Biography of Hon. Joseph D. Lee

HON. JOSEPH D. LEE. – It is natural for the observing student of mankind to speculate upon the effect which radical changes and new environments have upon a coming generation; and consequently the inquiry has arisen in thinking minds as to what type of manhood and womanhood will spring from the hardy and bold pioneers who peopled these shores in the forties and early fifties. Surely with such heroic and sturdy parentage, growing up under the influence of our grand and magnificent scenery, and breathing in youth the pure air from the balsamic pines, we might expect a fine mental and physical development. We have the pleasure of presenting to our readers, in the subject of this sketch, what we might call a typical Oregonian.

Joseph D. Lee was born in Polk county, Oregon, in the proverbial log cabin, about one mile northwest of where the city of Monmouth now stands, on the 29th day of July, 1848. His father, Nicholas Lee, was born in Pike county, Ohio, February 11, 1818, and was distantly related to the patriotic Lees of the Revolution. His mother, whose maiden name was Sarah Hopper, was a native of Virginia, and was exactly one year younger than her husband. They were married in Ohio in 1840, and five years later moved to Iowa. In 1847 they determined to cast their lot in new pastures and came to Oregon via the Southern route, wintering near the present site of Eugene City, and the following year (1848) moving to Polk county. During the year, 1849, he settled on the Donation claim two and a half miles south of Dallas, where were born to them six other children, one son and five daughters, all of whom are living. The son, George W. Lee, resides in Portland. The daughters reside as follows: Mrs. Albert Odell in Yamhill county, Mrs. J.E. Smith in Dallas, and Mrs. Guyun in Benton county, Oregon; Mrs. Dr. J.W. Bean in Ellensburgh, and Mrs. Orville Butler in Cheney, Washington.

In 1862 Mr. Nicholas Lee moved into Dallas to obtain better educational advantages for his children, while he engaged in the mercantile business. In1870 he took his son Joseph in partnership, and to him sold his interest, in1876 returning to the old home, where he died July 11, 1879; and two years later Mrs. Lee followed him to that “country from whose bourn no traveler returns.” This worthy couple were highly respected and esteemed, Mr. lee being prominent in religious and educational enterprises. He was one of the original incorporators of La Creole Academy, and remained a trustee until the day of his death.

It will be observed that Jr. Joseph D. Lee was born under the old Provisional régime, as the United States did not extend its jurisdiction over the vast territory of Oregon until in August of the year 1848. His boyhood days were spent on the farm; and after entering school he oversaw and partly tended to the carrying on of the same until his twenty-first year. He completed a partial course in the La Creole Academy of Dallas, and after that sometimes assisted in the store at the same place, sometimes on the farm, and sometime steamed between Dallas and Portland. In 1870 he was appointed postmaster at Dallas, but resigned the position after serving three years. On May 19, 1872, he was joined in marriage to Miss Eliza Alice Witten, a true and noble lady of many accomplishments, and possessing with them good sense and sound judgement.

In the year 1874 he made his first visit to San Francisco, by way of steamer, to purchase goods. In the fall of 1878, in company with Mr. G. Hubbard, of Smithfield, he erected a grain warehouse at that point. At the June election of that same year he had been elected representative to the legislature on the Republican ticket, and in 1880 was elected state senator of Polk county, which office he held for four years. During the same year he was exerting his energies to secure the extension of the narrow-gauge railroad to Dallas, and was a leading spirit in accomplishing that end. In 1882 he erected his commodious and elegant residence in Dallas, Oregon; and the following year he and Mrs. Lee, in company with about six hundred Oregon pioneers, took a trip to the East over the Northern Pacific Railroad.

After serving the people of his county for six years in the legislature, he was elected joint senator of Benton and Polk counties for a term of four years, at the close of which that office was discontinued, having been abolished by the new apportionment. Thus it will be seen he served for ten years continuously in the state legislature; and of the large number of bills introduced by him many have become fixed laws. Perhaps no other man in Oregon has represented his native county for a full decade in the legislature; and his record is without a stain or blot. He is a man well fitted to fill all positions of trust, as he is one strong in the courage of his convictions, true to his constituency in public, a friend of the masses, and broad in his views. He is progressive without being extravagant, hating demagogy, and by his perfect and immovable honesty made his influence felt in the legislature.

In 1886 he was succeeded in his mercantile business by Fenton & Truitt, and in the fall of 1888 removed his family to The Dalles, Oregon, hoping to benefit his daughter Lorene’s health, as she was suffering from asthma. He has since employed himself in various ways, operating to some extent in real estate. He has ever taken a lively interest in public affairs, especially in educational matters, and is at present a trustee of the La Creole Academy and also of the Willamette University, and is noted for his fine mental equipoise and analytical mind. He is also a practical speaker and writer, putting his thoughts and convictions in a pointed, forcible way, which, while they command admiration, also demand thoughtful consideration.

Since moving to The Dalles he has taken a most decided interest in horticulture, and is now president of the Pomological Society of that place. Mr. Lee is well known throughout the state as an honest politician, whose services could not be bought for any sum while serving the people and holding public trust; and wherever his tall, erect figure is seen he is sure to be greeted by true friends to whom his genial, kindly disposition has endeared him. Yet, with all his high attainments, Mr. Lee is practically an every-day man, who loves the quiet of his home and the company of his family, of which he possesses one most interesting, consisting of four children, i.e., Lyman Marshal, Aimée Lorene, Joseph Roscoe and Althea Eleanor, ranging in age form sixteen to six years.

Mr. Lee is a member of the Masonic order and also the Odd Fellows, and is a devout and consistent member of the Methodist church. At present he is engaged in some business enterprises which so closely occupy his time that he does not give much attention to politics, except enough to keep posted on the affairs of the times. Although a comparatively young man, he has had a varied experience, and has led an active life. He has never been a slave to ambition, but is sensible to the honors he has received, and wears them with becoming modesty. When, in the history of Oregon, all politicians and aspirants to public positions shall reach a par with his record, our beautiful state will be the city on a hill which cannot be hid.

“Then like queens shall be the daughters,
And the sons to heroes grow,
Limbs be fair and joints be supple,
Highest thought the faces known,
And the white flame of the spirit
in a holy temple glow.”

Mrs. Joseph D. Lee is a graduate of the Willamette University, and prior to her marriage taught successfully in the University of Washington, located at Seattle, and in other schools in Oregon. Besides guiding the household, she has found time to engage in charitable and reformatory work, and in every community where she has lived has left her impress for god. Their domestic life has been most pleasant; and together they are treading life’s rugged pathway, each striving to lighten the burdens of the other.



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

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