An Oregon First Lady

The following is from a Newspaper Article in the Oregon Statesman of Salem, OR, dated Wed. July 12, 1976, pg. 7A.

An Oregon First Lady: Stalwart, Resourceful Pioneer

By Kay Apley

Staff Writer, The Statesman.

Polly Pierre never knew her exact age, nor did she ever learn to read or write. But, as a stalwart and resourceful pioneer woman, she had few peers. She also was the wife of Joseph Lane who became Oregon's first territorial governor in 1849.

When she was a very young girl, she was the sole survivor of an Indian massacre. Dazed, frightened and alone, she had released a boat from its mooring and floated down the Ohio River, coming to rest, barely conscious, against a small landing. A family named Hart took her in and raised her.

From all accounts, Polly could card wool, knit socks, make bread and soap and take care of babies. She must have been all of 15 when she married a son of her foster family. Her young husband died a year after their child was born, and Polly then married Joseph Lane, whose family had lived in the next cabin. She gave her baby to her foster sister.

"Polly felt a deep debt to the Hart family," says one account, "kissed the baby and put him in Jennie's arms while she with Joe as man and wife, set off up the river" to live in the new Indiana territory. Joe's family had moved there, and the young couple's cabin was next to them.

As Polly's family started growing - she and Joseph eventually had nine children- it became evident her young husband was getting a taste for public life. When he was elected to the Indiana State Legislature before his 21st birthday, her mother-in-law warned her, "Don't clip his wings."

The years passed as their children duly arrived between visits by her husband, and Polly managed through it all, dutifully keeping in mind her mother-in-laws admonition.

Joseph inlisted in the war with Mexico, was made a brigadier general and came out three years later with no pay for his services in the army. He thus accepted President Polk's appointment of him as territorial governor of Oregon and departed again, this time to the west.

One account states that Joe assigned his pay to his wife and "for the first time in her life, Polly had money. Joe Meek, who had come to notify Joe of his appointment, also left a pile of gold pieces for her as advance payment. Polly removed the large buttons from her red wool dress, covered the gold pieces with the cloth to resemble buttons and sewed them firmly on her bodice, resolving never to cut them off until every other resource had been exhausted."

In time, Joseph sent for her. She and her family made the lengthy journey via the Panama route, finally arriving in Oregon City where "a great ball was given in her honor... one of the few occasions on which she shared honors with him."

Polly is said to have found Oregon a marked contrast to Indiana in its attitude toward women. She was surprised to find that half the claim (300 acres) on which her husband had filed was hers - she was a land owner.

The land was near Winchester (a few miles from Roseburg) and once again, Polly and her family settled in with garden and a new cabin home. Joe, however, had resigned as governor and was off taking care of Indian outbreaks and eventually became so invloved in politics that he spent most of the time in Washington, even running with Breckenridge for President against Lincoln.

Meanwhile, back at the land claim, Polly put her gold piece bottons and a few more her husband had given her in a pottery jar, dug a hole in the woodshed, covered the secret cache and put a flat stone over it.

Miners passing her cabin home on their way to and from mines paid a pinch of gold dust for her pies and home-cooking, she cared for "weary travelers, worn from the long trip across plains," and she developed a business of sorts with the local land office to which she directed these travelers.

When her husband returned to Oregon in much polittical disfavor and without funds, it must have given Polly great pleasure to present him with her secret cache of gold pieces.

For her last 10 years, Polly had her husband by her side. She died in 1870, 11 years before him, and they are buried in the Masonic Cemetery in Roseburg.

Polly was my Great Great Great Grandmother, and I have done extensive research on her. Some of the information that is in this News Paper Article was gathered from a book called: "Quit Life of Mrs. General Lane" by Victoria Case. For more information on Polly's Descendants email: [email protected]

Polly was first buried on Strawberry Hill in Roseburg, Douglas Co., on the property that Joseph and Polly lived. After Gen. Joseph Lane was buried her body was moved to be buried next to him. They are now at the Memorial Garden Cemetery in Roseburg, Or. Many of the graves that were at the Masonc Cemetery were moved to Memorial Garden Cemetery. Photo of Polly and Joseph's Tomb

Feel free to email me to find out more information on Polly. Heather W. Bowers