Biography of W. F. Courtney

W.F. COURTNEY. – This veteran among the Indian fighters and earlier pioneers was born in Illinois in 1832. At the age of thirteen, he crossed the plains with his parents in 1845. They reached The Dalles during the latter part of October of the same year; but before proceeding down the river they had to construct a flat boat as a means of navigation. This was attended with considerable difficulty, as there were no lumber mills in the country, and ever plank had to be whipsawed. The passage from The Dalles to the Upper Cascades was made without any event of notice. Not so with the balance of the trip; for, after the women, children and household goods were removed, an attempt was made to run the rapids, which resulted in the wreckage of their boat on the rocks. From the Lower Cascades they came to Clackamas Rapids, below Oregon City in a sailing craft called the Calapooia. After a short stay at Oregon City, a permanent home was made near Brownsville. Like all other pioneers of the valley, the Courtney family were obliged to go to Oregon City for supplies. In July, 1847, the father started there for flour; but, when near Clackamas Rapids, he was instantly killed by a falling tree.

This left young Courtney to rely on his own resources in the matter of gaining a livelihood. He began adventures at the age of fifteen on his own account by making a trip to California, and continued the same by going out on the plains in 1852, for the purpose of protecting immigrants. In 1853 we find him in Northern Oregon as one of a company of forty formed to bring the Indians to justice who murdered Venerable and Burton on the Coquille river. Marching to the forks of the river, they were divided into squads; and it fell to the lot of Mr. Courtney, together with six others, to proceed to isthmus Slough in skiffs on a reconnoitering tour, the fruit of which trip was the capture of one of the red devils who took part in the murder. Our subject was left the task of guarding the prisoner while the rest of the squad looked around for other Indians. During their absence an attempt was made by an Indian to liberate the captive. But he reckoned without his host; for it took short work on the part of Mr. Courtney to make them both “good Indians.” The captive shot, however, died hard; for he ran eight miles before he finally fell.

Mr. Courtney went to the California mines in 1854, but returned to Oregon again in 1855 on the steamer California along with the company brought here by General Wool to fight the Indians. When crossing the Columbia river bar in a heavy storm, the steamer took fire; and for awhile it looked as if all were about to reach their last port. The fire was finally extinguished; and the vessel was safely brought to her destination.

Mr. Courtney is located near Wasco, and is extensively engaged in farming and stock-raising with success. Surrounded as he is with home comforts, could one be more content?



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

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