Biography of Harrison B. Oatman

Harrison B. Oatman, of Portland, was born in Courtland county, New York, February 25, 1826. His father, Harvey B. Oatman, died one year after the birth of our subject. One year later he accompanied his mother to Bellevue, Huron county, Ohio, where the family remained ten years and then settled in West Liberty, Ohio. Here they remained four years, after which they removed to Elgin, Illinois, and a few years later to Ogle county, in the same State. The latter place was at this time a new country and here Mr. Oatman commenced life on his own account as a farmer on land obtained from the government. On December, 25,1847, he was married to Miss Lucena K. Ross, a most estimable lady, who from that day to the present time has not only shared his fortunes, but has been a most excellent wife and mother and in its highest sense a worthy helpmate and companion.

He remained at Ogle until the fall of 1852, when he removed to Des Moines, Iowa, and the following summer (1853) with his brother, Harvey B. Oatman, and their families, started on the long journey across the plains to Oregon. After several weary months of traveling they arrived in the Rogue River Valley, in the fall of 1853, and here the two brothers and their wives took up a claim of 640 acres to which they were entitled under the donation ate, near Phoenix. The old wagon which had survived the journey of more than 3,000 miles was placed on the line dividing the respective claims and served as a place of habitation until a log cabin could be erected, and in this primitive way they commenced life in Oregon.

For fourteen years following Mr. Oatman remained in the Rogue River Valley engaged in farming, mining and merchandising. He was a part owner of the mine of the “49” Mining Company in Southern Oregon, retaining his interest until after he had located in Portland. He also established the first store in Phoenix, which he successfully conducted for some time. Numerous incidents occurred during the period Mr. Oatman resided in Rogue River Valley illustrating the dangers of pioneer life in Oregon at that day. Perhaps the most thrilling incident in his experience occurred on September 25, 1855. On the preceding day Mr. Oatman, with Daniel P. Brittain and Calvin M. Field, started from Phoenix, each with ox teams and a load of flour destined for Yreka, California. Camping the first night near the foot of the Siskiyou Mountains, the train started up the ascent in the morning, Mr. Oatman in the lead. When within 300 feet of the summit the party was fired upon by Indians. Field and a young man by the name of Cunningham, who was passing at the time, were killed, Mr. Oatman alone escaping of those attacked, as Mr. Brittain, who was in the rear of the party had not reached the scene, but having heard the shots fired in the vicinity of the men in advance, fled down the mountain to the Mountain House, three miles from the place of attack. Mr. Oatman, although within sixty feet of the guns, miraculously escaped unhurt and fled to the Mountain House for assistance. Before leaving, the Indians killed thirteen of the oxen, the remainder of them escaping. The attack was without provocation and the first in a series of Indian outrages which led to the greatest Indian war known on the Pacific Coast, which raged along the Columbia, around Puget Sound and in the region of Rogue River, from the fall of 1855 to the summer of 1856. No less than 4,000 warriors were at times in arms against the whites, and only a lack of hearty and intelligent co-operation on the part of the hostiles saved the outlaying settlements from total annihilation, and the more populous communities of the Willamette Valley from all the horrors of barbaric warfare.

The first years of the war of the rebellion passed without far away Oregon experiencing much of the hardships of the great struggle. But as it grew in magnitude and hundreds of thousands of men were needed by the North to carry on the gigantic strife, the regular troops were withdrawn from the remote frontiers and sent to the front. Oregon, in common with the other States and territories of the Pacific Coast, was left exposed to the hostility of the Indians who immediately after the departure of the troops who had kept them in peaceful subjection, began to assume a warlike attitude and on several occasions were guilty of acts of violence. In this emergency the loyal men of Oregon were called upon to defend the life and property of the people. Mr. Oatman was among those who promptly volunteered for this service and on April 4, 1865, enlisted in the United States Army, to serve during the war, being mustered in at Camp Baker, Rogue River Valley, as first lieutenant of Company 1, Captain F. B. Sprague, First Regiment of Oregon Infantry. The services of this regiment were confined to the protection of the frontier and in operations against the Indians, being actively employed until mustered out July 19, 1867, and supposed to be the last volunteer regiment discharged from service by the government.

Mr. Oatman made a highly commendable record as a soldier, on several occasions being entrusted with important duties which he discharged in such manner as to receive high praise from his superior officers. On October 14, 1866, he was ordered by Capt. Sprague, with twenty-two men from his command, and four Klamath Indians, as scouts, to proceed from Fort Klamath and to scout the country from that point east to Camp Bidwell, California. On the day following the order he started on his mission, and in seven days arrived at Camp Bidwell, 153 miles distant. On the return Lieut. Oatman’s command was joined by a small detachment of regular troops, under Lieut. Small, U. S. Cavalry, and on October 25th an engagement was had with a band of Snake Indians, in the vicinity of Lake Albert. In this engagement, which lasted for three hours, the Indians numbering seventy strong, were completely routed, fourteen were killed, more than twenty wounded and fifteen lodges, together with winter supplies for a hundred men were destroyed. For his service in this battle Lieut. Oatman’s conduct was highly commended in general orders by Major General George F. Steele in command of the Department of the Columbia, while Lieut. Small in his report of the battle stated: “Lieut. Oatman commanded the line on the left with commendable skill and energy, and the troops acquitted themselves throughout the engagement in the most soldierly manner.

In October, following his discharge from the army, Mr. Oatman with his family located in Portland where he has ever since resided. He first embarked in the grocery business, in which he continued for some two years alone, after which Hon. Van B. DeLashmutt became a partner. The latter was succeeded as a partner by Frank Hackeney, with whom Mr. Oatman remained in partnership about two years. At this time he had become the owner of considerable real estate, and he gave up the grocery business that he might devote his attention to land speculation. In 1872, with Mr. DeLashmutt, he embarked in a real estate and brokerage business. They are still associated in numerous purchases of real estate in and near the vicinity of Portland, owning many acres of very valuable land. Mr. Oatman has been very successful in his real estate speculations, which have been conducted on a large scale, and which already have realized him a large fortune. He was one, of the first subscribers to the stock of the Metropolitan Savings Bank, and is also largely interested in the Coeur d’Alene mines.

As a business man Mr. Oatman has achieved a high degree of success. He started in life with very limited educational advantages, and without the aid or assistance of money or influential friends. All that he has he has acquired by his own exertion, and is a fine type of the so called self-made man, of whom the Pacific slope furnishes so many illustrious examples. He is a man of cheerful, jovial nature, who looks on the bright side of life and believes in extracting all the good out of existence possible and consistent with right living.

Mr. and Mrs. Oatman have had four children all of whom are living. The eldest, James Harvey, is a very prosperous merchant at Bonanza, in Southern Oregon, while the other children, Charles, John and Lucena are living at home with their parents.


Biography, History,

Harvey Whitefield Scott. History of Portland, Oregon: with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Prominent Citizens and Pioneers. Portland, Oregon. D. Mason & Company, 1890.

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