Biography of Gen. John E. Ross

GEN. JOHN E. ROSS. – No view of our state would be complete without the figure of General Ross, who was so prominent as Indian fighter and legislator in the early days. he was born in Ohio in 1818, and after a residence in Indiana and Illinois, being married at Chicago to the daughter of Alexander Robinson of that city, whose loss by death he suffered eight years later, he came to the Pacific coast, arriving in Oregon in 1847. He was captain of a company that crossed the plains, and soon after reaching the Grande Ronde came upon some of the most distressing incidents of the immigrants’ experience. Having hurried on ahead of his train with Joseph Kline and an Englishman, he overtook, on the John Day river, the Warren company, who had just been attacked and robbed by the Indians, being even stripped of their clothing. He traded his own garments to the Indians for provisions for this destitute band, and came on with them to The Dalles, having not a cent of money at the time of his arrival.

Soon after reaching the Willamette valley, the Cayuse war broke out; and he enrolled his name as one of the volunteers to avenge the massacre of the missionaries. He was second lieutenant of the company of which H.A.G. Lee was captain.

In 1848 he went to California for gold, leaving his threshing machine standing in the field in his haste to be off. He was in the rich mines of Feather river, and subsequently was one of the discoverers of the precious metal on Scott river. The camps at Yreka and on Josephine and Congreve creeks were also familiar with his figure; and in 1851 he brought from the Willamette valley a band of cattle to furnish beef at Jacksonville. An attack upon immigrants at Bloody creek in 1852 moved him to collect a force of miners and go to the scene; and the work of this war was followed the next year by an active part in quelling the outbreak in the Rogue river valley. As colonel of two battalions, he conducted the campaign with the vigor and ability of an experienced commander. In the same year he was married at Jacksonville to Miss Elizabeth Hapwood. In the treaty of 1853, General Ross acted as interpreter, being well known by the Indians; although officially Colonel Nesmith held the position. In the harder struggle of 1855, he took a leading and decisive part. He was also elected in that year to fill the place left vacant in the Oregon legislature by the removal of Doctor Cleveland, the member of the legislature from Jackson county.

Later in the history of our state, General Ross was equally influential, having been one of the organizers of the Oregon & California Railroad Company (1866-67). In 1872 he was appointed by Governor Grover, brigadier-general of Oregon volunteers, in command of the First Brigade. During the Modoc war he took command of the troops in the field, and participated in the engagements. In 1878 he was elected Representative of Jackson county, and was appointed chairman of the military committee. He was also a member of the investigating committee to examine the records of the preceding administration.

His active mind has been clouded in recent years by disease; but his valuable services still operate in the texture of our society.


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

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