The Souvenir of Western Women/James Harrison and Lueza Osborn Douthit
James Harrison and Lueza Osborn Douthit
JAMES HARRISON DOUTHIT was of Scotch-Irish and French Huguenot descent, and Lueza Osborn of old English and Scotch ancestry, whose records date back several hundred years. They were born in the same year, 1816, in South Carolina, near Andersonville Courthouse. There they grew up and were married April 23, 1837. The ceremony was performed by Rev. Ira L. Potter, in the home of the bride's father, James Osborn. On the following day the bridal party went to the home of the groom's father, James Douthit, to hold the infair,
according to that good old-fashioned custom, which shared the celebration of the event of a marriage between both houses. The young people went on horseback, headed by the bride and groom, and the older people followed in carriages. Mounted upon her dappled gray, the bride led this gay cavalcade, as it were, in a triumphant march, exalted as she is to the highest station accorded to woman in those olden days when wifehood was the most honorable position to be desired by her. In their early married life they removed to Indiana, where Mr. Douthit represented Boone County one term in the state legislature. Later they started for Oregon. Arriving at the place of rendezvous on the Missouri River April 1, 1853, they found encamped there about three hundred emigrants bound for the Oregon Country. One of the preliminaries was the election of a captain of the train, as military regulations were to be observed. Mr. Douthit, unknown to any of his party, was chosen. Such a choice, made by most trains that crossed the plains, was an honor greater than is generally conceded. There was no political pot boiling on the banks of the Missouri in those days, nor were men scrambling for this preferment with an eye single upon the favors and emoluments attached; but the people sought a leader, one born, not made, and their choice, usually wise, fell upon him in whom the qualities of leadership were apparent.
After a few weeks' travel, owing to the slow movement of the ox teams, Mr. Douthit and a Mr. Hiatt, who both had horse and mule teams, decided to travel on alone. Mr. Douthit had two hired men and Mr. Hiat four grown sons. Eight men, all well armed, they thought a force sufficient to insure safety. Without peril or accidents they arrived at Barlow's gate July 1, having made the trip across the plains in the shortest time on record up to that date.
In looking over the Willamette Valley for a donation claim, Mr. Douthit found a one-quarter section of good land yet vacant, and adjoining it the claim of a bachelor, who, contrary to law, was trying to hold a half section (unmarried men were entitled to a quarter section only). Being called upon, he said that he expected to be married soon. "How soon?" inquired Mr. Douthit. He "didn't know exactly." "Can't that be determined?" was asked. "No," said the young man, "I do not know just yet where to find a wife." (A surprising admission to one unacquainted with prevailing customs in this new country, where, for the first time in history, women had a land value.) Mr. Douthit said: "Young man, I will give you just three weeks to find a wife; if in that time you are not married the land is mine. "But," said he, "I haven't a horse to bring her home on." Mr. Douthit said promptly: "I will loan you a horse," and Dr. Alexander, who was present, added, "And I will loan you my wife's saddle."
Thus equipped the bachelor started out leading the horse, saddled and bridled, upon which to bring home a wife and save his land. For three weeks he wandered from valley to hamlet and from hamlet to hillside, wherever a wreath of curling smoke betrayed the presence of a pioneer's cabin, but no wife could he find, and at the end of the time he returned, dejected and disconsolate, wifeless, and, worse no doubt in his mind, to the extent of half his claim landless.
Mr. Douthit, in character and desires, belonged not to the age in which he lived, but to those elysian times which are yet to dawn upon the earth. He cared not for wealth. He wished only enough of this world's goods to meet the needs of himself and his family. He cared not for honors, save such as man gives to man out of the depths of his heart when he discovers in him the embodiment of honor. He loved his fellow man and sought to serve him as brother serves brothers, out of the fullness of brotherly kindness. His word was his bond, and those who knew him accepted it as such. He was an Odd Fellow, and served the order for one term as Grand Master of Oregon. By occupation a farmer, he loved the farm for its own sake. Agriculture he believed to be a high calling, one that brings man into the natural life where he lives simply and attains peace and happiness in the true sense. Every movement instituted to promote the well-being of the farming class received his hearty co-operation. For two years he was president of the State Agricultural Society, and subserved its interests with pleasure and fidelity. He was one of a committee of three appointed to select the lands given by the general government toward the maintenance of a State Agricultural College.
In projecting the first railroad in Oregon, there were two parties, known as the East Side and the West Side companies. Each put forth great efforts to secure the location of the road on its respective side of the Willamette River. While those of the West Side were doing much talking, Mr. Douthit, who championed the cause of the East Side, went quietly among the people and used his influence so effectively that he secured the location of the road on the East Side.
Possessed of that chivalry which is the Southern man's heritage, Mr. Douthit stood a friend and protector of women.
To attend the dying in their last hours was an office Mr. Douthit was called upon to fulfill; not alone to pray at their bedsides, but also to write their wills. In those days the wife was a nonentity in the eyes of the law, and was known in her husband's will as her husband saw fit to place her. On one occasion a man, knowing that death was very near, called Mr. Douthit to write his will. "Now," said the dying man, who was possessed of ample means, "I wish my will to be drawn up in this way: So long as my wife remains single she is to have half of my property; if she remarries she is to have nothing." "Did your wife not help you to acquire this property?" asked Mr. Douthit. "Yes," replied the man, "she helped me to get it all. We had nothing when we were married." "Then," said Mr. Douthit, "half the property is justly hers whether she marries again or not, and I shall write no such a will." The man pleaded, but without avail; if such a will were written it was done by another hand.
On another occasion a man had died and left a widow and several children without means. According to the law then in operation, if it were the pleasure of the court, a widow's children could be taken from her and bound out, the court being the sole judge whether she could or could not support them. In this instance the mother was physically strong and most willing to make the effort to provide for her children; but the court did not recognize her ability nor consider her willingness. The distracted mother sought the advice and help of Mr. Douthit, who earnestly espoused her cause, entering the plea that before the children were bound out the mother should be given an opportunity to prove whether or not she could maintain them. The writer remembers hearing the mother tell with sobs her pathetic story and plead for her children.
Though a South Carolinian, Mr. Douthit did not indorse his native state in its acts of secession, and he deplored the rebellion. Slavery he regarded as a wrong—a curse alike to the black man and to the white, and a condition for which no section nor country was alone responsible. He believed, however, that those who best understood the negro's character and the conditions of slavery were the best qualified to cope with the problem and render a solution.
Notwithstanding Mr. Douthit belonged to a long-lived family, his father having lived to the age of 84 and his mother 96, he died at 60. Beside the wife he so tenderly cherished through her years of suffering, he noAV rests beneath the pines of Eastern Oregon.
Lueza Osborn Douthit
MY MOTHER—of her life work what can I say? Not a fixed principle of right that is mine, not a lofty sentiment that animates my soul that received not life-giving inspiration from my mother. Gentle and unobtrusive she was, and her work was so quiet that those nearest her realized not the subtle power she exercised nor the potent forces she set in motion, infusing vigor into the principles she inculcated and strength into the sentiments she implanted. At her knee her little ones gathered, and heard from her lips the simple words of the meek and lowly Jesus; the same sweet words He spake to the waiting people on the shores of Galilee. From the word of God she gleaned the great truth. At this fountain she sought the wisdom necessary to enable her to work out life's greatest problem, that of directing her children in the right way. It was her wish to come to Oregon. She loved this land, so rich in beauty, and reveled in its enchantment; but on account of poor health she was ill equipped to meet the hard conditions of a new country. Amid it all no word of repining escaped her lips. Being extremely reticent, she was little known outside her home. Home was her world, and there she loved to be. The only work ever attempted beyond its pale was to teach a class in the neighborhood Sunday School, in which she was deeply interested.
Ah, these quiet lives! to the actors seemingly of so little worth, yet how strong the current of moral and spiritual forces they set in motion; moving unseen beneath the waves that disturb the surface, but change not the momentum of the stream below.To the memory of a dear father and mother are these lines written by their