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Oregon Pioneer Biographies


 

Oregon Pioneer Biographies of:

Doctor Harvey Poindexter
Thomas Simpson Poindexter
Bennet W. Poindexter
Lawrence Poindexter
Martha Ann Poindexter

 

They did know they were doing a great thing, these sons of Thomas and Maxy (Wood) Poindexter. No more than their father had known, when he saw his children born in the wilds of Kentucky, then brought them and his once-more pregnant wife to the greater wilds of central Illinois. In their eyes, it was just a thing to be done, an opportunity for a growing family with stout sons and strong daughters. They did not know that what they built was not just a family, but history.

DOCTOR HARVEY POINDEXTER was born in 1818 in Kentucky, the second child and second son, of 9 children born to Thomas & Maxy (Wood) POINDEXTER. He was named, one tends to think, for the timely doctor who attended his perhaps less-than-timely birth. Or, perhaps a parent had wishful thoughts, but he was after all a born farmer. Earliest family memories have him as Harvey, for what mother would call her son, "Doc?" But the world had enough Harveys already, and as a grown man, Doc he was, and ever would be.

He may have been first to leave their Illinois home, and strike south to the rich farmlands of Missouri. Something drove them, these pioneers, to seek a new land, a finer place, a home where none had been before. With Doc came his eldest brother, Ambrose, and his youngest sister, Martha Ann, and there they met a staunchly Southern family named Maupin. In 1846, Martha Ann married Garrett Maupin, who would lead her to Oregon even ahead of Doc, and Doc married Garrett's little sister Elizabeth. Same exact day, but in neighboring counties. One is never sure about the why of that, if they chose separate weddings, or had a mad, silly flurry of racing from one wedding to the other, ribbons and veils a-flying.

Doc seems to have been a deliberate man, content to wait and raise his children and plow his fields, while in 1850 Martha and her family rolled a groaning wagon off to Oregon. But the letters back must have been glowing as if sent from Eden itself. They bid brother Ambrose a farewell that would last forever, and turned their oxen westward. By the Fall of 1852, Doc and his brothers Bennett and Thomas stood amid the deeply green, moist embrace of Oregon, and nodded to each other. Yes. This was it.

In the spring he had land, 320 acres of it, curling black and rich as fudge beneath the hard bite of a plow, and not far from his family. Ben, Tom, Newt and Larry, all just down the road, and Martha with her growing brood. Lively days, those must have been, and family memories recall Doc, a sober fellow of his latter thirties, as the instigator of dreadful jokes. One favorite was to skip ahead of the family when leaving church or other gatherings, and lay a peeled sapling or pole across the lane. Then he and one or two of the other boys would hide in the bushes to watch, grown men giggling and elbowing each other like school children. But it worked. They watched the gaily trotting team and a wagon- or buggy-load of the folks, cheerily calling back to neighbors and friends, "See you next week! See you later!" and here they came at a spanking clip. The horses trotted over the pole with never a stumble, but here came the fiercely rattling wheels and OH! my, what a banging jolt, and then screams and flying bonnets and petticoats. One supposes Doc and his co-conspirators learned early how to laugh and run, all at the same time.

Good farmers, those Poindexters, and Doc and his wife and two sons appear in 1873 as charter members of the Grand Prairie Grange No. 26, of Lane County. Modern times were coming, new roads and gadgets and the railroad ran on regular schedules. Time for the farmers to organize, just like everyone else did, in a civilized society.

The family wanderlust seems tempered in Doc, for he only migrated so far as next-door Linn County, where he settled in to the honored business of family and farm. Always there was a field to widen, a barn to build, a shed to repair, and his sons grew tall and strong beside him.

The old man worked still, in his 63rd year. For purposes now lost to us, he harnessed a team one July morning in 1879, and drove up to Brumly's mill. They loaded him up with 1,000 board feet of cut lumber, and he turned around for home. We'll never know just what happened. Perhaps a harness became fouled, or one of the tug chains broke loose. But whatever the cause, he got down from the wagon and amongst his team to fix something. And something went terribly wrong. Two school girls found him, this tough old man unconscious in the road, his wagon and team long gone, terribly hurt and alone. Adults quickly summoned looked at his injuries and the signs on the dirt lane, and found the wagon had run over his head and shoulders. He survived for four days, though it is unknown if he ever regained consciousness. Doc H. Poindexter left behind a wife and five children, the eldest 29, the youngest just 12.

His widow survived him by twenty-six years, but she never remarried. Perhaps she had given too much to this good man to ever give enough to another. A strong and independent spirit, in 1900 at the age of seventy-two, she proudly tells the enumerator that she is a "capitalist," and that she owns her own home - without mortgage, thank you. The two of them, Elizabeth and Doc H. Poindexter, pioneers both, are buried in the Milliorn Cemetery at Junction, OR.

 

THOMAS SIMPSON POINDEXTER was born in 1820 in Jessamine County, KY, the fourth son and fourth child, in a family of nine born to Thomas & Maxy (Wood) POINDEXTER. He was perhaps a stormier spirit than his brothers, or so later events suggest. His early days are a mystery, lived, one assumes, quietly in the bosom of his family, farming and planting and learning the signs of the seasons. Tom must have joined his two elder brothers in Missouri, must have read the letters of the two youngest boys who had already led their sister's family to Oregon. Perhaps one day they leaned elbows on the supper table, a much-fingered letter laid between them, and one of them said, "Do you think we should?"

And so it was that in company with brothers Doc and Ben, they joined the long caravans for Oregon. Tom was a single man, and like the younger boys before him, perhaps he rode as hunter and scout for the families who had so much to care for, in the slowly creaking wagons. In the autumn of 1852, they stood on the rim of the Willamette's green, slowly-roiling flow and perhaps ran their fingers into the dark, heavy earth. "How far," Tom may have asked, "Is that land office from here?"

There was a lot of marrying going on amongst the Poindexter clan, in the years 1854 and 55. Tom was not first, but nor was he last, marrying a girl named Mary E. Baker. They made a home and she bore him a daughter, and almost that soon she was gone, no one knows when or how. Illness comes easily, and we didn't know so much about medicine, in those days. Perhaps she sickened and so she died, but then Tom had a cavernously quiet house and a toddler child. He met another Mary E., perhaps that in itself an attraction. It would seem she had loved and lost, as well, having her own infant child, Byron Coffey. Perhaps need more than love led them to the altar, and so in 1860 they said, "I do." Children were born, Tom's pride being his only son, Tommy Jr.

Yet Tommy Jr. was only age 11, when his parents wished aloud that they had said, "I don't." Each found much lacking in the other, and bitter, hurtful things were said and done. In 1874, Polk County, Oregon severed the ties that bind, and Tom took his son and his hurts, and fled. No one really knows where, some say back to Illinois where he had known a gentler day, perhaps looking for whatever he had lost. He disappears utterly, until his son is grown and looking West again, and perhaps one day says, "Dad, let's go back." Time heals much, and so the old man and his beloved boy go West, although this time they no doubt enjoyed the comfort of the rails. Just days, it took, where before the trek lasted months. How Tom must have marvelled.

However, Oregon perhaps still tasted bitter, and they were soon in Idaho, still a raw, wild country in 1884, once again the Poindexters as pioneers. There young Tommy placed his feet at the head of a small valley somewhere above Moscow, and said, "Here, Papa. I will build here." And the old man nodded and fetched a shovel and went to work with his son.

He was not truly old at 68, or perhaps he did not think so, but we are born with a clock that slowly ticks down, within us. Tom saw his son married, no doubt thought with joy of the grandchildren who would soon follow. However, his time came before theirs did, and one November day in 1888, the old pioneer was gone. Thomas Simpson Poindexter, Sr., rests beside his son at Mountain View Cemetery in Farmington, Washington.

 

BENNET W. POINDEXTER was born in Shelby County, Kentucky in 1825, the sixth child and fifth son, in a family of nine children born to Thomas & Maxy (Wood) POINDEXTER. He was raised a farmer and a farmer he would be, and a pioneer, as well. His brothers Ambrose and Doc, and sister Martha may have been first to go, the latter two finding their spouses and founding their families in Missouri.

However, he seems to have followed and found someone of his own, or so marriage records say. Bennet Poindexter married Sarah E. Goodson in April of 1852, Carroll County, Missouri. So much hope there, springtime and marriage and the dreams wrapped up in the long trek to Oregon, which awaited them.

Yet when Ben arrived in Oregon in October of '52, he was alone. A sad list in the "Oregon Statesman" names deaths for that year, on the long trail west, and there is one name, "Elizabeth Poindexter, Carroll County, Missouri." Was this Sarah E., laid with tears, prayers and hymns by the side of the trail? Was this his new bride, left in a grave so nakedly alone as the last wagon grumbled away? We may never know for sure.

But life goes on and hearts find hope, for that is the nature of hearts. In April of 1854, he says his vows once more, and this time the reply comes in the lilting, musical tones of Ireland, as Miss Mary Elizabeth Kinney says "I do." And she would, all the very long days of her life, even when Ben himself had returned to the ages.

He had taken land near his brothers and sister, all the clan turning up the thick, rich earth of the Willamette River valley. How her Irish heart must have warmed, when he brought her there to see such promise, such prosperity in the ordered rows of his - now their - fields.

A daughter is born first, and then a son, named for the youngest brother, James Newton. And why not, when the family is so close and dear, and you can give ol' Newt fits by hollering things like, "Newt! Don't put that in your mouth, you don't know where it's been!"

They did not stay there, however, by 1860 having moved north a few miles to Benton County. Better prospects, perhaps, and again Ben walked the fertile fields that fed them. By 1870 the family has made another small move, but this would be the last one, settling in neighboring Linn County. Still not far from all the folks, close enough to visit, when work permits, and certainly to keep up a steady stream of letters. Mary worked beside him, in the fields, when needed, and in the home as she must. There were seven children now, three of them sturdy boys who soon also helped with the work. One imagines the father and his quiet ways, perhaps not sparkling in his speech or dramatic in his manner, but a man you could count on, a steady fellow whose work-worn hands could touch a child's tousled head, or brush his wife's fair Irish cheeks. One pictures the quick, deft way of the mother, briskly about her kitchen and garden, busy and certain how things must be done, and in command of her little domain, as the father took charge of his fields.

One can scarcely imagine the numbing shock, on the August afternoon when he does not come in. A wagon accident, a fall, the team ran away, we may never know, but he fell from the wagon and fractured his skull, and just like that he was gone. His older brother Doc died almost the same way not a month before, and now cruel Fate had stolen another. His eldest child was 25, and could perhaps find some understanding, but what do you tell an 11 year old? Ben was only fifty-four, not an old man by any count.

Yet you carry on, and you get up in the morning, and you raise your children because that is how it must be. And so Mary did, until her sons were men, and her daughters were married, and she could see that, somehow, she had done well. Nor did she ever remarry, for she had loved once, probably loved still, and that was that. And the children cherished her for it. Until she died in 1923 at the age of eighty-seven, if they lived not with her, she lived with them. As she had given, they gave back. When her days finally ticked to the last, they laid her to rest beside Bennett, a pioneer in her own right. Together, Ben and Mary Poindexter rest at Providence Cemetery, Scio, Oregon. As in life, their two sons and a daughter are close by.

 

LAWRENCE POINDEXTER was born in 1826 in Shelby Co. Kentucky, the seventh child and sixth son, in a family of nine children born to Thomas & Maxy (Wood) POINDEXTER. Yet he was possibly the first to go West. No one knows when he first settled into the long-legged pace of a farmer's son, and turned his feet westward. Some say he went all the way to California. But these Poindexters did not like to be alone, and he'd left family behind. In late 1849, he and the youngest, James Newton, then just 20, turned their thoughts to Oregon. They had no sweethearts, no families, nothing to hold them back from the lure of the horizon. Perhaps in their ears rang the exhortation of their elder siblings, "See this Oregon, and tell us if we should come." And so they went, two young men with neither wagon nor ox cart. One supposes they hunted for those who did have families and wagons to attend, on the long overland journey. They could have scouted ahead for water, game and grass, for sign of Indians. Young Newt carried with him the knowledge of a blacksmith's trade, so perhaps he also helped keep the animals shod, the wagons sound.

And they found Oregon at last, and called it good. Letters were certainly written, property sold, teams and wagons bought. Then in the spring Lawrence came east again to Missouri, and fetched his elder sister and her young family. Again the young man rode ahead, this time jesting with his brother-in-law, Garrett Maupin, a hard-living man of rough humor and combative nature, but with the tough spirit required of the pioneer. They were all young, and held the world in their hands. Weeks and endless days later, they reached Oregon ragged and weary, but it was truly the Promised Land, already the thickly bristling forest giving way to lush, ordered squares of produce, grain and pasture. Lawrence may have smiled with swelling pride, "See it? Didn't I tell you?" To which Maupin replied in admiration, "Rich, Poindexter, rich!" And with a rueful glance at his battered wagon load of worldly goods, he added, "But damned little money."

Yet they prospered in that place, Oregon, and within the year the other brothers followed. Then there were six families settled on the rich, dark banks of the Willamette River. Those must have been gay years, young families near to each other, the children growing, bachelors marrying, the Christmas dinners and 4th of July picnics. Family recollections reveal that even the older boys, respectably married and over thirty, kept a rowdy sense of humor and a spirit of teasing.

But in time, as in all things, people move. Lawrence had a wife, now, a fine Missouri girl named Eleanor Gibson, and growing family. At some point he remembered a place he heard much of, called California. By 1870, he and his family had moved south to Colusa County. There he became what he would be ever after, a farmer-stockman. By 1875 he moved once more, to the lava beds and sagebrush hills and rye grass valleys of Modoc County. There he was home, and there he would stay. He nursed six of his sons to manhood, and his two daughters to marriage, and saw three of his grandchildren born in the richly watered valley of Goose Lake. Two of his nephews from Oregon must have heard how well Modoc County treated him, for they, too, came south to the rye grass country. Time gently expanded his girth and softened his chin, but photos show a proud man surrounded by strapping sons, tall and straight with their mother's fine eyes. God blessed him with a surprise in 1882, one more son born almost 11 years after the previous, and they named him Lawrence, Jr.

But this was a gift the old pioneer would not get to enjoy to its fullest, for in the fall of 1888, when Lawrence Jr. was just four, God called another Oregon pioneer home. Eleanor remarried, carried on, gave young Lawrence a father who would guide him through the muddled years of growing up. But the boy kept his father's name, would remain part and parcel of the uncles and cousins around him. There are Poindexters up there still, and they know from whence they come.

Lawrence Poindexter, Sr. was 61 years old. He is buried in Alturas, near others of his family.

 

MARTHA ANN POINDEXTER was born in either 1828 or 1829 in Kentucky, the eighth child and second daughter, of nine children born to Thomas & Maxy (Wood) POINDEXTER. With her brother Doc, herself just a teenager, she made the move to Missouri, where they met a fiercely Southern family named Maupin. Martha was smitten by their son Garrett, seven or eight years her senior and a tempestuous, impulsive soul. Dashing, she may have thought, fiery and daring. He was fresh from the battle fields of Mexico, worldly as she could scarcely imagine. Family lore says that her family did not approve, but approval or not, she would marry this man, and she did.

Almost immediately the children began to come, and would come, over the years, until one shy of an even dozen scampered, strode or ran about the place. Mercifully, there would be only two to keep track of on the journey to Oregon. Brother Lawrence had arrived to guide them, seeming as big and breezy as all out-doors, and had Garrett fairly frothing to be on the road. And so the wagon bulged with all their worldly goods, and with seed and tools and provisions for their new life. And off they went. Somewhere along the latter part of the route Martha must have felt the stirrings of their third child, but it would wait, and would be the first of their litte Maupins to be born in the Oregon Territory.

The rich Oregon earth was perhaps all the wealth they had, as Garrett remarked to brother Larry, "Rich, Poindexter, rich. But damned little money." But they would settle in to work, and to build, and to raise their many children.

Perhaps the family was right about Garrett, that he was not the most steady fellow. What had seemed fiery sometimes became just plain bad temper, and what had seemed dashing often evolved to the expansiveness that came from a bottle. By 1860 she decided it was time to let Garrett know that he had better buckle down to the business of being a family man. So, she filed for a divorce. That business seems to have been ill-taken by Garrett, for at least once her brother Lawrence got caught in the cross-fire, and had a restraining order filed against Garrett. But finally Garrett became sober and sorry, at least long enough to promise the judge that he would be a good provider, and so the crisis passed.

Right after that the Civil War broke out, and of course Garrett had opinions on that. Oh, yes, he did, and backed them up with his fists at every given chance. He was Southern-born, by Heaven, and had no patience for damned Yankee fools.

But the war ended and Garrett found fewer fights, or at least about that, and three more children were born. They farmed and worked, and raised their children and the days scrolled slowly past. They had a new place, now, in Douglas County, and the land treated them well.

And then one day Garrett found another bottle, and proved that drinking and driving really don't mix, even if the engines have four legs and presumed minds of their own. Whatever the cause, the wagon upset and Garrett was pinned under it, and his thirteen year old son went racing pell-mell for help. That help came too late. At the untimely age of 47, Garrett Maupin, the rough-and-tumble pioneer, was dead.

As widows of those pioneers were prone to do, Martha continued on. Nor did she remarry. Her eldest boy was growing into a fine young man who worked willingly, and the older girls looked after the toddlers. They would get by. And so they did. The eldest ones married, the younger decided not, and Martha out-lived four of them. In 1909, at the age of 80, the pioneer woman who walked, pregnant, from Missouri to Oregon, quietly passed away. Martha Ann (Poindexter) Maupin rests in the Kellogg Cemetery in Douglas County, Oregon.

Submitted January 31, 1999, by Gloria M. Atwater (nee Poindexter)


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