Early Oregon Trail Pioneer Family

By Lance D. Loomis

One of the earliest pioneers to homestead in the St. John's area of Portland, Oregon was James Loomis (3397) and his family.  James was a descendant of Joseph Loomis of Braintree, Essex County, England who also was a pioneer to the New World when he left England in 1638 and established a homestead (believed to be the oldest still standing in the U. S. still owned by the original family) in Windsor, CT.  James was born to Benjamin (1385) and Martha Denslow Loomis in western New York in 1813.  In 1833, at the age of 20, he married his wife, Sarah Franc, in Erie County, PA. 

 James moved to Missouri to farm and begin raising his family.  Still, his restless spirit was looking for better opportunities and in the spring of 1844 he set out for the Oregon Territory, to seek a new home.  He arrived with his family in the northwest by the first of September, 1844, and by May 1st of 1846, had possession of 640 acres of land, which was to become the James Loomis donation land claim, along the east side of the Willamette River.  He was the first pioneer to secure his claim in the area that was to become the town of St. Johns (later to become a district of the City of Portland, Ore.)

 The donation land law of 1850 provided that any male American citizen over 18 years of age who settled in Oregon before December, 1850, would be entitled to receive 320 acres of land.  Further, his wife would be entitled to 320 acres as well.  To qualify for ownership, he had to show proof that he had cultivated his claim for four years.  Any settler arriving in the Oregon Territory from December, 1850 to December, 1855 and was at least 21 years of age would receive 160 acres from the government.

  Besides growing many fine fruit trees on his claim, James also went into business operating a hotel in downtown Portland called the Willamette House. This venture lasted about three years with James buying out his original partners and then selling the business completely, after which he spent the rest of his life tending his acreage in St. John's.

 In mid-October of 1854, James traveled to Salem, Oregon, to make his claim on the property upon which he had settled.  Later that month he returned to Salem accompanied by his neighbors, James John (for whom the town would be later named) and Frederick H. Ramsey to give witness to that claim.  Using today's landmarks the Loomis claim was bordered on the south by North St. John's Avenue to the east boundary of Pier Park, North to the Columbia slough, then west along a line about even with Burgard Street to the Willamette River. The West boundary being the Willamette River. 

James belonged to the Masonic order, the symbol of which was prominently displayed on his headstone, which has disappeared without trace.  Only several photos remain showing the stone above James grave in the now extinct Loomis Cemetery.  He performed several of the early marriages as a Justice of the peace, between some of St. John's earliest settlers. There are also references to James running for local office, but evidently did not win election.

By 1859, the pioneering life finally took its toll and James Loomis passed away on January 20.  His wife Sarah continued to handle the Loomis claim and raise her family until her passing on April 6, 1879.  Some 40 acres or so at the northeast corner of the claim was either given or purchased in the early years to nearby neighbors or to new settlers coming into the territory.  Several of these were William Gatton, Perry Baker, Thomas Carter, Alice Walker, G. W. Fuller, James F. Bybee and F. H. Ramsey.

 James had at least eight children, several which preceded him in death.  The children of James were Mariah Jane, Christopher, Clarissa, James Albert, Albert, Edward, and Charles.

 One of the daughters, Mariah Jane Loomis, Married Frances W. Ward on the fifth of February, 1852 and together they staked out a claim in Cowlitz County in the Washington Territory on Aug. 10th, 1853.  However, tragedy struck on September 17, 1853, when Frances fell into the Columbia River and drowned while riding in a small boat heading to Portland.  Mariah was pregnant at this time and gave birth to Nov. 28, 1853 to Sarah Ellen Ward.  A year later, Mariah married Perry G. Baker on January 11th, 1855.

 One of the sons of James, James Albert Loomis, married the stout but attractive Rivanna Stump, daughter of nearby neighbors, Cuthbert and Pelina Yokum Stump, who had come to stake their claim in 1851 from Hardy County, Virginia, by way of Missouri where Rivanna was born.  James Albert and Rivanna soon had a family and sought their own piece of property.  They moved south to the Jacksonville area, just west of Medford, next to the Rouge River.  Their family included sons and daughters, Edward Christopher, James, Lucy, Rivanna, Marvilla, Olive and Russell.  But life was tough and the farming hard going in this area and the family soon returned to a new homestead in Clarke County, Washington. 

Their son, Edward Christopher Loomis,  who was born in St. John's on July 12, 1865, returned to work on his grandparents farm in the 1880s before the rest of the family left the Rogue River Valley and from there entered into Steam-boating in 1884.  He became a master of the steamers “Iralda”, “Manzanillo” and the “City of Frankfort” plying the waters of the Willamette and Columbia. He continued his career at sea as Mate, Master and Pilot sailing throughout the world and working the paddlewheelers on the Yukon River in the 1890’s and early 1900s.

 Edward Christopher Loomis married Helen Englebert of Portland, the daughter of John and Helene (Tuschenbonner) Engelbert.  In 1903 they picked up stakes and moved to Seattle, Washington were many of their descendants live today.  He retired In December 1928, and passed away in Redmond, Washington on January, 1947.

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