Oregon Pioneer Biographies


"Portrait and Biographical Record of the Willamette Valley - Oregon," Chapman Publishing Company, Chicago, 1903

William R. Bilyeu

A judicial mind and temperament, excellent business ability, and a capacity for hard work well developed, has placed Hon. William R. Bilyeu among the foremost legal practitioners in Linn county. Of French origin, he represents a family the earliest emigrants of which settled in Virginia, and from the Old Dominion state branched out into various parts of the south and east. His paternal grandfather was the establisher of the name in Tennessee, where was born Joseph Bilyeu, the father of Hon. William R., the latter of whom settled at an early day in Miller county, Mo. Joseph Bilyeu cleared a wilderness farm in Miller county and married Anna Osborn, who was born in Sangamon county, Ill., a daughter of William Osborn, a farmer who died in Illinois. In Missouri were born six of the ten children reared by these parents, of whom William R., the oldest, was born March 19, 1847. In 1862 the father outfitted with wagons and ox and horse-teams and brought his family across the plains, on the way escaping many of the unfortunate experiences which rendered terrifying and uncertain the way of the earlier immigrants. Leaving Missouri May 5, 1862, the party arrived at its destination in Portland October 7, of the same year, William and his brother driving the stock down the old Columbia river trail, arriving a few days later. Mr. Bilyeu settled on a claim in Linn county, and the same winter removed to Polk county, where he bought the farm which he improved, and upon which he lived for many years. A later place of residence was a farm near Turner, Marion county, from where he moved to Albany, where his death occurred May 29, 1902, at the age of seventy-nine years.

From early manhood he was a member of the Christian Church, as was also his wife, who died in Marion county in 1899. Of the large family of children, the following seven attained maturity: William R.; Larkin, an attorney at Eugene, and representative for several terms; James, an educator at Scio; Lydia, now Mrs. Ennis, of Eureka, Cal.; Tabitha, now Mrs. Vaughan, of Salem, Ore.; John, who died in Linn county, Ore., at the age of twenty, and who was the only one born in Oregon.

The education of Hon. William R. Bilyeu was acquired under difficulties, for, as the oldest son in the family, he was early confronted by large responsibility, the fulfillment of which crowded out many opportunities. He was fifteen when the family came to the west, and on the way he made himself useful by driving a team of three horses. On the western possession he performed his share towards clearing off the timber and rendering the land profitable, and through the exercise of great economy gained admission to the Tualatin Academy when he was twenty. This institution afterward became the Pacific University, and his tuition was met from the proceeds of his several years of teaching in Washington, Linn and Marion counties, thus enabling him to take a six years' course, from which he was graduated in 1873 with the degree of Bachelor of Science. In conformity with the long-thought-out determination, he began the study of law in the office of Mallory & Shaw, of Salem, and after being duly admitted to the bar in 1875, engaged in the practice in Albany, where his entire professional life has been centered. He is known as an astute and most capable lawyer, and has received his share of the legal patronage of Albany and Linn county.

A staunch upholder of Democracy, Mr. Bilyeu has rendered signal service in state affairs, but has never been induced to hold local offices. He was elected to the state senate in 1878, and re-elected in 1882, and in 1902 was elected to the house of representatives in the twenty-third biennial session. While in the latter body he drew up and was instrumental in securing the passage of the mortgage tax law, which was litigated in the courts, but finally sustained by the United States Supreme Court. This session also passed the Indian veteran bill, which gave an appropriation of $100,000 for the veteran fighters of '55-'56. In 1888 he was nominated presidential elector on the Democratic ticket, and has attended many conventions, but never as a candidate. For several terms he was chairman of the County Central Committee. Fraternally he is associated with St. John's Lodge, No. 62, of which he is past master; Bayley Chapter, No. 8, R.A.M., of Albany; Temple Commandery, K.T., No. 3, and the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks. He married, in Corvallis, Mary Goldson, a native of Mississippi, and who has borne him two children, Charles and Walter. Mr. Bilyeu ranks among the foremost legal exponents in the Willamette valley and personally he embodies those strong and admirable characteristics which win respect and command attention.

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