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Pioneer of 1847

John Bonser

1800 - 1893

John Bonser was born in 1800 to Major Isaac Bonser and Abigail Burt at Bonser's Run, Scioto County, Ohio (DLC #3247). His parents had come to Scioto County from Northumberland, Pennsylvania in 1795 (Clark County, Washington Pioneers, Clark County Genealogical Society, pg 325).

1827   Marriage

     John married Rebecca Halstead (dtr of Ira) on March 27th, 1827 in Springfield, Illinois (DLC 3247 says Ohio).


1829   Birth of son

     Stephen D. Bonser was born to John and Rebecca on April 3rd, 1829 at Bonser's Run, Scioto County, Ohio (DLC # 5090)


1830   Ohio Census Index

     John is listed in the 1830 census living in Scioto County. He is in Ross county, Chillicothe Township, #183. That is the last listing for John in Ohio.


1832   Birth of Second Son

     James Halstead Bonser was born on May 3rd in Bonser's Run, Scioto County, Ohio (DLC #4465).


1836   Birth of First Daughter

     Martha Jane was born in 1836 (census info). She married Marquis Lafayette Armstrong. At age 14 she was the unsuspecting love interest of a young boarder named Creed Turner (more about him later).


1840  Birth of Second Daughter

     Elizabeth was born in 1840 (census info). She became the wife of Daniel Boone Armstrong, brother of Marquis Lafayette Armstrong.


1843   Birth of Third Daughter

     Hannah Was born in 1843 in Illinois (census info). She became the wife of Alvin Styles.


1844   Birth of Fourth Daughter

     Abigail was born in 1847 in Missouri (census info). She married William Casto (more about them later).


1847   Migration begins

     On May 10th the Bonser family, along with two nephews, began their journey to the Oregon Territory. They started out with three covered wagons, drawn by three yoke of oxen each. Extra oxen were brought to relieve the other oxen when they were sick or tired.  A herd of English milk cows, a bull from Henry Clay's famous herd in Kentucky, many fruit trees and seeds were brought to establish a farm when they got to Oregon. Unfortunately most of the live stock was either stolen by the Indians or died along the trail.

     The wagon train consisted of over 100 wagons when it started to Oregon. This was too much for one wagon master, so it divided into smaller groups. John Bonser led a group of 17.

     Henderson Luelling was in the Bonser Train. When they arrived in Oregon John shared many of his trees and seeds to help Luelling establish his nursery (this information was found in the letter written by Rosa Scoggins and sent to the Oregonian, 19 May  1947, pg 8)

     The Hockett family was in the Bonser Train. A copy of the diary of Mr. W. A. Hockett is on file at the Oregon Historical Society. It was made into a video by "Minds Eye" productions, a local company (503-630-4354)


1847   Arrival in Oregon

     The Bonser's arrived in Oregon on October 23rd (DLC). they stayed in The Dalles until John could build a flat boat to take them down the river. At first they stayed in the town of Linton across from Sauvie Island. In October of 1849 they settled their claim on Sauvie Island (family story).


1849   Donation Land Claim

     Their DLC was on Sauvie Island, Township 3N, Range 1W, Section 10, 13, 14 and 23. It contained 640.06 acres (DLC #3247). The Columbia River was on one sife of their property and Sturgeon Lake was on the other. Willow Point was nearby. Surrounding them were their children and their nephews, Hilton and Clinton Bonser.


1851   Unrequited Love

     Creed Turner, a boarder at the Bonser home, killed another boarer in October of 1851. Turner held a secret love for Martha and felt the other boarder was a threat to his success. He stabbed him and was hung for his crime in December of 1851. The hanging took place in Hillsboro. (more about this event later)


1852   Oregon Statesman

     John Bonser was mentioned often in the newspaper in 1852. He was the Democratic candidate for Washington County Representative and chairman of a meeting to investigate Hudson Bay's land claims.

     His corn was mentioned locally and in a California publication. It averaged 10' in height with one stalk measuring 17'.


1853   Marriage of son

     Stephen married Mahala Thomas Taylor in June of 1853. She was the daughter of Henry Thomas, another early pioneer on the island.

     James married Hannah Thomas on 17 March. She was another daughter of Henry Thomas and the sister of Mahala.

      (I'm not sure if both of these marriages were in 1853 or 1854. I can't read my own notes!!)


1854   Oregon Statesman

     The paper states that the line between John Bonser's land  and the land of James Miller is the boundary of Columbia County.

     John Bonser was named County Commissioner of Columbia County in January of 1854.


1855   Oregon Statesman

     John was elected Representative for Columbia County to the Democratic Convention in Salem.

     J. Bonser was named to the Vigilance Committee.


1855   Marriage of Daughter

     Elizabeth married Daniel Boone Armstrong on May 3rd at her father's home on the island.  They were married by William Hendrickson, Minister of the Gospel.  Witnesses were James Bonser and Orville Sturgess  (Columbia County, Oregon, Marriage records, Misc Marriages, Book A.)


1857   Oregon Statesman

     John Bonser went to the Agricultural Fair in California as the delegate from Columbia County.

      John was chairman of the Columbia County Democratic Convention in April.


1860   Columbia County, OR census, Sauvie Island precinct #118

    Bonser, John   57

    Rebecca           57

    Abigail              17

    Hannah              13

    Robert Buck

    William Coat

    (Could Wm Coat be William Casto who later married Abigail?)


1861   Marriage of Daughter

    Abigail married William Casto on 11 November 1861 (Multnomah County, Oregon, Marriage Records, Book 1, pg 99).


1864  Murder!

    Abigail and William Casto moved to Squah valley in Washington. That area is now known as Isaquah.  They were murdered by the Indians. (that story will be included later).


1864  Death of Wife

    Rebecca died before Feb 11th according to information in their DLC. #3247.  The Oregonian death index at the Central Library in downtown Portland places her death in 1864. She is buried in the Old City cemetery in Vancouver, Washington (SE section, Lot 121, row 9).


1865   Oregon Statesman

     Mr. Bonser had his upper jaw broken in a fight with Mr. Armstrong on Sauvie Island. (We don't know which Bonser man but two Armstrong men were married to daughters of John Bonser)


1870   Census, Sauvie Island, Columbia County, Oregon

    Bonser, John   66

    Ruth                42

    Dow, F. W. H.   12

Ruth was John's second wife. When she died, her son Frank inherited the property on Sauvie Island. I think it was in the vicinity of Oak Island. A few years back, the remains of an old cabin and rock wall could be seen. The rock wall may have been built to keep the waters away from the cabin. 



1887   Death of Second Wife

    Ruth passed away on July 18th. All her property was left to her son, Frank.

Listed in her personal property were 2 cut glass decanters, 1 pair of gold spectacles, a gold watch and chain, a dresser and three trunks. The 500 acre farm on Sauvie Island was listed as her property, even though John was still alive (see Early Oregon Wills, Multnomah County, Oregon, Book 4, pg 355, Probate No1, 387).


1893   Death Notice

     The Oregonian Death Index lists John Bonser's death on March 8th at 89 years. At that time he was living with his step-son, Frank Dow.

    Handwritten papers at OHS say he died in 1889. His body, accompanied by the funeral party, was put on the steamer, Kellogg and taken to Vancouver, Washington for burial.

    He is buried at the Old City Cemetery in Vancouver, Washington (SE section, Lot 121, Row 9, near his first wife, Rebecca).


Additional information on this family can be found in Clark County Pioneers, a publication of the Clark County Genealogical Society and files at the Vancouver Historical Society in Vancouver, Washington.












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