Biography of Hon. David Shelton

HON. DAVID SHELTON – Mr. Shelton, one of the very earliest of the pioneers of Washington Territory, who with Mr. L.B. Hastings and F.W. Pettigrove became a founder of Port Townsend, was born in Buncombe County, North Carolina, September 15, 1812. His father, Lewis Shelton, emigrated to the territory of Missouri in the year 1819, and settled in Saline county but kept on the advance wave of settlement, ever moving westward as the state settled up, and died in Andrew county in 1847. In this frontier life young David came to maturity, and on May 30, 1837, was married to Miss Frances Wilson. This was a young lad whose native place was Whitley County, Kentucky, and the date of her birth March 16, 1817. She had moved from Kentucky after the death of her father, David Wilson, with her mother to Missouri in 1829, and in 1835 had settled in Clinton county.

After marriage this young couple moved into Buchanan county and settled near St. Joseph in 1838. In 1847, feeling their pioneer blood stirred by reports of the great West and of Oregon they gathered together all their household goods and effects, and on the 9th of May crossed the Missouri river about three miles above St. Joseph on their way to Oregon. They found the journey long and tedious, as it was accomplished wholly by ox-teams; and from the time of the crossing of the Missouri the way lay through an Indian country. They found the Pawnee Indians disposed to be saucy; for at the mouth of Plum creek on the Platte river the savages caught a couple of men that were hunting and stole their clothing and guns, and left them to return with only hats and boots to the camp. After this they also tried to stampede the stock; but the immigrants, not suffering any such foolishness, determined to fight them off; and something of a battle followed. On account of their arrows not having the range of the white men’s guns, the savages failed to come near enough to do much damage; and the white men could not determine whether their shots took effect. After this the emigrants were quite careful to allow only a small company of two or three Indians to enter the camp at once.

On reaching The Dalles they passed down the shore nine miles, and built a large scow to bring the families and wagons and other goods down the river. The cattle and horses were driven along the shore; and it was found necessary to swim them across the river several times in order to avoid the jutting cliffs. At the Cascades all the goods and things had to be taken out of the scow, and a portage made of about six hundred yards. The scow was then turned loose to drift over the Cascades; and a lot of Indians were ready to catch her and bring her ashore. By this time the measles, which had been following along with the train, reached Mr. Shelton’s family; and both of his children were very sick.

Hiring four Indians with a canoe, he left for Fort Vancouver and reached that post on the 29th of November at about eight o’clock P.M. So reduced were his finances that he had but one dollar in his pocket; and the next morning, when the gate opened, he went into the fort and gave half of that dollar for syrup, and the other half for flour. Before night of that day he was gladdened by the appearance of an old acquaintance of his, Mr. Joseph Caples, who at once inquired where he was going. And upon learning that the house of Mr. Alexander McQuinn was his objective point, Caples replied that he was himself on his way thither, and kindly insisted that in his canoe there was room for the family of Mr. Shelton, with their household goods and all. But this friendly provision Mr. Shelton and his family were accordingly taken up safely to Mr. McQuinn’s on Sauvie’s Island; and they reached that place of temporary rest, and ended their march of three thousand miles on the 30th of November, 1847.

Since coming to the West, Mr. Shelton has been one of the best citizens of the Pacific coast, ever forward in public matters, and industrious and enterprising in private business. He early became a founder of Port Townsend and of the Lower Sound country, and is now living in hale age at the town which has been named for him.



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

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