Cogswell, John

From Lane Co Oregon

JOHN AND MARY GAY COGSWELL John Cogswell, son of James and Mary Stratton Cogswell, was born in Whitehall, New York, February 14, 1814.

When he was ten years old, his family moved to Inkster, Michigan. At age sixteen, John left home with only seventy-five cents and a jack knife in his pocket, to seek his fortune. John found work on the Erie Canal. In later years, he often told this story of the workmen there who had to eat pork on Fridays: "It was then the Catholic priest would take the bacon and put it in the water, saying 'Go down, mamon, come up salmon', and then he would give it to them to eat".

While working in Missouri in 1840-1845, John Cogswell decided to take the trail to the "far west". Although he started on foot, he met a man who was taking a herd of horses across, who offered John a horse to ride for his assistance. Thus, John finished his long journey on horseback, arriving in California in 1845. It was in the spring of 1846 when John Cogswell first came to Oregon. He came by wagon train via Mt. Shasta, and reaching Willamette Valley, climbing Skinner's Butte. He stared at the tall, waving grass that covered the valley below and declared, "I've found what I've been seeking--a land that beats Heaven for havin' everything that a man needs."

John found work at the mouth of the Columbia River "whipping timber" (sawing oak) for ship building with "Hen" Owen. At that time he owned a "whip saw" and often remarked, "I sawed the first lumber ever sawed on the Columbia River, and had the first lawsuit in Oregon."

In 1849, when the two men heard of the gold rush in California, they embarked on a barge for the South. It was on the American River where John located his mine and where he found much gold. In 1850, having enough gold for his needs, John Cogswell gave his mine to a friend, packed his gold in saddle-bags on horses, then crossed the plains back to Pennsylvania, where he had the gold minted. Tall and handsome John Cogswell now had dreams of a large ranch well-stocked with fine cattle, horses and sheep. So, for a year, he stayed at his father's home, selecting stock and outfitting for his second journey west. Although this proved to be a long, tedious journey, it was while plodding along the trail that he caught up with the train ahead, and where he met his future wife, nineteen-year-old Mary Frances Gay, whose train had been traveling part of the time with the Illinois train. It was typical of John Cogswell that he always knew just what he wanted and how to get it. So it is not surprising that he turned to his drivers and said, "Did you see that pretty girl standing by the stove? Well, she's the woman for me-the girl I'm going to marry!" But the young lady's train pushed on ahead, entering the Willamette Valley by Barlow Pass, leaving John's train far behind. John brought his livestock down into the American River Valley, he saw the people were "as thick as bees". He wondered how so many could have crossed the plains so quickly. He came to Oregon through the Siskiyous, by the Rogue River and Table Rock, then into the Willamette Valley.

He took his donation claim on the north side of the McKenzie River, four miles east of the now Coburg Bridge, at the mouth of the Mohawk River. This included the Coburg Hills, "Old Baldy" then being known as "Old Richy's Butte", named for a man who was demented and who lived in a shack and often rolled rocks down on the road. John worked for some time on his claim, sawing and splitting timber, for there were no mills then. And he ploughed and cultivated the virgin soil for his gardens and fields. He worked very hard, while dreaming of the pretty girl he'd met on the plains. Finally, when his house was finished, (which, incidentally was said to be the first frame house built in Lane county), he mounted his strongest horse to ride up and down the valley, questioning settlers as to the whereabouts of the Gay family, who came in 1851. John Cogswell found Mary Gay near the center of the valley, visiting the Jess Looney family. It was dinner time and John was invited to stay. Needless to say, John accepted the invitation and lost no time in courting Mary, who told him that she was promised to a man back east. However, John's persistency soon changed the girl's mind and won her consent. John and Mary's license was the first marriage license to be recorded in Lane County Clerk's office. Their wedding proved to be a big event for those times, their friends coming as far as fifty miles by horseback, and in a rainstorm, to enjoy the Gay family's hospitality in their large, comfortable log house, which stood about eight miles south of Eugene City.

Mary was a beautiful bride in the wedding outfit her father had brought from Portland, and John- a proud bridegroom. Soon after the wedding, the couple rode horseback to their new home on the McKenzie River, being ferried across the Willamette River by Charles Walker Young, father of Cal Young.

On their donation claim, John Cogswell raised sheep and cattle. In 1860 he imported New Oxfordshire and Hampshire Downs sheep. The family lived on this farm for some time, where most of their eight children were born.

The names of the Cosgwell children are: Mary Anne, born 1853, Florilla, born 1856, Elizabeth Maude (Lischen), born 1858, DeEtta, born 1861, Idaho, born 1864, Boliver, born 1866, Clara, born 1868, Ivan Stratton, born 1871. Unfortunately, they lost their first two daughters, Mary Anne and Florilla, who contracted scarlet fever while visiting their grandparents, the Martin Gays, and died in 1857. They were buried on a hill near where they had played, their graves being the beginning of the Mary Gay Cogswell Pioneer Cemetery. (Other graves of the Gay and Cogswell families and their neighbors are in this old cemetery also.)

Mary loved her daughters and grieved so much that John decided to take her for a trip back east. They traveled down the coast by ship, across Panama by muleback, across the Gulf of Mexico, then up the Mississippi River. Although it was a dangerous trip, they made it there and back safely. John and Mary were residents of Lane County ever since its organization, with the exception of one year in Portland, in 1870, when his eldest daughters attended school there. At one time he owned a large part of the land where east Portland is now situated. He exchanged this however for land in Lane County, in 1871, then went back up the McKenzie River where he had a sawmill, just east of the Thurston area. He also owned another property 25 miles up the river, past Leaburg. Here he had a sheep ranch and the first pond stocked with fish, calling the place the Fish Ranch. (He lived on his Thurston ranch until after his wife died in October 8, 1887, then moved to the upper ranch.)

In 1881, John Cogswell and Captain Felix Scott managed to drive the first herd of cattle over what is now the McKenzie River Pass. He, with Felix Scott and others, were associated together in The McKenzie Wagon Road Company. Articles of incorporation were filed in Lane County Courthouse, December 20, 1862. This was to be a toll road, but did not succeed and was later disbanded. The Cogswell ranch at Thurston was heavily timbered, with many springs and streams. Here John built a ten-roomed four-gabled house near a hill by the old highway. English wisteria framed the double porches in the front and climbed to the peak of the gable. The house faced the east and on the north there was a long porch with a door leading to the kitchen. The south porch was kept filled with Mary's potted plants and hanging baskets. It was a comfortable home in those times, with its four fireplaces, halls and closets. A large woodshed at the back was kept well filled with oak, fir and bark, sawed and ready for use. And there was the spacious yard bordered with a weathered fence around the lawn extending far to the right in front. Many fruit trees, flowers and shrubs added to the beauty of this pioneer home.

The Cogswell children had the run of the place, enjoying natures bountiful gifts to the fullest. In those days there were not as many wild birds and animals, wildflowers and fruits to demand their attention. It was while living on this ranch that the children first attended school in one of their father's tenant houses, taught by Emma Gulthrie. Later they attended a new one-room log school built by their father on his land.

The Cogswell children, and many other pioneer children, were put to work too, doing chores about the place and sometimes helping their father drive stock to the upper ranch, braving the dangers of the many wolves, panthers, and bear. Their busy mother stayed home, washing, carding, and spinning wool for their clothing. There was a dam under huge maple trees, where she heated river water in a big black kettle over a fire.

Although Mary Cogswell had nine children to care for, she was already ready and willing to care for a sick neighbor, for Mary was known as a "born nurse". The Cogswells were seldom molested by Indians, although once when Mary lay ill in bed, she was startled to see a savage Indian standing at the door, who demanded payment for his land. Too frightened to speak, Mary was slightly relieved when her sister, who was visiting there, came into the house. Meanwhile, the youngest children came out from their hiding place behind the bed and followed the Indian outside, he commenced to sharpen his big knife, much to the women's consternation. Just then, hearing some men who were driving cattle down near the river, they sent one of the children to them for rescue. Aroused by this turn of events, the Indian only asked for some bread and left in haste. He was not seen again for some time.

John Cogswell had a narrow escape from starvation while traveling to eastern Oregon and becoming lost. His companion was John Diamond and the men were on horseback, wandering around for several days, until they came to an Indian camp. Here, an old squaw welcomed the men, helping them off of their horses and leading them to her fire to rest. She fed them some of her stew, which had been made with meat, wild roots and vegetables, and seasoned with strong wild onions. On this diet the men quickly gained strength, although they declared they could never stand the sight or smell of onions again!

The Cogswell family lived in their Thurston home for many years, raising and educating their children. Although a hard working family, they found time to entertain friends. Their home, which still stands today, is truly a reminder of the sturdy pioneer family who lived within its now silent walls. John Cogswell lived to see the country develop from a wilderness into a land of prosperity and plenty, and was one of its most substantial and influential citizens. He traveled much by horseback, wagon train, and by ship and steam trains. He lived to see man conquer the air! John seldom missed the Annual State Pioneer meetings, feeling proud that he was one of the earliest pioneers in the northwest.

He died May 13, 1907 at the age of 93 and was laid to rest in the Mary Gay Cogswell Pioneer Cemetery on the Martin Gay donation land claim, eight miles south of Eugene City. The Mary Gay Cogswell Cemetery was established October 4, 1857. Mary Gay Cogswell's deed to this cemetery, one acre of land, is recorded in Lane County Courthouse, Eugene, Oregon. A list of Cogswells and Gays who are buried there, follows: John Cogswell, pioneer father; Mary Frances Gay Cogswell, pioneer mother; Mary Anne Cogswell; Florilla Cogswell; Elizabeth (Lischen) Maude C. Miller (Cogswell); DeEtta Cogswell; Idaho Catherine (Cogswell) Campbell; Catherine (Cogswell) Thorne: Ivan Cogswell, Anna Stewart Gay, pioneer mother, Martha Ann Gay Masterson; David Green Gay; Sarah Julia Gay; Celeste Campbell.

(Material used for this article was compiled by the late Celeste Campbell and her sister, Eva Frazer Johnson.)

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