Lee Kirk (Leander, son of Alexander Kirk) tells of
his father and early Brownsville days (16): (Excerpts)
“...I was born here at Brownsville... on May 29,
1847. I have lived here the greater part of my life, although my
home at present is with my granddaughter at Walla Walla, Wash.
“The exact spot off my birth was in a little log
cabin ... at the south landing of the Alexander Kirk Ferry ... in
present south Brownsville ... just back of the B. P. Daugherty home and
the present Hedlund Hatchery. The north landing of the ferry was in what
is now Brownsville’s public park, or perhaps a little east of the park
boundaries and in the filbert and walnut orchard owned by Harry
Thompson, former banker here. The ferry was established by my father,
Alexander Kirk, in 1846 or 1847. It was the first ferry across the upper
Calapooia and the place was commonly known as ‘Kirk’s Ferry’ for a
long time before the name of Brownsville was heard of.
“My father, Alexander Kirk, ... came to Oregon in
1846. He was a member of the same emigrant party that brought Captain
James Blakely, founder of Brownsville, Hugh Leeper Brown for whom the
town was named, and Jonathan Keeney and others. R. C. Finley, the
builder of the very old ‘Finley Mill’ near present Crawfordsville
and of the old ‘Boston Mill’ near Shedd, was also a member of this
train. Finley was my brother-in-law, having married my older sister
Polly Kirk. Polly was only thirteen years old when she married Dick
Finley and on her wedding night she cried because she had to sleep
‘with that man’. That, of course, was long before my memory but it
is a family story.
“Dick Finley was a cripple. His legs had been badly
broken while working in the Wisconsin lead mines before coming to
“...The old house in Brownsville which my father
built is commonly supposed to have been put up in 1847. They say that
the date is cut in the top of the old chimney. If that is true I do not
understand it. I was born in 1847 but not in that old house, The little
cabin in which we then lived was further down the river bank and nearer
to the ferry landing. I know that I was born there and I know that it
was still standing when I got old enough to remember it. I must have
been four or five years old when we moved up into the ‘new house’.
Here is proof of what I am saying: After I was born there were twins
born in our family, a boy and a girl. Both of them lived to be perhaps a
year and a half old. Then the boy died. He died in the little old house
near the ferry and we were still living there at the time. The new
house, then, could not have been built before 1850 at the earliest. The
twin sister lived — is still living.
“Another thing which is often told of my father is
quite wrong. It is commonly stated that he bought the squatter rights
for his land from Isaac Hutchens, who was first elected sheriff of Linn
County. That is not true. My father came here and found Isaac Courtney
living on the land which he desired. Isaac Courtney, by the way, was the
man for whom Courtney Creek near Brownsville was named. Father paid
Courtney a yoke of oxen and a log chain for his land rights. The land
was a strip half a mile wide and two miles long extending across the
Calapooia north and south, Father wanted that land because it held the
best ferry site in the region. The original Kirk claim extended from
where Mr. Peterman now lives south across the Calapooia and out south to
the corner where the present Brownsville—Halsey road turns west. Now
here is how that story got started concerning father purchasing the
squatter rights from Isaac Hutchens. After he had settled on the land he
became dubious about holding it. That he might not lose the land father
hired Isaac Hutchens to live on the north half and hold it for him.
Later, when father found that he could hold the land he paid Hutchens
the amount agreed on and Hutchens moved away leaving the land in Kirk
ownership. Hutchens’ cabin was on the butte just north of the present
Brownsville High School building and that butte was sometimes called
“The ferry was started by my father in 1848 or
1847. Of course it was only a 'winter ferry’. The Calapooia River is
too narrow and shallow here to need any ferry in the summer when the
water is low. In the winter, however, it was deep and swift and
dangerous and travellers were glad to pay for ferry service. The
ferry-boat was merely a small scow or flat-boat, just large enough to
carry one team and wagon. I remember the old ferryboat well, It. was
operated by means of a rope stretched across the stream and when loaded
it was pulled across by hand. How it was done I certainly know for I
tried in to run it across myself once and got into trouble in the middle
of the stream. Old Jim Swank, whose claim was next north of father’s,
found me hung up in the middle of the stream and helped me across. I was
only five or six years old at the time and did not have strength to pull
the heavy boat.
“My father had a canoe tied near the ferry and he
used that to carry single passengers, especially children crossing from
the north side on way to school. Among those school children were those
of my brother, Riley Kirk, who had a claim in the east edge of the
present North Brownsville.
“…When teams forded the river in the summer they
crossed below the ferry. That
old crossing is still sometimes used in low water although it is now
almost spoiled by the digging of gravel from the bank for road purposes.
“The first bridge across the Calapooia was built in
1853 or 1854. When the
bridge was built it of course stopped the use of the ferry. The bridge
was built by J. Conser and was the first bridge ever built with county
funds in Linn County.
“There have been four bridges built across the
Calapooia since the old ferry ceased to run. The first was all of wood.
The second was built, I
believe, sometime in the 1880’s. Its cement piers are still standing.
Each succeeding bridge was built a little further upstream. The third
bridge is standing, although no longer used. It is a steel bridge built
sometime about the end of the 1900’s. The fourth bridge was built last
autumn (1938) and was dedicated today during the Pioneer Picnic
celebration. (July, 1939).
“The first bridge built here was all of wood and
was a covered bridge. north, after crossing the bridge. Going north, the road led through the woods of the river
bottom, up over the ridge where the high school now stands, and came out
on the corner where the Methodist church now stands.
“When I got old enough to go to school I attended
at the Old Spalding schoolhouse about one mile east of town. Rev. H. H.
Spalding was my first teacher. The school was on Spalding’s claim
which is now owned in part by the Samuelson Brothers and in part by the
Goulard estate. The Goulard house, though much changed, by rebuilding,
was originally built by Rev. Spalding. Spalding came to Brownsville when
driven out of the mountain country by the Indians after the Whitman
massacre. I learned my A.B.C.’s from a card prepared by Rev. Spalding.
The schoolhouse was, as usual, just a little log cabin. Later Spalding
built a better building of sawed lumber. I went to school in that
building also. Rev. Robert
Robe also taught in that second building. He was one of the very early
missionaries in the Willamette Valley. (Presbyterian).
“My second school teacher was a Miss Whipple. I
will never forget the first time I saw her. Her skirts came about to her
knees and below the skirts she had on a big pair of pants with draw
strings at the bottom of the legs. Her first name was Edna. She stood me
up on the floor for punishment when I WS5 naughty.
“Father John McKinney, a pioneer Methodist
preacher, had a claim just west of my father’s but on the south side
of the river. He built a church on his claim, and a parsonage. I went to
school to Edna Whipple in John McKinney’s parsonage. The last day of
the school term there was a neighbor hood gathering and celebration with
speaking and other features. At the end of the program Edna Whipp1e, the
teacher, and George Colbert, a young settler, stood up together. Then
one of the older scholars, Mary Jane Stevens (Stephenson ?) by name, and
a young man named Z. F. Moody, a friend of the Colberts, stood up
together, and the two couples were married (50). It was a complete
surprise to the gathering. Z. F. Moody had been in business in
Brownsville, running a store. Later he became Governor of Oregon.
“After the wedding Moody and his wife moved into a
bedroom in our house and lived there for some time....
“Some of the old teachers were great for whipping.
One teacher, Dalrymple, was bad. I had just been promoted into an
advanced arithmetic book and did not understand the problems very well.
I asked the teacher to help me. He wouldn’t. I asked my brother to
help me. He wouldn’t. When it came time to recite I did not have my
lesson. The teacher Dalrymple, had an ash switch about five
feet long. He got ready to whip me. He said ‘Better put your coat on
for I whip hard.’ I did not have any coat, but one of the boys loaned
me one. I thought he only hit me three times but the others said that he
hit me five times. When I went home that night I was pretty sick. I went
out where my brother Henry and ‘Freet’ Rice were working and sat
down. They made me take off my shirt and show my back. It was all cut
up. Henry said ‘If I had been there he wouldn’t have done that to
you.’ My brother Henry told my father about it, but father never did
any thing. Dalrymple was a Methodist and my father was a Methodist, and
it was all right.
“Father was very active in the early Methodist
Church work, He was a class-leader and elder. Our house was headquarters
for all the passing Methodist preachers and for preachers of all
denominations. A preacher would ride up and father would call: ‘How do
you do, Brother; get down and come right in.’ ‘Lee, take the
elder’s horse and take care of it.’ I would take the horse and feed
it and care for it. Then another preacher would ride up and Father would
say again: ‘How do you do, Brother; get down and come right in to
dinner.’ ‘Lee, take the elder’s horse and take care off it.’
That is the way it would go. I always had to feed and care for
the horses. It was: ‘How
do you do Brother Hines; How do you do, Brother Wailer; How do you do
Brother Driver; How do you do Brother Driver; How do you do Brother
Parrish; How do you do Brother Wilbur.’
And always it was: — ‘Lee, take the elder’s horse and take
care off it and feed it.’ I remember that one night I had nine
preachers’ horses to feed and care for. I used to get pretty tired of
“After the McKinney schoolhouse there was another
school below town where a rock bridge used to span the slough. After
that they moved the school to the east end of town. That was on the
South Side. At
that time there was no town north of the river. The new school then was
where the present south-side school now stands. ...
“...The old Alexander Kirk house here in
Brownsville ... was run as an inn or tavern for many years. Anyone who
wished to stop over at Brownsville could stay with father. Some boarded
there for weeks at a time. Miles Carey put up the chimney on that house
and built it according to father’s instructions. ... The fire-places
are large there and took heavy logs.
Sometimes it would take two people to put the back-log in place.
“Riley (Kirk) was much older (than I) and had a
donation land claim north of the river and in the eastern end of the
present North Brownsville ... Riley was married and had at least one son
before coming to Oregon in 1846. His wife died and he married again soon
after reaching Oregon.
“I left here in 1864. I got a job to work with Andy
Warren, the son-in-law of Rev. H. H. Spalding. ...I rode with Andy’s
boy and Louis McMorris. We rode to Eastern Oregon over the cattle
trail.. I first cut grain there and then went to Bannock City with a
pack train, with the McMorris boys.
“My brother Tom took up a fractional forty south of
father’s claim here near Brownsville. Then father gave him 100
acre’s from the south end of the claim and he bought ten more acres of
father for $100. He built a cabin on his land using the logs from the
first old Brown store in Brownsville. Later he built the house standing
there now the one which Walter James now occupies. He also
set out the walnut tree in front of that house. I was 11 years old when
the house was built. The carpenter was Peter Kessling.
"Moody (Z. F.) & Mitchell ran a store here
at Brownsville at a very early date ... Moody was also a surveyor ...
did much surveying about Brownsville, Later he moved east of the
mountains. There he built a tall bridge over the Deschutes River.
“My father, Alexander Kirk, was born in Tennessee,
about forty miles from Knoxville, in the year 1805. He died March 19,
1877. My mother was Sarah Sweeten. My mother died on my birthday when I
was 11 years old. That was in 1858. After my mother’s death my father
married a widow by the name of Coyle, widow of Jim Coyle of the
Sodaville neighborhood. She had a son named Wils. Coyle.
“My father came to Oregon in 1846. They reached the
Calapooia on November 15th of that year.
After establishing the ferry ... and living here for a number of
years father went to Centreville, now called Athena, one mile west of
Weston. Father’s grave is in the Keith graveyard southeast of Athena.
... My mother is buried in the Masonic Cemetery here at Brownsville.
“...My father was not a blacksmith but he put up
the first shop here… a little shack ... at the corner of what is now
south Main Street and the Brownsville—Halsey highway.... Chester
Austin now has a service station on that corner.
Since father was not a smith he rented his shop to a man by the
name of Wilcox. Afterwards ... it was taken over by Richard Benjamin who
was smith and wagon maker. Later it was run by Benjamin Baird, by a man
named Hunter, and by many others. The shop, though of course in a
different building, was still there when the highway was widened.
Because of this ... it was necessary to raze the building. The last
smith to work on the original site was Chas. Rauch. When he was forced
to move away by the widening of the highway there had been a shop on
that spot of ground for at least eighty years. Mr. Rauch still does
blacksmithing in Brownsville. His new shop is at the south end of the
‘new’ Brownsville bridge. Blacksmiths are becoming a rare and
dwindling tribe. Rauch is the last of at least a score of pioneers of
his trade here.
“One of the very early mail carriers through
Brownsville was named Howard. He came through from Salem to Eugene, or
probably to Pleasant Hill south of Eugene, which was then a terminal
point for valley traffic. Howard would stop overnight on Wednesday at
father’s house and then go on up to Salem.
“…A list of my father’s family — W. R. Kirk
(Riley) was the oldest boy; he was married and had a family when he came
to Oregon in 1846. He is the father of Andy (Andrew J. Kirk).
“Henry Harrison Kirk ... was the father of Wm. Kirk
who now lives on the ‘lower road’ between Brownsville and Halsey.
“Thomas Jefferson Kirk lived on the southern end of
father’s claim. His
house, built at a very early date, is still standing.
“Leander Kirk - is the informant of these data, now
92 years old.
“Polly Ann, usually called ‘Pop’, married the
miller, R. C. Finley.
“Elizabeth Kirk married Bill Burden; Arlie Kirk,
married Clay; Amanda Kirk, born 1850, twice married — first Boyce,
then Hyde — is still living.
“Besides the above there were two sisters who died
young, and one brother, the twin of Amanda who died at the age of