Philip H. Sheridan is known as a military hero of the Civil War. He became a three-star general, chief of staff of the United States Army, and the leader of the Union troops that won crushing victories over the forces of the Confederacy on Sherman’s march to the sea.
There are some interesting tales told of his romance with Frances Johnson, a winsome resident of the Grand Ronde Reservation, and his years as a Lieutenant at Fort Yamhill and Fort Hoskins before the start of the Civil War.
But the story that is not told is Philip Sheridan’s second job — as the owner of extensive Polk County farm land and what is believed to be the first commercial application of irrigation to Willamette Valley row crops.
Philip Sheridan was raised in Ohio. His parents were Irish immigrants. He was a graduate of the U. S. Military Academy at West Point. His academic record was not exemplary. He was admitted only because the boy who was to receive the appointment flunked an entry examination. He graduated one year late because of a dispute with another cadet which left him with a smear on his cadet record for what one author called a “serious breach of discipline.” His grades were poor, too. He trailed near the end of his class academically.
Sheridan graduated in July, 1853, and received a temporary (brevet) commission as second lieutenant. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in November, 1854, served in Texas, New York City and California before finally, in April, 1856, arrived at what was to become Fort Yamhill, one of three military posts designed to keep the ragged remains of Western and Southern Oregon Indian tribes on the consolidated reservations that occupied most of what today is Lincoln County, and to keep the white interlopers out of the Indian territory.
Sheridan had made his approach on the daughter of Joel Palmer, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, and failed. He then paid attention to a Rogue River Indian maiden named Frances Johnson. That was her white name. One story has it that her Native name was Sidnayoh, and that she was the daughter of Chief Quately of the Klickitat Indian tribe. Frances (or Harriett) and Sheridan never married. He left her behind when he was transferred from his last command at Fort Yamhill to the scene of the War in the Eastern U.S.
Frances visited Sheridan and his new wife in Washington, D.C., in the 1870s where she was received with grace, and then returned to Oregon.
But Philip Sheridan’s most interesting contribution to Polk County history came from his accumulation and development of farm land in Polk County.
Newspaper publisher Robert Hendricks, in his 1937 book, “Innnnnng Haaaaaaa! The War to End the White Race,” says that Sheridan and his commanding officer, Capt. D. A. Russell, borrowed money from A. H. Reynolds, Walla Walla banker, and by the start of the war owned what Hendricks said amounted to 838.15 acres of land, principally along the highway from Fort Yamhill to Salem near Wallace Bridge.
Sheridan and Russell were the first in Oregon to use irrigation water in their farming. Sheridan and Russell kept soldiers camping at the farm during the summer months and the harvest helped piece out the hardtack and salt pork that made up the core of the soldier’s rations in the pre-war years.
Russell reached the rank of major general and died at the battle of Opequon in September, 1864. The property was sold in the 1870s. Deed records show the transaction was managed by an attorney from Portland.
There is a question as to whether Sheridan’s Native American companion was Frances, Harriett or perhaps both.
A photo of Frances Johnson is in the files of the Oregon Historical Society at Portland. A photo of Harriett Lindsay accompanies the article by author Ron Karten. Harriett Lindsay died in 1933 at Grand Ronde at the age of 93. Karten says he believes that Frances and Harriett were one and the same.
Karten’s article says that Harriett is believed to have spent several years traveling in Europe. She is described as “a very sophisticated lady.”
This Polk County history article is sponsored by Some Things Antiques
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Information in this article is from the Library of the Polk County Historical Society.