Oregon Pioneer Biographies




James Newton Poindexter, known as "Newt" to his friends, was born 5 Dec 1830 in Greene Co. Illinois, the youngest in a family of nine children born to Thomas & Maxy (Wood) Poindexter. Pioneering seems to have been in the blood, for the father had roamed from Virginia to Kentucky as a young man, where he took a bride, and travelled thence to Illinois in 1830, with young children and an evidently pregnant wife. Soon after the eldest boys became young men, they, too moved with their families to Missouri about 1845. It is unknown whether Newt and his parents also moved to Missouri, but in 1850, Newt and his next brother, Lawrence, undertook the long trek to Oregon. One can only imagine the worlds of opportunity that they saw in the raw, rich lands of the Oregon Territory. When one is young and filled with the fresh strength of manhood, there are few impossibilites.

The 1850 census finds the two brothers together in Marion County, where Newt is listed as a blacksmith. Family legend says that one of these two boys then returned to Missouri, and guided an elder sister and her family to the Promised Land. By 1853, there are six siblings of this Poindexter clan residing in Oregon. Early maps locate them on Donation Land Claims in Lane County, just NW of Eugene in what is now the Santa Clara district. Within another two years, those unwed had taken spouses, and the Poindexter lineage was secure.

In 1855 James Newton married a spunky girl of just 15 years, ten years his junior, named Elvira Eliza McCord. Family recollections portray her as an irrepressible chatterbox with a fiery nature. Photographs taken of her as a grandma still reveal pert, sweet features, plus snapping dark eyes and a stubborn little chin that strongly suggest both humor and a resiliant spirit. Tough she must indeed have been, to raise a family of seven children and still live to the ripe old age of 83. But they made them tough, in those days, women fit to walk beside the men who strode across the plains.

Farming that claim may not have been James Newton's cup of tea, however. Newt was by profession a blacksmith, which trade he evidently followed for most of his adult life. But time he still had time for other things, and in 1870 he ran for Lane County sheriff on the Democtatic Ticket. He won by 143 votes, and put his stout shoulders so thoroughly into the job that he won again at the 1872 election. This last was by a squeaky margin of just 32 votes, but what the heck, a win is a win. Meanwhile Newt served as a member of the Eugene City fire company, arrested malfactors, collected taxes, chased jail-breakers, which latter occupation seems to have been a regular occurance, and once attempted to get liscensing fees levied against a "hurdy-gurdy" house which offended his sensibilites. Since no city statutes identified or prohibited "hurdy-gurdy" houses, the case fizzled and the dances went on. There was but one fatal shooting during Sheriff Poindexter's tenure, whereupon the killer willingly surrendered himself to the good sheriff. Alas, no competion for Wyatt Earp, there, but probably his wife and children were glad for that.

Upon the close of his law enforcement career, Newt made no bid for a third term, but quietly returned to his anvil and forge, and the concerns of his beloved family. Heartache visited him, ere long, when two of his elder brothers died tragically within a month of each other; wagon accidents, common as the automobile wrecks of today. By 1880 the family wanderlust had struck again, and he appears in Portland, OR as a blacksmith under the heading "N.P. Manufacturing Co." Then about 1885, he packed up once more, and moved across the Columbia River to LaCamas, Washington. The household was thinning-out by now, daughters getting married and sons striking out into the world. Yet the family managed to take root in LaCamas for about a decade, and gracefully the years gathered around them.

He lost two more brothers in 1888, strange fate taking both within a week's time, abruptly leaving him as an only son. Yet he had grandchilren being born, and two of his own sons yet at home, and besides, life goes on, whether we will it or no. In 1895, Newt followed his two eldest sons, Perry and Ora, to the grass and sagebrush country of Crook County, OR, where he settled for good in Prineville. Perhaps by then his aging bones longed for a dryer climate. In 1898 he suffered a stroke, which left him at least partially paralysed. It may because of this that, on the 1900 census, his son Ora and the boy's wife appear living with them, possibly helping Mama care for the old man until he regained strength and some coordination.

Yet the stubborn old pioneer was not going quietly into that good night and, despite his infirmities, was elected in 1900 to the post of Crook County Treasurer, serving one term. He held fast to this life until the spring of 1903, passing quietly away on March 20th. Cause of death was said to be on account of complications of that stroke suffered five years before. James Newton Poindexter was eulogized as "a Christian man of sterling worth. The pleasant smile and jovial manner of 'Grandpa' Poindexter will be greatly missed." Interment was in the I.O.O.F cemetery at Juniper Haven. There he rests beside his wife, two sons, a grandson, and a granddaughter. His great-great grandchildren, and children beyond that, still enjoy the fruits of that wild territory which a young man from Illinois helped to settle.

Submitted December 28, 1998, by Gloria M. Atwater (nee Poindexter)

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