Biography of William Rice Dunbar

W.R. DUNBAR. – The mold in which a place is first cast is a great determining force in its future development. A quarter of a city which begins with mean buildings invites a class of neglectful or impecunious residents, and seldom outgrows its tendency towards squalor. The new settlers which come into a thriftless community sink more easily to the habits of their neighbors before them than they succeed in inciting those lax individuals to more industrious methods. On the other hand, also, thrift, vigor, a high level of public spirit and morality, leave a stamp which sets the tone and fashion of a city or neighborhood for many years. It is with peculiar satisfaction, therefore, that we find places like Goldendale which, from their very incipiency, have admitted nothing but strictly honorable pursuits, and have maintained a vigorous sentiment in favor of only the best things. These places become the augury of a high-minded generation in the future.

William Rice Dunbar, the subject of this sketch, is one of the men who have thus set the character of Goldendale. He is a man popularly known throughout the Northwest as a sterling worker in the cause of temperance. as a lecturer on this subject, as an organizer of lodges of Good Templars, and as a prominent officer of that order, he has met thousands of the people personally; and his form and voice are as familiar as that of any man on the coast. The service which he has done for Goldendale as a citizen he has performed for many other places as a lecturer and organizer.

He was born in Illinois in 1839. With his parents he came to Oregon in 1846, and is therefore, by education, a complete Oregonian. He lived upon his father’s farm in the Waldo hills, but at the age of nineteen began the work of a temperance organizer. He joined the Sons of Temperance at Silverton in 1858. Two years later he was elected grand conductor, and the next year grand scribe. In 1864 he resigned this office to assist in raising a military company to help meet the exigencies of the government, then in its death grapple with secession. He was first to enlist in Company A, First Oregon Infantry. He was soon commissioned second lieutenant, and held that position until 1866. When mustered out, he was in command of the blockhouse on the Grande Ronde Indian Reservation in Yamhill county. That was General Phil Sheridan’s old headquarters.

When he returned to civil life, Mr. Dunbar engaged in teaching on the reservation, and afterwards employed himself in the same way in the Waldo hills. He became a member of the Silver Lodge of the Good Templars. He was also active as solicitor of stock for the Oregon & California Railroad, which was then in prospect of construction. Returning to the reservation, he was soon transferred to the Warm Springs agency at the request of General Meacham. While at Grande Ronde agency he was elected to the Oregon legislature from his home county, Marion, and served during that session, 1870, in which Colonel Kelley was elected to the senate. Mr. Dunbar resigned his position in the Indian service in the autumn on account of the failing health of his wife.

As he was conspicuous in the Good Templar order, no one was better fitted than he for the office of grand worthy chief templar and grand lecturer; and he was elected as such in 1874. This position he held without opposition until 1879, when it became impossible for him to withhold his time longer from his own private affairs. In that year he selected Goldendale as his home, and in the following was appointed clerk of the district court. This office he held continuously until May, 1888, when he resigned the same. In 1882 he was appointed judge of the probate court; and so popular was his management of its business that he was elected to that office in the autumn of the same year and re-elected in 1884, again in 1886, and also at the last election in 1888.

Mr. Dunbar is also an Odd Fellow. He was grand master of that order in Washington Territory in 1884, and in 1886 and 1888 was representative to the sovereign grand lodge. He has been re-elected also for the next two years. He has also been mayor of Goldendale; and it is largely due to him that the record of the town for prohibition has been so nobly maintained.

In 1861 he was married to Miss Eliza A. Small; but this lady died a few years later, leaving one boy, Willie, who followed his mother in 1886, dying with consumption. Willie was clerk of the probate court of Klikitat county, Washington Territory, at the time of his death. In 1879 Mr. Dunbar was married to Miss Susy Dudley of Silverton, a lady of culture and recognized social position, who now does the honors of their home. Mr. Dunbar’s life has been crowded with public duties and honors bestowed upon him because of merit, and also because of his ability to fulfill them in a dignified and effective manner.



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

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