RECOLLECTIONS OF RUSSELL C. DEMENT, WHOSE FATHER, SAMUEL Maxwell Dement, was born the 5th of October, 1822, in Monroe county, Ohio, and was raised on a farm until the 16th year, when he began work as an apprentice in a blacksmith shop, remaining there until he was twenty years old, barely earning his board and clothing while there. For three years after he traveled from place to place through several states and worked at his trade. Returning to his old home in 1845, he started a blacksmith shop of his own. In 1846 he was married to Caroline Spencer. About 1847 he went into the grocery business, which he followed until the fall of '51, when taken with the Oregon fever, he sold out his store, had a wagon made, and bought a team of horses, and with his wife and child, a boy of five years of age, started for the "promised" land. Came as far as St. Joseph, Mo., where he spent the winter of '51-'2. While there he met many kindred spirits of adventure. It being considered dangerous for a company of a small number to travel such a great distance, on account of hostile Indians, therefore they formed a large company, and as the majority were in favor of ox teams, to make a long journey with, Dement sold his horses and bought oxen instead, and started as soon as the grass started in the spring, with five yoke of oxen and five or six cows, and the wagon well loaded with provisions and household goods. Everything went well for a while, when the cholera broke out in the company, and many found a burial place on the lonely plains; on account of the alkali water the stock had to drink they soon began to die, and as the teams became reduced in number and strength their loads had to be reduced in proportion, which necessitated the leaving of everything which was not absolutely necessary on the road. The consequence was, after six months hardship, he arrived in Oregon with one yoke of oxen, and two wheels of a wagon (in form of a cart), and no money. His trade then came in good play. The first winter he spent in Corvallis, then Marysville, and in the spring of '53 he sold the old yoke of oxen which hauled the cart alone over the Cascade mountains, and moved his small family, by a pack train to Jacksonville, Oregon, and there he worked through the summer at the blacksmith business, also doing some mining, at the same time belonged to the Home Guard during the Indian war of 1853, known as the Rogue River war. In the fall of '53 he packed up again and with his family and a few worldly goods that could be packed on a couple of mules started for Coos Bay by way of Scottsburg on the Umpqua River, thence down the beach to Empire City, then a place of one log cabin not completed and two or three families that had preceded his arrival by a week or two. His capital stock at that time amounted to 50 cents. His trade served him well again. He formed a partnership with a young man by the name of A. J. Pence, who possessed a few tools, and by the aid of some old ship irons picked up from some wreck along the beach, they were able to make a few more tools and the necessary iron work for the new settlers. As there was some prospecting for coal at that time, they secured some work to do making and sharpening picks, etc.
The winter of '53 and '54 was a hard winter for the early settlers. If it had not been for wild game they would have suffered with starvation. The woods teemed with elk, the steak of which can not be excelled by the best of beef; also flocks of ducks and wild geese and an abundance of fish, therefore there was no danger of starving. I will say, without fear of contradiction, by the old pioneers, that the people who first settled on Coos bay and the Coquille river could not have stayed here to become pioneers, had it not been for the wild game. In 1854 the Johnson creek mines were discovered in July of that year. Dement, in company with John Yoakum, took their blankets on their backs, with one month's provisions; also pick and shovel and the "trusty" Kentucky rifle, and started for the diggings. On their way to the mines they passed through the valley of the Coquille, and observed the richness of the soil, but to think of starting into that heavy timber to hew out a home without a horse or ox, was discouraging to strong men, as they were crawling along the Indian trails, with their seventy-five pound packs on their backs; but when they reached the more open country of the South Fork, and suddenly out of the woods on to one of those prairies of the South Fork, with elk, bear and deer in sight, in most every direction, their spirits began to rise and when they came to Russell creek they concluded to rest a few days. During their stay there they became acquainted with a small tribe of Indians, living on the creek. Their chief's name was David. Old David became attached to the white men and offered to divide his "illihee" (land) with them, providing they would bring their families and make their home there. It was a picnic for the Indians, during the short stay of the white men, as they killed a number of elk and deer, of which they gave the largest portion to the Indians, for they could not make any use of but very little themselves. They also found the woods full of wild blackberries and raspberries, which they considered quite a treat. After a couple of days' rest, they shouldered their packs, and resumed their journey to the "diggings." The weather being warm, and the trails at that time led over all the high peaks, it was no easy matter to travel on foot, let alone carrying a seventy-five pound pack. However, they arrived at the mines in due time, and found the ground which would pay to work about all taken up. Therefore they did not tarry long, but sold part of their outfit and returned to Coos bay. On their way back they concluded to accept Chief David's offer and locate claims on the creek, extending back on the prairies. They built a small cabin, and agreed with each other, that they would move their families the following spring. Mr. Yoakum had at the bay, at that time, a few head of cattle, and perhaps a horse or two. Dement had neither, but had accumulated a little money, with which he wanted to secure a few cows. The nearest place where cows could be bought was the Umpqua valley, and there they were worth $100 per head. Inferior cows at that. As he only had $75 or $80, he concluded to wait until fall, and go down to the Willamette valley, and perhaps he might be able to do better. In September, he started on foot to buy cows in the "Webfoot." He walked to Oregon City, and there he met an old gentleman who had just came across the plains, and bought a few cows of him and returned to his home with his stock.
When Mr. Dement moved his family from Empire to their new home fifty miles away, he had experiences that must have been very interesting at that time. Having come up the bay and Istmus slough with his wife and little son and his household fixtures and blacksmith tools, a distance of about twenty miles, the party found that they had an isthumus or low hills that divided the waters of Coos bay from the Coquille to cross. The distance was a mile and quarter and of course it was a difficult task to move their freight on their backs that distance. The ever present red man was on hand to offer the services of his pack train, and he secured the contract. The trail was only a semblance of a path. Logs were in the way and other difficulties were to be encountered. The pack train consisted of the wives, daughters, mothers and sweethearts of the "noble red men," and this train, composed of maids of the forest, showed surprising strength in handling the goods. There was an anvil belonging to Mr. Dement that weighed 150 lbs. An old squaw arranged a strap across her forehead and, attaching the ends of the anvil, she swung it on her back and carried it across the portage seemingly with ease. After arriving at the head of Beaver slough, their difficulty seemingly had commenced. The natives had put small poles across the trail to enable them to slide their canoes across the portage, which Dement had done, but now they must travel down Beaver slough through overhanging willows and thorny crab apple trees, that so thickly lined the banks and interlocking their branches, that it was very difficult to get through the narrow passage; besides every few hundred yards beaver dams were encountered that must be partly removed to enable the parties to pull and slide their canoes over. Sometimes logs would be encountered half sunken in the water and all hands would be obliged to get out in mud and water and all hands would be obliged to get out in mud and water and with great effort get the craft over the obstacle. However, the five miles down this marshy and swampy slough was accomplished and the open waters of the river reached and a camp made on its welcome banks.
In the morning the tide was favorable for an early start and the Dement family reached Henry Sanders' place (Norway) that day. The proprietor was a bachelor who had erected a small cabin.
The next day the mouth of the South Fork was reached, where John Dulley had located. Here Dement learned that the two cows he had purchased the autumn before had started back to the valley and had gotten as far as Enchanted Prairie, a distance of twenty miles.
The first night at Dulley's misfortune visited the travelers. They had tied their canoes carefully, but when they went to look after them the next morning, they found the one that contained the blacksmith tools had capsized and dumped its burden into the stream. The craft had caught on the bank as the tide receded and caused the mishap. After much labor and time, the most of the tools were recovered, but several very useful articles could not be obtained.
Dement, leaving his family at Mr. Dulley's, started to hunt his cows and found that the wolves had killed one of the calves that the cows had produced. This was a loss that was at that time considered of much importance. The small herd was secured and it was not long before Mr. Dement, family, stock and goods were at their new home, eight miles above Mr. Dulley's place, but not without much difficulty, for there were no roads and scarcely trails.
The Hoffman place was the next settled above Dulley's. Here he engaged some natives to take his blacksmith tools up the South Fork in a canoe, and Alexander Jones was engaged with two horses to pack the remainder of the goods and a little provision. A man by the name of Cunningham was employed to drive a sow and some pigs that they had brought with them. Dement drove the two cows and a calf. Mrs. Dement carried a half dozen chickens, and Russell, their boy, carried a house cat, and the journey of six miles was made on foot over a very crooked Indian trail that was overhung with brush. It was late in the afternoon when they emerged from the brush into an open prairie, tired and weary, but the beautiful sight relieved their difficulties and the quarter of a mile to the cabin that Dement and Yoakum had built the year before was soon traveled. There were some squaws at the place digging camas, but as soon as they saw the whites they secured their large baskets to their backs with the strap heretofore mentioned and traveled away to their rancheries as fast as possible with their heavy loads, and informed their friends that "Boston man, Boston Clutchman and a tenas Boston man" had arrived, meaning that a white man, his wife and little boy had arrived. This was the first pale face woman and child they had ever seen, hence their curiosity was without bounds. Mr. Dement had not more than made camp before Till David and his little tribe of forty or fifty followers came down the creek to see their new neighbors. They brought a string of nice trout and showed every act of friendly feeling that they could devise. When Mrs. Dement took the fish to the creek to prepare them for the frying pan, several of the squaws followed her. When they saw that she was going to use a knife in the process they took the fish from her saying that would never do, as the Great Spirit would not send any more fish up the stream if a knife was used. So the squaws took a sharp edged mussel shell and cleaned the fish. After they had watched attentively the white people cook and eat their meal, they retired to their rancherie. Dement and Cunningham, in a few days made the cabin habitable. A corral was made and thus a foundation for a home with a small start in stock was inaugurated among a vast wilderness that gave great promises which were more than fulfilled in after years, as that home is one of the best on the Pacific coast at this writing. A blacksmith shop was soon erected in which Mr. Dement did well, shoeing horses and mules for travelers who were going to the Johnson mines frequently, and making butcher knives became profitable, although this assisted the pioneer to support his family. Having laid by a little money, he borrowed Perry B. Marple's mule and journeyed to the Willamette Valley and purchased four more cows. While on his way home he learned that the Indian war of 1855-'6 had broke out and that the Indians had killed several people and burned their homes, which caused him much concern about his family. At Camas Valley he left his cows in charge of Wm. Day, as well as the mule, and on foot he made his way home as fast as possible, traveling mostly by night. He was gratified to find his home safe and peaceable, in fact he was the first to impart to the other settlers—R. Y. Philips—news of the war. It was supposed that a general uprising of the Indians all over the territory had taken place.
Dement and Phillips were the only two white families living above Beaver slough at that time. The latter was living at Rowland prairie, five miles from Dement's. The two families, considering it prudent, moved back to Coos bay for safety; as did also nearly all the families in the country. As there was a volunteer company which had been formed, and a block house built; however, their fears were without foundation, because the Coquille and Coos bay Indians remained peaceable. Finally a treaty was made and a great many Indians were gathered at Empire City, and of course they were fed by the government. Dement and Pense got a contract to furnish meat, and though they had great difficulty in packing game from the hills, on their backs, they supplied the camp with that article from the wild herds of the forests. The war was ended, and the Coquille families returned to their homes safely.The author of this work enjoyed a visit with Mr. Samuel M. Dement, in 1877, at his splendid home on Russell creek. The scenes portrayed above were related to the writer at that time, with a great amount of animation, for he had then accumulated a nice fortune. His blooded and imported stock roamed the hills, and plenty of the comforts of life were on every hand. Fruits grew prolific, and the fields yielded bountiful harvests, and mine host enjoyed reciting the scenes of early days. Mr. Dement stated that, about the time he commenced clearing the creak bottom, he felled a tree one day, the top of which fell into the bed of the stream, and he soon noticed quite a stir among the branches of the fallen tree. Pretty soon he saw Chief David's head and shoulders rise above the twigs and leaves of the newly fallen tree. This gave Dement some foreboding of evil, as he feared the superstitious Indian would conclude that he had felled the tree upon him purposely; but David came out of the brush, and strange though it may seem, was not even scratched by the fallen tree. Mr. Dement showed to the chief that he was glad that he was not injured, and that he was sorry that he had not seen him in time to avoid the episode, and at that time he proposed to David that he would make him a hatchet or tomahawk as a remuneration for the lands that he had taken, and that they would thereafter be warm friends, as they had already been. Chief David accepted the proposition very cheerfully, and the hatchet was made, and the old warrior was elated over his new acquisition, and ever afterward carried it in his belt.
The lands south of Dement's house were rolling hills, denuded of timber by forest fires, and they were called prairies. They afforded a heavy growth of grass which was green and thrifty, every month in the year. Deer and elk were roaming over these hills in large bands, and Mr. Dement stated that he believed that he had seen five hundred elk within two miles travel. In 1862 he was out hunting with his faithful dog, Watch; he wounded a large elk, and supposed, when it fell, that he had killed it, and he hastened to bleed it by cutting its jugular vein. As soon as the knife started the blood the huge animal raised upon his feet and attacked Mr. Dement, knocking him senseless. When he came to he found that the blood on his face, where the elk had struck him a glancing blow with its forefeet, had clodded, and the elk lay about twenty feet away— dead. That faithful Watch had saved his life. The wounded man had succeeded in getting home, after which he sent for a neighbor, who sewed up his wounds on his face and breast.
Capt. W. H. Harris, who had settled near Mr. Dements, went out with him and they dressed the dead animal and it proved to be a very large stag. Mr. Dement had some serious reverses. In 1861-'2 he lost eleven head of cattle by the hard winter. In 1862 Mrs. Dement died. Nellie Dement, a lovely and attractive little girl, was born at Empire City while they were forted up at that place, but before she arrived at mature age death also claimed her as its victim. Mr. Dement secured four young elk in an early day and after taming them so he thought he could handle them he lead them to Roseburg, hoping to sell them for a good price. The venture was not a lucrative one, however, and it is stated that the brutes were harnessed and attached to a vehicle, but they were unmanageable and soon destroyed the harness and wagon. In 1866 Mr. Dement visited Ohio, his native state, and returned with a noble wife, and a family of one daughter and three young men are the fruits of their union, who are fair representatives of their parents who are both silent in death.
The writer cannot refrain from adding to the above that Mr. Dement was a very congenial companion. His old violin was a great comfort to him and sweet strains of music peculiar to himself often helped to while away the lonely hours of the evenings of "Auld Lang Syne." He was a great joker and always kept those about him in the best of humor. When out hunting with Binger Hermann, probably the first time the latter had seen a band of elk, Mr. Hermann's gun discharged prematurely into the air while Dement was firing at the game. After the excitement was over Binger was asked what he had shot at. The young man, quivering no doubt from the effects of "Buck Ague," replied that he had shot at random. This set Mr. Dement in an uproar of laughter, but he finally said "Zooks, Binger, I didn't know that there was any randoms in this country. What kind of an animal are they?" Uncle Sam, as he was familiarly known, often referred to the circumstance after Mr. Hermann became a member of congress, and on those occasions he enjoyed a hearty laugh.
The following notice of Mr. Dement's demise is taken from a local paper. Mrs. Dement crossed to the other side while this volume was in preparation. Two noble pioneers have gone to their reward:
Died— At Fallbrook, Cal., December, 1885, Samuel M. Dement of Myrtle Point, Coos County, Oregon, aged 62 years. He had been suffering from heart disease and went to California to see if a mild climate would benefit him. Word was sent to his family, and his wife started immediately, but arrived just in time to take a last look at her husband at the grave. He was a good neighbor, a kind and affectionate companion. He left a wife and five children to mourn his loss. He was an early pioneer to this river.
Heroic Deeds and Thrilling Adventures of the Early Settlers.
Published Under the Auspices of the Pioneer
By ORVIL DODGE, Historian.
Republished in a Limited Second Edition