Biography of William H. Dillon

WILLIAM H. DILLON. – Mr. Dillon, a pioneer of four states of our union, and a perfect example of the frontiersman, whose life story has been recounted in other pages also, was born in Kent county, Delaware, July 4, 1818. His parents were of English and Irish descent, and in 1823 moved west across the Alleghany Mountains to Ohio, then upon the very outposts of civilization. Eight years later they came on to Indiana, locating in Tippecanoe county on the Wabash. The desire, however, of owning and farming his own lands took possession of the elder Dillon, and he pulled up once more, crossing the Mississippi and taking a claim within the wholly uncultivated borders of Iowa. This was in 1837. William Dillon, the subject of our sketch, thus early learned the ins and outs of frontier life, and was deeply impressed with the purpose of being an independent land-owner.

The death of his father in 1840, and his own marriage to Miss Harriet Hatten, the daughter of an old Kentuckian, imposed the necessity of hard labor and much economy; and, his health somewhat failing, he determined to come to the Pacific coast, where he understood that the climate was more favorable, and work less exacting. The journey was performed in 1847; and the usual vicissitudes of storms, stampedes, occasional lack of water and feed for animals, and the wear and tear of the trip that fell to others, was also their experience. They suffered more or less from the pilfering of the Cayuse Indians. It was the Oscalusa train with which they performed the journey; and some of their companions were the unfortunates who remained at Waiilatpu and fell victims to the Indian atrocity the same time as Whitman. The passage down the Columbia from The Dalles was accomplished by means of rafts. The exposure and constant hardships of the plains and the river at last induced the mountain fever, from which both Mr. Dillon and his wife suffered very severely.

In company with him was his brother and family; and he himself had a little girl and a pair of twin babies. He found an old acquaintance living at the mouth of the Willamette river. There he remained the first season, raising a crop of vegetables for the next winter’s use, and making ready to look up a claim as spring opened. Upon the news of gold in California received at Portland in August, 1848, his brother went down to ascertain the truth of the report, and returned the next winter with a quantity of dust. In May, 1849, both Mr. Dillon and his brother took passage on the bark John W. Cater, a vessel very heavily loaded with lumber and produce. He was fairly successful in the mines, and returning to Oregon located a claim nearly opposite the mouth of the Willamette in Washington. He followed farming and stock-raising, and for fourteen years kept a ferry across the river.

In 1871 he suffered the loss of his wife, and went soon after upon a prolonged visit to his friends in Iowa. While there, he married Mrs. Eliza Swetland of the town of Tipton, Iowa. He returned to Washington in the autumn and settled once more on a snug little farm northwest of Vancouver, where he is at present living in comfort. His children are married; and he contemplates with much pleasure the progress of the communities and states which he has done his part to establish. Nevertheless the pioneer spirit still remains; and he sometimes wishes that there was a new land to settle out West so that he might hitch up and drive on.



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

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