AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF THE STATE OF OREGON
Gustavus Hines


Hon. Willard Hall Rees, of French prairie, Marion county, Oregon, was born on an old family estate adjoining Smyrna, Kent county, Delaware, September 17, 1819, in the same house where his great-grandfather Griffin, grandfather, mother and eldest sister were born, the property having been purchased by his father, Thomas Rees, just prior to his marriage to Elizabeth Stout Griffin, early in 1817. His ancestors were Welsh on both sides, of the Quaker persuasion; emigrated and settled in Delaware in 1682. The now state of Delaware being then included in the Penn grant. The ancestors on both sides were soldiers in the Revolutionary war on the side of the colonies. Thomas Rees, father of our subject, lost his parents at the age of fourteen, inheriting his father's mills and other real estate; leaving school at the age of sixteen, his uncle David Rees, his guardian, sent him to Philadelphia to learn the milling business. When the subject of this sketch was six months old his father moved to Dover, near which place he had mill property, conducting the same until the fall of 1825, when he moved westward, settling on a farm near Cincinnati. Where his father-in-law, Jacob S. Griffin, had preceded him eight years. Thomas and Elizabeth Rees, father and mother of our subject, reared to manhood and womanhood a family of twelve children. Two sisters residing in Preble county, Ohio, four brothers in Kansas, two farmers and two bankers. M. B. Rees, of Cove, Union county, Oregon; Major R. R. Rees, editor and merchant, died in Walla Walla, in 1889; S. G. Rees, accidently killed at Alturas, California; Thomas Clayton Rees, drowned in Kansas river; Lieutenant D. A. Rees, of Sherman's army, was killed at Kenesaw Mountain; and Lieutenant Corwin P. Rees, United States Navy, now on duty at World's Fair at Chicago. In 1844, while yet a young man, filled with the spirit of adventure and with a desire to see the country, he crossed the plains to Oregon, and came in the same company as did Hon. John Minto, with others. The season was a wet one and the party was obliged to ford the streams, as they were much swollen, and the party covered seven months on the journey. They met with many difficulties, but surmounted them all and reached the end of the journey safely.

At Vancouver Mr. Rees met Dr. McLoughlin, then a man of sixty years of age. Our subject at once took a mill building contract, the mill to be erected above Astoria, and he was engaged in this business until May 1845, when he came to Oregon City, taking a contract on the Catholic Church and several other buildings. After this he came to ST. Louis, in Marion county, to build a Catholic church for the French-Canadian settlement. Here he learned of the rich land on French prairie, and was induced to purchase a right to a donation claim of one Stephen Pelchie. For this property Mr. Rees paid $975, and here he has since made his home.

This farm is now one of the most desirable in the county and here our subject has lived and reared his family. In January, 1847, he was united in marriage with Miss Amanda Hall, who was born in Missouri, August 20, 1828 and was the daughter of James E. Hall, an Oregon pioneer of 1845, from the State of Kentucky. The father of Mrs. Rees died in his seventy-second year, but her mother is yet living, in her eighty-ninth year.

The discovery of gold in California gave many of the emigrants the gold fever, and Mr. Rees, with a number of his neighbors, made the trip overland with pack animals in 1848. They were thirty days on the journey, and it was one in which they were in great danger. While prospecting in California a party of the company were attacked by Indians and one of them was killed, one severely wounded and two others slightly wounded. The party mined on the Mokelumne rivers.

Our subject worked until the following February, taking out $3,000; but was then taken sick and returned to Oregon. After is return, he and Mr. O. S. Thomas and Mr. William Whiting built the first saw and grist mills at Aurora, on Deer creek, Marion county. For several years he continued contracting and building, and was engaged for some time on the Government buildings at Champoeg, where Oregon's first Indian treaties were held. During all this time he continued his farming.

To Mr. And Mrs. Rees were born twelve children, as follows: Olivia married J. W. Welch, and resides in Astoria; Elizabeth E. became the wife of William Hendershott; Annie R. is now Mrs. John Clark; Lora C. is the wife of Dr. C. H. Day, of Portland; David C. resides at Waitsburg, Washington; Thomas H. and Harry L. are both at home, running the farm; Park A. is a dentist at Astoria; Willard H. is at home; Clara A. and Priscilla are both at home; and Lilly died in her sixteenth year. There are now twenty-one grandchildren in the family.  

In his early life Mr Rees was a Whig in his politics, but he has the honor of having been one of the organizers of the Republican party, and since then he has been stanch in the ranks of the Republican party. In 1847 he was elected a member of the Territorial Legislature, and was Chairman of the Committee on Counties, and gave Linn county its name. Since then he has declined office. He drew up the constitution and took a leading part in organizing the Oregon Pioneer Association, a useful institution. Its historic research is limited to the original Territory, embracing Oregon, Washington and Idaho. The addresses at its annual reunions call out the best pioneer talent within its filed of research. Mr. Rees is thoroughly posted on its history and takes an active part in its transactions. He has been chosen as the orator for the annual address to the society, and is an interesting and capable writer and speaker. His family fairly represent the native sons and daughters of Oregon, and both he and wife are much esteemed among the pioneers of this great State where they so long have found a home.