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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Early Oregon Series: John Letsom of Yoncalla, Oregon

This post is being submitted to Sepia Saturday.  To find similar stories on Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy, please type "Early Oregon" in the search bar on the top left hand corner.  To see more old photos and read more old stories from around the world please click here: Sepia Saturday.

Today, I am focusing on my Great-Great Grandfather John Letsom.  There is a lot of info available on his wife, my Great-Great Grandmother Sarah,  but I'll work more on that project another time.

The following article is from page 340 of the book "The Centennial History of Oregon, 1811-1912, Volume 4"The book was written by Joseph Gatson and George H. Hines.  Thank you to Bill Hedrick for giving me the link to this information:  The Centennial History of Oregon 1811-1912

Source:  Cougar Dave by Pat Cary Peek
This photo is courtesy of  the book 
"Cougar Dave Mountain Man of Idaho" below.

 Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy ~ Kathy Matthews


"John Letsom, who came to this state in 1850, is one of the few surviving representatives of the early pioneers of southern Oregon and  is one of the most highly esteemed citizens of Douglas county, residing on a ranch six miles northeast of Yoncalla.  As an agriculturist he has won  a gratifying measure of prosperity, owning three hundred acres of valuable land in Scotts valley.His birth occurred in Shropshire, England, on the 13th of March, 1828, his parents being Thomas and Mararet (Davis) Letsom, both of whom  were Natives of Wales.  They came from England to the United States in 1845, and after two years' residence in New York city, removed to Wisconsin, purchasing a farm near Racine, on which they spent the remainder of their lives. 

John Letsom was a youth of seventeen when he accompanied his parents on their removal to Wisconsin in 1845 but did not remain  in that state,  returning to New York where he obtained employment as a die sinker in a steel toy factory.  In the spring of 1848 he formed one of the first parties to leave for the California gold fields and made the voyage by sailing vessel around Cape Horn, reaching his destination at the end of six months.  During the following winter he worked in San Fransisco and in the spring of 1849 began mining on Stanislaus river, remaining there through the summer.  In the fall he formed on of a company of about fifty men who banded themselves together for cooperative mining, but the venture proved unprofitable and Mr. Letsom left the gold fields.  In the spring of 1850 he cam north, to Oregon, spending the following summer and winter in Milwaulkie, Clackamas county, where he worked in a blacksmith shop.  In the spring of 1851 he went to the gold fields of Yreka, California, and there spent one year.  In the spring of 1852 he came to Douglas county, locating about six miles northeast of Yoncalla, where he took up a donation claim of one hundred and sixty acres and where he resided for five years or until he had proved up his claim.  During this time, he had married the widow of S.M. Lewis, formerly Miss Sarah Harrer, who was a native of Arkansas and who had three living children by her first husband.  It was in order to give these children the advantages of a an education that in 1861 Mr. Letsom took up his abode in Yoncalla, where he remained for about 10 years.  On the expiration of that period he removed to the place whereon he has resided continuously since -- a fine ranch six miles northeast of Yoncalla.  He owns three hundred acres of valuable and productive land and has long been numbered among the best known and most highly respected citizens of southern Oregon. 

Unto Mr. and Mrs. Letsom were born five daughters and four sons.  The six surviving members of the family are as follows:  Thomas, who is a resident of Portland, Oregon; Mary, who is the widow of F.M. Goodell and now resides with her father; Lewellyn, living  in eastern Oregon; Martha, the wife of J.W. Harris, of Chelan, Washington; Evan [Kit], who operates the home farm; and Talitha, who is the wife of B.E. Hedrick, of Douglas county.  The wife and mother was called to her final rest on January 19, 1898. 

In politics Mr. Letsom is a stanch and loyal republican.  For two terms he served as assessor of old Umpqua county before Douglas county was cut off.  From the time of his arrival in the county until 1911, covering a period of about fifty-nine years, he served continuously on the school board in one capacity or another.  To fill vacancies he served by appointment as justice of the peach and also in the office of postmaster at Yoncalla.   In the early days he knew everyone living in the northern part of Douglas county and the circle of his friends was almost coextensive with the circle of his acquaintances.   He has now passed the eight-fourth milestone on life's journey and enjoys the respect and veneration which should ever be accorded one who has traveled thus far on this earthly pilgrimage and whose career has been at all times upright and honorable."

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy ~ Kathy Matthews
 Aunt Martha, Granny Litha and Uncle (Evan) Kit Letsom

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy ~ Kathy Matthews
 This photo is from our family archives.

Source:  Cougar Dave by Pat Cary Peek
This photo came from the book below.

To learn more about Sarah Harar Lewis Letsom, this book is a great place to start:

This book, written in 2004 by Pat Cary Peek, tells us the story of Elijah David Lewis.  Dave was Sarah's son from her first marriage and John Letsom's step-son.   David Lewis is better known as "Cougar Dave".

The story begins with the marriage of Cougar Dave's father, Stephen Marther Lewis, and his mother Sarah Harar Lewis.  They  began their family, and then traveled over the Oregon Trail in 1852 by wagon train.  After settling in Scott's Valley and securing a land claim, Stephen suddenly died, leaving Sarah with three young children.  John Letsom met Sarah when he moved onto the land claim next door, and they were soon married.

One thing that I find so interesting, is that the young Lewis couple came from Crawford County, Arkansas which is where my husband's grandmother is from.  My father's family resided in Washington County, Arkansas (the county next door to Crawford County).   Another thing that I find very, very interesting, is that I would not be surprised if John Letsom and his parents had been acquainted with the Ingalls family from the "Little House on the Prairie" series.  They were all living in Wisconsin around the same time.

It is a small world after all.

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Howard said...

John Letsom was clearly a man of strong character. I love the picture of him with his beard and his wife.

Jinksy said...

Intriguing set of photos...

Christine H. said...

I especially love reading about Oregon pioneers and early history, since I'm an Oregonian too. Great photos and background.

Karen said...

Granny Lithas dress is fantastic, great photos and information...Karen

Pat transplanted to MN said...

Wow, reading this post was almost familiar because we lived in the Northern CA area and know well that history, Stanislaus, and the CA Gold Rush. I loved all the details you included. Mr.L certainly was accomplished, just think of the rigors of sailing from NY to CA and then the experience of mining and the journey north. A very resourceful individual. Great photos.

Karen S. said...

I love this song...and the video is fantastic..thanks for having this here too...your family photos and story is again so very interesting and most of the photo of the three...what a beautiful outfit being worn by the middle person...and quite different...she has a smile like shes quite a cheery person by nature too!

Tattered and Lost said...

Completely fascinating!

Meri said...

Fascinating bit of family history. Thanks for sharing.

Martin H. said...

Fascinating to read of how a Shropshire lad had such an adventure. Obviously a man of character.

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Thank you, everybody, for your comments. I appreciate them all, but can't wait to tell my Mom about how several of you were taken by Granny. She died when I was very young, but to learn more about her, please search for Postcards to Litha on my top search bar. She was my Grandma T.'s mother.


Alan Burnett said...

Another of those wonderful stories that some how sum up the whole history of America within almost a single generation of a single family. Thanks for sharing it with Sepia Saturday.

Nancy said...

I love the house in the photo from your family archives. It looks like a charming, fairy tale cottage with its wonderful vine-covered porch!

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Thank you, Alan and Nancy!

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