Biography of S. P. Marsh

S.P. MARSH. – This leading citizen of Vancouver, Washington, was born in Ohio in 1826. At Cleveland he received his education and learned the trade of a blacksmith. At the age of twenty-four the stories of fabulous wealth on the Pacific, and an invitation from a special friend, started him across the continent for Oregon. He was in the great emigration of 1850, when it is said one hundred and eighty thousand persons were on the plains. Heavy luck struck his party on the Platte. Not far out they were surrounded by a thousand Pawnee Indians, and were given ten minutes to surrender all they had. They had a captain who is described as “not afraid of the devil.” He asked the company if they would fight or give up. They replied they would fight; and he therewith gave the Indians preemptory notice to leave within five minutes; and fifty leveled rifles enforced his demands. The Indians began to whimper and beg for “muck a muck,” – a sure sign that they were cowed. A second order only was needed to send them flying.

On the Upper Platte the scourge of cholera broke out; and Mr. Marsh fell under the ravages of the disease. His case was approaching the last stages, – the ice water; and the terrible pains just before the fatal cramping were beginning. Lying in his tent, and within reach of his chest of medicines, the suffering and well-nigh dying man thought only of escaping his tortures, and finding a phial of laudanum, rained the glass, and upon this, minded by some instinct, drank a half pint of brandy. The two powerful poisons neutralized each other, their effect allowing his vital powers to rally; and he recovered. This scourge was frightful on the plains. Mr. Marsh counted eighteen hundred graves by the roadside, and then quit enumeration long before the whole number was passed. One pitiful sight was that of a many crazed with grief starting on the journey home eight hundred miles with the dead body of his wife.

Not far out from Fort Hall occurred as sanguinary, an incident as has ever been recorded. The wife of one of the emigrants started ahead with his team, their two children being also in the wagon. As she reached the stream, a short distance from the train, two Indians came from the roadside and asked her for food. She refused them. One produced a knife, and drew the back of it across the throat of one of the children as a threat. The mother seized an axe, and, without a moment’s hesitation, split open the head of the savage. The husband, coming up at this time, drew his rifle and with a true aim dropped the other Indian to the earth. Resulting from this summary work was an attack upon the train by the Indians at Powder river, in which one white man, a Mr. Fisher, was killed.

Arriving at Portland, Mr. Marsh engaged in blacksmithing, but after a year found employment as engineer on the steamers of the Pacific Mail Company on the route between Portland and San Francisco. Two years more were spent as engineer on the steamer Willamette, plying between Portland and Astoria. At the end of this time the Willamette, a river steamer, was taken to San Francisco, and on the ocean was overtaken by a heavy northwester, which drove her eleven miles an hour without a stroke of the wheel; and the waves were so violent as to necessitate cutting away the guards. Reaching Benicia, a year was passed on the Sacramento.

In 1853 Mr. Marsh returned to Oregon, and in 1856 went East, there marrying Miss Elizabeth strong of Ohio, a young lady of rare attractions. They have reared a family of six children, two of whom are deceased. In 1856 Mr. Marsha accepted employment as blacksmith at Fort Vancouver, and was there during the exciting times of General Harney’s difficulty with the Hudson’s Bay Company on San Juan Island. As a pioneer, the gentleman of whom we write built the first blacksmith shop in Portland, Oregon, and in Vancouver, Washington Territory. Since 1860 he has been living in the civil quarters of the latter city, and has adopted the plan of erecting buildings to induce business and to enlarge the place. He has thus put up some sixteen structures, one of which is the theater, which cost some seven thousand dollars. By this policy he has done very much for the city.

Mr. Marsh is not a politician, and has ever refused all entanglements in official positions, yet he consented to serve some nine years on the city council. His liberal spirit is worthy of all commendation. His shipment of twenty-nine tons of iron via Cape Horn in 1856, for the sake of supplying at low price an article needed in every blacksmith shop, and from which he received but small profit, is an example of his unselfish business methods.



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

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