Biography of John E. Brooks

JOHN E. BROOKS. – John E. Brooks was born October 29,1822, at Canton, St. Lawrence county, State of New York. His father Cooper Brooks, and his mother, Sophia Brooks (formerly Tuttle), moved from Cheshire, New Haven, Connecticut, and settled at an early day in St. Lawrence county, making the trip with an ox-sled drawn by a yoke of cattle from state to state. To them were born six children, four boys and two girls. The entire family is now dead, except J.E. Brooks, the fifth, and Aniasa Brooks, the youngest of the family, who now live at McMinnville, Oregon. His father being a farmer, his boyhood days were spent in farming and in the dairy (his father being one of the first to engage in that business in the county), attending the district school a portion of the time during the winter months. In the fall of 1842, he attended the St. Lawrence Academy at Canton as a student. At the expiration of six months, he engaged in house carpentering and joiner work, to obtain means to further prosecute his studies.

In the fall of 1843, he passed a very satisfactory examination before the board of school (sic)superintendents, receiving a first-class certificate, and for four months following was engaged as a teacher in one of the best district schools in the county. From this time till the spring of 1846, his time was spent in teaching and attending the institution. At that time, being qualified to enter college, and not possessing sufficient means, he engaged himself as traveling agent to the United States Book Publishing Co. for one year, at a salary of two thousand dollars, expenses paid. On June 6th of that year he took his agency papers at Buffalo, New York, and started into business, canvassing the most of the state of Ohio successfully for the company until on August 20th he was prostrated with fever for weeks. Upon partially regaining his health, he resigned his agency, but continued to work for the company upon commission, when health would permit, traveling through Michigan and Illinois, and reaching Muscatine, Iowa, by easy stages the last of November, 1846, completely exhausted. After a short rest at his brother’s he engaged in teaching, in the winter and working at house building during the summer months till the spring of 1852.

On the 13th day of April, 1852, he was married, at Muscatine, Iowa, to Miss Julia A. Ray, who was born February 10, 1830, at Cincinnati, Ohio. She was the daughter of John and Keziah Ray, and the sixth of a family of seven, five girls and two boys. All the family are deceased, excepting herself. On the 21st day of April, eight days after his marriage, he with his newly wedded wife started for their honeymoon in an ox-wagon across the plains for Oregon. From the poor health of both, it was feared by their friends that they would never live to make the journey, but it was just what they most needed; for with the journey came perfect health, the trip being made without a single day of sickness to either.

On the 21st day of October, 1852, they reached Portland, Oregon, six months from the time of starting. Like many another, they could carry their worldly possessions all in their hands, being virtually without money or means. Aside from a few disagreeable incidents, it was a pleasurable journey. No delays by storm or flood, no trouble with the Indians, barred their progress. Their losses were common to hundreds of others; and the hope to reach the desired goal buoyed them up in every difficulty. Sad scenes were witnessed during the ravages of the cholera. Through fear, or the want of human sympathy, the sick were left by the wayside to die, the dead unburied or but partially so. The body of one who had been foully murdered was found but left to the vultures and the wolves. Such scenes could but shock the sensitive, and prompt to acts of common humanity. The eighth day of June will ever be remembered; for on that day he assisted in the burial of eight persons who had perished by that dread scourge, the last taking place near midnight and disconsolate, bereft of the fond husband and father, moved on to overtake the train gone before. With no fear for himself, he attended the sick, helped to bury the dead, and strove to comfort and cheer the afflicted.

In Portland he was met by his brother, who had crossed the plains in 1850, and after remaining in Portland a few days moved to Yamhill county, where he purchased a sawmill, and teams for logging. He located a Donation claim of 320 acres, and after buying an outfit for housekeeping, and provisions for the winter, fund himself in debt several thousand dollars, with interest at three per cent a month. On the 2d week in February, 1853, he took possession of the mill and began to pay off his large indebtedness. The mill was six miles west of the present town of McMinnville. In passing from his place of business to the town of Lafayette, at that time the only town in the county near him, he saw that a good water-power could be obtained by taking the water from Baker creek and discharging it into the South Yamhill river, and persuaded W.T. Newby to undertake the same, build a flouring-mill and lay off a town, which was done. The town was called McMinnville after a town in Tennessee, Mr. Newby’s native state. He continued in the lumber business for years, paying off his indebtedness in full, besides adding six hundred and forty acres of land to his Donation claim and stocking it with cattle, horses and sheep. The mill falling into decay, he turned his attention more to stock and the farm, and quit the milling business entirely, working occasionally at contracting and building.

In 1878 he sold out his possessions in Happy valley, as the place was called where he was located, and in July of that year purchased the place known as the Commercial Mills Farm (the mills were destroyed by fire May 9, 1878) at McMinnville, to which place he removed September 20th of the same year, and devoted most of his time to the improvement of the same. In 1884 he erected one of the finest residences in Yamhill county, in which he and his wife with two grand-daughters now reside, surrounded by all that makes life pleasant. All his property was procured by honest industry and frugality, the result of push and energy, which has made all his undertakings successful.

He was an old time Whig, and took an active part in the log-cabin and hard-cider campaign of Harrison and Tyler, being banner bearer in the glee club of which he was a member, and casting his first presidential vote for Henry Clay in 1844. He continued to act with that party until its demise, and then joined the American party, which was short lived in Oregon, it being too proscriptive to suit those of a liberal turn of mind. Many of the records and papers of that party are still in his possession. He was one of the first to advocate the formation of the Republican party in the state, and to-day is a straight-out Republican-Prohibitionist. Having no desire for official preferment, he has refused all offers for the same; yet he is an active worker for his party, but strictly from the idea of principle. A strong believer in liberty and justice, he has ever been opposed to slavery and oppression in all its forms. In early youth he became a freethinker, believing that, in relieving the wants of suffering humanity and thereby promoting human happiness, we best accomplish the greatest good of human existence.

He is an active member of the I.O.O.F., belonging to Occidental Lodge, No. 30, of McMinnville. He has been a representative to and an officer in the grand lodge of Oregon, and was foremost in erecting the Odd Fellows Hall, a building of which the citizens of the place feel proud. His wife, ever with him in all good works, is an efficient worker in and member of Friendship Rebekah Degree Lodge, No. 12, I.O.O.F., of the same place.

Three children were born to them, two girls and a boy. Both the girls were married. The elder daughter and her husband are deceased. They left two children, who reside with their grandparents. Being interested in schools, he was instrumental in forming district number forty-one where he formerly resided, and in building a commodious schoolhouse on land given by him for that purpose. He also gave five hundred dollars towards the erection of McMinnville College when it was first built, besides aiding most of the public enterprises of the times. He can point with pride to the many buildings erected by him in the town and surrounding country. He served as councilman for a term of one year, 1882, retiring satisfied with official life. He was appointed deputy marshal, and took the census of Yamhill county in 1870, completing the work and being the first to report to the census bureau of that year. In the fall of 1881, he with his wife, returned to the East and spent the winter among their early friends, returning in the spring fully satisfied with Oregon and its surroundings. He still oversees his farm and town property, taking life easily in his declining years.

Many incidents in his life might be given to show that perseverance was a marked trait in his character, and that strict honesty was a governing principle. The greatest losses of his means have been through those to whom he has with his usual liberality granted favors, as he could never say no when help was solicited. When wronged or defrauded, he never sought a legal remedy, but would remark, “I would rather it would be them than me,” and then dismiss it from his mind.

He was ever in favor of internal improvements. He subscribed to the fund for a preliminary railroad survey from California to Oregon, and canvassed his county in aid of the West Side Road with good success. He conceived the idea of bring the water of the South Yamhill river into town for milling and manufacturing purposes, filed the water claim and took the right-of-way from above the town of Sheridan to McMinnville. A company was organized, and the work of construction commenced; but its consummation was defeated through political chicanery, each party using its construction as the means of holding fraudulent votes to aid in carrying the elections in the county, a course which in nowise met with his approval.

His elder daughter, Elnora, married Elias B. Miller. The younger daughter, Inezi8lla, married Charles A. Berry, both of whom are living three miles west of town. They have no children living, having lost their only daughter at the age of two years. E. Cooper Brooks, his son, the third one of the family, is unmarried.



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

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