Ashley Howard Russell to Nan Hannon

Ashley Howard Russell to Nan Hannon

Ashley H. Russell
1708 S.E. Maple Ave.
Portland, OR 97214

Undated, but probably written in 1988
when the author was 93 as he states below.

Dear Nan Hannon,

    I never saw the diary that Elizabeth Hill used on her trip from Tennessee to Oregon, in 1852.  My grandmother and her two sisters, Mary and Martha, discussed it many times, as their mother was unwell for a time after her son, John, drowned in the Missouri River while bringing their cattle over on a ferry.  They could not even delay to find his body.  She staged a sort of hunger strike.

    I knew the three Hill sisters very well.  They loved to tell of their experiences, especially my grandmother, Ann Haseltine (Hill) Russell.  I lived with her and Aunt Nellie at the home on Main Street in Ashland.  It was when grandmother visited us in Yreka, (where her son, James Buchanan "Buck" had opened his marble shop, in 1884] she asked if I would come to Ashland as she needed a young man's help.  They had just built a "new" high school in Ashland on the Blvd.  Yreka had eleven saloons and three churches, but not more than 2,000 people.  Ashland was a "dry" town and she had something to do with that, as a member of the W.C.T.U.  Dad was also a member of the Anti-Saloon League.  So in 1912 and 1913 I was in Ashland and attended the high school.  I listened to her tales, as well as a boy of seventeen and eighteen would.  Some she told over again.

    One of her favorite stories was how she had to keep her grandfther's pail full of spring water when she was about thirteen.  A spring was near Sweetwater Creek and just over the bank of the stream and road in front of the farmhouse.  Water snakes had to be driven away from the spring.

    The old chair her grandfather sat in later came to Oregon.  I was at the home of Mary Stevens, Mary Dunn's granddaughter, in Eugene, and saw the chair and learned how it came to Oregon.

    Mary Dunn and her daughter, Ella Rice, had visited Sweetwater and had photographed the Old Home, that John Fine had built in 1816.  A friend had kept the old chair and gave it to them.  Having no way of crating it, they tagged it and shipped it by express.  It arrived in Portland without a scratch.

    When Mary Hanley, curator of the Jacksonville Museum, visited me here in Portland, I told her about the chair.  It was sent to Jacksonville.  Mary Stevens had remarried to a Rev. Cook, so that name is recorded as the giver.  Later I got a photo of the chair.  I have it here in my home.  The museum in Jacksonville sent it to me with a letter.

    Mary Stevens was a very good historian.  She helped me a lot when I was getting data for my book, Siskiyou Trail.  I tried to keep my story true to historical and well documented events.  I found it necessary, however, to talk for the characters and to fill in logical details as to why and how the events came to pass.  That, of course, made the story a novel.  My editor, Alfred Powers, and Biniford and Mort, the publishers, insisted I cut the manuscript to its present form.  Some of the farm life at Sweetwater and some Plains crossing events were only highlighted.

    When she was 92, Mary Dunn dictated to Mary Stevens an account of her girlhood as a girl in Tennessee.  They had it published in Eugene in 1929 as a booklet, "Undaunted Pioneers."  Only a few copies were made and it was not copywrited.  It ran as a serial in the Ashland newspaper and it served me a great deal in my research (see Ashland Tidings September 11,1929).  I had my copy bound with a leather cover and prize it. Martha Hill also had a story published in a woman's magazine.  I don't recall its name.

    It was not until later that Ann Haseltine (Hasse) began to write about what she had experienced in her long and eventful life.  Whenever any event came to her mind she wrote it down on any kind of paper at hand.  She planned it to be a "history".  My cousin, Margaret Potter Joy, tried to help grandmother at one time.  She gave up the task and the box of papers came to me.  There were some quotes from the Bible, as chapter headings, and some lectures to young girls.  Dates of events were mixed and lacked details.  Yet the stories were interesting in themselves.  But I was busy with my business and couldn't find time to outline a publishable story.

    A year or so ago I left the papers with the Jacksonville Museum, together with many very old letters I had.  They have returned them to me and I believe they made copies for the Museum files.

    Hasse was only sixteen when she married James Howard Russell and became hostess at the Mountain House.  Russell and three other men, Hugh Barron, John Gibbs and John Hare had built the wayside inn at the foot of the Siskiyou Mountains in 1851 - the first building other than log cabins in the upper Bear Creek Valley.

    It was at the Mountain house that my father, James Buchanan Russell, was born on September 7, 1856.  He was only an infant when his father and Hasse had to move to Yreka.

    Jim Russell had been the operator of the pack mules and had made many trips to Scottsburg on the coast and some even to Portland and one, at least, to San Francisco.  It was in San Francisco that he got the outfit that Hasse used when they were married in 1854.  Mary married Patrick Dunn first of that same year.  Mary was two years older than Hasse.  Both of the girls married older men.  Hasse's father was not too pleased, but his daughter won out, even though her brother, LaGrand and Bertha Owens were being married at Roseburg at nearly the same time.  Both Mary and Ann were married at Isaac and Elizabeth's log cabin on his Donation Land Claim.  Neil Creek ran through the place.  The dam south of Ashland covers Isaac's meadow now with Hill Butte beyond it.

    The Hill/Dunn Cemetery has been moved to higher ground (but not high enough in my opinion).  When I was there a few years ago I nearly got stuck in the mud while leaving.  The lake was high and had undermined the road on the Eastern side of the Cemetery.  The westside road road going in was so rough with deep trenches that I had to drive with care.

    If the roads have not been repaired by this time, I think it would be a project for the Southern Oregon Historical Society to look into.  My father and grandmother have carved names there and on the entrance posts, twelve men, killed by the Indians in the wars of 1853 and 1855 were burried there, but only a few names have been recorded.

    John Gibbs, a Mountain House partner, was first and grandmother's Aunt Kelly's son Isham Keith, was second. (1) All were prepared for burial by Elizabeth Hill.  A man named Cunningham who was killed on the Siskiyou Mountain by the Indians was one.  One other was a Mr. Keen who was killed on Indian Creek.  Those are the only names I have ever been able to find.

    In 1903 the Hill clan had a reunion of the families of the three "Hill girls."  That was fifty years after their having settled in the valley.  I am in the picture that was taken in Isaac Hill's meadow, with Hill Butte in the background. Hasse's youngest daughter, Pearl Potter, is shown, but Margaret Joy was not yet born.  I have the photo on my wall here in Portland.  Only three cousins are still living, Ruth Walters, Francis Winter and myself, Ashley H. Russell.  I ws eight years old then - now I'm ninety three but still well and my memory is still OK.  However when I tried to write this letter, my two finger method of using the typewriter was pretty bad.  Thus this handwritten attempt. (2)

    After ending Siskiyou Trail, I have found a number of events that should have been in the story.  Why Hasse and Jim went to Yreka was one reason.

    Jim Russell was in charge of the Mountain House pack train.  He was responsible for packing in supplies used by the "Big Ditch Company" who were constructing a water ditch for some 85 miles, starting at the headwaters of Shasta River to Yreka.(3)  They had paid Jim by using script instead of money so he held much of the paper money.  But the Yreka company failed, leaving these holding theri script almost without value.  The surveyor of the ditch, ___ Rosebough and a man named Brooks also had a lot of the worthless paper.  Hugh Barron had now married so an older co-hostess was at the Mountain House than Hasse who was sixteen.  I doubt that Hasse enjoyed being told about anything.  Even her father had not won out regarding her marriage to Jim Russell.  But that is only my thoughts about it.

    Jim Russell sold his interests in the partnership to Hugh Barron.  Russell purchased, for $600.99, from Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds a piece of property with a cabin for a home in Yreka.  He opened a meat plant to serve the miners at the base of what is now known as "Butcher Hill" a hill to the east of the present town of Yreka.

    My aunts, Nellie and Grace, were born in Yreka.  Of Hasse's eleven children the others were all born in Ashland.

    James Russell was one of the three men to take over the water ditch.  They sold it later to a banker from San Francisco.

    Russell now had recovered some of his loss.  After four years at Yreka, he returned to Oregon where he opened a marble quarry near the present town of Phoenix and later one at the head of Neil Creek.

    It was from the Phoenix quarry that Russell produced a marble slab that was used in Washington D.C. in the Washington Monument.  Grandfather Russell had learned the stone cutting trade in Pittsburg before coming to California in 1849.  My father, James Buchanan Russell, learned it from his father.  When his father died (the year I was born, 1895) my grandmother took charge and carved and sold marble and granite gravestones until she was in her late eighties.  She bacame famous as the "oldest woman stone cutter in the U.S."  Dad carved doves, lambs and angels, too.

    I once watched him carve Chinese letters that a Chinaman had painted with a brush on a marble stone.  The Chimaman watched too and said it was perfect in every detail.  I recall that Dad asked why Chinamen put food on their graves.  "Do the dead people eat the food?", asked Dad.  "Maybe so" replied the Chinaman.  "Do white man's dead come up to smell-em flowers?"

    In Dr. Roy Jone's book. Saddle Bags in Siskiyou, he quotes a letter from Isaac's brother, James Hill, stating that his wife had the first child born in Yreka and that his sister, Mrs. Kelly, was the first woman to settle there.  The baby's name was William Shasta Hill but they called him "Shasta Butte."  He was born at the Kelley cabin.  In my files I have a newspaper clipping from a Mountain Home, Idaho, paper telling of the death of a daughter of James Hill which states her father died in Texas and her uncle, Robert Hill was then at Mountain Home where she had resided.

    After leaving a Siskiyou Trail book with members of the Fine family in the Sweetwater Valley, Tennessee, I discovered why some of the family records had gotten mixed up.  Elizabeth Fine Hill had married Isaaac Hill while her sister Sara Fine, had married Ira Hill who was evidently a cousin of Isaacs.  It was from a descendant of Ira Hill, one who had lived in Washington D.C. and who had access to the files of the Daughters of the Revolution that I received a photocopy of John Fine's will.  Also she got a photocopy of a pension documebnt, issued to Agness Jennings Lee, wife of John Lee who had fought in the Revolutionary War.  She sent me copies

    Grandmother was proud of her ancestry.  The daughter of John Lee was Nancy Lee, her grandmother, and who became John Fine's wife.

    Among those in the crossing of the Plains in 1849 (with Isaac and his son, LeGrand) was Isaac's Mother, widow of Joab Hill, Isaac's Father.  Joab's wife was an aunt of General Joseph Lane the first Territorial Governor of Oregon.  It was with Joseph Lane that Isaac and William Hill went to the mines near Yreka (Shasta Butte City).  The two brothers mined on Humbug Creek about 12 miles west of Yreka during 1850.  In the spring of 1851 they returned to the States.  That winter of 1851 Isaac spent with his family on the John Fine farm.  It was early in the spring of 1852 that the family went by boat down the Tennessee River to the Ohio River to Cairo, Illinois, where they entered the Mississippi.  Isaac had about 23 pounds of gold when he returned to Sweetwater in 1851

    Isaac's brother, Claiborne Hill, and a sister, Mrs E.D. ______ had farms near Keokuc, Iowa.  It was there that Isaac outfitted his coverd wagons and bought 150 head of cattle.  On his trip back East to pick up the family in 1851 he had purchased the wagons and had bought a dozen Springfield rifles.  He also bought a case of drugs and while crossing the Missouri River on his return trip he paid the ferry  man for a crossing the next year.  Mary's story, Undaunted Pioneers  tells the story.

    Claiborne had married Polly Stannard.  So the Stannards joined the 1852 crossing.  Claiborne's son, Marshall, and a Pickens family were in the train - a Pickens baby died en route.  Those are the only names I have ever heard.  His brogher, William Hill, was married in Oregon in 1846.  He may have made two trips.

    They came over the Barlow Road from The Dalles, then the "Devil's Backbone", between the present Brighton and Foster's Farm near Estacada.  Hasse had "Mountain Fever" from drinking bad water.  Isaac was anxious to reach the Rogue River Valley where he had seen a place for a farm near Ashland.  But Oregon was covered with snow and Hasse and he were unwell.  So they laid over in Salem until the Spring of 1853 to complete the journey.  Claiborne, however, had gone as far as Brownsville where he built a ferry and a cabin.  So did the Stannards.

    Kelly and Martha Lou went as far south as Yreka in 1849.  She was Isaac's youngest sister.  I have a book that LaGrand's wife wrote and gave to Ann Hasseltine that tells of LaGrand's child being born in Yreka while they were at Aunt Kelly's cabin in 1856.  That was the year that my father was born at the Mountain House in Oregon Territory.

    I found a letter written by Governor Joe Lane in the Portland Library that stated that he had not left Oregon Territory in 1850 but had mined at the Shasta mines in Oregon.  One bar on the Shasta River is still known as Lane's Bar but it is now in California.  There must have been some confusion as to the borderline at that time.

    It is interesting, to, to note that General Lane's son, Nat, had gone from San Francisco by way of the Oregon/California route, or trail, and had met the Kellys at the camp there at Shasta Butte City.  Also that Nate Lane had a hand in the plan to create a new state of "Southern Oregon" and Northern California.  The plan was never successful, however.

    These were some of the stories I thought were truthful so I included them in my Siskiyou Trail.

    I hope you will forgive me for this long letter and for any mistakes in spelling I have made.  I attempted to use my typewriter but gave up.  There seems so much to tell and so little time left to tell it.  Dad lived to be 96.  Perhaps I can do as well? (4)

                    Yours truly (at 93)
                    Ashley Howard Russell

P.S.    The camp at Yreka was first known as "Ieeka", Shasta Indians name for Mt. Shasta.

(1) Ann Hill Russell's essay on the Hill/Dunn Cemetary reverses this order.
(2) Later typed by Ashley's adopted son Bill.
(3) An early name for Yreka was "Thompson's Dry Diggings," which may explain the importance of the ditch.
(4) As a matter of fact, he did better.  He went to sleep the evening of May 11, 1992 in my home at Bandon, Oregon and awoke on "the other shore." He lived 97 years and was active and his mind sharp as a tack the very last day.

Last updated by William P. Russell on   Saturday, 08-Sep-2018 09:40:41 MDT