The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised

David Stearns

    There too was Uncle David Stearns, a radical of the radicals, an Aesop in form and manner, adroit, pungent and thought-provoking; one of a class of men who are generally considered handicaps by the moderates in the same service, but who are as necessary to progress as pioneers to state-building.
T. W. Davenport, "The Slavery Question in Oregon," Oregon Historical Quarterly, December 1908, page 323

    As I sat there listening to the subdued roar of the surf on Waikiki Beach, mingled with the rustling of the fronds of the coconut trees, someone took the seat beside me. It was David S. Stearns, pioneer resident of Oregon.
    "I presume,” said Mr. Stearns, "that I am the only person in Honolulu who was born in the Oregon country before Oregon became a state. I was born on the site of Medford on September 18, 1857. My father, Samuel Eastman Stearns, was born in Vermont and crossed the plains by ox team and prairie schooner in 1853. My mother, whose maiden name was Susan Terry, was born at Amelia, Ohio. My father was a Baptist minister at Oldtown, Ohio, now a suburb of Cincinnati. My mother was a member of this church. Father was 26 and mother 18 when they were married in 1844. They had nine children, three of whom are still living. My sister, Mrs. Annie N. Niles, lives at No. 87 East 69th Street, in Portland. My brother, Judge Joseph O. Stearns, who was president of the Pioneer Association, also lives in Portland.
    "We left Southern Oregon in 1862 for Portland. We wintered at Monroe, not far from Corvallis. In the spring of 1862 we came on by ox team to Portland. Mother took in washing to support the family while Father was off eating spring chicken and riding the circuit in Eastern Oregon, Eastern Washington and Idaho. Later he preached in Baptist churches in and around Walla Walla. We never saw much of him after 1863. Someone had to support the family, so Mother and the rest of us stayed in Portland and worked: My oldest sister, Mrs. L. A. Stewart, worked and turned her money in; in fact, all of us who were old enough to get jobs turned our money in to Mother to help support the family. My brother Edwin worked for Smith Bros., whose shop was on First Street between Taylor and Salmon. This firm is better known as the Smith & Watson Foundry. My brother Joe learned the trade of machinist in the same shop. I later learned my trade as a molder at the John Nation stove foundry, which was located about where the Inman-Poulsen mill now is. My twin brother, Gus, learned his trade as a molder at Smith & Watson's foundry. My brother Andrew landed a job as printer's devil with John Atkinson, founder and publisher of the Sunday Welcome, and, by the way, this was Portland's first Sunday paper. Andrew worked on the Welcome, on the Daily News, on the Oregonian, on a paper run by Sidney Dell, on Tony Noltner's paper, the Standard, and on the Evening Bee, published by D. H. Stearns, who, by the way, was no relation to us. Andrew followed his trade as a printer all his life. He died about a year ago, in California.
    "In the spring of 1864 I went to work on the Oregonian as a carrier. My brothers Joe and Gus were the other carriers. I had about 40 subscribers and my route included everything in Portland south of Madison Street. Ben Thomas was the route agent. I think we had a city circulation of nearly 400, and the country circulation was about the same. We boys had to fold the papers, both for the mail and for our routes, and I remember that when I started there were about 800 papers to be folded. I delivered the Oregonian for several years.
    "When my brother-in-law, Mr. Stewart, took the street lighting contract we boys quit the paper and cleaned, filled and lit the coal oil lamps used for street illumination. My brother-in-law got $3.50 a month for each light, and there were nearly 100 lights. The contract called for a moonlight schedule; that is, as soon as the moon came up we could turn out the city lights and save a good deal of coal oil. When the moon rose at 11 o'clock we boys would take our ladders, go all over town, and put out the lights. My brother-in-law had the contract for only one year, I think in 1868, just 60 years ago.
    "J. D. Holman, father of the late F. V. Holman and of George and Kate Holman, had the circulation route of the Oregon Herald. I carried papers for him in the late '60s. While I was attending the school where the Hotel Portland now is, and later when I attended the Harrison school, I worked afternoons and Saturdays folding papers for the Pacific Christian Advocate and the Catholic Sentinel and also worked in the printing office. I went to work in the iron works when I was 15 and worked there till I was 24."
Fred Lockley, "Impressions and Observations of the Journal Man," Oregon Journal, Portland, January 2, 1929, page 8

    Judge L. B. Stearns, who attended Bishop Scott academy when Mr. Sohns was a student there, is a son of Daniel W. Stearns, who went to California in 1849, and who later returned to the East, bringing his wife and baby son, L. B. Stearns, to San Francisco. L. B. Stearns was born in New Hampshire on May 2, 1853. From San Francisco they came to Scottsburg, where D. W. Stearns ran pack trains to the mines at Jacksonville. In 1859 they moved to Roseburg, where Dr. Stearns operated the stage station and also the Umpqua Hotel. In 1860 he ran a store at Florence and also at Warren, in the Idaho gold mines. When L. B. Stearns was 11 years old he went with his father on horseback from Roseburg to Lewiston, Idaho, and from there to Warren, Idaho. Judge Stearns was admitted to the bar in 1876, served in the legislature in 1878, was police judge in Portland from 1879 to 1882, and was county judge from 1882 to 1885, when he became circuit judge, which office he held for the next 13 years.
Fred Lockley, "Impressions and Observations of the Journal Man," Oregon Journal, Portland, June 24, 1932, page 6

    David S. Stearns of Portland was born within the city limits of Medford, Or., on September 18, 1857.
    "My father was a Baptist minister," said Mr. Stearns. "He and my mother, with two small children, arrived in Oregon in 1853, taking up a donation land claim on which part of Medford was later built. Father rode a circuit and was gone so much that we decided to sell our place; so he hitched up his oxen to the covered wagon and drove to Portland.
    "As a boy, I worked on the Oregonian, the Oregon Herald, the Daily Bulletin, the Standard, the Oregon Siftings, the Sunday Mercury and the old Portland Daily News. One year, my brother, Judge J. Q. Stearns, my twin brother Gus and myself lit the coal oil lamps of the entire city. I started to learn the iron molder's trade when I was 15. I worked for various firms, including John Nation's, Honeyman's, Smith & Watson's, the Albina Iron Works, the East Portland foundry and machine shops, owned by Frank Payne, and the Willamette Stove Works. Many of the fancy figures that grace the old-time buildings on Front and 1st streets are of my construction. Many of the heavier castings, such as the large iron columns outside and inside the old First National Bank at the southeast corner of 1st and Washington streets, I made. I also made much of the cast iron used in the revenue cutter Thomas Corwin, the first ocean-going steamer built on the Columbia River.
    "For several years I ran a cigar and tobacco store on 1st Street between Pine and Oak. I was in the real estate business from 1887 till 1913. I was married to Martha A. Wilkinson on February 17, 1884, at the northwest corner of 5th and Stark streets. We have one son, David Lloyd Stearns."
Fred Lockley, "Impressions and Observations of the Journal Man," Oregon Journal, Portland, September 28, 1933, page 8

By Fred Lockley
    Arba F. Stearns is a pioneer of Douglas County. He is also a pioneer in the hardware business at Oakland, Or. When I interviewed him at his store in Oakland recently he said:
    "I was born at what was then the metropolis of Southwestern Oregon--the town of Scottsburg, on the Umpqua River--on October 24, 1854. My father, Daniel W. Stearns, was a merchant at Scottsburg. When I was a boy my folks moved here to Oakland. I went to school at Wilbur academy. Later I attended the Bishop Scott academy in Portland. When I was 20 years old I struck out for myself and drove a band of about 200 cattle to the Steen's Mountain country, in Central Oregon. I was there from 1875 till 1878. After I had sold out in Central Oregon I came back here, bought a band of sheep and drove them to Virginia City, Nev. Virginia City at that time was a wide-open mining camp, and gambling and saloons were running high, wide and handsome. With the money I made from the sale of my sheep I came back to Oakland and went into business with A. P. Brown, who had  a general merchandise store. After a few years I sold my interest in this store and became a partner of James Chenoweth, who also had a general merchandise store. After selling my interest in this store I went into the hardware business with Creed L. Chenoweth.
    "I married Nancy Chenoweth when I was 23 years old. We have had four children, three of whom are living. Harry C. is an undertaker in Roseburg. Our daughter, Esther, married John Hakanson and lives here in Oakland. Edwin is my partner here in the store.
    "I still put in my spare time working on my ranch and riding horseback after stock. I may be a great-grandfather, but that doesn't affect my love of horseback riding. I have belonged to the Odd Fellows lodge for 55 years. I have served as school director and road supervisor, and I put in one term as county judge.
    "My brother Loyal B. lives in Portland. My brother Ralph L. lives here in Oakland. My brothers George and John have taken the one-way trail."
    Daniel Warren Stearns, father of Arba P. Stearns and Judge Loyal B. Stearns of Portland, was born in New Hampshire on the last day of the year in 1821. He lived on the farm till he came of age, and then went to Boston, later clerking in a store at Thorndike, Mass. He was engaged in mercantile pursuits at Thorndike, Ware and Boston until the discovery of gold in California. Early in 1849, with 24 other young men, he decided to go to the newly discovered gold fields. They chartered a schooner of 128 tons, took on some passengers, and sailed for the Isthmus of Panama. They expected to be able to secure passage from there to San Francisco, but after waiting a month some of the company secured passage on a 29-ton bark in which the passengers were packed in like sardines. It took them 50 days to go to San Blas, Mexico, where the vessel was condemned as unseaworthy. This threw Mr. Stearns and his companions, figuratively speaking, on the beach. Eventually a steamer from Panama anchored at San Blas. A passenger aboard from Boston paid the steerage fare of $20 each for the stranded argonauts to San Francisco, taking their notes for the money and charging 20 percent a month for the loan. Mr. Stearns and his companions landed in San Francisco on the 4th of July, 1849. Mr. Stearns landed a job putting up hay rear Sutter's Fort. Wages were high, so he soon had $300, and with a companion he bought a wagon, four horses and harness and began freighting goods from Sacramento to the mines on Yuba River at 25 cents a pound. In the summer of 1850 he opened a store at Trinity and also ran a pack train. That winter he opened a store at Sonora. He ran a pack train until the fall of 1851, meanwhile operating stores at Trinidad and at Yreka. He sold out in the spring of 1852 and went back to New Hampshire.
    In the fall of 1853 he returned to California and started a store in San Francisco. In the spring of 1854 he moved to Scottsburg, Or., and started a store there. In the summer of 1854 he started a store at Jacksonville, which he ran two years. During the Rogue River Indian war he took a government contract to run a pack train and carry supplies to troops and also served as assistant commissary. In 1857 he bought 640 acres of land from Dr. Wells, on the Umpqua River. He sold this in 1859 and bought a hotel in Roseburg. He built and operated a livery stable and stage barn there. In 1861 he went to the new mines at Florence, Idaho, and for four years ran a store there and ran a pack train from Lewiston to Warren. He returned to his ranch near Elkton in Douglas County in the fall of 1864, where he lived until 1882, when he bought a 1460-acre ranch near Oakland. He was married in 1847 to Miss Almira Fay. He served as treasurer of Umpqua County in 1858 and was elected state senator in 1882.
Oregon Journal, Portland, May 19, 1934, page 4

    When I visited Klamath Falls 30 years ago the proprietor of the hotel where I was staying said: "If you are looking for old-timers you should see O. A. Stearns, who was the first justice of the peace in Klamath County."
    Mr. Stearns had a dairy about seven miles west of Klamath Falls. He was born in Illinois in 1843. His father, David E. Stearns, was born in Vermont in 1808. David E. Stearns moved to Winnebago County, Illinois, in 1835. With his family consisting of his wife and five children, David Stearns crossed the plains to Oregon in 1853 and took up a donation land claim in the Rogue River Valley. He had three brothers and two sisters--Myron N., Samuel E., Avery P., Mrs. Valina A. Williams and Mrs. Byron Pengra. When David Stearns with his family crossed the plains in 1853 he was accompanied by his father, John Stearns, who was born in Vermont in the spring of 1778. John Stearns died in the Rogue River Valley in 1870 and David Stearns died in 1878. The mother of David Stearns died in Vermont after celebrating her 100th birthday.
    Orson A. Stearns enlisted in the first Oregon infantry in 1864. He was stationed at Fort Klamath for some time and was with a party of soldiers who discovered what is now known as Crater Lake, Mr. Stearns named the lake "Majestic Lake" but several years later it was renamed "Crater Lake" by the editor of the Oregon Sentinel. Mr. Stearns was one of the first settlers near the town of Linkville, as Klamath Falls was then called. He was married on May 17, 1873 to Margaret J. Riggs. They had three children. On January 10, 1897 Mr. Stearns married Luella M. Sherman, by whom he had one child.
Fred Lockley, "Impressions and Observations of the Journal Man," Oregon Journal, Portland, March 20, 1937, page 4

    Daniel W. Stearns, Southern Oregon pioneer, was born at Chesterfield, N.H., December 31, 1821. As a young man he worked in a store at Palmer, Mass., and later started a store at Ware, Mass. He went to Boston in 1847 and in 1849 to California via the Isthmus, arriving at San Francisco July 4. For three years he mined. He returned to his Eastern home in 1852, and in 1853, with his family, returned to San Francisco by the Nicaragua route. Late in 1853 he went to Scottsburg, on the Umpqua River, and secured an interest in the general merchandise store of Brown, Drum & Co. In 1854 he started a store at Jacksonville. His store was destroyed by fire in 1857. He then moved to a farm near Elkton, in what was then Umpqua County. He was elected treasurer of Umpqua County and served two years. In 1874 he was elected to the state legislature from Douglas County. He moved to Oakland in 1875, and in 1880 was elected state senator.
    Mrs. Stearns' maiden name was Almira Fay. Mr. and Mrs. Stearns were married on January 3, 1847. They had five children--George J., now of Oakland; Loyal B., an attorney of Portland and at one time county judge of Multnomah County; A. F., a merchant at Oakland; John W., at one time a prominent merchant at Walla Walla, and Ralph S., a railroad man.

Fred Lockley, "Impressions and Observations of the Journal Man," Oregon Journal, Portland, June 19, 1937, page 4

By Fred Lockley
    Mrs. Anna M. Niles and her brother, Judge Joseph O. Stearns, live at 6277 S.E. Stark Street, Portland.
    "I was the first one of our family born in Oregon," said Mrs. Niles. "I was born December 15, 1853, on the donation claim of my uncle, David Stearns, in his log cabin on Wagner Creek, near Ashland, in Jackson County. I was born two months after my parents arrived from their six months' trip across the plains.
    "My father, Samuel Eastman Stearns, was born in Vermont, March 22, 1814. He and his brother, Myron, and their father, John Stearns, were Baptist ministers, My father preached in churches in Southern Oregon and elsewhere, taking his pay largely in the satisfaction of establishing churches and schools. As the people were unable to pay him any salary, Father taught school. He traveled on foot and on horseback all over Southern Oregon, and later over Eastern Washington. He was pastor of the Baptist church at Jacksonville and later organized Colfax College, the first in the Palouse country. My grandfather, the Rev. John Stearns, crossed the plains, with my parents, in 1853.
    "My uncle, the Rev. Myron Stearns, was born in Vermont in 1812. He was baptized at Essex, N.Y., in 1829. He attended Brown University, in Rhode Island, and Dennison University, in Ohio. He and his father and my father did missionary work, organizing churches in Southern Oregon. Uncle Myron took up a place in the Rogue River Valley and supplied Table Rock Baptist church. In 1857 he moved to the Umpqua Valley, and the following year was elected principal of Roseburg Academy.
    "You can get an idea of salaries paid early-day Baptist preachers in Oregon when I tell you that Uncle Myron received $5 in cash for his first three years' work in Southern Oregon. From Umpqua County he moved back to Jackson County, and in 1864 moved to Oregon City and was pastor of the Baptist church there. Later he was a teacher at McMinnville Baptist College. He took a homestead near Oregon City, on which he lived till 1867, when he was called to Santa Clara, Cal,, to be pastor of the Baptist church. He died in December, 1868. My father died at Viola, Idaho, December 13, 1890, at the age of 78.
    "My mother, whose maiden name was Susan Terry Whiteaker, was born in Ohio, May 30, 1826. She was a daughter of Israel and Lucinda Whiteaker. My parents were married March 12, 1844.
    "Our ancestors came to America with Governor Winthrop and Sir Richard Saltonstall on the ship Arabella, settling in Massachusetts in 1630. Isaac Stearns was admitted as a freeman at Watertown, Mass., May 18, 1631. He was one of the supervisors of the first bridge built across the Charles River.
    "My oldest sister, Louisa Olivia Stearns, was born in Ohio in 1845 and was 8 years old when she crossed the plains. My sisters Emily Viola and Frances Julia died in Ohio. My brother Edwin Avery was born in Ohio, September 5, 1851, and celebrated his second birthday on the plains. I was the next, and was born December 15, 1853, on Wagner Creek, in Southern Oregon. My brother, Joseph Orin, with whom I am living, was born in Southern Oregon, October 15, 1855. Father had taken a donation claim where Medford is located, and Joe was the first white child born within the city limits of what is now Medford. The twins, Gustavus Myron and David Stackstill, were born September 18, 1857, and Andrew James on July 27, 1859."
Oregon Journal, Portland, June 4, 1938, page 4

Last revised December 14, 2023