county surveyor of California, and George H. Belden, a civil engineer of Portland, Oregon, contributed their efforts to make a preliminary survey for a line of railroad from Marysville, California, to Portland, Oregon. These two men organized a surveying party, and without means or money themselves, made their survey from Marysville north to Oregon on substantially the route where the Oregon & California line is constructed. They landed at Jacksonville in October, 1863, having collected all means to support their party from the people along the route as a bonus to help the new enterprise along.

These seedy, footsore wayfarers of the Elliot and Beldon purvey did not inspire much confidence in the building of seven hundred miles of railroad, to cost over $20,000,000. To make matters worse, and seemingly wreck the infant project, Elliot and Belden quarreled upon the point of which of them should control the location of the survey line in Oregon. Then and there both gentlemen abandoned the whole outfit, leaving their men unpaid five months' wages. Accompanying this surveying party was Col. A. C. Barry, who was acting as a sort of commissary general, and upon the desertion of Elliot and Belden, Barry put the whole party into the old Jacksonville Hospital for winter quarters, and then made a canvass of the town to interest the people or some one to raise money to pay the men and continue the survey the next year. In the course of this canvass Colonel Barry called upon J. Gaston, then a practicing attorney at Jacksonville, and fully explained his plans. Mr. Gaston agreed to take hold of the matter and help extricate the enterprise from the difficulties which had apparently wrecked it; Gaston then advancing money to pay the members of the surveying party under a contract that they should continue the work the next season. In pursuance of this agreement Colonel Barry, provided with letters from Gaston to his friends and public men, then proceeded to the Willamette Valley, going all the way from Jacksonville to Portland on foot, to enlist and arouse interest in the completion of- the survey. Having received assurances of support, Barry returned to Jacksonville, and in April, 1864, reorganized his party, and with ample supply of tents and means of transportation, on May 1 took up the line of survey where Elliot and Belden had dropped it. and by October 1 had extended this line from Jacksonville to Portland and the Columbia River—the first survey that was ever made for a line of railroad between Portland and the southern boundary of the state.

In this undertaking Mr. Gaston had paid for the outfit at Jacksonville, guaranteed the wages of the surveying party, and put in all his time in the summer and fall of 1864 in circulating petitions and memorials, and in corresponding with public men in Oregon and California to secure united action in asking of Congress a grant of public lands in aid of the construction of the Oregon & California Railroad. By November, Barry had his maps and profiles of the survey completed, and Mr. Gaston had prepared and printed Barry's report on the practicability and value of such a road, together with a "Report on the Wealth and Resources of Oregon." being the first work of the kind ever issued. All these documents were laid before a committee of Congress at the session of that year. On July 25, 1866 Congress passed the act granting lands to aid in the construction of the road.

It would require too much space for this work to enter into any history of the contest between the rival railroad corporations for possession of that land grant. As the road could not be located on both sides of the Willamette River, it was natural and inevitable for the people on both sides of the river to contend for the advantages which its construction promised. (For a full history of that contest see Vol. II, Bancroft's History of Oregon, pp. 696 to 704, and Oregon Historical Quarterly, No. 4, Vol. III, December, 1902.)

After it was decided that the east side of the Willamette Valley should have that original land grant, Mr. Gaston and his company applied to Congress a second time for a land grant in aid of the road they had started from Portland up the west side of the valley, and a grant of land for such road was made in May, 1870, being the last grant Congress ever made in aid. of railroads. This grant included aid to a branch road from Forest Grove, in Washington County, through the Nehalem Valley to Astoria. Under the first grant the railroad was built from Portland to the southern boundary of the state, and under the second grant from Portland to McMinnville. But these two grants were the foundation and opening inducements for all the railroad development of the state, which has now resulted in the construction of 1,800 miles of profitable road and great prosperity to the entire state. It is now forty years since this great work w^as commenced with such slender means at Jacksonville in 1864, and of all the men then actively connected with it, Mr. Gaston is the only surviving representative.


Mrs. Dr. Weatherford, who was on the plains from April to September, 1852, had many thrilling experiences. One day the emigrants were about to cross a stream on a willow bridge, when a howling band of Indians, gorgeously painted, brandishing their tomahawks and scalping knives, bore down upon them. The Indians demanded toll for crossing the bridge at the rate of $5.00 per man. The emigrants refused and said they would fight. "Give me your money, boys," said Mrs. Weatherford, "and I'll see what I can do." She calmly approached the Indians and pleaded with them till the chief signaled to his followers to yield. Only 50 cents a wagon was charged, and the train moved on. From this incident and similar ones Mrs. Weatherford was regarded as a saving angel. Many joined their party en route, and refused to leave the woman who could thus move the savages.