NH: Donation Land Claims

The First Neighbors



The Bryant House (demolished).

The California Gold Rush of 1849 coincided with Oregon becoming a United States Territory. One problem the federal government faced was how to convince some of the 300,000 people chasing visions of untold wealth to choose, instead, to settle the new territory. The scheme Congress devised was to give away land. The Donation Land Claim Act of 1850 allowed single white or half-Indian men to claim 320 acres and married men to claim 640 acres. A woman could not claim land and could only own it outright if she was widowed.

Twelve pioneers came to stake their claims in this area. Albert Alonzo and Miranda Durham claimed 640 acres and platted or laid out the town site in 1850. It is often repeated that Oswego, New York inspired the town’s name, but it was not Durham’s birthplace since the town was founded in 1818, four years after he was born. The Durham family migrated to Ohio when he was eleven and in the 1840s Albert relocated to Illinois. It is plausible that the name was based on New York’s Fort Oswego or Oswego, Illinois.

Abraham Lincoln apparently touched the lives of two of Oswego’s original settlers. According to family lore, Lincoln, the Durhams’ family attorney, encouraged Albert to head west. Lincoln also saved Waters Carman from drowning in an Illinois river. Thanks to this act of bravery, Carman survived and later married Lucretia Allyn Gurney on September 13, 1852. The bride wore blue satin and the ceremony was held in the Durham’s home. This was the first wedding in the Oswego area. The Carman descendents still occupy the family’s original farmhouse. Unlike the Carmans, many original settlers quickly sold their free land and left the community. Clearly, “flipping” real estate dates back to pioneer days.

Due to the sparse population of the area, there were many marriages among early families. The Durham’s son, Silas A. Durham married Ella C. Bryant, the daughter of pioneers Charles Wesley and Mary Fay Bryant. Bryant had the distinction of introducing red clover, the best species for grazing, to Oregon in 1854 and he mastered the Chinook jargon. Henry and Mary Prosser’s son, George Washington Prosser, married Lucy Bullock, the daughter of pioneers Jesse and Nancy Bullock.

Socrates Hotchkiss Tryon, a physician, who settled at the mouth of the creek that now bears his name, died in 1855 soon after staking his claim. Tryon left $4,000 solely for the education of his children. His widow, Frances Safely, had the misfortune to marry Moses H. Young, a scoundrel who absconded with the fortune and headed for Panama. Caleb Barnes, a bachelor, claimed a remote area of the present-day Lake Grove. He reportedly was the best speller in the county and, not surprisingly, led an active social life.