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Pioneer of 1847


1827- 1881

Hilton was born on May 10th, 1827 at Bennet’s Mills, Greenup county, Kentucky. He was the son of Samuel and Hannah (Mead) Bonser and nephew of John Bonser (family records).

The family moved back to Scioto County, Ohio and went to live with their Grandfather, Isaac Bonser. When the John Bonser family moved to Illinois Hilton and his brother Clinton went with them. While very young Hilton was apprenticed as a Surveyor’s assistant. This was something he had a real talent for and would practice from then on.

1847 Traveling to  Oregon.

Hilton came west with his uncle, John Bonser and his family in 1847. The story of that journey was published in the Oregonian on May 12th, 1947 and is also available in greater depth at the Genealogical Forum of Oregon. (Travelogue) It was written by a granddaughter of John, Mrs. Rosa S coggin of Lebanon, Oregon.

1850         Washington County, Oregon census.

Hilton is listed on the 1850 Washington County census living with a Stephen Bonser.

1852         Seven Brides for.....

By this time Hilton was a lonely man. He decided to go back to Ohio and bring back a bride. He even promised his cousins to bring a few for them! Unfortunately when he got to Ohio the girls he knew had already been taken. He was not a happy man. He convinced his brother, Clinton, to join him and they left to join a wagon train and return to Oregon. At the gathering place he ran into the Thomas family. Henry Thomas really needed someone who had been on the route to help him and asked Hilton if would assist. Hilton was more than happy. Henry had 6 cute and single daughters. Life was really looking up. The Armstrong family was in this same wagon train. Eventually two of Hilton’s cousins married two of the Armstrong boys.

1853     Marriage of Settler.

Hilton fell in love with one of Henry’s daughters. Her name was Margaret Thomas. Their marriage, on May 20,1853, was mentioned in their Donation Land Claim.

1854         Washington Donation Land Claim.

Margaret and Hilton moved to Clark County Washington where other members of the Thomas and Bonser families had gone. The Copelands and the Knox families moved to Clark County and lived close by. Hilton and Margaret filed for Washington DLC V-235, T3N, R1E, Sections 5,6 and 7. (Roll 108, pg 806) They never completed the requirements and their claim was canceled in 1897. His original claim was signed by Charles Francis Copeland and George Knox.

1854      Birth of Daughter.

Marissa was born while they were living in Vancouver, Clark County, Washington (census). She remained single.

“Marissa spent all day sitting on the front porch with her binoculars watching the boats go by.” This is what one of the older relatives told us. At first this may seem kind of pitiful. But most people on that end of the island were connected with the sternwheelers. She could have been watching and waving to friends, cousins, other relatives, or maybe a suitor or two. It could have been important to know what time certain boats went by. Maybe watching the steam boats go by was the 1860’s equivalent of watching the planes land and take off at the Portland Airport.

1855       Settlers left Clark County!

The soldiers at Fort Vancouver advised the settlers to leave their farms because of the Indian troubles. Hilton sold what he could and went to California. Margaret and Marissa took a steamer and joined him after a short time. Two sons, John and James, were born while they were in California. Both died in infancy (Family records).

1857       Birth of Daughter.

Luella Bonser was bom in California on December 3 rd. Shortly after her birth they moved back to Sauvie Island and settled on the property facing the Columbia River near Willow Bar.

Mr. A. E. Ruth became her husband on December 22nd, 1884. They lived in Tacoma, Washington.

Luella was interviewed by the Tacoma News Tribune about her family’s journey across and the early times on Sauvie Island. Her interview was published in August of 1938 and is available in the Tacoma Public Library in Tacoma, Washington.

1858       Land Purchase.

Hilton bought land on Sauvie Island near other relatives, Henricis and Bonsers. This land was in Columbia County, Oregon

He became very active in the political life of the island and served as the Postmaster for many years. According to family information he was a surveyor and draftsman. Hilton was the first secretary of the Sauvie Island Grange.

He was an educated man and believed strongly in education for everyone. Before there were schools on the island Hilton set up classrooms and taught the children himself (See story by Mrs. Ruth from Tacoma News Tribune in Bonser files).


I860     Columbia Countq Census, Sauvie Island, House #114.

    Bonser, Hilton 33, Margaret 23, Lucy 06 (dau of Stephen Bonser), William 05 (son of Stephen), Clara 03 (dau of Stephen)


The cousins, Hilton and Stephen, were married to sisters, both daughters of Henry Thomas. At the time of this census both of the ladies were expecting babies. Hilton’s children were staying with Stephen.

1860 Birth of Daughter.

Mary Olive Bonser was bom on December 17th. She became the wife of Francis Deidrich Henrici. Francis was the son of another early Sauvie Island family. Mary Olive is buried in Rose City Cemetery next to her husband and her sister, Luella Ruth. The cemetery was viewed in October of 1997.

1860 Life on Sauvie Island.

A daughter of Hilton Bonser, Mrs. Ruth wrote an article for the Tacoma News Tribune, Tacoma, Washington in August of 1938.

She wrote “Life on Sauvie Island was both unique and interesting. In the 60’s the Bonsers built a large rambling ranch house with a fireplace in every room. In the living room the fireplace took great 4 foot logs that supplied both light and heat. They also burned candles, which they molded themselves.” “Long winter days and evenings were given over to working with wool, carding, spinning, weaving, dyeing and sewing. There was also a loom house where Mrs. Margaret Bonser wove her rugs.”

“For her herb garden she kept the necessary plants from which she brewed her own medicine for her family.”

The article in it’s entirety is available at the Tacoma Public Library in Tacoma, Washington and at the Genealogical Forum of Oregon in Portland, Oregon.

1862        Land Purchase.

Hilton bought land from George Ham on Sauvie Island. It was near the land of George Knox, his brother in law. Family records say that he bought it for $1,000 and it appears there was a cemetery plot on this land.

186S Birth of Daughter.

Sarah Odessa Bonser was bom in 1863  (census). She became the wife of James W. Dodson There were no known children. Her second husband was John Potter. John and Sarah were the parents of several children {family records).

1865 Birth of Daughter.

Amanda Ellen Bonser was bom in 1865 (census). When she was 19 she married John T. Stoops (family records).

1867 Birth of Son.

Henry Allen Bonser was bom during this year. He passed away when he was 15 years old (family records ).

1870 Birth of Son.

William Hilton Bonser was bom in 1870. He married Clara Thorp on January 22,1918. No children were bom to this couple. William passed away on July 22,1955 (family records).

Like many of the Bonsers, William followed the river trade. He is listed in the City Directory (1906-1912) as a Watchman, which meant crew member on a Riverboat (RKT).

1880         Death of Wife.

Margaret Bonser died in 1880 at the age of 48 years. Her obituary, sent to us by a family member, says she was buried in Germany Hill Cemetery (OldMasonic Cemetery in St. Helens). The obituary was clipped from a newspaper without the name or date of the paper.

1881         Death of Settler.

Hilton passed away in 1881 at 54 years of age. At the time of his death he owned 117 acres of the Stephen Johnson DLC. (#3066) The land was located between Sturgeon Lake and the Columbia river, near the border of Columbia County and Multnomah County. North of his claim is the John Bonser DLC. On the other side of Sturgeon Lake were the claims of Stephen Bonser and Marquis L. Armstrong.

After Hilton’s death, his daughters, Maiy Olive, Marissa and Luella, moved to Portland, Oregon. In the 1881, 1882 and 1883 city directories they are listed as Dressmakers. The home on Sauvie Island was rented out until it was destroyed by fire, probably in 1882 (family records).

1882         Death of Son

Henry Allen was killed accidently in a hunting accident at age 15 (RKT).

1880    Marriage of Daughter.

Sarah married James W. Dodson on June 20th, 1882 at the age of 19. They were the parents of one child, Norman Dodson (Multnomah County, Oregon Marriage Records, Book 4, pg 135, GFO Book pg ).


She later married Ed Potter and they were the parents of 6 children; Gary, William Edward, Leslie, John Hilton, Irma and Mabel (family records).

1881       Marriage of Daughter.

Mary Olive married Frances Deidrich Henrici on May 9th. She was 23 at the time of her marriage. They were the parents of 3 children; Lorena Margaret, Bertha Maud and Walter. Mary Olive died on June 13th, 1964 and is buried in the Rose City Cemetery, Portland,Oregon. (Family records)

1882   Marriage of Daughter.

Luella became the wife of A. E. Ruth on December 22nd. They were married at the home of Miss Bonser by J. Q. A. Henry, MG. The witnesses were Marissa Bonser and J. T. Stoops (Multnomah County Marriage Records, Book 5, pg 252, GFO Book pg 55).

They had no children. Luella passed away in 1953 and is buried in the Rose City Cemetery in Portland, Oregon. She is buried to the left of her sister, Olive Henrici. They are buried in Lot 132, Section B. (Family records and personal visit to Rose City Cemetery)

1884 Marriage of Daughter.

Amanda Ellen became the wife of John Stoops on December 31st, 1884 (Multnomah County, Oregon Marriage Records, Book 5, pg 252, GFO Book pg 55). They were the parents of two children; Percy of San Diego, California and Marguerite Hilthbrun of Tacoma, Washington. (family records )

1931 Death of Daughter.

Marissa passed away, a single woman, on November 28. She is buried in the Old Masonic Cemetery in St. Helens, Oregon. Her tombstone says she died at 77 years, 7 months, and 8 days (Columbia County Cemetery Records, GFO, pg 176).


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