James Madison Newlin

Alexander Postlewaite Ankeny

Born 1823 Westmoreland County, PA

Died 1891 Salem, OR

He was a Great grandson of Dewalt Ankeny




Newsletter of the Southern Oregon Historical Society

March 1982 issue, Article "Sunrise to Sunset at Sterlingville", Page 11 “The Ankeny Years”


            Captain Alexander P. Ankeny had first crossed the plains to California as early as 1848, a year before the big rush for gold, but he had returned to West Virginia, via the Isthmus of Panama, in 1849.  His first trip was apparently a scouting trek to determine the truth of the stories of the golden opportunities to be found in the west.  He must have been persuaded because in the early spring of 1850 he set out on a return journey, this time bringing with him his wife Ruthanna, their children, his brother and sister-in-law and three hired men.

            The little party started with an immigrant train, but they fell behind the others in Wyoming when Captain Ankeny assumed the operation of the ferry over the Green River and ran it at considerable profit for six weeks in July and August.  He appears to have been unable to resist an opportunity to make money.  When they returned to the trail for California the favorable traveling season was nearly ended.  They discovered the grazing lands were dry and depleted and good water was almost impossible to find.  The road to Oregon was a far better route so Captain Ankeny changed his point of destination and the group arrived in Portland in the late fall of 1850.

            In December of that year, not long after they had arrived, Ruthanna Ankeny died.  The following year, 1851, Alexander Ankeny married a second time, to Mrs. Smith whose husband had died on the Oregon Trail.  She had a young son, Levi, who was raised as a brother with the Ankeny children, Henry and his sister.

            An abundance of free land, a rapidly expanding population and the demand for all kinds of goods made it a time when a shrewd investor could realize quick and handsome returns on speculation.  Shortly after his arrival Captain Ankeny took a donation land claim of 600 acres in Yamhill County, purchased cattle and began raising wheat.  Even as this enterprise was in a development stage, he began looking about for fresh opportunities.  He visited mines in southern Oregon and northern California and established the first general store in the Eugene area.  Ankeny remained in the Portland-Yamhill area and supplied merchandise for the business which was located on a claim owned by Eugene Skinner.  One of the hired men who had come west with the Ankeny party was in charge of the selling end of the business.

            In addition to these activities Captain Ankeny helped open a pack trail to eastern Oregon gold mines via the Columbia Gorge -- later to become the Columbia River Highway -- and maintained an interest in the Wells Fargo Express Company. As he embarked on these new and demanding projects, he managed to find time to enter county politics.

            In 1856 after serving as captain of a troop of volunteers in the Yakima Indian War -- where he acquired his title -- he sold his Yamhill property, opened a meat market in Portland and built a splendid, richly furnished home for his family.  Acquiring property throughout the city, he soon owned portions of several city blocks of valuable real estate.  Speculative investments in mining projects throughout the Columbia River region also brought rich returns. 

            He was one of the first to arrive at the site of Lewiston, Idaho, the gathering point for miners en route to the goldfields.  Seeing at once the vast potential, he opened the first store in that place, appointing his step-son Levi as manager and his son Henry as his assistant.  He then returned to Portland, bought the goods in demand by the miners and shipped them to Lewiston to be sold at his store.  As mines in Idaho began producing, the business, which was the prospectors’ only supply center, grew rapidly.  Levi soon made a fortune and invested his money in Walla Walla where he became a banker, one of the riches men in the state and a United States Senator.  Henry remained with his father.

            Captain Ankeny’s most ambitious project was the construction of his theater and market complex.  Portland at that time boasted a population of 10,000 and the city fathers were justly proud of the streets, homes, stores and hotels.  Portlanders were ready for an extensive public market and Ankeny was the guiding force of the project.  A massive brick building was erected and its many stalls were furnished in taste and great style with an emphasis upon marble counters and fixtures.  It proved to be extremely successful and was a great asset to the city.  With the addition of the New Market Theater, Ankeny’s block was the most impressive section in the business district and served the citizens for many years.  Most of the complex is still standing although a north wing of the center was demolished in the 1950s.  The remaining part has recently been sold to a group of developers who wish to restore it as part of Portland’s heritage.

            There were times when Captain Ankeny dangerously over-extended his assets and occasionally his entire fortune teetered precariously on the outcome of a gamble.  But he was a master of the big bluff, had the Midas touch and always emerged as the winner.  As his holding flourished he became active in Portland political circles.  He served on the city council and, in 1858, made an unsuccessful bid for the position of mayor.

            The Sterling Mining Company operation was an exciting new challenge to Ankeny, still a man of boundless energy and the age of 56.  The first years of operation were not particularly successful.  In order for the men to work the rich upper creek region, the company had to extend the ditch.  Other developmental needs made expenses heavy, and substantial salaries had to be paid to a constant work force:  blacksmiths, hydraulic operators and ditch walkers and well as a large crew of unskilled workers who were, for the most part, Chinese.

            The third and fourth years brought more profits.  The amount of gold sold to the mint in San Francisco was satisfactory and money was made by the company’s subsidiary operations; a general store, a boarding house and a farm and stock ranch (cattle and pigs).

            The gold field was no longer a place for casual prospecting.  The men were hired for specific tasks and they accomplished them with energy and purpose.  The huge hydraulics slashed away at the earth and washed the dirt into gullies where a gang of men with heavy mining equipment washed out the gold.  A crew of Chinese laborers cleaned the newly exposed bedrock, painstakingly probing the crevices with small-bladed knives and camel hair brushes.

            Captain Ankeny reinvested his profits.  He bought the Kleinhammer claim which adjoined the mine and he widened and deepened the ditch.  He also added a third hydraulic giant.  Whit these improvements the Sterling mine became the largest hydraulic operation in Oregon and possibly the largest in the entire west.  A huge headlight from a locomotive enabled the men to work at night.

            As he had anticipated the ups and downs, the severe winters and dry summers, and the occasional flooding and freezing which damaged the flumes, Ankeny was not taken by surprise when a year of great profit was followed by a year of small return.  His faith in the enterprise was unshaken.  In an 1885 interview with a reporter from the Portland Daily News, who intimated that he had “been taken,” he said, “I want nothing better as a legacy for the Ankeny family than the Sterling mine.”  As evidence of his belief in its future, he ordered the construction of a large reservoir so that sluicing could begin on the higher ground, and he bought the Saltmarsh claim.  He now owned almost all of the land from the old town site to Buncom.  Of all the early farmer-miners at Sterling, only Ed Graupner held on to his claim.

            The mine became a sight-seeing attraction.  Visitors were taken on special tours and everyone was awed at the sight of the giants violently tearing away the hillsides and at the manner in which massive boulders were forcefully moved out of the way.  For ages the earth at Sterling had successfully resisted men’s efforts to pry into it; now the incredible machines were simply washing it away.  It’s no surprise that people came from far away to see it.  The little town which had lain dormant for years had at last awakened just in time to witness its own annihilation.

            After nine years of operating the mine, Captain Ankeny was joined by his son Henry.  Born in Virginia, Henry was only six years old when he came west.  He apparently had inherited his father’s dedication; as a boy he and his step brother Levi carried orders on horseback from the store in Eugene to Portland.  Making the arduous trip on a regular schedule, they often were given the responsibility of delivering large sums of money even though each of them was eight years old at the time.

            In an unfinished diary, started at a much later date at the request of a newspaper editor, Henry wrote of his early experiences. 


            In 1887, summoned by his father, Henry sold his farm holdings and moved his family to Sterling where he became supervisor and manager of the mine.  Families along Sterling Creek had kept the school house in operation although sometimes all the pupils had the same last name.  With the arrival of the Ankeny children the enrollment doubled.  A daughter, Cora, became teacher for one term.

            Almost as soon as Henry assumed his duties he faced problems.  A heavy cloudburst washed a farm house, and fence and tons of topsoil into the company’s diggings, and several miles of ditch were filled with slides.  Captain Ankeny was undiscouraged.  He ordered complete repair of the damages, at considerable cost, and the year ended with a deficit.

            One problem which may have contributed to the loss was solved with less expense.  The Chinese crew was under the supervision of a boss who saw that his workers were fed and clothed.  He also paid them their small salaries.  As contractor for the crew he reimbursed himself by collecting their wages and he made a little extra on the side by gambling and by a couple of other undercover activities.  This tinder-hearted overseer bought a new pair of trousers for each man in his gang.  By some chance all of the trouser legs were to long and the men had to roll them up from the bottoms.  Eventually Henry became suspicious and, one evening as the Chinese laborers were heading for their shacks, he ordered them to roll down their trouser legs.  The mud scraped from the cuffs was panned out on the spot and revealed that each man was carrying out of the mines every day an average of $1.50.  From then on the Chinese worked in pants which were a little more neatly tailored.

            In the winter of 1889 over three feet of snow fell on Sterling.  All mining activities stopped.  A heavy rain came after the snow and the flood that followed brought disaster.  The derrick which lifted the large boulders was smashed.  Hydraulic pipes and the giants were buried in mud and rocks, and the walls of the reservoir were washed out.  The ditch was damaged all along its length.  Before the mine could be put back into operation, the productive season had passed.

            In August 1890 Captain Ankeny became critically ill.  He was taken to Portland to be treated for “softening of the brain”.  He did not recover and died in March 1891.  The mine was left to Henry and his sister.  This brought no change in operations; Henry continued to act as manager assisted by his brother-in-law, Vincent Cook.  In the years following, the weather was more favorable and profits came up to expectations.

            In 1894 proof of the success of the mine was revealed by Henry’s sending 50 ounces of nuggets to Salem to be put on display at the state fair.  Indication of prosperity was also shown by the great number of rumors alleging that the company was to be sold for fabulous sums of money.  In addition to this evidence, a Portland banking house put on exhibit in a gold pan nuggets weighting 350 ounces, ranging in size from $1 to $400 -- all from the Sterling mine.  A year later another showing of $10,000 worth of gold dust and nuggets was featured in a Portland business establishment.  Henry Ankeny, visiting San Francisco in 1896, told reporters that his mine “was conceded to be about the best placer property in Oregon.”  The Ashland Tidings estimated that the 1897 take was $75,000.

            In her interview Cordelia Ankeny added, “After each clean up my husband melted the gold dust and nuggets into gold bricks, which he gave to me for safekeeping.  I had a large number of flower pots.  I used to put a gold brick in the bottom of a flower pot and transfer a living plant from some other pot into it.  I doubt if a robber would ever have thought to look under a growing and blooming geranium for a gold brick.”

            The season of 1900 was spectacularly successful.  In April the sluice boxes produced seven nuggets valued at $17,000.  There were even larger takes in July and August.  As the mine became more and more productive, Henry Ankeny began to extend his interest into other activities.  In 1904 he was selected as a member of the Republican delegation chosen to inform Theodore Roosevelt that he was the party’s nominee.  He was president of the Medford National Bank and he became intrigued with the development of irrigation systems in the Klamath Lakes region.  As he began spending more time on his other interests he turned the operation of the mine over to his son Frank, who became manager. 

            At last Ankeny and Cook began negotiating with a Roseburg promoter, Fred J. Blakley, for sale of the mine.  Arrangements were completed on 1904.  The amount the Ankenys received was not revealed, but from his half share, Henry was able to invest $50,000 in Klamath irrigation projects.  The new owners took over the property in early 1905, bringing the Ankeny ownership to an end after a quarter of a century.


Alexander P. Ankeny:  Obituary in Portland, Oregon "Oregonian" Newspaper.


            Capt. A. P. Ankeny, the well-known pioneer, died at Salem on the 24d inst (24 March 1891).  He was born in Ligonier Valley; Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, Deceased was of the hardy and enterprising pioneers who assisted in "blazing the trail" of west-bound civilization, and in laying broad and deep the foundation of state empire.  As early as 1850 Captain Ankeny started for Oregon.  When he reached Green river with his family he halted for some time, and built a ferry boat.  He remained there several months and found it quite a profitable investment to ferry the west-bound emigrants across the river.  A great many surviving pioneers of the state will remember the far-off time when Captain Ankeny conducted the ferry at Green river.

            In the winter of 1850-1 Captain Ankeny arrived in Portland with his family.  He built and moved into a small house that fronted on what is now Oak Street, between First and Second.  He remained in Portland only a short time, removing within a year to Yamhill County, where he settled on a farm.  He afterwards went to the mines in Idaho, where he spent some time.  While in Yamhill county Captain Ankeny married his second wife, Mrs. Smith, she was the mother of Mr. Levi Ankeny, the captain’s step-son and adopted son.  His first wife was the mother of three children; Henry Ankeny, Mrs. Randall and Mrs. Vincent Cook.  Henry is now living at the Sterling mines in southern Oregon, Mrs. Randall near Lewiston and Mrs. Cook at Brookfield, on the lower Columbia.

            During the winter of 1856-57 Captain Ankeny returned to Portland with his family.  He built a house at the corner of First and Ash streets, where he lived a number of years.  The old dwelling stood on the southwestern corner of the block until a few years ago. 

            Captain Ankeny was a man of tireless activities, and possessed of remarkable tenacity of purpose.  He did not remain idle in this then new field of operation, inaugurating, in 1860, a steamboat enterprise in opposition to the regular line on the Columbia.  Only two boats were used - the old steam ferry boat Independence and the little Wasco.  In 1861-2, Captain Ankeny, Dr. D. S. Baker, H. W. Corbett and I. W. Gates built the steamer Spray to run above The Dalles on the Upper Columbia and Snake rivers.  The Spray was completed and ran on that route for about one year, when the owners sold it to the O. S. N. Co.  Captain Ankeny was also connected with steam boating on the Upper Willamette.  About 1967 he owned and ran the steamer Echo between Portland and point up the Willamette.  He and William Kohl also brought the old steamer Cascade from Puget Sound to Portland.

            During the Indian wars of 1855-6 Captain Ankeny took a very conspicuous part.  He was in command of the second company of Yamhill volunteers, and rendered brave and effective services.

            In 1864 his second wife died in this city.  Subsequently he married Mrs. Staples, the widow of Captain Staples.

            Captain Ankeny has always been one of the foremost public spirited citizens of Portland, and has contributed many years of his vigorous manhood to the building of the city and promotion of its best interests.

            He has been connected with a number of important enterprises in Portland during the past thirty years, and his name is intimately associated with the history of the place.  Early in the 70’s he built the New Market Theatre block and subsequently the Central block, on Front Street.  Some years ago he disposed of his property in Portland and purchased the Sterling mines, located in southern Oregon.  For the past five or six years he has been residing at the mines.

            He was a man of generous qualities of heart, warm and impulsive, quick and strong in his convictions, and firm is his personal friendships.  The news that this stalwart old pioneer is no more will be received with sincere sorrow wherever his name is known.   --- Oregonian.