Biography of John L. Caviness

JOHN L. CAVINESS. – The name presented above is borne by one of the most exemplary citizens of Eastern Oregon, and a man who has sounded all the depths and shoals of pioneer life.

The family came from Indiana, settled for a time in Iowa, and came on to Oregon in 1852, spending a short time at Forest Grove, but soon locating in Linn county on a section Donation claim. In 1856-57 John L., now a young man of eighteen, began his career by driving cattle to California, and in the spring of the latter year to Eastern Oregon. While in the Walla Walla valley, he found employment as purchaser of horses from the Indians, receiving a hundred dollars per month, – better than splitting rails for his board on the Touchet, as he had done a few weeks after his arrival. In 1859 he made a successful trip with a drove of cattle to British Columbia, and followed this by freighting to Colville. Closing out his outfit to advantage, he tried his fortune in the Salmon river mines. In 1862 he hazarded six thousand dollars in a team (a prairie schooner) and goods, and made a very profitable expedition to the mines again, selling oats for as much as a dollar a pound. He cleared ten thousand dollars on the trip, and repeated it twice. Selling out once more he took up the business of ferrying across Salmon river at Warner Diggings, paying fifteen dollars for a skiff and taking in three thousand dollars in ferriage in a short time. These figures seem fabulous, but, to a miner just on the eve of making his fortune, five or ten dollars seemed nothing for him to give for getting across the dangerous river that lay between him and his strike.

Returning to the cattle herds, Mr. Caviness bought up a drove of beef animals, and sold beef in the mines at thirty and fifty cents a pound. After prospecting at Bannack, and trading at Walla Walla, the autumn of 1863 found him in the Blue Mountains at Auburn, where there was a large mining camp. Shortly after, finding his old partner, John Bryant, at Walla Walla, he laid in a stock of provisions and took up the claim at Grande Ronde, on which he had been having an eye for some time. It was the location of Island City; and the squatter then there had to be bought off. Getting some lumber for sixty dollars a thousand, Mr. Caviness put up the house which still stands and serves as his homestead. To the original purchase of two hundred and forty acres he soon added one hundred and twenty, and has more recently increased it by seven hundred and twenty, all in the valley. In 1872, in partnership with Mr. Darling, he built the Island City Flouring Mills, which he sold out in 1884. He is still living, however, at the old place prosperous and contented.

He is married and has five children, and is a straight Republican in politics.



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

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