John A. Slavin is one of the worthy pioneers of Oregon, who came to the territory in 1850. He took up a claim and persevered, and now has a farm in the outskirts of Portland that is worth from $1000.00 to $1500.00 an acre. He had just ten cents when he located his land, and is now a well-to-do farmer. He owns other property in Oregon and Washington, and raises on his various farms valuable horses. (Family story is that he owned property in 23 counties in Oregon, Washington and Idaho which included two large horse ranches in Eastern Oregon, tenement houses in Spokane, etc., etc.) It requires but a moment to tell of Mr. Slavin's success, but it took him forty-two years of hard work to accomplish it, and he richly deserves the success he attained. His experiences would fill a large book, but only a brief outline can be given of his life.
He is a native of Boone County, Missouri, born May 9, 1825. His father, William Slavin was born in Garrett (ed.: Garrard) County, Kentucky, where his father, John Slavin, a pioneer, also, was a veteran of the war of 1812. The family is of Irish ancestry, coming to America prior to the Revolution. All of the family are noted for their noble, honest qualities. The grandfather lived to be ninety-six and all were long-lived. This is the stock from which our subject sprang. His father (William Slavin) married Frances Wood of Kentucky, daughter of William Woods of Kentucky. They had nine children three of whom are living. Mr. Slavin was raised in Boone county on a farm, and had a limited education. While there he worked at the wagon works, partly acquiring the trade. His father gave him a farm of 160 acres, and he worked it until his twenty-fourth birthday, when he decided to go to Oregon, as he could not get a title to the farm from his step-mother, his father being dead. He started in 1850 with some young men for California, but they did not agree so Mr. Slavin traveled alone. He had some cousins who were operating a small ferry across the Platte River, and he stayed and helped them for some weeks, for which they paid him $10 a day. They charged the emigrants $5 per wagon to ferry them across. Mr. Slavin saved one man's life while he was there as he was attempting to cross the river by himself. While he was crossing the plains three of his horses were stolen, but he recovered them next day and never knew who stolen them. All food was very dear and hard to obtain. His horses gave out at Grande Ronde and he traded them for a pony, paying $10 in addition. When he reached the Dalles, what remained of his outfit sold for $62.50. He paid $10 for his passage in a bateau or small boat (there being no steamboats running in these waters at that time) to Portland, and the bargain was that he should pull one oar. When he reached Portland he boarded with old Mrs. and Mr. Skidmore, at $12 a week. In a short time he obtained work at house building. They were obliged to prepare all their timber. He proved so expert at this that his wages were advanced from $2 to $10 a day; later he was hired by Mr. Stephen Coffin, and was to take Portland property in payment. He earned a number of such blocks as the post-office is on, then valued at $150, but Mr. Coffin was unable to give him a deed, and the matter dragged along until he supposed he had lost it, but Mr. Coffin, like the honorable man he was, paid him the money.
In 1851 he came to his land which was covered with a thicket of trees. He cut such poles as he could handle and built a small hut, binding the gable ends with split boards. After getting started he returned to Portland and was hired by Capt. Rufus Ingles to go with the troops as an extra teamster. The troops were sent to California and were expected to clear out the Indians they met on the way. He went with them as far as the South Umpqua, and saw in the valley a fine country. He carried the express back to Vancouver, and Quartermaster Ingles sent him to gather up the stray animals belonging to the government. He did much hard riding and had many narrow escapes. When he accomplished his mission he was paid at the rate of $10 a day. He took his money home and hid it; later he took $300 with him to buy a cow, and left the remainder in the house. When he returned he found that someone had entered his house, made coffee, eaten some of his provisions, but the money was safe. He later found out that it was four young men who had been hunting and had stopped to rest. He bought several head of cattle, until he had fourteen, and seven horses. The following winter was so severe that the lost all his horses and cattle except one little calf. He kept account of the proceeds of this same calf, a heifer, and found that he sold $900 worth of cattle and had four cows and several yearling left.
He was married December 1852, Emma R. Ross, of Delaware, Ohio, daughter of Luther and Mary (Arnold) Ross. She crossed the plains with her step-father and family in 1847. His name was Israel Mitchell of Kentucky, a grand-nephew of Daniel Boone. They started from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with Capt. White's Company and forty wagons, April 15. They arrived at the Dalles in August. The Indians were troublesome and one night two horses were stolen from the wagon in which Mrs. Slavin and her sister slept. Mr. Mitchell took his claim at the corner of Clackamas, Washington and Multnomah counties, so that some of it was in all of them. He planted an orchard and the land in now part of West Portland. Mr. Mitchell died at the home of Mr. Slavin in 1873, in his seventy-seventh year. Mr. and Mrs. Slavin began housekeeping in the little house in the woods; they enlarged it until in 1864 they built a good farm house. They had six children three of whom are living: Mary, now Mrs. R.C. Prince of Portland; Lillie. now Mrs. N.L. Gilham, of Hillsdale; John R. residing with parents.
Mr. Slavin is a Republican in politics, and he and his wife both take an active part in all school questions, both having held school offices. He served two years as Commissioner of his county. He has been an energetic business man and is favorably and well known throughout the State.
Illustrated History of the State of Oregon by Rev. H.K. Hines.
Lewis Publishing Co., Chicago, Illinois 1893.