John Timmen

John Timmen History

Taken from a document typed by Doria Pollock Ferguson titled


I was born in Germany on March 4. 1829, on a farm in the Canton of Circuit, called New Burlage, in what was then the kingdom of Hanover. The inhabitants were Boors or what we call farmers in this East Free land.

I attended the common schools which virtually were under the supervision of the Catholic Clergy.  Often, I attended Church with mother in the Town of Papenburg, a place of considerable commerce and shipping.  Here I received my first desire to go out and see the world. As there was no other avenue open to me, I prevailed upon my parents to let me go with Capt. Lenger for a trip during the summer months, promising to return with him in the fall.  This was in the spring of 1846.  So, with a limited wardrobe and a few shillings in my pocket we started for Amsterdam; part of the journey was made by stage, the rest by rail.

Upon my arrival in Amsterdam, I was duly installed as cook and cabin boy on the ship of Capt. Lenger.  After taking our cargo we set sail for London. From London we went to St. Petersburg, thence returning to Skeedam.  Shifting cargo in Skeedam, we sailed for a port called Rega, in Russia then to Belgium, where at Antwerp the ship docked for winter.

Instead of returning home as I had promised my parents, I wrote sending my mother five dollars, and remained on board the ship during the winter.  One trip was made on a small coaster to Hull, England.  Then came an opportunity, which I accepted, to go as an apprentice on board a magnificent boat the Helene.  This ship, which was sailing for South America, was a German vessel commanded by Capt. Knutsen.  We left Antwerp in the spring of 1847 sailing first for Cadiz, in Portugal; from there we went to Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil.  Even at this late date I do not wonder at my continued absence, for it was one surprise after another until I was finally enrolled as a full-fledged American citizen.  This I believe I was from birth, for I will remember the first time I saw the Stars and Stripes, I loved them.

After a protracted stay at Rio, we sailed for the Bay of Parnuga. Here we took a cargo of tea put up in rawhide bales.  From this port we started for the Pacific Ocean around Cape Horn, which we accomplished after many hardships. For three days we were tossed under bare poles, while the decks were covered with ice and snow.  Finally, we arrived at Valparaiso, and there we heard for the first time of gold being discovered in California, our port of destination.

In the early spring of 1848, we reached port with a cargo of general merchandise and fine liquors and wines.  After docking the entire crew with the exception of the three apprentices left the ship.  We remained and helped unload the cargo after which the vessel was sold to the ___ Fur Company of Alaska and we were discharged.  Then it was that fortune favored me, for I met a Capt. Brooks, one of God’s noble men.  The Captain wanted help in running his small schooner, the Zachary Taylor, carrying both passengers and freight to Sacramento.  The salary he offered was $150 per month with board.  I had worked three months for him when I was stricken with the Flux and fever and chills compelled me to seek medical aid. A Dr. Palmer was the doctor who treated me.  Being unable to understand much English, a young German fellow also under the doctor’s care and who pretended to understand English, acted as interpreter.  The first prescription was to buy a syringe, a tin affair the same as we use for horses. Not knowing what it was, never having seen one before, I paid $16.00 for it.  Then I was told to take one half pint of starch and put in three drops of laudanum.  So far, so good, but here is where the laugh comes in.  I took the prescribed medicine, but ate it with the spoon, whereas it had intended to be taken as an injection. The following day the doctor made his visit; on discovering what I had done, had a good laugh at our expense.  The next dose was injected as had been intended.  This is a cure for Flux.  Then I took a few doses of Quinine, which effected a cure.  For this treatment, I paid the modest sum of $180.00, constituting about 25 cents worth of medicine at present prices.  All the time I was on the sick list, Capt. Brooks paid my full wages. I had left my blankets and clothes on board, and as soon as I was able returned to the schooner and resumed my former position. I remained here until the Capt. took command of the Sarah McFarland, under instructions to sail for Portland, Oregon. To this port, I accompanied him.

To Capt. Brooks, I am more indebted than to anyone else, for it was he who taught me to speak the English language correctly, and, in various other ways, looked after my welfare.

This gentleman hailed from New London, Connecticut, coming as first mate on the steamer, Oregon, when she made her maiden voyage around the Horn.

On arriving at Portland, we found it to be a solid forest.  Two trips in the Sarah McFarland were made between Portland and San Francisco.  Now, at this time, the overland immigration was increasing in great numbers. And transportation from The Dalles and Cascades was carried on in bateaux and canoes.  So, Peter Kulke from Flemsburg, Germany, and myself, bought a boat off the bark, Acquirous, commanded by Capt. Clayburn.  Our new ship was christened the North Star of Portland.  That was in 1849.  We carried both freight and passengers to the Cascades, to what was called Bradford’s Landing.

From there a railroad made of four-by-four scantling was operated with a mule and some Indians, to the Upper Cascades, there being at that time no steamers on the River.  The James P. Flint was built about this time, and together with engineer, Dennis, we brought her over the falls in the winter of 1849 and 1850, on a track laid on the Washington side of the River.  We pulled her on rollers by her own steam and launched her in the Big Eddy.  After getting up steam, I steered her down the Cascade Rapids to Portland, where she was somewhat remodeled and rechristened the Fashion.  Captain Van Bergen was her master.  In 1851, I sold my interest in the North Star, and in company with 28 others started overland to the California mines. Captain Leach was elected our leader.  Of the twenty-nine men comprising our company, 19 were Kanakas, or Sandwich Islanders, formerly in the employ of the Hudson Bay Company.

In 1853, I was again running the North Star, in partnership with I. I. Lancaster, carrying immigrants between the Cascades and The Dalles. Among those coming overland at this time was a family named Webb.  We left The Dalles one afternoon, but headwinds prevented us finishing the trip, so we landed, pitching camp just three miles below our starting point.  After making a fire, I went to the Frenchmen, buying all the potatoes I could pack, carrying them back to the children who had had none for six months.  Their delight amply paid me.

The next morning, we started for the Cascades and arrived there without further incident. During the journey down I had become acquainted with Miss Webb, who informed me they were going to Cousins Shoals at Boones Ferry, 12 miles from Portland. I heard nothing further from this family until in the winter I received a letter from Mary.  Up to this time I had thought nothing about her.  Now, however, I went to see her.  Ascertaining that her family had no objection to me and being desirous of settling down, I asked Mary to marry me.  We decided one day to elope, going on the steamer, Multnomah, to St. Helens, where Judge Cartland married us.  This was the year 1854. We walked a mile and a half to her brother-in­ law’s, Mr. Brazee, who at that time was living on a homestead near Houlton.  When her parents discovered our disappearance, they started to follow, but learning that we had been legally married, they returned to their home, shortly after, moving to Jacksonville, in Southern Oregon.

After a short stay there, Mr. Webb took sick and died and the family decided to return.  Mary and I had settled on a donation land claim in Clarke County, five miles from the settlement.  Mary at this time was expecting to be sick, and we moved in from our claim.  I had engaged a midwife, one Mrs. Powell, to look after my wife, but as she had to go to a Mormon meeting, Judge Ginter’s wife came in.  A son was born to us, but my wife gave her life for that of the baby, and six months later the baby died of pneumonia.  Broken hearted and restless after my wife’s death, I soon sold my claim for $175.00.  It was on the 16th of July 1855, when I lost my wife. That fall saw the beginning of the Indian War.  I enlisted in the Volunteer Service in Company D, Lewis River Rifles. There were 300 in our battalion, under the command of Capt. Snow. In February, we were ordered to Vancouver preparatory to take the field.  Then we were towed by the steamer, Multnomah, to Monticello on the west side of the Cowlitz River, near the present site of Kelso. On our arrival, it was discovered that no one in our company could load a pack horse. So, Philander Cunningham, Ransomme Powers and myself volunteered to take charge of the train. After debarking, we packed flour, beans, coffee, bacon along with a dozen Hudson Bay single barrel muskets onto wild Cayuses and turned them loose. After much difficulty with the bucking animals, we succeeded in covering the 3 miles to Catlins.  But of provisions and supplies there was not much left.  Our trail of march led us to Bill Jackson’s place on the old Cowlitz.  Our next stopping place was Humphrey’s and thence Jackson’s Prairie in Lewis County.  From there we moved to the old Miller Taylor Road near the present location of Chehalis and Centralia, then on to Scatter Creek, where we pitched camp. As we approached our camping place, we crossed what was known as Sanders Bottom, but the bottom had fallen out so drawing up our legs we knelt on our horses so as not get wet.  Armstrong’s mule objecting to entering the muddy water, started to struggle and caught one foot in the stirrup, at which Armstrong remarked, “If you are going to get on, I’ll get off,” and suiting his action to his word and standing in the soft mud, finally succeeded in extricating his mule.

From there we pushed to the stockade and blockhouse at Bushes Prairie, the present site of Olympia. Stopping here over night, we pushed on the next morning to Tumwater at the head of the Sound. We remained here a few days to replenish our commissary and resumed our march for Camp Montgomery 12 miles east of Stillicum. Here was situated the headquarters of the regular army.

While at the fort we were invited to attend a military ball.  We accepted but as spectators, not as participants.  During the evening, McGuire, a young volunteer, entered the hall.  He was somewhat under the influence of liquor, but behaved in a seemly manner until his departure, when as he passed Billy Clark, he stumbled and fell against him. Billy, who had imbibed rather freely, turned upon him, and seizing McGuire, threw him down the stairs.  A little later, McGuire returned carrying a Colt revolver.  Standing nearby and surmising his purpose, I stepped out and seized the revolver, thinking by this to prevent trouble.  A struggle ensued in which I gained the weapon.  At the conclusion of which everyone had left the hall, so no violence was done.

Because of the serious outlook with the Indians, Governor Isaac I. Stevens had ordered all civilian inhabitants to Olympia for safety.  But due to the necessity of looking after their crops, Charlie Rand and Sanders Murray, both resident farmers at Montgomery station broke their parole and returned.  Col. F. B. Shaw and Major Maxon immediately ordered their arrest. They obtained their release from military authority by writ of habeas corpus and were taken by civil authorities back to Camp Montgomery, under the charge of Lt. Powell.  Liquor had been passed around rather freely before we started and while enroute, Eaton, one of the guards, conceived the idea of shooting the prisoners.  Seeing Eaton’s intention, I kept my horse close beside him and as he aimed, I jumped off my saddle and seizing the pistol, hurled it as far as I could out into the lake.  From now on, I was on guard and kept my eyes open for further developments.  Lt. Powell turned his six shooter over to Eaton who again took him to shoot. Being on the alert, I quickly dismounted and grasped the pistol from his hands, taking also his rifle, which I gave to a young military correspondent traveling with us. I told him to see that Eaton did not have his rifle again.

At this juncture, all dismounted, and the Lt. brought forth two bottles of whiskey, which he carefully set down on the prairie.  Knowing that they had all had more than was good for them, I stepped forward and quietly smashed the bottles. Private Swan sat one side watching, while a little distance away, Wm. Hom, a member of Capt. Hennis’s Company, sat drinking, his double-barreled shotgun beside him.  Eaton, thoroughly angered by my

interference seized Hom’s gun and directed it toward me, at the same time demanding that I return his weapon. At that, he lowered the gun and I approached him.  When I had come close enough, I reached out and jerked the shotgun from his hands.  Returning it to Hom, I asked, “Why don’t you help me?”  Immediately he leveled his rifle to shoot Eaton, whereupon I had to tum my attention to him.  While the prisoners remounted, Mr. Eaton filled his pocket with rocks and took after Swan in an attempt to get back his rifle.  As the others were thus engaged, Buck and I took the prisoners on to camp, and placing them in the log house, fastened the  door, and admonished them not to show their faces again, as the whole company by this time was more or less under the influence of liquor, and no telling what folly they might commit.

I reported at once to Quarter-master Wilson and Lt. Armstrong, stating conditions.  At their advice, all guns were taken to camp to await the arrival of the drunken mob. At the same time, I told the Lt. that I preferred not to serve longer under Lt. Powell and begged that he use his influence in having me transferred to another company. Armstrong told me that he had just reviewed orders to get a man to look after the supplies and that I should have the place.

Then we sat down to await the return of the mob.  We waited long, for some did not show up until morning. Eaton had found a champion in his fight with Hom, in one Do1ling. The quarrel was not over when they arrived in camp.  Dolling leaped over the fire on which our · supper was being cooked by Jim Banzer and attacked Hom, who made short work by flooring him.  Lt. Powell drew his bowie knife, saying “You Dutch son of a,” and lunged at me. I struck him between the eyes and he fell like beef to the ground. Kicking him, I took his bowie knife and threw it into the corral as far as I could send it, and walked off, leaving him lying there.  All night, by two’s and three’s the men continued to arrive.

Having somewhat recovered, Lt. Powell, next morning challenged me to a duel, stating that I had struck him under the influence of liquor, and he wanted satisfaction.  The choice of weapons falling to me, I stepped out, at the same discarding my coat.  Then I proceeded to give him one of the darnedest thrashings he had ever experienced in his life. After which he backed down in front of the entire regiment.  The whipping over, he ordered me to escort the wagon train to Connell’s Prairie.  I refused and he threatened me with the guard house, whereupon I told him he was not man enough. Infuriated, he next threatened dishonorable discharge, and I told him he dare not show the paper it was written on.  He left me and at seven o’clock I turned the horses and mules out of the corral to pasture and made ready the pack saddle for the expedition across the Cascade Mountains.  The Lt., seeing what I was doing, asked no further questions, nor did he say more concerning the guard house or discharge.  After the Company had returned from Connell ‘s Prairie, the men offered to elect me Captain, but I refused, saying I declined to serve either under or over Eaton and Powell.

In June, we started across the Cascades, where on July 13, we met the Red in the Grand Ronde Valley (near La Grande).  A running fight ensued, lasting from morning until after sundown and 30 of our 300 men were lost.  This virtually closed the Indian War.  We returned to Whitman Station, near Walla Walla by way of the old Immigrant Trail, from there to the Dalles, and on down to Fort Vancouver.  It had been February when we started and it was now September.  That fall, 1856, I was discharged from service.

Ready to settle down, I took a homestead in Clarke County, Washington, where I tried farming with varying successes. March 11, 1860, I married Miss Hannah Webb, a sister of my first wife. Eleven children have been born to us, of whom eight are living, three sons and five daughters.

Where the old homestead stood now stands the Town of La Center, which I platted and laid out, also serving as its first Postmaster.  In 1869, I was elected by the people to the Legislature, as Representative from Clarke County.  While there I became the author of House Bill leasing the school lands of the Territory to actual settlers.  This has since proved to be a good safeguard and protection to the educational interest of our glorious Commonwealth.

Several territories enacted similar laws, and it is still on the statutes of this State.

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