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Pioneer of 1847

Stephen Decatur Bonser

1829- 1917

    Stephen was the second child of John and Rebecca Bonser. He was born on April 3rd, 1829, in

Scioto County, Ohio (DLC #5090). According to family records there was an older boy, Lewis, who died before the trip.


1849         California Cold Rush.

    Stephen got the “Gold Fever.” He borrowed $100 and took a steamer to San Francisco where he mined for gold on the American River until 1850 (see “Travelogue ” written by Rosa Scoggins located in family records).


1850         Oregon Donation Land Claim.

    Stephen returned to Oregon and applied for DLC #5090. His land was in T3N, R1W, Lots 1, 2, 7 and 8 of Section 28 and Lots 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 of Section 21, totaling 320 acres.

    He settled his claim in June of 1850. Signing as witnesses were his father, John Bonser, his brother, James Halstead Bonser and his cousin, Hilton Bonser.

1853       Marriage of Settler.

    Stephen married a widow, Mahala Thomas Taylor, on June 11 (family records). She was the mother of one daughter, Mary Taylor, Portland (see info from probate record on page 29). They were married at the home of William Bybee on Sauvies Island (Or Statesman, 7 Sept 1858, 2:7).


Another article says that they were married at the home of George Knox. Both William Bybee and George Knox were brother in laws of Mahala.

1854         Birth of First Daughter.

    Lucy Belle Bonser was born on April 11 (information on tombstone at Masonic Cemetery in St. Helens, Oregon).

    She became the wife of James Dart, a prominent citizen in St. Helens, Oregon

1855         Birth of Son.

    William Taylor Bonser was born in 1855. (William Taylor was the name of Mahala’s first husband) At the time of his mother’s death (1875) he was living in St. Helens, Oregon and was 21 years old. He married Victoria Robbins, widow of James Barr, on July 11th, 1914 (Clark Co. Mrgs, 1914-1915).. He is buried in the Woodland IOOF Cemetery in Lewis County, Washington

1857         Birth of Daughter.

    Clara May was born in 1857 (census info). She became the wife of Clifford B. Harris (see Casto Collection at the GFO). They were the parents of one known child, Edith.

1858         Purchased a Sternwheeler!

    Steven bought the steamer “Eagle” for $2,300. He was the owner and master for two years (Lockley interview). According to Maritime records the “Eagle” was the first steamer to come up the south fork of the Lewis River to LaCenter. I don’t know if Stephen’s “Eagle” is the same boat.

    When the 1860 census was taken the three children of Stephen and Mahala are staying at the home of Hilton and Margaret Thomas Bonser. Margaret and Mahala were sisters, daughters of Henry Thomas. Both were expecting babies.

1860 Census, Sauvie Island Precinct

Bonser, Stephen

age 30


age 29


Taylor, Mary

age 11



age 6

(daughter of cousin, Hilton Bonser)


age 3

(daughter of cousin, Hilton Bonser)


1860 Salmon River /Mining Expedition.

    In 1860 Stephen spent a short time mining on the Salmon River. This didn’t work out. He got disgusted with his partners and returned to Sauvie Island (family stories at GFO and the Lockley stories at GFO).

1861 Birth of Son.

    Paul Sposito was born in 1861 (info from census and the probate of Mahala Bonser).

1860         Birth of Daughter.

    Abbie Rebecca was born in 1863 (census info).

1865         Birth of Daughter.

    Edith A. was born during 1866 (census info).

    Stephen became the pilot of the steamer “Ohio” during 1866, later he piloted the “Carrie Norton” and the “Lena” (family records and the Lockley stories at GFO).

1866       Marriage of Step ’Daughter.

    “At the house of Stephen Bonser, on Lewis River, by Jos. Brant, Justice of the Peace, on the 27th inst. Mr. William Barker married Miss Mary A. Taylor, all of Clark Co.

Compliments of parties received and thankfully acknowledge with abundant wishes for their continured welfare and happiness” (Clark County Early Marriages, Trail Breakers, Dec. 1977, pg 44 at GFO, VCL & FVHM).

1869 Opening of Photograph studio

    The Vancouver Register, April 17, 1869, announces the opening of a new gallery in St. Helens by Stephen D. Bonser. The article said the business was at the rear of the sawmill.

    Most of the pictures in this book were taken by Stephen Bonser. They were left to Roger Knowles Thompson by his g-grandmother, Hannah Bonser Knowles.

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