top of page


Pioneer of 1847

James Halstead Bonser

1832 - 1909

James, third child of John and Rebecca Bonser, was bom on May 3rd, 1832 in Scioto County, Ohio. His birth date was found in his Donation Land Claim. He passed away in June 1909 in Santa Anna, California and is buried there (information from obituary, seepage 30).


James was a steamboat captain on the Lewis River in Washington, and the Fraser and Skeena Rivers in British Columbia. His sons worked with him (family records).


1853         Oregon Donation Land Claim.

James filed for Oregon DLC #4465. The legal description is T3N, R1W, Sections 28 and 33. (Sauvie Island) It consisted of 318.73 acres. Living near and around him were his father, father-in-law, brothers, sisters and his cousins.

Information on his DLC says that his claim was covered by the DLC of Marquis L. Armstrong. Marquis was the husband of Jame’s sister, Martha Jane. He had DLC #4802.

1853    Marriage of Settler.

Hannah Thomas, daughter of Henry and Mary (Copeland) Thomas, became his wife on March 17th, 1853 (family records).

Hannah’s sister, Margaret, was married to Hilton Bonser, a cousin of James. Another of her sisters, Mahala, was married to James’ brother, Stephen.

1854         Washington Donation Land Claim.

James filed for land in Clark County, Washington. It was located near the claim of John Campbell on Fifth Plain in Clark County. The legal description is T3N, R3E, and consisted of 320 acres. Signing for him were his father, John Bonser and Alexander McAndrews, both of Columbia County, Oregon. James left Clark County and never finalized his claim. (Washington DLC, V-98, CV-notif. 1140, Roll 108, pg 1269)


1854         Birth of Daughter.

Minerva Jane, first child of James and Hannah, was born on February 20th (family records).

1855      Military  Service.

James served in the Indian Wars. He was a private in Company “A” of the First Regiment of Volunteers under Captain William Strong (Information from Knapp Funeral Home Records).

1855         Birth of Son.

John Henry, second child of James and Hannah, was born on January 18th and passed away on December 26th, 1913. He is buried in the Kinder Cemetery on Deer Island in Columbia County, Oregon (Columbia County Cemetery Records, pg 57, GFO).

John Henry was a well known steamboat captain, working on the Columbia and Willamette Rivers in Oregon, the Lewis River in Washington and the Fraser and Skeena Rivers in British Columbia. The last few years of his career were spent working for the Hudson Bay Company. (Dryden)

In the 1887 City Directory for Portland,Oregon, (GFO, OHS, CL) he is listed as captain of the steamer, “Isabel,” and living at the comer of 6th and Mill. This location is only a block or two away from the homes of George Ham and Isaac Ham.

1856         Birth of Son.

Lewis W. was the third child of James and Hannah. He was b0rn on February 25th and passed away on March 15 th, 1935. He was married to Eveline M. Reeder, daughter of another pioneer family on Sauvie Island. She was bom in 1859 and passed away in 1927. They are both buried at the Bayview Cemetery in Warren, Oregon (Columbia County Cemetery Records, pg 210, GFO). At the time of his death he was survived by a daughter, Mrs. Frank Sherwin.

Lewis worked on Steamboats and in the census he is listed as an engineer (Information on Lewis and his father was found in Knapp Mortuary Funeral Records). At one time, early in his career he worked on Caples ferry (RKT).

1857         Birth of Son.

Thomas Albert, fourth child of James and Hannah, was born on November 7th and passed away in March of 1880 (cemetery records)


1859         Birth of Daughter.

Lillian Annette, fifth child of James and Hannah, was born on September 25th. She married James M. Akins on March 8th, 1902 in Clark County, Washington (Marriage listed in Vol. 2, pg 129, Clark Co., Wa Marriages).

1861 Birth of Son

Samuel C., sixth child of James and Hannah, was born on October 13th at Sauvies Island (RKT).

1863         Birth of Son.

Ewell W., seventh child of James and Hannah, was bom on August 1st (RKT).


He is listed on the 1870 census for Columbia County. In later years he worked with his father on steamboats as an engineer (family records).

1864         Death of bis Mother

Rebecca, James mother, died in 1864 and that seemed to take the heart out of the family. Slowly everyone started to drift from the island. James moved his family to the Grande Ronde valley and established a homestead.

1865         Birth of Daughter.

Cora Aim, eighth child of James and Hannah, was born on July 14th. She married twice, her first husband was Fred J. Dittmer. Her second husband was H.S. Godshall (family records).

1867 Birth of Daughter.

Hannah Abigail, ninth child of James and Hannah, was bom on October 2nd.

1867 Death of Wife.

Hannah, wife of James, died 21 days after giving birth to Hannah, on the 23rd of October. James no longer had the heart to continue on with his new homestead.. He moved back to Sauvie Island with his family.

1869 Death of Son

Samuel drowned on May 30th at Sauvie Island (RKT).

1869 Marriage of Daughter

Minerva married Hezekiah Caples. She was only 16 at the time. Hezekiah and other members of the Caples family were involved in the river traffic and the steamboats. The sons of Hez and Minerva all worked on the steamboats.

1869 Vancouver Homestead

The death of his wife, the drowning of his son and then the marriage of his oldest daughter was too much for James. The youngest children were sent to other family members to live. He moved to Pioneer in Clark county, Washington with his father in law, Henry Thomas. The two oldest sons, Thomas and Lewis, left and went to work on the river.

The unmarried girls went to live with other relatives and James went to work for the Farmers Transportation Co.

1870 Sauvic Island Census.

    Bonser, James H.  38, John H.  15, Samuel W.  14, Thomas A.  12, Lillian A. 10, Ewell W.  06, Cora A.  05, Hannah H. 02.

Land Purchase.

James purchased the right of William Walker to a lot in T3N, R1W on Sauvie Island. The legal description was Lot 1 of Sec 2, E 14 of NE % and NE % of SE % of Sec. 3 (Cert #124, Application #360).

1872        Baby Daughter Adopted

The baby, Hannah, was adopted by Edward Slocum and Sarah R. Patterson, a relative on the Burt/Halstead side of the family. This family lived in Vancouver, Washington. Edward Slocum was a well known pilot on the Columbia River.

Hannah, daughter of James and Hannah, became the wife of Charles W. Knowles, son of Captain William G. Knowles and Edward Slocum’s sister, Mary Ann (Clark County History, Vol. VI, 1965, pg 70). She passed away on December 17, 1941 at 74 years, 2 months and 4 days. Her husband, Charles, passed away in 1934. They are buried in Park hill Cemetery in Clark County, Washington. (Knapp Mortuary Records)

In their later years, Hannah and her sisters, Cora and Lillian, were affectionately called “The Holy Trinity” by the family (RKT).

1875 Washington State Land Transaction.

“James H. Bonser sold to Michael McCabe: Deed of 160 acres in Section 8, T4N, R1E, consideration of $225. September 1875.” This was probably the farm in Pioneer. He moved to Vancouver and worked on the river. He was only 43 but his spirit was broken.

1880         Death of Son.

Thomas Albert Bonser drowned on March 7th of 1880. He was a fireman on the steamer “Latona.” Thomas fell overboard and drowned while loading hay. He is buried at St. Helens, Or in the Masonic Cemetery (Knapp Mortuary Records).

According to a newspaper article he drowned when he was three but his grandfather, John, was able to revive him.

1880         Census, Union Precinct, Columbia Countq, Oregon.

Bonser, James, widowed           age 44 Steamboat Captain

Ewell               son                  age 17 Engineer


1881      Marriage of Son.

John Henry married Ida English on October 5 th at the home of Charles English. The witnesses were John Swager and John H. English. They were married by Enoch Adams, J. P. (Columbia County Marriage Records, GFO, pg 14)


They were the parents of two children;

Francisco A. Bonser, bom in April of 1883 at Woodland, Washington. He passed away at age 11 on June 3rd 1894 and is buried in the Kindred cemetery next to his parents.

Virginia, a daughter, was born on Deer Island. She married Harry Godfrey and moved to Vancouver, British Columbia..

1886         Second Marriage of Settler

In 1886 James married  Rosette Percy. She passed away in 1902.



James Halstead Bonser passes away in Tustin, California.

James H. Bonser, who died at Tustin, California on June 14, was bom in Scioto County, Ohio in 1832. His father, John Bonser, removed to Oregon with his family in 1847, crossing the plains in troublesome times. Mr. Bonser was brought up in the Northwest, serving through the Indian Wars in 1855-56, and wore proudly the button of favor that showed he was an Indian War Veteran.

His wife, Hannah Thomas Bonser, died many years ago. Mr. Bonser was a resident of Oregon until about 1 year ago, at which time he removed to California.

Mr. Bonser leaves 5 children, Mrs. J.M Aikens of Tustin, CA; Mrs. C. A. Godshall of Portland, Oregon; Mrs. Hannah A. Knowles of Vancouver, Washington; and Captain J. H. Bonser of Vancouver, BC. "Oregonian Obituary, 29 June 1929 Reprinted with the permission of “The Oregonian. ”

1903 Death of Daughter.

Minerva Caples passed away on February 24th, 1903. Minerva and her husband, Hezekiah Caples, are buried in the Masonic Cemetery in St. Helens, Oregon.

*The Bonsers were covered extensively in  "Clark County Pioneers"  a publication of the  Clark County, Washington Genealogical Society.

bottom of page