Biography of Albert L. Alderman

ALBERT L. ALDERMAN. – The pioneer experiences of Mr. Alderman are not exceeded in interest by those of any of the early settlers. Born at Old Bedford, Connecticut, and taken as a child to Wyoming county, New York, where he lived until twenty-one years of age, he set out at the age of twenty-four upon the career that did not end except upon the Pacific coast. He was at Bradford, Pennsylvania, for a time with an uncle, and in 1845 came out to Quincy, Illinois, and that same winter made up an outfit for coming to the mythical Oregon. At St. Louis, in March, he met a Mr. Good and Judge Quinn Thornton, who were also on the way to our state. At the rendezvous he found a large company assembling, aggregating five hundred wagons. An organization, the most complete that had ever been attempted, was here made. The wagons and outfits were inspected; and none unfit for the journey were allowed to proceed. A legal tribunal was established, having a judge and a jury, which was composed of six men. The military organization was also fully equal to the requirements.

On the way to Fort Hall no more serious trouble was experienced than crossing swollen streams; and this was effected by using two large canoes lashed side by side into which the loaded wagons were run, with the two wheels of either side if each craft, and thus ferried over. At Bear river, west of Fort Hall, occurred an affecting scene; for here the train, or that portion in which Mr. Alderman was traveling, which numbered about three hundred wagons, was divided, a part taking the southern route to California, and a part the northern to Oregon. The two sections were drawn up side by side, and the farewell and parting messages were spoken with tears, and with the same deep feelings as had been manifested in saying good-bye at home. It was the Donner party that thus turned out to California; and their fate was such as to make even a nation weep when it was disclosed.

The troubles of the northern route were little less terrible. Meeting with Applegate, Goff and Scott, the train turned off from the old main roads across the Blue Mountains and down the Snake river, which the other two divisions took, into the Southeastern Oregon route, passing across the lower portion of the state by way of Robert Springs and Blue Rock Springs, and enduring great suffering in crossing the desert. Reaching Klamath Lake, they came upon the wild Indians, who were as inhospitable as Bedouins. One of the white men was found one evening shot with thirty-one arrows. The same day about sundown camp was made for the night on the lake shore. the wagons were corralled, the tents set securely inside, and the cattle turned loose to graze upon the hill. Just before morning, however, a band of Indians appeared hallooing and shaking blankets, and thereby stampeding the whole band of cattle, which came rushing pell mell upon the camp with the force of an avalanche, and going through and over the wagons like an armed troop, overturning the vehicles and tearing down tents, nor stopping until they had plunged into the lake beyond. By this startling event the women and children and some of the men were frightened nearly to death. The guard found but one Indian, whom they shot; and while the oxen were being collected and their head division moved forward, messengers were sent back to apprise, the rear division of the meeting with the hostiles, with the word to hasten on. By a night march the latter division came up, and the two were joined the next morning. Eight oxen were lost in crossing the Tule meadows on the margin of the lake; and the Indians gave every indication of a purpose to contest their advance.

Arriving at a point where the meadows narrowed between two bluffs, the immigrants sent a scouting party ahead, who ascertained that the hostiles had dug a ditch across the lowland from hill to hill, and in this had secreted a host of warriors to prevent the train coming forward. Here followed a bloody fight. The valley being narrow, and cut with gulleys and thick with tules, it was deemed best to halt the train and send a party to dislodge the enemy. Sixty mounted men were detailed for this work; and they made the advance and charge with great spirit. As they neared the ditch, two Indians, one on each bluff, sprang up and flaunted blankets; and at the same moment the warriors, nearly three hundred in number, rose from their concealment and let fly with their arrows. the missiles came quick and thick as a swarm of hornets, making the air sing, and whenever striking either man or horse leaving a sting of poison, from which some of the wounded died. The white men, however, were upon the Indians in a moment, shooting them down, and chasing them to the hills. In this attack an Indian buck was captured and sent back to the camp, while the storming party was beating up the Tules. He became a great curiosity in the train, and as he was tied to a bush was surrounded by a throng of boys, and, desiring to eat, was given a cup of red-pepper tea, with which the wounded was being treated as an antidote to the poison. Tasting the fiery liquid, the wild man gave a whoop that terrified the camp, who came pouring down as if to attack the wagons, and were prevented only by the horsemen coming back on the run and intercepting them. With a guard placed on the flanks of the train, the white men returned and continued the fight in the gulleys and tall grass, and at length drove all the Klamaths to the hills, where they took refuge in a rude fort, and through the interstices between the logs began shooting arrows. The white men returned the fire, stationing themselves at a distance out of range of the arrows but within reach of the fort with the rifles, and began a general bombardment, continuing their fire until dark. During the night all was quiet; and early next morning a reconnaissance to the fort was made, when it was found deserted, but so marked with blood, even in clotted pools, that it was estimated that as many as sixty or seventy of the Indians must have been slain, the bodies having been all removed. The train then moved on, but met with continual harassment’s form the savages throughout the whole length of the canon. None could leave the train to hunt, as all were required for guard duty; and, therefore, no game being secured, the provisions began to fail.

It was late in the autumn when the crest of the Umpqua Mountains was gained, from which they looked over into the Umpqua valley. The first necessity was to secure something to eat; and Alderman and a few companions who were in advance descried form the summit of the hill a lazy smoke in the valley below, and determined to go towards it. After traveling about twice the distance that they anticipated they came upon the Indian camp, but found the spot deserted except by a few old men and women. Making known their hunger, the old parties called to the others, who came back from their concealment in the brush, and began with amazing generosity to bring out dried camas to the amount of nearly a ton. Of this dirty material, which had an admixture of hair and various kinds of filth, the hungry boys gingerly took half a bushel in a sack, and upon returning to the train met with the declaration of the others that starvation was better than eating such stuff. Alderman, however, floated off the dirt with water, and cooking the residue declared that it was the best meal he ever ate. A few days afterwards he and his comrades found a Hudson’s Bay camp, whose tent was heavy with dried venison. entering without invitation or ceremony, they helped themselves, and after having satisfied their craving were astonished that the squaw in charge would not accept a cent of pay. She also sold them a large amount of meat to take to the train. The wagons stuck in the throat of the Umpqua canon. The men were obliged to pack their goods on the backs of horses or oxen, and carry their wives and children on their own backs, wading often up to the armpits in the cold water of the powerful river. One Missourian, who determined to get his wagon through, only succeeded in having it turned over and its load floated away. Coming in broken parties out of the Calopooia Mountains, they at length all got into the Willamette valley alive, but looking more like a band of fugitives than of civilized travelers.

Alderman and his friends came on rapidly, finding but two families south of Eugene Skinner’s place. He found food, but the scarcity of the past still gnawed upon his vitals; and when, at the Luckiamute river, he and his companions met a party hastening towards the train with flour and they obtained fifty pounds, they determined to have a banquet. Camping under a large white fir tree, they made a fire, and in the absence of a bread pan made the dough in the sack; and in the absence of a baking pan stuck the dough on a stick and cooked it before the flame. Thus cooking and eating they continued their banquet until about midnight, and consumed the most of the fifty pounds of flour, – five of them. On the Rickreal they met General Gilliam, who told them that he would kill a hog and hang it up for them on the road; but this they declined, preferring to have him to keep it for those behind. At Amity they performed gastronomic prodigies, and on the Tualatin contrived to miss their way and pass the chilly December night without food, fire or blankets. At Oregon City, Alderman found a brother who had left home some time before, and whom he did not at first recognize, but discovering his relationship was only too glad to make with him a home for the winter. Nevertheless the hard life of the plains, or the sudden change to something like comfort, induced sickness; and it was a somewhat dismal time in the short days of the early part of 1847. That winter the brother, M.R. Alderman, also met with a great misfortune, – having his feet so frozen while on an express tour for the Hudson’s Bay Company as to necessitate the amputation of one of them.

As the pleasant weather of spring opened, and the brothers recovered their strength, they went up to the Willamette in search of land and found no place more to their liking than at Dayton, and here bought a claim for a hundred head of cattle from one La Bonte. This was a French half-breed who replied to Alderman’s question as to how much land he owned: “Begin in the morning on a Cayuse horse; go west until the sun is very high; then go south until it is around towards the west, and then back to the river.” That was his farm. He refused money, but would take a hundred cows for this baronial estate; and Alderman was able to suit his fancy. After moving to this place, all was serene until the Indians of the neighborhood came in and made near his cabin a sweathouse, and here doctored themselves and held barbarious services at various times, shouting, singing, pounding on rude drums, and making day and night hideous. To find some way of being rid of this intolerable nuisance, he went to the Frenchman, the elder La Bonte, and asked what to do. The old man told him to wait until the Indians were gone, as they soon would be, and then carefully take down and tie up in bundles all the shakes or cedar boards, of which the sweathouse was made, and be ready to pay for anything that was split or injured. Following this advice, the lonely settler did as suggested, and then waited the return of the band. He was careful to be inside his cabin; and as they came in sight one day he watched developments through the cracks of his domicile. The astonishment and wonder of the simple natives was complete; and they were all stricken with silence as they looked again and again on the dismantled sweathouse and bundles of boards. Then one spoke, and all spoke, – a wa-wa-ing and jabbering never exceeded outside of bedlam. After some time of this clamor they made a rush for his cabin, and began to pound on the door. Alderman from a deep recess let them pound, preferring not to be “at home” and hook inwardly, lest those outside should try to develop his whereabouts by setting fire to the premises. While thus waiting in jeopardy, he was relieved by the coming of the old La Bonte, who explained matters to the Indians. They began packing up the bundles; and amid the bucking, jumping and charging of horses, and excitement of savages never before equaled, they managed to move away, and Mr. Alderman was never afterward troubled by them.

During the early months upon his farm. Mr. Alderman had stopped with him his brother, and got a Mr. William Logan to make him eighteen thousand rails. He also set out some little apple trees, and the first year broke and seeded sixty acres to wheat. the fruit of these trees brought sixteen dollars per bushel, the wheat four dollars and ninety cents, and the potatoes seven dollars. He went barefooted; and it frequently happened that two or three weeks would pass without his seeing a white person. In 1848, when Sheriff Hembree came around for the county taxes, he paid his assessment in cattle hides, which were legal tender. In the same year he bade adieu to his brother, who left for California, and who also insisted that the place be putting his brother’s name, as he felt that he could never return. He never did, – meeting death at Sutter’s Fort. In 1849, A.L. Alderman also went to the mines, experiencing very heavy weather on the ocean; but once in California he found a claim that proved almost incredibly rich, yielding thirty-six hundred dollars in thirty days. With this money he came back to his farm and erected a sawmill, selling lumber at forty dollars per thousand. He also leased a piece of ground to Daniel Chaplin, upon which was set the largest orchard in the territory.

In March 1850, he was married to Miss Mary J. Burns, who died in 1864, leaving four children, three of whom are settled in our state, while the fourth, a son, is steward on one of the great China steamers. In 1866, he was married to Miss Charlotte Odell, and by her he has reared a family of five children, who are all at home. Mr. Alderman is still engaged in farming and raising fruit and stock. In forty-one successive crop she has experienced no failure; and land that he broke in 1847 and from which he has taken forty crops now yields thirty five and forty bushels of wheat per acre, and that without fertilizing.

Mr. Alderman is one of our esteemed citizens, benevolent, intelligent, active, a friend of schools and churches, and a man of broad public spirit. We present an excellent portrait.



History of the Pacific Northwest Oregon and Washington. 2 v. Portland, Oregon: North Pacific History Company. 1889.

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