Oregon Pioneers

ADAM MATHENY 1820 Indiana 1895 Oregon

Don RIVARA, Salem, Oregon, 1999, 2001


Adam Matheny was the first child of his parents and the first grandchild of his grandparents, Isaiah and Elizabeth Montier Cooper. He was born December 20, 1820, in the newly-formed Owen County, Indiana, of which his grandfather was one of the founders. His mother found religion just before Adam's birth, so he was reared in a pious home, his father joining the church when Adam was very young. He moved with his family to Edgar County, Illinois, in 1825, and to Schuyler County, Illinois, in 1830.


Adam grew up to be an accomplished story-teller. This was an art form in the days before radio and television. His sister, in her memoirs, makes several references to Adam's story-telling ability. His descendant Corinne Moen had heard from her great grandmother, Adam's daughter, about Adam's story-telling.


When Adam was sixteen, the family moved to Platte County, Missouri. It was here that Adam came to manhood and, on the eve of the family's 1843 crossing of the plains to Oregon, eloped with sixteen-year-old Sarah Jane Layson.


Sarah Jane's father, David Layson, who had opposed the marriage, caused the departure to be unnecessarily traumatic for his daughter and Adam, refusing to see his daughter. In those days all family property was vested in the husband's name, and Layson refused to permit his daughter to retrieve any personal possessions, even her clothes. The story is included in Mrs. Kirkwood's Into the Eye of the Setting Sun.


Because her brother Aaron Layson (1820-1886) had also married Adam's cousin, Sarah Jane Matheny (Rachel and Henry Matheny's daughter) at the same time his sister married Adam, Adam's unhappy bride did bring a part of her family with her. Because the two women were both named Sarah Jane, it is easy to confuse them, especially since their marriages, in effect, caused them to trade last names. And both women would leave their husbands widowers before the decade was over. Another Layson brother, Andrew (1825-1912), would make his way to Oregon in 1846, and he, too, would marry into the Cooper-Matheny family, marrying Elizabeth, daughter of Adam's uncle Enoch Cooper.


When the "Great Migration of 1843" reached the Willamette Valley, Adam claimed land next to his parents and built a small cabin on the land. Here two children were born: David Layson Matheny on 25 August 1844 and Sarah Jane Matheny (later Thornton), January of 1847. Sarah Jane had difficulty in her first childbirth and did not survive the second. Mrs. Kirkwood makes it clear that her sister-in-law died in childbirth, but some accounts confuse Sarah Jane's story with that of Mrs. James Cave, a consumptive, who selected her own grave site and was the first burial in the cemetery at Hopewell. Sarah Jane died 20 January 1847, two months before her twentieth birthday, and is buried at Hopewell. Part of Adam's donation land claim is now Maud Williamson State Park and is the site of the annual Cooper-Matheny-Hewitt reunion. The site of the Maud Williamson home in the park is likely where Adam's home was situated.


Three years after Sarah Jane's death, Adam, then twenty-nine, married seventeen-year-old Harriet Hamilton, who had been born in Indiana on the Wabash River, August 10, 1834, and had come across the plains in 1844 with her parents, settling in Polk County. Her parents were Robert Wilson Hamilton (1805-?) and Rebecca Smith (1808-?). Together Adam and Harriet were to have eleven children in addition to Adam's two children from his first marriage and an adopted child: (1) Daniel, ca.1852-?; (2) Caroline ca.1853-ca.1860); (3) Wilson H., 1855-September 26, 1856; Henry H., 1856-1949 (had no children; probably not married), died Pendleton, OR); Isaiah "Zay," 1859-after 1895; Cordelia, born 1861 Newport, OR, married Klaas Bezemer, Polk County, OR, 3 July 1881, died 1942, buried Salkum Cemetery, Salkum, Lewis County, WA; Josephine 1865-after 1912, married ____ Copenhagen; Minerva "Minnie" Maude, born 1868, married (1) first cousin Lorenzo Dow Matheny, (2)____ Bulpin, died 1947; Grant, 1868-5 May 1890 (typhoid fever), buried Bura Dell Cemetery, Pullman, WA; Wilson "Willie," 1871-after 1895; and Cora, 1875-after 1912, married ____Boutell.


Adam and Harriet began selling off their Yamhill County land claim in 1856, the summer of the cholera epidemic, just before the disease took so many lives in the family. On June 27 they sold a parcel to neighbor William Miller [Deed Book B, p.172]. On August 26, their sixteen month old son Wilson died of the cholera and the Mathenys took in the infant William E. Merritt, who, no doubt had lost his mother or both parents in the epidemic. The couple was surrounded by death; Adam's mother and two aunts as well as several nieces and nephews were among the fatalities. The following year, July 29, 1857, the couple sold land to Adam's father, Daniel Matheny [Book E, p.106], and they lost nineteen-month-old William E. Merritt, their adopted son, on 26 October. On July 9, 1858, another parcel was sold by the Mathenys to William Miller. [Book E, p.336]


It was about this time that Adam and Harriet moved their family to Polk County to a site on the Willamette River across from Salem, although still retaining part of their Wheatland land.


On June 19, 1860, the U.S. Census taker visited Adam's home there and enumerated the family. It was immediately after the census was taken that summer that another family tragedy occurred. On the evening of June 23, 1860, the Mathenys' seven-year-old daughter Caroline was playing near the Willamette River by her home when she ran headlong into river and was drowned. The Oregon Statesman, operating across the river in Salem, gave a scant two-sentence coverage to the tragedy. The paper was crowded instead with the politics of the times: slavery, splintering political parties, the Republican Party platform, and the possibility of secession. Caroline's body was discovered several days later by her grandfather, Daniel Matheny. The tragedy left the Mathenys without any girl children other than Adam's thirteen year old daughter Sarah Jane from his first marriage. But Harriet was pregnant at the time of the drowning, and on January 15, 1861, a daughter Cordelia "Delia" was born. Perhaps because the infant was now Sarah Jane's only sister, or perhaps due to a lingering sense of guilt over Caroline's death (She had been at the scene and perhaps felt to blame for not stopping her younger sister's careless running), a close bonding took place between Sarah Jane and Delia.


In the 1860's the Mathenys moved to Benton County, Oregon. By 1870 both of Adam's children by his first marriage had left home. The census of that year, taken on June 19, shows the Mathenys living in Subdivision #5, Newton & Little Elk post offices of Benton County. This is now in Lincoln County.


In 1871, the Mathenys sold the last of their Donation Land Claim in Yamhill County, once again to William Miller. Apparently Miller purchased the portion of the land vested in Harriet's name and then defaulted on payments. Yamhill County Circuit Court Journal indicates that Harriet Matheny filed a lawsuit against William Miller. This land was finally disposed of in 1885 by sale to James Tadlock. Harriet signed the papers in Whitman County, WA, on February 6, 1885.


From the memoirs of Burt Brown Barker, a stepgrandson of Adam's, we have the following stories:


Wrestling was a common sport. Each county had matches to determine the champion of the county. In the family of my stepfather was a wrestling match story. It seems that the father of my stepfather [Adam Matheny] was the champion wrestler of Polk County. The champion of Marion County came over into Polk County and went to the home of Mr. Matheny...to arrange for a match. Mr. Matheny was at work in the field; so Mrs. Matheny asked the challenger to come into the cellar for a drink of cider. She picked up a five gallon keg, threw it over her arm and drank out of the bung hole, saying as she did, that he could drink out of a 15 gallon keg which her husband always used. The sequel is that there was no match. The challenger went home without even a drink and the family always said that Mrs. Matheny won the match, not her husband.


The family had another story touching Mr. Matheny. He was a fine sportsman and a good shot with his rifle. One day he went out to kill some meat for the family. He was walking along the bank of a stream when he suddenly saw a native pheasant sitting on the limb of a maple tree. Just as he raised his rifle to shoot it, he saw a deer in the clearing some distance beyond the maple. That created a problem. To shoot the pheasant, the deer would run. To shoot the deer and the pheasant would fly. He wanted them both so he took careful aim and shot and cracked the limb of the tree on which the pheasant sat and its toes were caught in the crack. The bullet then glanced off the limb and struck and killed the deer. The recoil of the rifle kicked Mr. Matheny into the stream on the bank of which he had stood, and when he got up, his pockets were full of fish. It took a real expert to do all that, and Mr. Matheny was a real expert. [Adam was a great story teller. This one was obviously of the tall-tale genre.]


In 1880, Adam appeared on two censuses: the Wheatland, Yamhill County, OR enumeration and the Whitman County, WA list. This indicates that the summer of 1880 was when he moved his family to Washington. [Later the Mathenys appeared in the 1885 and 1889 Whitman County, WA Auditor's Censuses] They lived south of Pullman near the Snake River town of Wawawai on top of a tall hill and could see twenty miles away if any riders were coming. When this occurred, Adam ordered his daughters to hide under his and Harriet's bed (the children slept on straw ticks). He did not want his daughters seduced by visiting men. This caution was relaxed when the visiting males were cousins. But Adam could not control human nature; young hearts seek love, and his daughter Minnie Maud found it where she could, with her cousin Dow Matheny (son of Adam's brother Isaiah Matheny, who lived nearby). The family disapproved of the relationship; so Minnie and Dow eloped and, because of the harsh treatment they received, moved far away to Southern California.


His brother Isaiah and all Isaiah's family having left the area, a restlessness characteristic of most frontier men overtook Adam in 1890. Like his brothers, he wanted a change, a new environment. Very likely, like most frontier women, Harriet did not; she wanted roots and stability. So it was alone that Adam traveled to Tacoma to where his daughter from his first marriage, Sarah Jane Thornton, lived with her family. There Adam responded to advertising posters that urged people to "join a colony ... in one of the finest river bottoms in Western Washington," (according to the diary of a man named Banta published in the Oregon Historical Quarterly.) "On Tuesday, March 11, 1890, Banta and Sharp took a party of eight men by way of the sea route up to the Queets (River). They were Adam Matheny...." Adam took up a claim.


Back at the farm near Pullman, Adam's twenty-two year old son, Grant Matheny, died of typhoid on May 5 and was buried there without his father in attendance. A newspaper clipping, source unknown, was among the keepsakes of Cordelia Matheny Bezemer:



Died- on May 5th, 1890, at the home of his parents near Snake river, of typhoid fever, Grant Matheney, aged 22 years. Since God in his all wise providence has seen best to remove from our number one endeared to us all, it seems most befitting and proper that we as friends of the deceased and the family, extend our heartfelt sympathies. Grant was a bright young man, and his death leaves a father, mother, three brothers and four sisters to mourn; but saddest of all, his father was not at home, being in Tacoma visiting his daughter. This is a very severe blow as the parents are getting quite old. Funeral services were conducted by Rev. Gibson of Pullman, at the Bura Dell cemetery. While Grant's place can never be filled, and his parents and friends with emotion ask why God has dealt thus, we can only look up and pray that he enjoys life eternal on the other shore. He bade his family good bye and requested them to sing "I Am Going Home Tomorrow." The bereaved family has the sympathy of all.


The solitary Adam settled on a creek tributary to the Queets River, which now carries his name: Matheny Creek. The adjacent ridge also is known as Matheny Ridge. Here Adam lived out the remaining years of his life. Here he heard of the deaths of his brother Daniel and then of his brother Jasper. Adam was the third brother to die within a five-year span, dying 7 November 1895. He was buried in a small cemetery now located within the Queets Corridor of Olympic National Park. His obituary can be found in Scrapbook #21 on p.103 at the Oregon Historical Society Library in Portland:



Sketch of A Deceased Pioneer of the Immigration of 1843


Adam Matheny, who died near Salem [sic] November 7, was nearly 75 years old. He was born in Owen County, Ind., December 20, 1820. His parents moved to Illinois when he was quite young, where they lived until the summer of 1837, when they went to Missouri. Here, in April of 1843, he was married to Sarah J. Louson [sic], and started for Oregon with his bride, in company with his parents and others, numbering in all about 1000 souls. Thus he became a part of the immigration of 1843. He first settled on the Tualatin plains, near where Hillsboro now stands, his nearest neighbors being Joseph Meek and Squire Ebberts. Finding this place too isolated, he located near his father, who had purchased the old Leslie farm. on the west side of the Willamette, just below and across the river from the first site of the Methodist mission. Here, in January, 1847, his young wife died, leaving him with a little son of two summers and an infant daughter. He was one of the oldest pioneers of Free Masonry on the coast, having passed beyond the Royal Arch degree, and stood high in that order. He was an old soldier, having served under Colonel Neal Zilliom [Gilliam] in the Cayuse War of 1847 and 1848. When the rebellion broke out he enlisted under George B. Curry, at The Dalles, and though retained upon this coast, became a factor in that great struggle, receiving from the government in the last years of his life a disability pension of $12, which was his sole support.


He left his eldest son, D.L. Matheny, of Salem, and Mrs. Sara J. Thornton, of Tacoma, the children of his first marriage. Of his second family, there are four daughters and four sons--living in Eastern Oregon, Washington, and California--besides an aged wife.



Perhaps Adam traveled to Tacoma for the marriage of his granddaughter, Mary Alma "Allie" Thornton, on 28 February 1893 to Ernest Lister. There Allie received a congratulatory telegram from Governor West of Oregon, an old friend from her school days. If Adam did meet his new grandson, he did not know that he was looking at the future eighth governor of the State of Washington, for that would be in 1912.


Harriet died September 24, 1912, in the Laurelwood District of Portland, Oregon, and was buried in Multnomah Cemetery. (Oregon Historical Society Library, #SB 36, p.52) The following was her obituary:


October 6, 1912 - Mrs. Harriet Matheny, an Oregon Pioneer of 1844, died at Laurelwood Sept. 24 and three days later was buried in the Multnomah Cemetery. She was the widow of Adam Matheny, who died in 1896. [sic]

Mrs. Matheny was born on the Wabash in Indiana August 10, 1834 and came across the plains with her parents in 1844 and settled in Polk County, Oregon. At the age of 17 she married and, with her husband, took up a joint donation land claim near Wheatland.

She was the mother of 13 children, being survived by four sons and four daughters and 17 grandchildren. Her surviving children are Henry and William of Pendleton, Daniel of the Phillipine Islands, Izzae [Isaiah, known as "Zay"] of Lincoln County, Mrs.Delia Bezener, [sic] Portland, Mrs. Minnie Matheny, Mrs Josie Copenhagen, and Mrs. Cora Boutell, Napavine, Wash.

Revised January 13, 1999




David Layson Matheny was the first-born child of Adam and Sarah Jane Layson Matheny. He was born August 25, 1844, in Washington County, Oregon, on the Tualatin Plains. Although the Mathenys had made arrangements to move to what is now Wheatland, their crops were in the ground, and they had to wait until after the harvest to make their move. Thus David, like other babies born in the family that year, was not born at Wheatland. When he was two years old, his mother's became the first family death in Oregon. David was living in the West Salem area of Polk County when, on October 27, 1878, he married a divorced woman, Elvira Brown Barker [1844-1924], the inspiration for the statue of "The Pioneer Mother" at the University of Oregon. The statue was planned and placed there by Elvira's son from her first marriage, Burt Brown Barker, an outstanding figure in Oregon in the first half of the 1900's, and then vice president of the university. Besides Burt, David and his wife reared two other children by her first marriage, Cary and Marietta Barker.


The Mathenys also had children of their own: an unnamed baby born January 27, 1880, that died the same day; David Claude Matheny, born March 5, 1881, in Salem, OR, died May 5, 1964, in Tacoma, WA; Vida Matheny, born October 12, 1883, Salem, OR; and Blanch Matheny, born June 6, 1885, Salem, OR, married Dr. _____ Walker, living in Tacoma, WA, 1964.


In 1898 David Layson Matheny moved his family to Tacoma, WA, where his sister Sarah Matheny Thornton lived. Near the end of his life, David and his wife moved to Los Angeles, CA. Here Elvera died on10 February 1924, at the age of seventy-nine. She was cremated and David took her ashes to Salem, OR, to buried in the Jason Lee Cemetery, probably to be near her parents. Apparently David moved to San Bernardino, CA, after the death of Elvera, because he died there 2 April 1925, at the age of eighty and his ashes were buried at the Hopewell Cemetery at the foot of his mother's grave.


There seem to be no living descendants of this line. Obituaries make it appear that both Claud and Blanch were childless. Corinne Moen of Eureka, CA, had original photos of both David and Elvera.




Sarah Jane was the second child of Adam Matheny and his first wife, Sarah Jane Layson. Her mother died at the time of her birth in January of 1847. Presumably until Adam's remarriage, Sarah Jane was cared for by Mary Cooper Matheny, his mother. In 1850 Adam married Harriet Hamilton, who was to rear Sarah Jane and her brother David. The 1850's saw the birth of five half-siblings. Sarah Jane was present in 1860 when her sister Caroline fell into the Willamette River and drowned. About 1866 she married Samuel Thornton and moved to Tacoma, WA, in the 1870's. A daughter Mary Alma "Allie" Thornton was born September 3, 1867. There were probably other children, but they are unknown at the present time. Sarah Jane lived to be an old woman, but her date of death has not yet been ascertained. Her daughter Allie became a woman of some note.

Allie was married February 28, 1893, to Ernest Lister, a native of Halifax, England, who immigrated to Tacoma in 1884. He was the nephew of David Lister, Tacoma's first mayor, and the son of J.H. Lister, a pioneer iron founder of Tacoma. Ernest Lister ran for governor of Washington and won in 1912. He was re-elected in 1916 and worked himself to death. He died in office June 14, 1919. Shortly after her husband's death Allie was discovered to have cancer and she died May 26, 1923. Her daughter Florence Lister Odell died in 1928 and her son John in 1934 at the age of twenty-seven; these were her only children. [Seattle Times, pp.10-11, December 18, 1966]



Cordelia, known as "Delia" to the family, was born the year the Civil War started, on January 15, 1861. Her mother had been pregnant with her the previous summer when her older sister Caroline drowned in the Willamette River. Beginning in 1872, Delia lived with the family of her aunt, Elizabeth Matheny Hewitt. It isn't clear on the part of Adam and Harriet why they permitted this, but it happened a lot during frontier times. Schooling was usually the reason. Elizabeth, with a household of boys, likely enjoyed the idea of having another female in the house. In 1875 she moved with the Hewitts to the site of the Salem ferry, which the Hewitts purchased that year from her uncle Jasper Matheny. Many people used the ferry, including young Klaas Bezemer to attend classes at Willamette University in Salem. He and Delia married 3 July 1881 in Polk County, OR. Their children were (1) Leo Bezemer, a twin, born in 1882; he was childless (2) Leona, Leo's twin; she also was childless (3) Jacob "Jay" Bezemer, born c.1886; he was also childless (4) Chester, born c.1892, who married and had four children: Chester Kay, born c.1927; Paul Darvin, born c.1929; Aloha Lee, born c.1931; and George, born 1935, killed c.1946 by being dragged by a horse. (5) Inez Harriet Aaljia Bezemer, born December 17, 1898, in Napa, California, married _______ Stout; had one son, Phillip Stout, born 1923; she died in 1977.


For awhile the Bezemers lived in Napa, California, moving there c. 1895. About 1901, the family moved to the Bezemer family homestead in Lewis County, Washington. Klaas, who had been born in 1858, became the postmaster at Salkum in December 1905. Cordelia died in 1942 and Klaas 2 or 3 years later.





Minnie (Minerva according to the 1870 Census) Maud Matheny was very much the frontier child--she made and wore poke bonnets and long aprons until her death after World War II and walked barefooted whenever she could, much to the dismay of her more urbane daughter Helen. Like her father, she was an accomplished story-teller. Born in Polk County, Oregon, she was the daughter of Adam and Harriet Hamilton Matheny. Her young years were spent in Whitman County, Washington Territory between Wawawai and Pullman near the Snake River, where the family lived on Blue Mountain and could "see for twenty miles."


In her later years Minnie related to her family that her father had been extremely strict, but fair. Whenever a group of men would be spotted coming up the road, Adam had his daughters hide under the only bed in their cabin. (The children slept on straw ticks on the floor.) He was very protective of them. But cousins were welcome. Adam's brother Isaiah lived in the vicinity with his family. With no other young men upon whom to attach her affections, Minnie Maud became enamoured of her cousin Dow, who was about ten years older than she. When she was eighteen, the couple eloped, against the wishes of the family. They were to have five children together.


Ona Kicho was born in 1886 in an Indian cave near the Snake River near Walla Walla while Dow and Minnie were traveling in a covered wagon not long after they were married. Minnie went into labor and the Indians gave the couple shelter in their cave while Minnie gave birth. It was for this reason that Ona Kicho was given the Indian name. Ona Kicho became a great grandmother in the last years of Minnie's life, and so there were five generations alive. But Ona Kicho did not long survive her mother, dying in 1948. Both are buried in Inglewood, CA. Whereas Minnie had dark hair and eyes and showed her Indian ancestry, Ona Kicho had the dark hair but had blue eyes. Ona Kicho was very short, five feet tall, if that. She wore a size four shoe.


Other children of Dow and Minnie Maud were Bonnie, who married Henry Herschel, had two sons, and died following an abortion; Charles Matheny, who married Ruth _____, had two daughters, and was last known to be living in Huntington Park, CA; Maud, who married Decker Sowell, was widowed, and died in Cave Junction, OR, in the 1970's; and Helen, who married Elmer Reynolds.


Minnie and Dow were married about twenty-five years when they divorced. Minnie Maud then married a Mr. Bulpin and was later widowed. Bulpin had been a retired railroad worker who had invested in property. He left Minnie well provided for.


Corinne Moen tells a story that illustrates the conflict of the frontier generation adapting to urban Los Angeles County life: Minnie Maud's daughter Helen was always chastising her mother for her embarrassing habit of going barefooted. "People in the city don't do that!" Helen would tell her mother incessantly, but Minnie Maud was not to be budged out of her frontier ways. At Christmas time the family had gathered to have a taffy pull; "Grammie" (Minnie Maud) was stationed in the kitchen with some of her grandchildren. To rankle her daughter, Minnie wrapped the taffy around her toes and was entertaining her grandchildren. She got a good laugh out of Helen's reaction.


Minnie Maud was an avid gardener. Everything in her vegetable garden was in perfect order. Corrine recalls Minnie always sitting on her back porch with a colander on her lap shelling peas, snapping green beans, or otherwise preparing her vegetables for consumption-- always barefooted.



Don RIVARA, Salem, Oregon, 1999, 2001


see more pages about this family:


Adam's account of an Indian War following the WHITMAN Massacre

Elizabeth MATHENY





Back to MATHENY listing in Oregon Trail Pioneers