Biography of Rev. Gustavus Hines

REV. GUSTAVUS HINES. – Gustavus Hines was born in Herkimer county, New York, in 1809. On his mother’s side he was descended from the Carvets and Wilkensons of the old Massachusetts colony, and on his father’s from the Hopkinns of Rhode Island, all names of the highest respectability and even celebrity in the early history of New England. Governor Carvet of Massachusetts colony, and Stephen Hopkinns, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, were of the same families. he grew to his majority in the county of his birth, and in 1832 removed to Cattaraugus county, in the western part of the same state, and soon after entered the itinerant ministry of the Methodist-Episcopal church in the Genesee conference. He filled important appointments in that conference until 1839, when he was appointed by Bishop Hidding and the missionary board of said church as “Missionary to Oregon,” and sailed from New York on the 9th of October of that year in the ship Lausanne, Spaulding master, which had been chartered by the missionary board to convey Reverend Jason Lee and his missionary company of thirty-six souls to the Columbia river. Passing around Cape Horn, calling at Rio Janeiro, Valparaiso and Honolulu, the company landed in Oregon at Vancouver on the 1st day of June, 1840.

Oregon was then almost exclusively inhabited by Indians. The only exceptions were the gentlemen of the Hudson’s Bay Company, perhaps fifty Americans who had drifted down from the mountains or drifted up from the seas, and the small company of missionaries then established in the heart of the Willamette valley, about twelve miles below the present city of Salem. With the exception of the band of missionaries, the Whites of the country were so allied in modes and purposes of life to the Indians, and were so connected with them, that it would hardly be correct to call them a whit population, especially if in that term we understand to be included home and church and school, the symbols and fruits of a christian civilization. Of these there were absolutely none, except in connection with the Methodist mission station before mentioned.

Entering upon his work in such a field as this, Mr. Hines was first detailed by the superintendent of the mission, Jason Lee, to explore the region of the Umpquas with a view of establishing a mission among them. There was not then a house, nor a single sign of civilization, south of the “old mission.” Rumors of the hostile and treacherous character of the Umpquas reaching the mission, Mr. Lee decided to accompany Mr. Hines on his tour of exploration. With a guide they proceeded up the great but then wild Willamette valley, crossed the Calapooia mountains, descended the Umpqua river to the sea, and in the midst of the greatest personal peril accomplished the purpose of their explorations, but decided that the Indians were too free and too untrustworthy to justify the establishment of a mission among them. Returning, Mr. Hines was appointed to the superintendency of the Indian Manual Labor School, afterwards the Oregon Institute and later the Willamette University. It was largely under his influence that the present site of the university was chosen for the erection of the Manual Labor School. He erected the first house built in Salem, the present capital of the State of Oregon. It was known many years as “The old Parsonage.”

In 1843 Mr. Hines was put in charge of the Willamette Falls mission, and built the parsonage and church yet occupied by the Methodists at the present Oregon City. He planted some fruit trees in that year, some of which are yet standing in the lot near the parsonage, green and vigorous and fruitful, long after the hand that planted them has withered into dust.

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In the autumn of 1843 occurred an incident that illustrated the determined and fearless character of this pioneer. A fine saddle horse of his had been stolen during the spring; and he had given it up for lost. In the autumn a band of two hundred Mollala and Klamath Indians, painted and insolent, camped in the Clackamas bottom about two miles from the Falls; and a friendly Clackamas Indian informed Mr. Hines that his stolen horse was among theirs. At mid-day, when the Indians were all in their camp, he mounted another horse, and taking a lariat in his hand rode alone in the midst of the grim and painted warriors, and throwing the lariat over the neck of the stolen horse led him out of the camp, not an Indian daring to interfere with him.

While residing at Oregon City, the then only Indian agent west of the Rocky Mountains, Dr. Elijah White, solicited Mr. Hines to accompany him on a tour to the interior to assist in appeasing an intense excitement then agitating the Cayuses and Nez Perces on the Walla Walla, Umatilla and Clearwater rivers. Several were engaged to accompany them; but, when the time of departure came, all refused to go; and Doctor White and Mr. Hines, against the protest and advice of Doctor McLoughlin, and all the gentlemen of the Hudson’s Bay Company, were left to go alone or leave the missions stations of Doctor Whitman at Waiilatpu and Mr. Spaulding at Lapwai without an effort to save them from threatened extermination, and all the scattered settlements of the Willamette valley from most imminent peril. By canoe to The Dalles and then on horseback, they went among these fierce tribes, met and treated with their chiefs, such as Yellow Serpent, the Peu-peu-mox-mox of the Indian war of 1855-56, Five Crows, Red Wolf, Ellis Lanitan, and thus averted for some years the tragedy at Waiilatpu and the long Indian war which followed it.

In 1845 Mr. Hines returned to New York by the way of the Sandwich Islands, China and South Africa, and resumed his labors in the Genesee conference, where he remained until the winter of 1852, when he was again transferred to Oregon, and crossed the plains in the summer of 1853, reaching Portland early in October of that year. His work in Oregon subsequently had a very wide range, and was of a very diversified character. He was stationed at Salem, Albany, Lebanon and The Dalles, and was also presiding elder of districts that embraced all the country on the Columbia river and southward to California west of the Cascade Mountains. He pursued his work with indefatigable industry and the most conscientious faithfulness; and few indeed are the men of any denomination of Christians on this coast who had more seals to their ministry, or have left a sweeter memory behind them then he.

Mr. Hines was more than a minister; he was a public man in the best and broadest sense. He bore a very important part in the first attempts to establish civil government in Oregon; and the history of its organization cannot be written without honorable mention of his name. He wrote largely of and for Oregon, publishing two books, one entitled, “Missionary Expedition to Oregon,” and the other “Oregon and its Institutions,” which were very widely circulated, and exerted a great influence in favor of the land he loved so well. He was a leading trustee, patron and friend of the Willamette University in all the stages of its development until his death. He visited the older states, and lectured widely on Oregon and the Pacific coast.

Mr. Hines was naturally and essentially a pioneer, with a magnificent physique, great physical strength, indomitable will, a voice of great compass and force, and with an intellect of more than ordinary power. He was splendidly equipped by nature for the part he was called on to fill in laying the foundations of civilization and Christianity on the shores of the Pacific. He died in Salem, Oregon, in 1873, leaving an enduring mark on the history of his state and church.



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

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