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Covering Dallas, Monmouth, Independence, Falls City and surrounding areas since 1868

A Polk Pioneer

DALLAS -- Col. James W. Nesmith, the namesake of the new Oregon Army National Guard Readiness Center in Dallas, also has been called "The Father of Polk County."

The Colonel James W. Nesmith Readiness Center outside Dallas is completed and set to host a dedication ceremony and public tours Friday.

Photo by Pete Strong

The Colonel James W. Nesmith Readiness Center outside Dallas is completed and set to host a dedication ceremony and public tours Friday.

October 09, 2012

DALLAS -- Col. James W. Nesmith, the namesake of the new Oregon Army National Guard Readiness Center in Dallas, also has been called "The Father of Polk County."

He earned that unofficial title through a shrewd political move in 1847, while serving in Oregon's provisional government.

Once elected to represent local residents, Nesmith, who was in his mid-20s at the time, pushed to create Polk County, separating it from Yamhill District. His first effort failed. But not one to give up, Nesmith called for another vote -- this time when those opposing it were absent.

The plan was a success -- one of many that would mark Nesmith's life of service to his country, state and Polk County in the military and elected office.

That service is the reason the Oregon National Guard chose to honor Nesmith with naming the Dallas readiness center after him.

"Nesmith is a historical figure for not only the Oregon militia, but for the state of Oregon," said Oregon Military Department spokesman Capt.

Nesmith served as both a U.S. Senator and member of the U.S. House of Representitives, among other posts.

Oregon Historical Society

Nesmith served as both a U.S. Senator and member of the U.S. House of Representitives, among other posts.

Stephen Bomar. "This building is a testament to his legacy."

Friday, the National Guard is holding a dedication ceremony for the Col. James W. Nesmith Readiness Center, which opened in September. Nesmith's grandson, Lewis McArthur, will be in attendance for the dedication.

Bomar said Oregon National Guard Adjutant Gen. Raymond Rees made the final decision in selecting the facility's namesake.

"There were multiple names that are presented to the adjutant general," Bomar said, noting included with each name are justifications for honoring that individual. "Ultimately, he makes the selection based

In 1847, Col. Nesmith was involved in a disagreement with lawyer and judge Jesse Quinn Thorton over the integrity of Nesmith

Oregon Historical Society

In 1847, Col. Nesmith was involved in a disagreement with lawyer and judge Jesse Quinn Thorton over the integrity of Nesmith's father-in-law. When Thornton refused to engage in a duel, Nesmith published and distributed this broadside (poster) proclamation.

on those recommendations."

In Nesmith's case, the list of reasons for selecting him could be lengthy.

According to a historical account compiled from the National Guard's historical database and Dallas unit historians, Nesmith was born in 1820 in New Brunswick, Canada. His parents, William and Harriet Nesmith, were residents of Maine, but he was born when they were on a short trip from home.

Orphaned at a young age, Nesmith lived with relatives until he began his move west, stopping in Iowa and Missouri before joining the "Great Migration" in Kansas in 1843. The party of 875 people left Independence, Mo., in May 1843 and arrived in Oregon City five-and-one-half months later.

Nesmith, along with three others, left the party at the Umatilla River and traded with Native Americans for canoes. They made their way to the Columbia River and

The Nesmith farmstead along Rickreall Creek, circa 1920. Before he died, Col. Nesmith acquired enough adjoining land to be able to leave a farm to each of his five surviving children.

Oregon Historical Society

The Nesmith farmstead along Rickreall Creek, circa 1920. Before he died, Col. Nesmith acquired enough adjoining land to be able to leave a farm to each of his five surviving children.

followed it to Fort Vancouver, arriving in October 1843. He traveled to Oregon City and started his life in Oregon as a carpenter.

Nesmith began reading law and took an active role in the state's provisional government, elected "supreme judge" at age 23.

A year later, in 1846, he married Lucinda Pauline Goff and settled on a land claim near Monmouth.

In 1848, Nesmith was named captain of Company G of the 1st Regiment Oregon Riflemen in Polk County, one of the first units based in Dallas. The post, however, was short-lived. Serving on scouting missions in the Walla Walla Valley in the spring and summer, the regiment returned home later that year.

In 1849, Nesmith purchased property west of Dallas. This site became the first post office in Polk County and Nesmith was postmaster from 1850 to 1852. He would also serve as county treasurer and U.S. Marshal in subsequent years. Then, in 1855, he purchased what would become his family's permanent home on Rickreall Creek.

He served in the military during conflicts with Native Americans, but was also appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Oregon Territory. In that post, he advocated for payment to Native tribes for the land taken from them.

Nesmith also crossed party lines, supporting the abolition of slavery when elected to the United States Senate in 1860. A Democrat, he joined Republicans in calling for the end of slavery. Additionally, he was the only Democrat in the Senate to vote for the resolution proposing the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished

Nesmith

Photo by Pete Strong

Nesmith's grave is marked by a towering monument in the family cemetery at Nesmith County Park in Rickreall.

slavery.

Nesmith retired to his Dallas-area farm in 1876. A man who fought both on the battlefield and in politics, at the end of his life he sought reconciliation.

"Life at best is too short to be wasted in personal strife and in cherishing animosity and I have an earnest desire to wipe them out," he said of seeking peace with former enemies.

He died in 1885 at age 65 and is buried in Nesmith Park, near the Polk County Fairgrounds & Event Center.

A Celebration

Col. James W. Nesmith Readiness Center Dedication

When: Friday, 2 p.m.

Where: 12830 Westview Drive, Dallas.

Of note: Seating for the ceremony is limited and reserved, but tours of the facility open to the public are scheduled following the dedication.

For more information: Jim Willeford, 503-584-3861.