Oregon Historical Quarterly/Volume 7/Autobiography of Robert Valentine Short

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I was born on the 3lst day of March, 1823, in a log cabin on a farm near the village of Fairview, Alleghany County, Pennsylvania, about thirteen miles west of Pittsburg. In the fall of that year my parents emigrated to Richland County, Ohio, settling on a frontier farm two and one half miles from Mansfield, the county seat. Here my mother died when I was about two years of age. My father then sold out and moved to another farm near Ashland, where we remained until I was about six years old.

I was then sent back to my birthplace to live with an uncle and aunt, brother and sister of my father, who had remained in their childhood home and cared for their aged parents. Here I remained until my sixteenth year, attending district school three months each summer and three months each winter, and also enjoying the superior advantage of several terms in a private school. In this private school I studied "Gummer's System of Surveying."

On July 4, 1835 (or 1836) I was allowed to "celebrate" by a trip to the city of Pittsburg, and here saw the little steamboat, Elizabeth, the first boat that ever navigated the Alleghany River, making her first trip up the river.

In 1839, when in my sixteenth year I left my uncle's place and went back to my father's home. Not finding that congenial, in the spring of 1840 I contracted with one Anderson Deem, a tailor in Ashland, Ohio, to serve an apprenticeship of two years and three months at the tailor's trade. After serving out my time, on the 2d day of November, 1842, with $7.50 in my pocket, I started out as a journeyman tailor. Struck a job the first day in Gallion, Ohio, working seven days. From there went to Delaware, Ohio, at which place I worked and attended two terms at the Wesleyan University. In the fall of 1843 I taught a three months' school about ten miles from Delaware, in Radnar township, on the Scioto River. During the early spring of 1844 I taught another three months' school near Delaware.

In March, 1844, I started on a visit to my boyhood home in Pennsylvania, stopping at Alexandria, Ohio, where I cast my first vote on Monday, April 1,—the day before being my twenty-first birthday. Returning to Delaware in July, I worked at the tailor's trade until the spring of 1845, also studying surveying under Davis' system.

On June 30, 1845, I started for Illinois, driving a two-horse wagon across the country, arriving at Maquon, Knox County, July 13. Here I worked in the harvest fields during the summer and in September went to Knoxville, forming a partnership in the tailoring business with one William James, and remaining all winter. In May, 1846, went as delegate to the Democratic district convention at Rock Island, also visiting Fort Armstrong, then an important military post. I went then to my brother's place at Dresden, at the foot of Joliet Lake, working during the summer on the farm and in the sawmill. While here I was troubled greatly with the common complaint of that locality, chills and fever, and one day while lying under a tree, unable to work, I made up my mind that I would go to Oregon. I worked at tailoring in Joliet, Illinois, during the following winter, reviewing my studies of surveying at night by candle light, often studying till 12 or 1 o'clock.

On February 17, 1847, I started overland once more across Indiana for a farewell visit to my father in Ohio and my boyhood home in Pennsylvania. April 3, 1847, I took passage on the steamer Planet for Cincinnati. From Cincinnati by boat to St. Joseph, where I met Joseph C. Geer, for whom I had agreed to drive an ox-team across the plains that summer. On May 7, 1847, we crossed the Missouri River and then made up our emigrant train, Gen. Joel Palmer being chosen captain. On November 7, 1847, I arrived in Oregon City, being just six months in making the trip. I immediately opened a tailor shop in Oregon City, and in the mean time, with two others, Albion Post and Heman Geer, late of Cove, Oregon, and father of T. T. Geer, built a shop, Post being a harnessmaker and Geer a shoemaker.

On the 19th day of February, 1848, I married Mary Geer, a sister of Heman Geer. On March 2, 1849, I started for the California gold mines, meeting Joseph Lane, appointed governor for Oregon Territory, with others in a chinook canoe on Clackamas rapids. Went on board a sailing vessel in the mouth of the Willamette River, and landed in San Francisco March 14. Thence by rowboat to Sacramento City which had then but one wooden building in it. On March 29, 1849, paid $200 for an Indian pony and started for the gold fields. Reached Spanish Bar April 4 and mined there until the 8th of July, at which time I left for home. Arrived at San Francisco July 13, remaining there eight days. Helped to organize the first vigilance committee on the Pacific Coast, electing old Mr. Priest captain.

Returned to Oregon, arriving at Astoria August 7 on the brig Mary Ellen, being out fifteen days. In July, 1850, I surveyed the town of Portland and made the first plat of the same that was put on record, and from which two copies were made by Brady of San Francisco, known as the Brady maps. Bought a lot 50 x 100 on the southwest corner of Third and Washington streets, where the Dekum building now stands, and built a one-story frame house with brick chimney, and moved down from Oregon City. Bought an interest in the first steam sawmill that was built on the Pacific Coast, which was built by Stephen Coffin and W. P. Abrams.

In 1851 moved on to a donation land claim in Yamhill County. Later was appointed captain of militia and organized a company in Chehalem Valley, to assist in the Indian wars. In 1855 was elected the first county surveyor of Yamhill County, and also justice of the peace.

In 1857 was elected a member of the constitutional convention. The legislature of 1859 detached a portion of Yamhill County and annexed the same to Clackamas County, leaving my residence in the latter county. In 1862 I was elected assessor of Clackamas County for the term of two years, and in 1888 I was elected to the legislature from the same county.

In 1891, having sold the farm, I purchased a suburban residence in Portland and retired from active life.