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WPA Historical Records
Benton Co., Oregon
Mark Phinney




October 1, 1937

Richard Jeffrey NICHOLS, aged 83, lives about three and one half miles from Alpine on the Glendale Road. He still owns his father's homestead on which he was born in 1854. He was interviewed on the grounds of the County Courthouse in Corvallis. Mr. NICHOLS is unusually well qualified to speak of the early days because of his training, but the interview was cut short by circumstances. Mr. NICHOLS said.

"My father was Henry D. NICHOLS and my mother before her marriage was Martha OVERMAN. Father was a graduate of Brainard Academy and took two years work in Wesleyan University of Connecticut. After two years at college his health failed and a sea voyage was prescribed. He shipped on a whaling vessel owned by his brother and quite literally sailed the seven seas. He rounded Good Hope and The Horn, and visited Alaska.

"My parents came from Iowa to Oregon in 1852. The Indians were not troublesome and the trip was made without any undue hardships. Father took a homestead about eight miles west of Monroe, where I was born in 1854. After coming to Oregon father taught for about eight years in the public schools. I had an older brother, Alfred Clay, and a sister younger than myself, Caroline Elizabeth. Our family was distantly related to Henry CLAY and had followed his fortunes with great interest and family loyalty.

"My first schooling was at the Ebenezer Schoolhouse and the teacher was my father. Among other teachers I remember Miss DRAPER, James PRUETT, William MARTIN, Miss DIMMICK, Mr. TURNER, Champion MARVIN, and four members of the GILBERT family. These were George, Riley and Jane, children of Lorenzo Dow GILBERT, and Elizabeth, wife of George GILBERT. (Lorenzo D. GILBERT had a donation land claim on the creek just east of Alpine where GILBERT's saw mill was located at a very early date. At this mill was sawed the lumber of which many of the permanent homes of the Belknap Settlement were erected.) In addition to the branches commonly taught in the district schools there were classes at one time or another in algebra, high arithmetic and natural philosophy, or what is now called physics. After getting what I could in the district school I spent three years at Willamette University in Salem, and was graduated with the B. S. degree in 1877. After leaving college I taught several years in southern Benton County and the adjoining parts of Linn and Lane counties.

"In 1882 1 married Sylvia J. LOOMIS, whose folks had settled in Linn County about 1860. Our children are Grace (Mrs. McBRIDE) and Madeleine. Grace is living on the home place and Madeleine has followed the example of her father and grandfather and chosen the teaching profession. She taught for twelve years consecutively in her home neighborhood. Father's homestead was a hill farm and he was interested in raising cattle and sheep rather than grain. I have more or less followed his example and in eighty five years since father settled there the 320 acres has increased to about 700.

"There have been great changes. I remember when an iron-axle wagon was the last word in elegant conveyances and the round trip to Corvallis was a long hard day's journey. Conditions were primitive. While mother spun yarn only for knitting, our neighbors, Jacob HAMMER and his wife, wove all their clothing and made their shoes at home.

"There were many Indians in our part of the country. There was never any trouble with them but considerable villages would camp near us for weeks at a time. Often as a boy I have seen their sweat lodges, heard their chants, and seen them plunge into the cold streams.

"My father was elected to the Territorial Legislature and was a member of the State Constitutional Convention. I believe he also served in the State Legislature.

"At the time of the Civil War the people of the Belknap Settlement were loyal in sympathy and very patriotic. There were communities of southern sympathizers farther east, and feeling often ran high. The more violent southerners were held in check by certain ones who had accumulated property and feared loss if there was any open conflict.

"I believe the world is getting better. I could not believe otherwise, accepting as I do the conception of a world created by evolution. I believe, as did TENNYSON, in 'that far-off divine event toward which the whole creation moves.'"

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