My Pioneer Family
Mom spoke often of her Great Grandmother, Jane, crossing the Oregon Trail when she was just 6 years old. Jane’s father, John Franklin Sutherlin, was the captain of the wagon train that began in Indiana and ended in Douglas County, Oregon. What a thrill to know we were descended from pioneers.
Visiting Sutherlin in the early 1970’s, approx. 150 miles south of Portland, we met up with the caretaker of the old homestead known as the “Sutherlin Mansion”.
Unlocking the giant gate that protected the property, he led us up the gravel driveway, it felt surreal. Imagination running wild, thoughts of galloping horses surrounded by pine trees and rhododendron bushes, as the Gothic mansion appeared on the hill. Inside, a grand staircase and next to it, a hole in the wall housing an old magazine from the late 1800’s. On the cover, a woman’s shoe (could this be where my love of shoes comes from?). Mind racing with thoughts of parties and extravagant balls held in the “Grand Room”. Although the house was old and decrepit and unfit for residing, the spirit of my family still lived on. Outside, the entrance, a covered area where horse and buggy would be waiting.
Unfortunately, the mansion burned to the ground after a few years and massive destruction from vandals. The memories still linger deep and will be passed to future generations, this family’s legacy will continue.
Years later, longing to know more of my family history, I attended the Highland Games in Winston, 22 miles south. On Saturday evening, after returning from the games, I looked for the yearly Blackberry Festival just down the road. The local Fire Department blocked Main Street while people stood watching a parade of classic cars.
Stopping to watch, a man approached
“Are you a celebrity? You look familiar.” Trying not to laugh I stammered, “No, just a direct descendant of the founders of the town, therefore a possible resemblance to someone you may know.”
We spoke of the homestead and how the town’s history was brought to life through the teachings at the local schools. We made arrangements for the following year, as he offered to take me to an older gentleman who lived there before it burnt.
Spending time at the cemetery was peaceful and oddly comforting. Their gravestones drew me in and filled me with passion. A thistle, the national flower of Scotland, grew at the base of their graves, confirming their Scottish heritage and existence in my heart.
Revisiting the town in my adulthood, not much had changed. Unable to view the old homestead but the cemetery was the same as I remember. My family looking out at the vast landscape that once was theirs.
The Magic Mushroom – Oregon Gifts sits at the entrance to town. You can’t miss it, it’s the one with the giant joint sitting atop the roof . If you ask real nice, they might even light it for you, an icon for the ages.
Memories and signs still exist of years gone by. Sutherlin, with a population of approx. 7,800, still has that small town feel, serene and down home countrified. Stop in and grab a bag of “The Ladies From Hell”, a strong cup of Joe, at the White Horse Coffee & Tea Co, (www.Whitehorsecoffee.com) Do so before 2pm, when they close for the day.
John Franklin Sutherlin, his wife Sarah Carmichael, son Fendel, his wife and family, lay to rest on top of the hill in Sutherlin Oregon, in the Valley View Cemetery. Although the original log cabins and stately home they once owned are long gone. Replaced by highways, modern homes and businesses, the original bank and other buildings sit along the main drive.
Stop in at the Chamber of Commerce as you enter town for a brief history lesson and information on the area (www.visitsutherlin.com). Step back in time for a day or two and feel the warmth this town offers, the hospitality is still alive and well in Sutherlin Oregon.