Thursday, October 18, 2012

William Packwood's Obituary

William H. Packwood

Closing a life that for more than half a century was interwoven with Oregon history, death came at 1:30 this afternoon to Judge William H. Packwood, aged 85, who was the last surviving member of the group that signed the state constitution when Oregon was admitted to the Union.

   Judge Packwood was venerated by innumerable friends in all parts of the country and was revered by thousands of men who had been in his employ during the years that he was identified with the growth of the state.  Traces of his work appear in ever corner of Baker County.

   Three children survive.  They are Mrs. J. L. Rand and William H. Packwood, of Baker, and Jefferson Packwood, of Seattle.  Two daughters are dead.  There are 14 grandchildren.

   Funeral arrangements had not been completed today, but they will be conducted from St. Francis Cathedral.

   No man in Baker County had a history more interesting than that of Judge Packwood.

   Few pioneers there are in Oregon who can point to a record such as Mr. Packwood's, from the day when he first set foot on Oregon soil in 1849 to the time of his death.  Mr. Packwood, bowed under the weight of his 85 years, was still an active citizen, and at the time of his death was concluding a book on the early pioneer history of Oregon, a work to which he devoted the major portion of his recent months.  In this history, George H. Himes, of the Oregon Historical Society, has expressed intense interest and declares that it will be an invaluable addition to the historical records of Oregon.

   Mr. Packwood was born at Jordan's Prairie, north of Mount Vernon, Ill, October 23, 1832, and lived there until he was 15 years old.  In his youth he met and talked to Abraham Lincoln and could recall conversations he had with the man who was to become America's greatest President.  When a boy of 15, in the Summer of 1848, he obtained the reluctant consent of his parents and enlisted for service in the Mexican war.  He never saw service in Mexico, but instead started on a march to Oregon in May, 1849, serving as an orderly until he joined his regiment at Vancouver.

   Mr. Packwood used to recount in an interesting manner how, at Astoria, he saw the timbers which had been gathered for the keel of the first steamboat to ply the waters of the Columbia, the "Columbia," which made its first trip up the river in 1850.

   The youthful pioneer went back to California in the following year and served with Major Wessels in making treaties with the Indians of California.  That same year trouble arose with the Indians of the Coquille and Coast tribes and Mr. Packwood was put in command of an expedition and started by boat to Port Orford.  The schooner Lincoln, however, was wrecked in a storm at Coos Bay, January 3, 1852, and this it was which linked Mr. Packwood's early life with Curry and Coos counties and which made it possible for him later to become a member of the constitutional convention.  Some supplies were saved from the wreck of the Lincoln and, after camping for a short time, Mr. Packwood took his command overland to Port Orford and subjugated the turbulent redskins.  He was discharged from Army service September 23, 1853, after having served five years.

   Although he had not yet reached his majority, Mr. Packwood was at last a free agent to do as he wished.  He formed a partnership with George H. Abbott and took up mining, made a little stake and then he and Mr. Abbott bought horses, sold their claims and, after packing and freighting for a while, took up ranching in Curry County.  Indians became troublesome and the youth was made Lieutenant of a volunteer company, captained by Mr. Abbott.  They subjugated the Indians again and then, in December, 1854, he went prospecting to California.  He returned to Oregon and in 1855 was elected Captain of a company to enter the Indian War.  He was commissioned Captain of the Coquille Guards by Governor George L. Curry.  He took an active part in the Indian War and was instrumental in bringing about the surrender of the three warring tribes.

   Mining again attracted the young pioneer and he went in 1857 to the Sixes River mines and soon after was elected by unanimous vote of Curry County to represent it at the state constitutional convention.  He was then a youth of 25 and had never even voted, but had taken part in making laws in mining camps and had presided as chairman at miners' meetings.  He was worried somewhat as to his qualifications and appealed to Mr. Abbott, his old partner, for advice.

   "Be yourself," was Mr. Abbott's sole advice, and thus equipped he joined the convention made up of citizens who were destined to become leaders in Oregon's affairs.  Of that little body of men which drew Oregon's constitution, two later were Governors, four were United State Senators, two were Representatives to Congress, one was a Federal Judge, one became Attorney General of the United States and Mayor of Portland, one State Attorney General, six judges of the state courts one Mayor of Portland and one had the triple distinction of being successively Representative of Congress, Governor and United States Senator.  Of all this list of distinguished pioneers and the others who were members of that convention, Mr. Packwood was the survivor.

   The elk in the Oregon seal was placed there at Mr. Packwood's suggestion at that historic convention, while he was also active in the debate on the many questions which came before the body.

   It was not long after this that Mr. Packwood went to Siletz and Yaquina, where he was sub-agent for the Indians.  He did not stay there long, but returned to Coquille, where he raised cattle and horses and then was elected County Assessor, not even knowing he was a candidate until election day.

   Business reverses took his ranch away from him in 1862 and, interested in the Blue Bucket strike in Eastern Oregon, he left for this section and helped lay out the town of Auburn, then the mining center of the entire district.  He engaged in merchandising, freighting and packing at once and the first year he was there organized the Auburn Water Company, which, after many years, became the greatest water company in the entire Baker district, and the plant, which cost $225,000, is now giving water to the city of Baker.

   Among his earlier experiences in Baker County was one which he never liked.  He was elected one of three judges to try a Frenchman for poisoning his partner.  The Frenchman was convicted by a jury and was hanged.  This was in 1862.

   The same year, October 16, Mr. Packwood married, soon after being appointed School Superintendent of the newly-created Baker County.
   Among the achievements which he recalled with pride was that he signed the first call for the Union Republican party in Baker to send delegates to the convention and he stumped every precinct in the county for Abraham Lincoln.

   He had not been in Baker County long before his mines failed and he lost $45,000.  He did not have the money, but Mr. Packwood always paid his debts and for years was busy in paying for something which many men might easily evaded.

   For many years then, until 1887, he gave his time to organizing water companies and building ditches in the county.  In 1888 he was elected Police Judge of Baker City and held that office for five years.

   The call of gold again was heard by Mr. Packwood in 1893, when he was 61 years old, and he went to Port Orford to engage in beach mining, but he found that the reports of the strike had been colored and he returned to Baker and went with the Columbia Gold Mining Company.  Soon after he became Assistant Postmaster of Baker, then Baker City, and he held that position until he was 78 years old, when he resigned.

   For the last six years Mr. Packwood was retired from active business, but he kept an interest in public affairs which was little short of amazing.  There must have been something in that historical convention which brought a community of interests among its members.  Like the late George H. Williams, Mr. Packwood was an ardent football follower and never a game was played but he was on the sidelines "rooting."
-Oregonian (Portland, OR), September 22, 1917

I find it amazing that I know more about the life of William Packwood, who interests me largely because he played a baseball predecessor game in Southwestern Illinois in the late 1830s or early 1840s, than I do about someone as significant to the history of 19th century St. Louis baseball as Merritt Griswold.  Or maybe I know that Packwood played four-old-cat because he was, historically, a more prominent figure than Griswold.  I don't know. 

I do know that I've been trying to run down information about people who have given testimony about playing predecessor games in Illinois and Missouri and Packwood is certainly the most prominent figure that I've come across.  The man lived a rather full and interesting life.  

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