Biography of Major Theodore J. Eckerson

MAJOR THEODORE J. ECKERSON. – Major Eckerson, so long and favorably known among the old pioneers of our coast, enjoys also a like enviable reputation in military circles. He was born January 22, 1821, in New York City, and on December 20, 1838, in his eighteenth year, entered the United States army. He served throughout the Seminole Indian war, 1840-42, and in the Mexican war from its commencement to its close. He was a member of the storming parties in the battles of Cerro Gordo and Churubusco.

He came to Oregon with the first troops sent after the settlement with England, arriving at Fort Vancouver May 15, 1849. He here established and taught the first school north of the Columbia river in the then territory of Oregon, for the benefit of American settlers, under the auspices of Governor Joseph Lane, and the military commander, Major John S. Hatheway. He was commissioned an officer in the storekeeper’s branch of the United States ordnance department in September, 1853, and held the position until March 21, 1865, when he was appointed to a commission in the United States quartermaster’s department. He was brevetted a major March 21, 1865, “for faithful and meritorious services,” and promoted to the full rank of major January 24, 1881. He served actively until January 22, 1885, when he was retired by law, being then sixty-four years of age.

Major Eckerson’s wife, Elizabeth, to whom he was married in New York, accompanied him to the Pacific coast, and remained constantly at his side, sharing all the vicissitudes of service in this far-off country. Four sons and two daughters were born to them. Of this number one son died at Astoria; two sons received from President Grant commissions in the army; one son was appointed to a position in the general postoffice department at Washington City, under the civil service rules; and both daughters became wives of officers of the army.

In the Indian war of 1855, Major Eckerson did invaluable service for Oregon and Washington which the Oregonian has described as follows:

“Major Eckerson did excellent service for Oregon in her early days of trial and danger. he had charge of the ordnance depot at Vancouver, during the period of our greatest Indian troubles, and took the responsibility, without orders from Washington and against the remonstrance of General Wood, to supply arms and ammunition upon the requisitions of the governors of Oregon and Washington Territory, for the use of our people. In this he rendered to us an invaluable service that never will be forgotten. Without the arms and fixed ammunition, defense would have been extremely difficult, and aggressive war upon the Indians impossible. The temper of General Wood was such as to make the matter one of serious difficulty to Captain Eckerson; but the captain took the high position that there was no need of a depot of arms here unless some use were to be made of it for protection and defense of the country.”

This view of his was eventually concurred in by the War Department, despite the prediction of General Wool that the captain wood be severely dealt with by the government.

Major Eckerson was highly esteemed by General Grant, by whose side he had fought in all the battles of the Mexican war except Buena Vista; and it is proper her to embody the letter written by that general to President Lincoln, in February, 1865, recommending him for the appointment in the quartermaster’s department, which was promptly bestowed.

“CITY POINT, VIRGINIA, February 23, 1865.
“To the President of the United States:
“I most heartily approve the application of Theodore J. Eckerson for the appointment of assistant quartermaster in the regular army. He has served for more than twenty-five years in the army, and has maintained a high character. He is very efficient, and well acquainted with the duties of almost every department of the service. I know him personally, and can vouch for what I say of him. He will prove a most excellent quartermaster, if appointed, to have on the Pacific coast, where he has been long and favorably known.

In January, 1889, at a stated meeting of Multnomah Camp, No. 2, Indian War Veterans of the North Pacific Coast, Major Eckerson was elected an honorary member of said camp by a unanimous vote.

It is gratifying to know that one whose services have been of such essential value to our state, and so highly appreciated by men of the first position in the nation, is still living in hale age in our midst, and enjoying the prosperity and development of the country with which he has had such full sympathy from its earliest history.


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

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