Biography of William Tillman

WILLIAM TILLMAN – We have before us in the person of the subject one of those hardy, intrepid and commendable pioneers, who wrought in this section for its development, wresting it from the grasp of the savages and fitting it for the abode of man. Especially is our subject to be mentioned in this capacity, since he came here yound and vigorous and wrought constantly here for nearly half a century, enduring all the hardships known to frontier existence, displaying an astuteness, energy, and ability, coupled with faithfulness and integrity that have commended him to the graces and hearts of all who appreciate noble and true qualities and a pioneer and self-sacrificing spirit.

William Tillman was born in Newton county, Missouri, on a farm, the date being February 12, 1842. He received a common school education in his native place, securing the same during the winter months, and striving on his father’s farm to practice the art of agriculture during the summers. He continued under the parental roof until 1861, and then in company with three other families, he being nineteen years of age, he turned toward the west with his “prairie schooner” and steadily pursued his way to the setting sun, until the little train halted in the Grande Ronde valley. The accompanying travelers were George and John Howeel, Tomps Crofford and Sandford P. Robertson. They halted but a short time in this favorite spot, deeming that greener fields were ahead, and so crossing the Blue mountains, as many of the pilgrims had done before, and settled in Umatilla county. Our subject secured employment from a Mr. Frye, running a ferry boat for two dollars per day. One month was spent there and then the rumors from the gold fields of Florence took him thither. Two months were used in fruitless search for the hidden treasure and then he hired out for three dollars per day, getting slower but surer money. After two months at this he went to Walla Walla, worked in the timber for the remainder of the winter and then in the spring of 1863 he rented a farm of one hundred acres for one year. He raised the boutiful crop of four thousand bushels of wheat, which he sold for one dollar and seventy-five cents per bushel. Subsequent to this he bought an outfit and gave his attention to freighting from Umatilla landing to Boise and Silver cities and other places. Three years were spent at this and then he repaired to the Grande Ronde valley and purchased a farm, the land being unimproved. To break tis and turn it into a fine farm demanded his attention and until 1885 he continued there. He went then to the Gray creek country and took a homestead, and once more set to work to make a home and a farm from raw land. His nice place to-day, well improved with necessary buildings, good orchard and well tilled acres testifies how well he has succeeded. In addition to this good comfortable home, our subject purchased in 1890 three lots and a good residence in Old Town, and resides there at the present time. In the summer he removes to his farm, tilling it and then when winter comes he retires to the comfortable quarters in town to spend the cold days in quiet, enjoying the good things that his faithful labor has gained for him. In 1897, he sold his first farm.

In 1865, Mr. Tillman was married to Miss Pernecia J., daughter of Sanford and Martha J. (Marrs) Robertson. No children have been born to this worthy couple and they adopted, in 1874, Nora J. Halley; they also raised her brother but did not adopt him, and when his father remarried he went to live with him. Mrs. Tillman’s parents were pioneers of the Grande Ronde valley and she came from Missouri with them. Mr. Tillman is a member of the Masonic fraternity.

It is of note that in the winter of 1861; the snow fell in December to a depth of two feet and then crusted with rain and sleet so that it was almost impossible to handle stock. Our subject lost heavily because no hay had been provided. At one place a farmer had some unthreashed sheaves of oats, and he sold his entire stock at one dollar per sheaf to a sheep man by the name of Redman. Mr. Tillman and his estimable wife are among the most highly esteemed residents of our county and they are worthy of the confidence and regard they enjoy, while they are admired and beloved by all.



An Illustrated history of Union and Wallowa Counties: with a brief outline of the early history of the state of Oregon. Western Historical Pub. Co., 1902.

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