Biography of S. S. White

S.S. WHITE. – The pioneer experiences of Judge White are of an exceptionally interesting character. This well-known and highly valued citizen of Portland was born in Franklin county, Indiana, December 14, 1811. His father was much of a frontiersman, and, after a removal to Ohio in 1815, went three years later to Sangamon county, Illinois, settling on Sugar creek, twenty miles south of Springfield. This was then a remote and unoccupied region, Mr. White’s family and those of a Mr. Ellis and Mr. Vancil being the only families within the limits of the present Sangamon and Morgan counties, and sixty miles from white settlements. Various removals were made subsequently within that state. Upon arriving at his majority, young White entered the mercantile business, and continued in it near Galesburg.

In 1831 occurred his marriage to Miss Hulda Jennings; and the next year an effort was made in company with Mr. Amzi Doolittle, and M.M. McCarver, so well known as one of our early citizens, to settle on a tract of land soon to be thrown open in consequence of a treaty of relinquishment from the Indians. The land was not to be subject to settlement until June of that year; but, not apprehending any opposition, these men located lands and put up cabins in February, but were removed with much rigor by government troops under Jefferson Davis, then a lieutenant in the United States army; and their cabins were burned. Even a shed build afterwards to protect their household goods while the families were absent in Knox county was destroyed. Nevertheless a claim was secured there and was occupied until a removal to Burlington. Taking up and closing out business at Burlington, and in Hancock county, Illinois, he entered into partnership with Mr. Doolittle in 1840 to operate a ferry at Madison. In 1845 he crossed the plains for Oregon, bringing the family of Mr. McCarver, who met them at The Dalles with a bateau and crew to transport them down the Columbia.

With difficulty provisions were obtained at that point for the eight days’ trip down to Vancouver. Owing to the necessity of driving the stock, – one hundred and forty-four cattle and thirty horses, – the journey was prolonged to four weeks; and, after the usual food was exhausted, the nine men subsisted solely upon milk boiled and thickened with a little flour. The autumn storms were also blowing; and the buffalo robes with which the immigrants were provided became soaked with rain. They peeled off the hair, and grew rank to the smell. They had no tents.

Reaching the valley, however, without sickness or disaster, Judge White purchased a farm near Oregon City, but was soon sought by Governor Abernethy as the very man wanted for associate judge of Clackamas county under the Provisional government. The year following he was advanced to the position of chief justice of Clackamas county. The judicial work of those days, although of comparatively small volume, was exacting; and the fidelity with which it was done may serve as a perpetual admonition to the future. Judge White was also elected to the Oregon legislature, and upon taking his seat in 1847 was almost immediately called upon to prepare legislation with reference to the Whitman atrocity, – just perpetrated, – being appointed on a committee of three to draft a bill to authorize raising a military force. The bill prepared by him was adopted, notwithstanding some vigorous opposition form Colonel Nesmith.

In 1848, the news of gold in California came to our settlements, the judge consented, after hesitation, to the proposition of Peter H. Burnett to go with wagons to the mines. Letting their purpose be known, and naming the 13th of September as the day of their departure, – but five days distant, – they were joined by forty-two wagons, and under the guidance of Thomas McKay made the journey to the Sacramento. The open pine woods offered little obstruction; and no difficulty was experienced until reaching a belt of fir with underbrush and fallen logs, near the divide of Feather river. After passing Pitt river, they followed in the tracks of wagons coming in at that point from the East, and overtook a band of utterly discouraged and worn-out immigrants tangled in the forest. This was a party under one Lawson; and, with teams and provisions exhausted, they were giving themselves up for lost. A hundred Oregon axes, however, made short work of cutting a road forty miles through the fir woods; and Oregonians and immigrants went on together to the Sacramento. they were none too early, as the mountains were white with snow as they left them in their rear.

Six weeks’ work on the Yuba brought them about a hundred ounces of dust apiece; and the mines were left, and San Francisco reached in time to take passage on a bark for Oregon, – the same vessel that brought up General Lane and his escort. The journey was uncomfortable from the crowd; and the passengers were on an allowance of water six of the eighteen days of the passage. The trip from Astoria was by canoe, there being no other means of transportation.

Expecting to return to dig gold the following spring, Judge White made all preparations, but, learning that his partners Jennings and Hannah had engaged in the mercantile business, he deemed it best to remain in our state, and engaged in building the Lot Whitcomb, of which he was a one-fourth owner, – the first steamer built on our waters. This boat was sold to advantage in San Francisco after a few years.

Tacoma in erecting buildings for business purposes and in providing a residence for his family. The failure of the Northern Pacific Railroad Company, however, induced his return to Portland; and he is there well known as a justice of the peace, an office which he held for six years.

Although age has not left him without its impress, it sits lightly upon his shoulders; and he is still, at the age of seventy-eight years, full of vigor, and does the work of a very active man.



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

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