Biography of Eugene F. Skinner

EUGENE F. SKINNER. – Eugene F. Skinner, whose name is a household word throughout the length and breadth of Lane county, located in June, 1846, the Donation claim on which Eugene City, named for him, now stands. He was born at Essex, Essex county, New York, September 13, 1809, and is the youngest son of Major John Joseph Skinner of East Windsor, Connecticut, and a brother of St. John B.L. Skinner of New York, who was an influential officer in the Postoffice Department at Washington City, District of Columbia, under President Lincoln, and first assistant postmaster-general under President Johnson.

Having lost his mother when but three months old, Eugene was favored with particular attention by his father, and when he attained the age of fourteen years was taken to Albany, Green County, Wisconsin, among relatives who were all interested in his welfare. While yet in early life, however, he went back to his native state, and to Plattsburg, the home of his childhood. Soon after this he turned his face westward and settled at Hennepin, Putnam County, Illinois. In youth he was of a most industrious disposition, and by diligent application obtained a good education, which fitted him in after life for many positions of trust and honor. Having lived on a farm, he naturally learned the intricacies of agriculture, and drank in of the spirit of adventure that subsequently developed in him the desire to assume the arduous undertakings of a life on the frontier.

He married in Illinois, November 28, 1839, Mary Cook, who was born in Augusta, Oneida county, New York, February 7, 1816. While a resident of Illinois, he was elected to several official positions, among them being sheriff of Putnam county. Owing to certain inducements held out to him, and hoping to regain his lost health, in May, 1845, he and his wife, joined a large company who were going to California, among the number being Felix Scott, Wesley Shannon and Elijah Bristow. They arrived at the hospitable portals of Sutter’s fort in September, 1845. There they wintered, and in the spring of 1846 journeyed to Oregon. Mr. Skinner stopped in Dallas, Polk county, until in May, 1847, he turned his face southward and took up his residence on the claim which he had previously located, erecting a log cabin at the west side of Skinner Butte, where Mrs. Skinner reigned as the first and only lady in Lane county. Theirs was certainly far from being a bed of roses. The Indians in the vicinity took umbrage at the white man thus locating in their midst; and several times they sought to destroy the family. Mr. Skinner kept watch and ward with an old musket, while Mrs. Skinner made bullets. Nevertheless, after many days of fear and anxiety, no dire deed of vengeance was perpetrated.

Mr. Skinner’s family at that time consisted of only himself, wife and one little daughter, Mary Elizabeth, who was born in Dallas, Polk county, Oregon, December 2, 1846, who in time was presented with three sisters and one brother. Leanora, the first white child to see the light of day in Lane county, was born September 2, 1848; Phoebe B., born March 29, 1850; St. John B.L., born November 17, 1851; Amelia R., born April 16, 1855. Of these, the first-named, Mary Elizabeth, died at Eugene City, October 4, 1860; Leanora died at Portland, Oregon, August 29, 1862. Phoebe B. married, August 30, 1868, John D. Rinsey, a native of New Jersey, who was born in Plainfield, October 12, 1835, and died March 13, 1881, leaving a family of two daughters, Maggie Clara and Mary Louis. St. John married, November 23, 1871, Amanda J. Walton. Amelia R. married August 24, 1871, Byron Van Houten, but is now Mrs. Combs, having married in Kansas City, Missouri, February 1, 1883, Chester D. Combs, a native of New York. Eugene F. Skinner, the subject of our writing, died at Eugene City, December 15, 1864, aged fifty-five years, three months and two days. His memory will long be cherished and honored by the inhabitants of the town that bears his name, and by the people of the beautiful valley in which he was one of the first settlers.

In early times Eugene F. Skinner was clerk of the courts, and was for many years postmaster at Eugene City. He also attended to law business for a large number of the settlers of Lane County. He was industrious and honest, was a first-class business man, and enjoyed the esteem and confidence of everybody. Mr. Skinner was a good man in the true sense of the word. he was a most estimable, public-spirited citizen, a kind husband, a fond and indulgent parent, and a dear and prized friend to a large number of state and county residents. Hundreds of needy, destitute emigrants, from the time of his first settlement in Oregon, until the last few weeks of his life, found in him a provider and friend; and his charities were freely extended wherever he knew that want prevailed. All in all, he was a man of noble impulses and most modest demeanor. His death was a calamity to the community of Eugene City; and he was deeply mourned by all. a cold which he had contracted little heeded at the time, was in four days the cause of his sudden death. The Masons and Odd Fellows of both of which orders he was a worthy member, conducted his obsequies on the 17th of December, 1864. Peace to the ashes of Eugene F. Skinner.

Mrs. Mary (Skinner) Packard, widow of Eugene F. Skinner, was married February 7, 1867, to Captain N.L. Packard, a native of Maine, with whom she lived until her death, which occurred at Eugene City, Oregon, June 4, 1881.

When the town was first laid out, she was awarded the honor of giving a name to the place; and she christened the embryo town Eugene, her former husband’s first name. She was a lady of many virtues, kind and charitable, ever ready to assist the needy and alleviate the sufferings of the unfortunate. Unaffected in her manners, and caring very little for distinction of personages, all who came in contact with her were treated with that gentle courtesy that marks the true woman and lady. In character she was amiable to a fault, patient, anxious for the comfort of all about her, speaking no ill of anyone. Schooled in the dangers and hardships of pioneer life, that seemed to quicken the symptoms of a heart naturally gentle and charitable, she lived respected by all who knew her, beloved by her associates, and died mourned by the entire community.



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

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