Elijah Bristow:  The First White Settler in Lane County

The first white settler within the present boundary lines of Lane county was Elijah Bristow, who here cast his lot in June, 1846.  From that date until about the year 1850, all of the facts of much of the incident of its early settlement clusters around this individual; so much so, that, for the present, our account of it during the above period will necessarily take on much of the traits of a personal narrative.

This pioneer settler was born in Virginia in April, 1788, emigrating early in manhood to Kentucky and thence to Illinois.  Imbued with a spirit of adventure inherited from his ancestors and fostered by his early associations, he was ever restless under the influences of thickly settled districts and soon determined to push farther westward, crossing the plains in 1845. Going first to California, he was dissatisfied with that country and came overland to Oregon the following spring, 1846.  In June of that year, accompanied by Eugene F. Skinner, Captain Felix Scott, and William Dodson, Mr. Bristow started up the Willamette valley in search of a location suitable for the settlement of a large and increasing family.  Their route was up the west side of the valley and after passing the Luckiamute river, not a white man's habitation was found; thence going south to the end of their journey.  The country through which they traveled was one of the most beautiful on the northwest coast of the Pacific, and habitated as it was in all the luxurious freshness of nature, was peculiarly fascinating to these intrepid explorers.

On arriving at a point between the Coast and Middle Forks of the Willamette river, on a low rolling ridge, sparsely covered with oak, fir and pine timber, ever since know as Pleasant Hill, Mr. Bristow's eye was attracted towards the panorama of mountain and vale stretching out before him that reminded him of a like scene in far-off Virginia, where he was born.  He halted and raised his hat, allowing the cooling breeze, fresh from the near rolling Pacific to play at will through his thin gray locks, he exclaimed:  "This is my claim! Here I will live, and when I die, here shall I be buried!"

The party then camped at a spring near by and repairing to a grove of firs, cut the logs, erected what was in those early times termed a "claim cabin," and which stood as a sign to all comers that here had a white man filed his intentions, so to speak, of becoming a settler upon the public domain.  This was the first "cabin" erected within the present limits of Lane county.

Mr. Bristow next measured off and marked his claim of six hundred and forty acres of land, the amount usually claimed by early settlers in a new country, which was done by "stepping" around the track, the marking being accomplished by "blazing" the trees adjacent to the lines and driving stakes at the corners.  Mr. Dodson then marked off a claim for himself, south and east from and adjoining that of Mr. Bristow, while Capt. Scott appropriated one on the west, but this afterwards abandoned and took one up on the south bank of the McKenzie river, opposite the mouth of the Mohawk, upon which he finally settled.

As the party returned, on their way down the valley, Eugene F. Skinner, the remaining comrade, took up a claim where Eugene City, the county seat, now stands.

From the Illustrated History of Lane County Oregon published by A. G. Walling, 1884, Portland, Oregon.

The Elijah Bristow Historical Marker on Oregon Highway 58 commemorates this early pioneer.

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