Biography of James Urquhart

JAMES URQUHART. – Many are the illustrations found, as we proceed with this history, of the qualities spoken of as “taking hold with the hands and dwelling in kings’ palaces.” The pioneers of this country dwell on their own townsites and on their own lands, which are frequently of more value than the domains of some of the kings alluded to; while their houses are often better than the palaces.

The enterprises of our own “settlers” are, from the standpoint of real utility, of more magnitude than those of many of the old-world princes whose names are now famous. In the lives of the makers of the Northwest, we find peculiarly effective illustrations of those qualities, which prepare the way for public prosperity and happiness. The subject of this sketch is one who has borne his part manfully in the foundation epoch of this country.

Mr. Urquhart was born March 15, 1822, in Newton, of Ferentosh, Rossshire, Scotland. His parents were Andrew and Margaret (McKenzie) Urquhart. At the age of fifteen, James went to Arbroath to work in his uncle’s store. He might next have been found at Linlithgow, railroading. November 18, 1845, he was married to Miss Helen Muir. In 1851 the stories form beyond the sea so appealed to his imagination, and indeed to his reason, that he determined to come to America. He reached New York, September 15th, and spent the following winter at the south, visiting Arkansas and Louisiana. Iowa was his next terminus; but in May, 1852, he joined an emigrant train bound for Oregon. Among his comrades on that journey were William Ginder, of Vancouver, David Powers (deceased), who resided near Portland, and other old pioneers.

Not till September of that year did the long journey close at The Dalles. From there to Portland he traveled by small boats and on foot, as there were then no steamboats from The Dalles to Portland. Mr. Urquhart’s first work in Oregon was wharf-building at St. Helens, at that time aspiring to be the shipping city on the Columbia and Willamette rivers. Mining in Southern Oregon absorbed his labors for a time; but returning northward he stopped a little out from Oregon City, helping Mr. De Lashmutt build a machine to shave shingles. In February, 1853, he was again on the Columbia at Cowlitz Landing, doing whatever came to his hand. In 1853 he was at Young’s Bay, near Astoria, employed on the Akin & Flavel steam sawmill, built by John West, foreman and millwright. This occupied the summer; and in the autumn he was again back to the Cowlitz, and voted in November at the first election held after Washington was organized as a territory. There he decided to set his stakes for good, and settled on land near Eden Prairie. That was a happy decision; for at the same time, that he found a home he might also be joined by his family. This, consisting of a wife and five children, he had left in Scotland while he could make a home for them in the new world. They came to the country via Cape Horn, and arrived at San Francisco January 1, 1855, having been six months on the voyage. They came thence by ship to Oak Point, Washington Territory.

After more observation, Mr. Urquhart, deciding that he could improve on his first selection of land, entered a half section near the present site of Napavine, and abandoned his old place beyond the Cowlitz river near Eden Prairie. As rapidly as able, he added to his possessions, now owning a large body of fine land, upon a part of which is situated the town of Napavine, which he laid off December 17, 1883, near Stutson, said to be the Indian name for wild-flowers, the Indian name Napavoon signifying a small prairie. Mr. Urquhart is to be commended for the attractive name which he has bestowed upon the town. It bespeaks his taste, as the establishment of the town tells of his enterprise. In addition to his farming operations, Mr. Urquhart has busied himself and his sons in the mercantile business which he established in 1873 in company with his son John, who in June, 1878, began business at Chehalis, and was county treasurer and postmaster when he died. He has been honored by his neighbors with three terms of service in the legislature, and three terms on the board of county commissioners.

Mr. Urquhart’s wife was Miss Helen Muir, of Linlithgow, Scotland. They have had nine sons and two daughters. The career of this sturdy pioneer illustrates anew that not only competence but also honor lies at the end of the pathway of enterprise, which is but a revised form of old-fashioned industry.



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

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