Simonis, Richland Pioneer, Crosses Bar
Matthias D. Simonis of Baker died suddenly Sunday, March 26, at the home of his son-in-law and daughter, Mr. and Mrs. Harland Bennehoff of Walla Walla, where he and Mrs. Simonis had gone to spend the winter.
Mr. Simonis was born at Stevens Point, Wis., February 24, 1868, crossing the plains in a wagon train with his parents and sisters and brothers in 1874 to Eagle Valley, residing there many years.
He married Miss Cora Kirby on May 20, 1890, making their home in New Bridge, engaging in fruit raising and farming until the fall of 1920 when they moved to Lime. There he was employed by the Oregon Portland Cement company until April, 1940, when they moved to Baker on account of Mr. Simonis’ failing health. They celebrated their golden wedding day May 20, 1940. He was a member of the Christian Church of Richland.
Mr. Simonis is survived by his widow, Mrs. Cora Simonis; one daughter, Mrs. Merle Bennehoff of Walla Walla; one grandson, Cpl. Jack Bennehoff, U.S. Army, U. of C., San Francisco; six brothers, Fred, Joseph, Edward, Alex of Richland, and Louis and Leander of Baker; two sisters, Mrs. Anna Cropp of Baker and Mrs. Ella Kirby of Durkee; a number of nieces and nephews.
Always a friend, kind and true, and loved by all ages, his passing is a grief to scores of others.
Funeral services by the Baker funeral Home will be held Thursday at 2 p.m. in the Christian Church at Richland. Rev. Fran W. Zook will officiate with burial in the Eagle Valley cemetery.
The Record Courier; Baker City OR;
Thursday March 30, 1944.
The following article was printed next to the obituary for Matthias D. Simonis:
Reminiscences of Matthias Simonis Of the Trip West Across the Plains
(Following is an interesting story of the trip which brought the family of Matthias D. Simonis, Richland pioneer who died Sunday, as given some years ago to a reporter of a Walla Walla newspaper. – Editor The Record Courier.)
When one meets animated “Mat” Simonis of Baker, it is hard to believe that he crossed the plains in a covered wagon drawn by an ox team in 1874.
Of course he was only six years old when his father and mother and their six children, the youngest only three months old, made the long hazardous trek from Stevens Point, Wis., west to Eagle valley near Baker. But early impressions are strongest and memories of details of the trip will never be forgotten by the pioneer. He remembers the broad expanses of the plains, the great Mississippi and Missouri rivers and the crossing at Omaha where the elder Simonis sold his ox team and wagon and with his family boarded an emigrant train. Speed was not an attribute of this early mode of travel, in fact its pace was so slow that Simonis remembers that the men passengers ran no risk of being left behind when they hopped off the train to shoot prairie dogs along the way.
He does recollect that one over-enthusiastic hunter who wandered too far afield, discovered the train going out of sight and by dint of a mad race and a slowing of the cars, caught pantingly onto the rear platform. Cooking was accomplished enroute on a bit stove placed in the center of the car which was lined all the way around with bunks instead of the modern berths.
Reaching Ogden, Simonis’ father, in spite of knowing little about the foibles of horses, bought a pair of fractious little ponies and loading his family in the wagon joined another wagon train.
This group proved to be made up of dishonest folk who preyed upon the settlers along the way so the Simonis family dropped out, preferring to travel alone.
In the hard pull through the Snake River sand hills, they ran out of water and food was so scarce that the family was often hungry.
With their money about gone, too, the elder Simonis tried to trade his shot gun to a cowboy who turned out to be a tender, hearted chap who returned the gun and five dollars to boot.
Turning the reins over to his wife, Simonis went ahead and “Matt” remembers his mother comforting her little brood in the lonely stretches of the wide open spaces, meanwhile driving with difficulty because of her blinding tears.
After a long, long time they saw his father returning with water from the Snake river after a long hard climb. As he came up the gully he discovered a spring where they camped over night.
Here they were overtaken by a splendidly equipped wagon train of 40 wagons with which they traveled along the south side of the Snake, the road at places so precipitious that ropes were employed to keep the wagons from plunging into the river.
They tried to catch the salmon they saw in great numbers but were not successful, and they ate so many rabbits that they can’t bear the sight of one to this day. Outside of “rabbit ache,” once in a while, Simonis explains, everyone kept well and their scanty store of turpentine, camphor, castor oil and whiskey went untouched.
From Huntington they proceeded over the old Oregon trail toward Baker, making their last camp at Goose creek, five miles from town. Going on the next morning they arrived at Eagle Valley where Simonis grandparents farmed, the trip having taken from June to October.
During the Umatilla massacre in the late seventies, the farmers’ families stayed in the fort guarded by scouts while the men worked in the fields. But Chief Joseph directed his activities toward the soldiers and the settlers went unharmed.
Game in Eagle Valley was plentiful and Simonis declares he has seen from 2,500 to 3,000 antelope in one band. Now a great dairy center, the valley was formerly a stock country.
After his term of office, Governor Gale, Oregon’s first governor, went to Eagle Valley and married a squaw who was famous as a midwife. He is buried there and recently the G. A. R. women and members of the D. A. R., erected a monument to his memory.
Mrs. Simonis’ family came west in 1887 when Baker had grown to be quite a town, and four years later she and her husband were married. Last year they celebrated their golden wedding anniversary.
Simonis has in turn been a farmer, miner, cowboy and before his retirement had owned a cement plant for 18 years. Mrs. Simonis tells many interest details of those early times and admits that she becomes more than a little romantic when thinks of the colorful cowboy days.
The Record Courier; Baker City OR;
Thursday March 30, 1944.