Biography of Philip F. Castleman

PHILIP F. CASTLEMAN. – Those who now make the trip in the palatial car across the continent from the populous cities and thickly settled districts of the union, and view the Pacific Northwest in its present development, can but faintly realize the dangers and privations the sturdy pioneers experienced in reaching here, nor yet understand the troubles they had with the red man who then roamed its confines at will, and knew no law save what pleased the savage heart the best. They often meet among its residents not a few upon whom the snows of many winters have fallen, – and fallen while braving the inconveniences of pioneer life. They see in them the man or woman whose years are well-nigh ended, with no evidences that the passing one has a history and a record which ofttimes is not only that of a pioneer, but one who undertook many a dangerous task in order to reclaim and build up this the fairest section of America.

Among those who might pass unnoticed, except that he is a man of years, with kindly look and gentlemanly bearing, is the gentleman whose name heads this article, and who well might occupy a place with heroes. He was born on May 17, 1827 near Hodginsville, Kentucky, his ancestors being of Revolutionary fame. He received what education could be secured at the common schools of that time, which were not of the best, the term being usually three months in the year, and the distance to the old log schoolhouse being sometimes as much as four miles. The instructors were not always well educated; but, with application and a determination to know something, he was enabled to surmount the difficulties and instill into his mind a good understanding of his text books. He then attended a nine-months’ term in the village of Hodginsville, where he forged ahead with great rapidity. On the closing of the term, he received a fine recommendation from his tutor, W.H. Fenton, now a leading lawyer of New York City, which, together with his general bearing, enabled him to secure a school at a hamlet called Bacon Creek, located some ten miles from his home. Here as a pedagogue he gave such general satisfaction that his refusal to teach a second term, although having been offered increased inducements, was greatly regretted by all. He had caught the California gold fever, and to the new El Dorado must go.

He left home on May 3, 1849, and went to Aetna Furnace, Hart county, and there joined a company of eighteen others under the leadership of C.W. Churchill. Their trip across the continent was attended not only with sickness but death, the whole party being afflicted more or less with cholera. Seven of the nineteen succumbed to its ravages before reaching the Rocky Mountains. Theirs was not the only company which suffered in a like manner; for in many camps could be seen the dead, dying and almost helpless suffering emigrants; and all along the route there was a graveyard at nearly every camping place. Our subject was not an exception; for he had several attacks of the disease. At times, when able, he took his turn with the rest as doctor, nurse, cook, teamster and herdsman. After a long, weary and distressful journey, the welcome Rockies were at last reached, when in the change of climate better health was experienced until nearing the Sierra Nevadas, when several of the party, including our subject, the latter very severely, were taken down with mountain fever. Proceeding onward under these many disadvantages, they at last reached Sacramento in November of the year of starting, having been nearly six months on the road.

His first experience as a miner was at Bidwell’s Bar, on Feather river. His experience here convinced him that the miner’s life was not at all times what the gold-fever-stricken Easterner pictures before leaving home for the diggings, and thinking he could do better in Sacramento City, left for that place. About two or three weeks after his arrival there, he entered the employ of a baker at a monthly salary of $250. This position he retained through the winter and until spring, when he again concluded to try mining, and left for Redding Diggings, in the Upper Sacramento valley. After his arrival he was induced to retrace his steps as far as Stony Creek (now Monroeville), where he erected a house for other parties, which was the first built at that point, and which he conducted as a hotel for some time. He again went to the mines, only to leave them in a short time on account of a severe illness, returning to the valley and buying an interest in what was then called Mundy’s ranch. In 1851 he disposed of those interests and left for Oregon, settling at a point near where Eugene now stands. There he erected a sawmill, and later on built a mill on Bear creek, the fruits of whose saws were the first lumber sawed in Southern Oregon, thus making him the pioneer in that enterprise in that section of the state.

In 1853 he sold out and went to Rogue river, and in partnership with Milton Lindley built and ran a sawmill at Phoenix. In the fall of that year, while still retaining his interest in the milling enterprise, he left for the East via the Nicaragua route, hoping to avoid the many hours of sickness he had known on the plains in reaching here. But in this he reckoned wrongly; for through seasickness he hardly knew a well day while on the ocean blue. After visiting his old home and friends, he went to New York and studied daguerreotyping until he had become conversant with the mysteries of the art, when he purchased a photographic outfit and materials and took passage once more by sea for “Webfoot” via Panama. After his arrival here he began taking pictures; and such were the first ones taken in Southern Oregon and Northern California, making him the pioneer photographer in that section.

During the early part of October, 1855, while he was in Eugene the news came of the outbreak of the Indians on Rogue river. Believing the protection of the settlers’ homes and families paramount to all other duties, he at once began the organization of a company of volunteers. Before the brave men enlisted could perfect arrangements to depart for the scenes of hostilities, General McCarver, who was on his way to the field of action, arrived at Eugene and wanted a messenger who would go to Scottsburgh to procure ammunition, as his stock was rather low. In pioneer days that place was of considerable importance, having five or six well-stocked trading houses. Castleman was recommended to him as one who could make the perilous trip if anyone could. Upon his being approached in the matter, he volunteered to undertake the mission, and on receipt of his instructions departed for his destination, reaching there in twenty-one hours. The distance being ninety-one miles and over mountains, and the roads being nothing but trails, this was wonderfully quick time. On arriving at Scottsburgh, he delivered his dispatches to the merchants of that place, who agreed to comply with the request therein, – such being for a mule load of ammunition. Taking upon his horse a portion of the same, and packing the balance upon the mule and placing it in charge of another, he left by the river trail for Roseburg, where he was to meet McCarver, covering the distance of over a hundred miles in twenty-four hours, the ammunition coming in two days after.

The next step in the conduct of the war was to get the ammunition into the hostile country, and into the hands of its sturdy pioneer defenders; and again Castleman was selected to accomplish another dangerous task. The route which he had to take led through the Umpqua cañon, which by the way is one of the most magnificent stretches of scenery the world affords, and which the lover of nature never tires of gazing upon; but it was at this time hardly calculated to touch the poetic chord in one when its recesses and mountain crests contained the camp-fires of the howling savage, who thirsted for the white man’s blood and was eager for his scalp. He, however, after an all-night’s ride in darkness, succeeded in reaching Hardy Eleff’s without accident or molestation, at sunrise the next morning, where he found some of the heroes of the Battle of Hungry Hill, which had been fought the day previous. Here he turned over to the volunteers the ammunition consigned to his care. On his return to Roseburg he was appointed assistant quartermaster-general for meritorious conduct, with his station at that place.

Late in October the Indians congregated at the Meadows, on Rogue river, and prepared their camp for defense. To this point the troops made their way and laid siege to the rudely constructed fortifications. Tiring of this, and wishing to break the siege, the red devils selected a force of forty picked warriors and sent them out to terrorize the country. Making their way through the wilderness to the South Umpqua, they inaugurated their fiendish work by the burning of the settlers’ houses, and laying waste all they could. On the first day of November, the news reached Roseburg; and the most exaggerated reports were pouring in, causing the wildest excitement. Pat Day, then sheriff of Douglas county, and Castleman agreed to go on a scout by themselves and learn what they could. They first went to Honorable John Kelly’s, who lived one mile south of Roseburg, who took them across the South Umpqua in a canoe, their horses swimming after them. They then started for Rice’s farm, where the Indians were reported to be hard at work. They came to Looking Glass creek, which was a long way out of its banks, and was difficult to ford in the daytime, much more so in the dark, it being night by the time they reached there. They finally got across and were soon at Gage’s stockade, where they refreshed themselves. Gage told them that he had heard firing at Rice’s all day, and that it had finally stopped about sundown. At Gage’s two men joined Castleman and Pat Day; and from there they went to a Mr. Kent’s, where they next stopped, and where about a dozen more men gladly joined the party.

Castleman, holding the rank of assistant quartermaster in the volunteer service, was made leader of the company. Following the trail of the savages up Ten Mile creek, which was marked by devastation on every hand, they crossed a divide to the waters of Olilla creek, and, coming up with the savages, actually saw them firing the house of a settler. They hid and waited for developments. They sent two scouts after the Indians, who tracked them to a band in the Olilla. They waited until the Indians turned in and were asleep, and then crept into their camp. Getting all the information they desired, they returned to their own camp and reported. The savages being more than two to one it was deemed best not to attack them until they got some help. They went to McCully’s stockade and got a reinforcement of twenty-five men, they being a portion of Captain Baily’s company, and under Orderly-Sergeant Tom Holland. Castleman, being a higher officer, was tacitly acknowledged captain.

It was very dark when they set out for the Indian encampment, following a local guide, who knew the country, creeping continuously along until they were only half a mile distant from the Indian stronghold; and there they halted and held a council of war. The Indians, who had tantalized the volunteers during the previous day at the stockade, had no fear of an attack, and were consequently very careless. The plan of action decided on this: Castleman, with fifteen men, was to approach the Indian camp from the left along the creek. Pat Day, with ten men, was to attack them then in front. Tom Holland, with fifteen men, was to make a détour on the right, crossing the Olilla below their camp, and pick them off as they tried to swim the creek. Each party was to be in readiness at their appointed stations, to make a simultaneous attack at daybreak. As it was then but four o’clock, and daylight did not come until near seven, each party had ample time to gain their respective stations. Castleman with his squad started at once for his post and reached it. Holland’s men got into a slight depression, and he concluded to wait there. Pat Day, when part way to his post, concluded to wait and see what would happen.

The Indian camp was in a bend of Olilla creek, between the creek and an immense fir log which lay just behind them. Castleman and his band were making for this fallen monarch of the forest; and he stood almost at the end of it before he realized the extreme danger of his position. He raised to look around him; and there were the painted devils, who were already up sitting around their blazing fires, cooking their breakfast and keeping warm.

It was while he stood there within a stone’s throw of the savages that Pat Day fired his gun. Instantly they raised the warwhoop; and every redskin seized his gun. But fortunately they had thrown them down carelessly, where rain and snow had fallen later; and a number of them were unfit for use. Castleman looked behind, expecting to see all his men close to him; but only six were in sight. The other eight soon turned up. Hardly had the sound of that gun been lost, when Castleman shouted: “Take the log, boys; take the log!” and, crouching, he led the rush for it. But, while rushing for the log, Castleman received a shot which entered his side, ranged the ribs and went out over the right hip. His lower limbs were paralyzed; but his arms were all right. He shouted to his men to make all the noise they could, and make the Indians think there were a thousand of them. They loaded and fired and shouted in turn. Their leader lay on the ground, loading and firing over the log. Firmly believing that his end had come, he determined to render as much assistance to his comrades as possible, regardless of himself. Before many minutes had elapsed, the whole force was at hand; and the battle assumed much larger proportions.

As soon as the firing began, both of the other squads joined Castleman. The eight of Castleman’s squad who lagged behind when he made the charge became a flanking party and did valiant work. It was dark where the assailants were, while the savages stood in the full glare of their campfires. An Indian stood behind some saplings so close to Castleman that he could have clubbed him with the butt of his gun, had he dared to have exposed himself so much. He was vainly endeavoring to make his gun go off, which fortunately for Castleman had got wet; and the charge would not leave the gun. He would occasionally put on a fresh cap, until finally a bullet from Jim Burnett’s gun went crushing through his abdomen, sending him howling to the rear. While Castleman was making the most of the life that was left in him, loading and firing and shouting to his men what to do, a “pet Indian,” known as “Cow Creek tom,” who could speak English fairly well, yelled back “Yes, G-d d- you, and while you are doing that we will kill you and cut you up in a thousand pieces, and lay you out on that log.” That was no idle threat to keep in mind. He knew that if the Indians captured him they would do some such horrible thing. The battle was an awfully fierce one while it lasted. But the combined attack was too much for the Siwash element, and giving a parting warwhoop, they fell back in great disorder completely routed, and unable to carry away their dead. After the battle was over the Whites proceeded to take an inventory of what they had captured. They recovered much of the property which had been stolen by the Indians, and recaptured many horses that had been taken the day before.

Castleman’s wound was not only dangerous, but was considered necessarily fatal. He was carried away on a rude litter to McCully’s stockade, where he suffered the most excruciating pain for some weeks, when he was taken to a hospital near Roseburg, where he remained several months. When able to leave it, he was but a mere shadow of his former self; and from that day to this he has carried painful reminders of that terrible night on the South Umpqua, receiving no compensation nor even recognition that his services had been worth anything to his country. After leaving the hospital, he was commissioned assistant commissary of subsistence, with the rank of captain. This took him to Eugene, where he remained until peace was restored.

After the close of the Indian war he bought a drove of hogs and several ox-teams, loading the teams with produce, and drove them through to Southern Oregon, where he disposed of them, also selling his interest in the mill business. In the following winter, he in company with Lewis Ward, bought a pack-train of B.F. Dowell, and packed produce from the Willamette valley to the Southern Oregon mines.

In the winter of 1857 Castleman sold his pack-train and bought a livery stable at Eugene, which he and Ward owned until the summer of 1858. At that time T. Chase bought Ward’s interest in the business, after which Castleman and Chase carried on the business until 1862, when they both went to Walla Walla and carried on the same business until 1865. They then sold out their business, and Chase returned to Eugene. In 1862 Castleman, leaving the business in charge of his partner, went to the Salmon river mines, but returned in the fall and moved his family to Walla Walla and engaged in photography. After the mines were discovered at Boise, he and Mr. John Doval took a stock of goods from Walla Walla to Placerville in the winter of 1863. Often during the trip they traveled through seven feet of snow, and came near losing their lives. In 1865 he sold out in Boise and returned to Walla Walla, where he again carried on photography until 1867, when he moved with his family to Eugene. Soon after this he returned East on a visit to his mother and family, his father having died in the meantime. While in the East he bought a large tract of land, and built a sawmill on it. But, circumstances not being as favorable as he had anticipated, he disposed of it and returned to Oregon, satisfied to remain, living one year at Eugene, one year at Tillamook, and about eight years on a farm in Yamhill county, which he sold, removing to Portland in 1878, where he has since resided.

Mr. Castleman has been quite an extensive speculator, and has always been willing to engage in any honorable enterprise. he is a public-spirited and generous man, and has done much to develop the country. He has been an extensive stock-dealer, and is now interested in a fine hop ranch, near Eugene. He has lived a busy and eventful life, and enjoys the confidence, honor and respect of all who know him.

Mr. Castleman has long been identified with the Indian War Veteran Association of the Pacific Northwest, and at present is the vice-grand commander of the grand encampment. During its sessions, or in the councils of the subordinate camp to which he belongs, he has been an ardent advocate of the publication of such a work as is now in the hands of the reader; and the interest manifested by him resulted in the formation of the company which has carried forward these volumes to completion, and in which he has been a member and one very active in the collection of data and historic matter.

He was married in 1856 to Mrs. I.J. Evans. Their union was blessed with five children, Euretta F., now the wife of J.A. Campbell, of Berkeley, California; Stephen F., deceased;; Mary E., who died in infancy; Anna B., now Mrs. W.H. Gaines, of Portland, Oregon; and William R., who is at present at home with his parents.

Mrs. I.J. Castleman was born December 28, 1834, in Stark county, Ohio. Her parents, B.F. and C.S. Davis, moved to Marshall county, Indiana, where they lived several years. In1847 they emigrated to Oregon and settled near Eugene. In 1850 Miss Davis was married to G.W. Evans, who died in 1853. They were blessed with two children, Frances E., now the wife of T. Patterson, and George W., who is now a resident of Yamhill county. Mrs. Evans was married to Philip F. Castleman March 18, 1856.


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

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