I spent some time yesterday reviewing my notes and other resources related to Solomon Kelly Brown, great-grandfather of my cousin, Helen Bollen, who died last week in Utah at age 91.
Helen always had planned to pull together the definitive Brown genealogy, but never quite got around to it. There's no shame in that, nor even any particular reason for regret. Others will pick up the threads.
For Helen --- and for many of the rest of us interested in family history --- the thrill is in the chase, not so much in getting it all down on paper (or nowadays, into that online database). And she got good mileage out of her various families (and actually did produce a book about another line).
S.K. Brown's younger brother --- by one year --- was my great-grandfather, Joseph Brown, born July 4, 1811. He settled finally, after much moving around, in Columbia, just up the road in Marion County, Iowa, with his third wife (my great-grandmother), Chloe (Boswell) Prentiss Brown.
The two men died during the same year, 1893, along with their sister, Jane, one of triplets, who had remained on the home farm in Miami County, Ohio.
Here's some of S.K. Brown's story in the form I gave it a few years ago. The photo is of his tombstone in Mount Union Cemetery at Philomath, Oregon.
NARRATIVE: SOLOMON KELLY BROWN
By Frank D. Myers
Solomon Kelly Brown, the eldest of William and Eleanor (Kelly) Brown's children, seems to have been the most adventurous. After farming in Ohio until his mid-30s, he caught "Oregon fever," left his native state behind and embarked with his family for Oregon 1847, when he was 37. After arrival there, he headed for the gold fields of California before settling down to become a prosperous and respected citizen of Oregon's Willamette Valley.
Solomon K. was born, by his own account, on 6 February 1810 in Clark County, Ohio, where his parents, William and Eleanor, apparently lived for some time before moving west into Miami County's Lost Creek Township. He was named for his maternal grandfather, Solomon Kelly (1) and "reared from childhood in Lost Creek, Township," according to his son, William B. Brown. (2)
When he was 22, Solomon K. married a neighbor, Mary Ralston, daughter of Allen R. and Mary (Blue) Raltson, on 24 May 1832. (3)
Because she died so young, very little is known about Mary. She reportedly died during 1841 in the 28th year of her life, which would mean she was born about 1813 and therefore was the sixth of the Ralstons' 11 children. She would have been about 19 at the time of her marriage.
Mary's father, Allen R., according to online compilations, was born 7 December 1771 in Campbelltown, Argyll, Scotland, and came to the United States shortly before the Revolutionary War with his parents, Andrew and Agnes (Brown) Ralston, and his siblings. His wife, Mary, was a daughter of Barnabas and Talithacuny "Charity" (Marshall) Blue, who arrived in Miami County with their large family prior to 1805.
After their marriage, Solomon and Mary moved to a farm in Lost Creek Township adjoining the farm of his parents, according to William B. Brown. There is no indication that any of the sons of William and Eleanor owned land in Miami County. Their father apparently owned enough land to provide homes for them all.
During their brief marriage, Solomon K. and Mary became charter members of the Fletcher Presbyterian Church, organized during 1838 by his father and others, and produced four children, two of whom died young.
The surviving children were William B. Brown, born 19 September 1833, and Andrew Ralston Brown, born during 1835. The children who died, according to Helen Bollen, were John Forgy Brown, who died at age 4, and Elizabeth Jane, who died at 18 months.
Therewas a family cemetery on or near William and Eleanor Brown's home farm, now lost, and in all likelihood these two children were buried there.
Mary herself died on 18 July 1841, in the 28th year of her life, and probably was laid to rest beside them. (4)
Widowers with young children were unlikely to remain single for long at that time, and Solomon Kelly proved to be no exception. On 20 September 1842, he was married to Anna (Rollins) Denman, widow of Joseph Denman. (5) Anna had been born in Ohio on 7 June 1810, according to the inscription on her tombstone, and seems to have had no children by her first marriage.
About 1844, according to William B. Brown, Solomon K. and Anna and the Brown children left Miami County and moved to Paulding County in far northwest Ohio.
There, according his grandson, William Clair Brown, Solomon K. "was raising garden truck and selling to the construction camps on the Miami Canal "when he got the Oregon fever." That "fever" apparently attacked during 1846.
According to Helen Bollen, Solomon K. and Anna had four children in Ohio, three of whom had died by the spring of 1846 --- Mary Ellen Brown, born about 1843, who died at age 16 months; Wilson Holiday Brown, born about 1844, who died at age 2 months; and Joseph Brown, born about 1845, who died at age 5 weeks. It is possible that all three of these children are buried in Paulding County. Their daughter, Sarah Abigail, probably was born during early 1846 in Paulding County.
The most complete account of the Brown family's trip from Ohio to Oregon is found in the transcript of an interview with his grandson, William Clair Brown, conducted under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration at some point during the 1930s. The excerpts which follow were found as supporting notes within the "Solomon K. Brown" entry in the "Benton County, Oregon, Pioneers" database accessible via the Benton County site at RootsWeb.com.
"Grandfather was raising garden truck and selling to the construction camps on the Miami Canal in Paulding County, Ohio, when he got the Oregon fever," according to William Clair Brown. "He floated his goods to the Ohio River on barges and went by steamer on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers (The Missouri River would have been part of the route, too) to St. Joe, Missouri. He reached this place early in 1847. At St. Joe he purchased wagon and equipment for the trip across the plains. He bought one yoke of oxen in southern Missouri and one in northern Arkansas. There was a large train from St. Joseph and I do not know who was captain. The Indians gave them no trouble, but there were some deaths from sickness. Grandfather buried his only daughter, a little girl, on the plains.
"When the train got to Idaho the rumors of a gold strike that were already coming from California caused a split. One party went through Nevada in a direct line to California and the mines. Grandfather's party came to Oregon by an unusual route. They crossed southern Idaho and Oregon by way of Goose Lake to northern California and re-entered Oregon by way of the Rogue River valley. A few years ago Goose Lake, which is a broad shallow lake in eastern Oregon, became dry after several years of drought and marks of a wagon train were found crossing its bed. I believe the tracks might very possibly have been made by the train with which grandfather came.
"By the time the party reached Rogue River the rains had set in and the company was dwindling rapidly. On one pretext or another families would drop out here and there along the way. Uncle Will, fourteen years of age, was sent ahead with others to scout the way. Grandfather finally reached Winkles Buttes (Wagner Buttes) about ten miles south of Corvallis on November 8, 1847, and built a cabin where the family stayed for about two years."
As William Clair Brown pointed out, little Sarah Abigail died and was buried somewhere along the Oregon Trail during 1847, leaving a Brown familly that was composed of Solomon K., Anna and Solomon's two sons by his first marriage, William B., about 14, and Andrew R., about 12.
Anna, who had buried at least three children (perhaps more, if there had been children by her first marriage) in Ohio, must have been terribly distressed. This could account, in part, for the following story, found in another Oregon pioneers WPA interview, this one with Edward Whitman, who was living two miles northwest of Corvallis on part of his father's original claim during the 1930s.
"Father (Alfred Whitman) came in the same train with S. K. Brown and he used to tell this story. S. K. Brown's wife (his second wife) became dissatisfied soon after starting and wanted to return. Her husband explained that it would not be safe for one wagon to return alone as they would be certain to fall prey to the Indians. The woman kept on nagging him until he promised to spank her if she did not stop. This did not impress her, and one day at the noon halt, when she had been particularly abusive before the whole party, Brown turned her over his knee and spanked her vigorously. She screamed and kicked and called for help but no one interfered. When he put the woman down she rushed to the wagon, scrambled in, and did not show her face for a week."
Solomon Kelly's own account of that trip, included in the previously cited 1885 "History of Benton County, Oregon," biography, reads as follows:
"Having resided respectively in Clark, Miami and Spaulding counties, all in Ohio, until the spring of 1847, at that time, with his wife and 3 children, he set out to cross the plains to Oregon with ox teams from Independence. After a journey occupying 6 months and 17 days, Mr. Brown arrived where now we have the city of Corvallis, and after a few days delay, took up the donation claim of 640 acres, now occupied by Mr. Porter."
William B. Brown, in the 1900 "Biographical History of Miami County, Ohio," account of his family, adds a few details of the trip.
"In 1847 he (Solomon Kelly Brown) went to Oregon, becoming one of the pioneers of the Willamette Valley. He established his home at Corvallis, where he remained until his death, which occurred when he was, (eighty)-three years of age. He had four children, two of whom died in early life, while William B. and Andrew R. went to Oregon with him. At that time a large number of emigrants crossed the plains to the Pacific coast. Their train was composed of forty-seven wagons, each drawn by from two to five yoke of oxen. The journey consumed six months and sixteen days, and William B. Brown, the subject of this review, can recall many incidents of that journey."
About a year and a half after the family arrived in Oregon, Gold fever supplanted Oregon fever, and Solomon K. and his sons headed for the gold fields of California. Anna was left behind with her new son, Jonathan Rollins Brown. William Clair Brown picks up the narrative again:
"In the spring of 1849 grandfather joined with a neighbor named Ridenour for a trip to the Feather River in California for gold. With a yoke of oxen and two sons each, they made the trip in a wagon. The venture was highly successful. My father (Andrew R. Brown) returned to Oregon on horseback in the fall. Grandfather and Uncle Will stayed until mid-December and came up the coast by boat.
"The boat was held outside the Columbia River bar by a storm for several days. Here they spent Christmas. The fresh water gave out and the good supplies were down to salt pork. Four tried to make land in a small boat. Months later the body of one was found and identified by a gold watch he carried. The rest were never seen again. Finally the bar was crossed and the party got to Astoria.
"Grandfather and Uncle Will started up the river on foot through continuous rains. Somewhere about Rainier while taking a short cut across a bend of the river they found shelter with a party of Indians in an old shed. Here they obtained a canoe which brought them to Oregon City. There they bought a white pony and finally got their gold home, although the heavy rains and swollen streams kept them on the way until sometime in January 1850."
William B. Brown, in his 1900 biography, states that the Browns took more than $7,000 in gold from the California gold fields during this trip --- a small fortune during 1850.
It is possible that Solomon K. used the proceeds to purchase the farm just southeast of Philomath, which would remain his home for much of the rest of his life. According to William Clair Brown:
"By this time grandfather had decided that the white land this side of Winkle Buttes was no good for farming and he left his claim there and bough the relinquishment of Adam Wimple's claim at Brown's Bridge on Marys's River. Adam Wimple went to Polk County were he was later hanged for the murder of his wife. He was the first man to be legally executed in Polk County."
Solomon Kelly's biographer, in the 1885 history of Benton County, gives this version of the trek to and from California and the subsequent move to a new home in Oregon as follows:
"In 1849, our subject proceeded to the gold miles of California, but 2 months hard work was sufficient to convince him that the yield of gold was not commensurate with the labor expended, he therefore took passage to Portland from San Francisco in a brig, which ultimately made Astoria after a voyage or 7 weeks, whence the remainder of the voyage was accomplished in an Indian canoe. Our subject now returned to his home in Benton county and there remained until April 1850, when selling his claim he purchased the farm of 750 acres, located 2 miles and a half southeast of Philomath, which he now owns."
Once settled near Philomath, Solomon K. and Anna became the parents of three more sons - Solomon Kelly Brown Jr., always known as S.K., who was born 15 January 1851; Levi Wellington Brown, born 6 September 1852; and Alfred Rinehart Brown, born 17 July 1855.
Brief references to Solomon K. turn up occasionally in accounts of western Oregon's history simply because he arrived there so early. A Web site entitled "On This Day in Oregon - Historical Calendar," part of the Salem, Oregon Community Guide maintained by Jon Hazen, reports that "On this day in 1848 (16 January) Michael Ridenour and Solomon K. Brown furnished an ox to the Calapooya Indians for land laying on the Willamette River between Mary's River and Long Tom Creek." No reference for the information is given.
Probably the first sawmill in what is now Corvallis was the one established on J.C. Avery's claim. In 1850, J.C. Avery and Solomon K. Brown supposedly dammed the Mary's River and dug a mill race to operate a sawmill which was located on the banks of the Willamette River, just south of the Mary's River. William Brown, grandson of Solomon Brown, stated that his grandfather helped J.C. Avery build the first dam on the Mary's River in 1851 (Phinney, William Brown Interview, n.d.). The 1852 G.L.O. Maps indicate the mill race and sawmill. Supposedly, the dam washed out shortly after it was completed and the sawmill was idle for a number of years until J.C. Avery decided to put a gristmill on the site in the mid-1850's (Oregon Union, July 23, 1897).
Solomon K.'s wife, Anna, died on 23 May 1880 and was buried in Mount Union Cemetery, near Philomath. The inscription on the tombstone she shares with S.K. reads as follows: "Anna Brown, June 7, 1810 - May 23, 1880."
By 1885, Solomon K. had retired to Philomath, where he apparently was living in comfortable retirement. He caused the following biography to be published in the 1885 history of Benton County, Oregon. (6)
"BROWN, Solomon K. --- This venerable pioneer, is a native of Ohio, where he was born 6 February 1810, and is therefore 5 years beyond the allotted three score years and ten. Having resided respectively in Clark, Miami and Spaulding counties, all in Ohio, until the spring of 1847, at that time, with his wife and 3 children, he set out to cross the plains to Oregon with Ox teams from Independence. After a journey occupying 6 months and 17 days, Mr. Brown arrived where now we have the city of Corvallis, and after a few days delay, took up the donation claim of 640 acres, now occupied by Mr. Porter. In 1849, our subject proceeded to the gold miles of California, but 2 months hard work was sufficient to convince him that the yield of gold was not commensurate with the labor expended, he therefore took passage to Portland from San Francisco in a brig, which ultimately made Astoria after a voyage or 7 weeks, whence the remainder of the voyage was accomplished in an Indian canoe. Our subject now returned to his home in Benton county and there remained until April 1850, when selling his claim he purchased the farm of 750 acres, located 2 miles and a half southeast of Philomath, which he now owns. About 10 years ago Mr. Brown moved into the town of Philomath where he now resides, enjoying the well earned repose which a long life of activity entitles him to. Mr Brown has never been an aspirant for office, although he was once elected to the office of Justice of the Peace, but never qualified."
Solomon K. died at Philomath on 16 January 1893, according to family records and the inscription on his tombstone at Mount Union Cemetery. He was nearly 83. Two of his siblings followed him in death that year. Jane (Brown) Van Horn died 8 October 1893 at the old Brown home in Fletcher, Miami County, and Joseph Brown, on 4 December 1893 at his home in Columbia, Marion County, Iowa. And so as that year closed, only Archibald Steele Brown, living at Cincinnati in Appanoose County, Iowa, survived.
1. There are two sources for Solomon K.'s date of birth. It is inscribed on his tombstone in Mount Union Cemetery, Benton County, Oregon, and also included in his biographical sketch in "History of Benton County, Oregon," published 1885 at Portland, Oregon, by David D. Fagan, and posted by Lee Gentemann on the Benton County, Oregon, Biographical Forum, Benton County site, Rootsweb.com: "This venerable pioneer, is a native of Ohio, where he was born 6 February 1810…."
2. Harbaugh, Thomas C., "Centenial History; Troy, Piqua, and Miami County Ohio" (Casstown, Ohio: 1909), Page 669, biographical sketch of William B. Brown.
3. "Miami County, Ohio, Marriages, 1807-1865," 3 Volumes (a WPA compilation), Page 71: Brown, Solomon K., to Ralston, Mary, 24 May 1832.
4. The source for Mary's date of death and for the identities of the two children who died young is Helen Bollen, who cited "an old Bible in California."
5. "Miami County, Ohio, Marriages, 1807-1865," 3 Volumes (a WPA compilation), Page 71: Brown, Solomon K., to Ann Denman, 20 September 1842."
6. Solomon Kelly Brown biographical sketch, History of Benton County, Oregon, published 1885 at Portland, Oregon, by David D. Fagan, as posted by Lee Gentemann on the Benton County, Oregon, Biographical Forum, Benton County site, Rootsweb.com.