March 08, 2015, at China Palace on top of the hill on [Map] Stephens Ave., Roseburg, Oregon. Join us from 1 pm to 4 pm.
Call President John Robertson for more information: 541-673-0466
Cost is $15.00 per person.
& Letitia’s historical life before she came to Douglas County
Bob Zybach (b. 1948) has been Program Manager for ORWW.org since 1996. He has a PhD from Oregon State University (OSU) in Environmental Sciences, with a research focus on forest and wildfire history. He also has an MAIS and a BS from OSU, each in the field of Forest Sciences. He has been widely published and interviewed in the public media on the topics of forest history, fire history, reforestation, wildlife habitat, Oregon Indian history, Oregon black history, and scientific peer review methodology. Zybach is a 5th-generation Oregonian and just became a great-grandparent to Kindal Scott Zybach on October 1, 2014. He has been working on two scholarly articles and a detailed biography of Letitia Carson with Janet Meranda of Salem, Oregon since 1989.
Carson, Letitia (ca.1814-1888)
Letitia Carson was likely born from 1814 -1818 as a slave in Kentucky. Nothing is known of her early life or how she got to Missouri at some point before 1845. Very possibly she was involved in the hemp or tobacco farming industries, whether as a field hand or house servant or both. She was likely a Baptist or Methodist and attended Sunday services in her owner’s church or with an all-black congregation; possibly some of each.
In May 1845, Letitia began a 6-month journey across the Oregon Trail with Irishman David Carson, a 45-year old Platte County, Missouri landowner who had become an American citizen in October 1844. On June 9, somewhere near the crossing of the South Platte River, where the Oregon Trail begins to follow the North Fork, Letitia gave birth to the couple’s first child, Martha.
Soon after arriving in Oregon, the family of three settled down in a cabin they built on David’s 640-acre Soap Creek Valley land claim. Son Adam joined the family in 1849, during the California Gold Rush. In 1850, the Oregon Donation Land Act reduced Carson’s claim to 320-acres because Letitia was not David’s wife: it was illegal for them to get married, and illegal for a black person to make an Oregon land claim.
In September 1852, David died after a short illness, leaving Letitia and their two children behind. A wealthy white neighbor, Greenberry Smith, became Executor of the estate and declared that, as slaves, Letitia and the children were themselves property and therefore not entitled as heirs to the estate. This was in Oregon, though, so they weren’t individually appraised or put up for distribution or sale as would have happened had David died in Platte County.
In 1854, Letitia sued Smith twice in an effort to recover an equitable portion of David’s estate for herself and her children — and prevailed both times! These results were politically newsworthy, unprecedented, the hearings were attended by many prominent local and state citizens — and yet were barely acknowledged in the local or state press at that time.
Following David’s death, and during the jury trials, Letitia and the children left their Soap Creek Valley home and moved to upper Cow Creek Valley in Douglas County. Here she served as a midwife to the locally prominent Elliff family and was involved with the Rogue River Indian Wars of 1855-1856.
In 1859, Oregon became a State and formally adopted its 1857 Constitution, which was the only US State Constitution to include an exclusionary law, making it illegal for black immigrants to live in Oregon, own property, or file suit in a court of law. Letitia and her children – possibly by design — are not found in 1860 census records, although they most likely continued living in Douglas County during that time. In May 1862, President Lincoln signed the Homestead Act into law and on June 17, 1863, Letitia Carson filed a Homestead Act claim for 160 acres on South Myrtle Creek in Douglas County, Oregon. She filed as a “widow” and single mother of two children; and although the Act included “freed slaves,” Letitia didn’t identify herself as such.
In 1864, Letitia’s first known grandchild, Mary Alice, was born. In January 1868, daughter Martha married Narcisse Lavadour, a member of a local Metis family who settled a few miles south of Letitia. In June 1868, Letitia’s Homestead claim was certified by President Grant; one of the very first 71 homestead claims – of 1.6 million total – ever certified in the US.
Letitia lived another 20 years on her ranch, which included a barn, a smokehouse, cattle, pigs, a two-story house and an orchard of over 100 trees. Her daughter Martha raised several more grandchildren within a few hours ride of her mother. In 1888, Letitia died and was buried a few miles from her Homestead, in the Benjamin Stephens pioneer family graveyard.