Whose uncle was this?, I wondered, when I saw the photograph identified as "Uncle Billy Efner" among the effects of Rosmer P. Kerr. The photograph was a 4.25" x 6.5" cabinet card, taken by Jones Brothers Photographers in
The town of
William A. Efner was born in the town of
When Billy was 6, his sister Kate married Darius J. Pettis. She moved to
Billy was 14 when his father died on
The following year, Eliza bought some additional property in
Billy's name first appeared in the records of
Lewis' Addition was at the north end of Union town. Billy bought adjoining blocks 8 and 13, each of which consisted of eight lots measuring 50' by 100', a total of just under two acres for $200.
Fruit trees were first brought to this fertile, untamed valley in 1862 by Conrad Miller of
Wheat flourished here in the black, sandy loam, along with oats, barley, and some rye. Orchards were important too, and ranged in size from W.T. Wright's 160 acres down to the very small size of Billy's. It was probably Billy himself who planted the apple trees that would grow on this place for decades to come. Today several modest homes stand where his orchard once grew, but here and there an old apple tree can still be found. Were these a part of Billy's orchard? The productive life of a standard apple tree is 50-75 years, after which the yield diminishes. But the tree may live on, or it may be cut back and new growth allowed to spring from the root. I don't know whether these are Billy's apple trees, but I like to think so.
When Billy and the Davises came to
As members of their community, Billy and the Davises were well-known and respected. Wilber F. Davis was the mayor of
Billy was appointed by the Union County Court to act as one of two constables for Union Precinct Not to be confused with the job of sheriff or marshal of the wild west, the job of a constable was to collect taxes from the citizens and turn the funds over to the proper authorities. In addition to his oath of office, a constable was required to post a $1000 bond to assure that the monies would be properly handled. The appointment was made
In 1877 the valley community had a confrontation with the Nez Perce tribe, led by Chief Joseph. A member of the tribe had been shot in a dispute over horses. Further violence was averted when an agreement was reached with Chief Joseph. The settlers would not bother the Indians if they remained in the Wallowa valley, and the Indians could come to the Grand Ronde valley in small numbers to do business.
That was the same year the first public telephone appeared in the
Billy lost two young cousins that summer. Three-year-old Lottie, the youngest of J.E. Davis' eight living children, died July 20, and Emma, the nine-year-old daughter of Wilber and Francelia Davis, died August 27.
Six months later, back in
Winters in this area are usually short, from December to about mid-February. It rarely gets below -12°. Summer temperatures sometimes go over 100°, but it's fairly dry heat. Thunderstorms are rare, but it rains in spring, and strong winds blow anytime.
The winter of 1880-81 was especially severe, and 70 of the cattle perished from the cold. The following winter on November 5, a heavy windstorm tore the roof off the courthouse. That was also the year that the Presbyterian society, organized in 1879, built its church.
The mid-1880's were a time of prosperity. In 1885, the town of
There were some losses in Billy's family, however. On
On Decoration Day 1887, a disastrous fire destroyed several buildings in
Heavy snowfall in the winter of 1889-90 resulted in a prosperous 1890. Crops were excellent and prices were good. In spring, the Union Electric Power and Light Company was formed, and within a few months there were lightbulbs in homes and street lamps.
It was about this time that Billy went down to
Times were hard in the 1890s. There was financial panic throughout the
Nevertheless, someone prospered, because it was during this period that a large Victorian home was built on property adjacent to Billy's and facing his orchard. This beautiful home is still standing, and in recent years was opened as a bed-and-breakfast inn.
In 1892 and 1894, Billy mortgaged block 13 of Lewis' Addition for a total of $275. Those mortgages would not be satisfied until 1908, several years after his death. In 1897, he mortgaged block 8 for $125. Five years later, on
Billy frequently made purchases from the general merchandise store of Townley, Gale & Company, as well as that of Joseph Wright, rebuilt since the fire of 1887. He often bought ten cents' worth of tobacco, and occasionally cigars. On
By 1902, Billy was raising poultry as well as fruit. His large, flowing script appears in the 1902 Official Register of Electors for Union county. The elegance of his signature and the apparent ease with which he wrote it suggests he had practiced his penmanship conscientiously.
That year, Billy lost another cousin who had shared the journey west. Edward W., son of J.E. Davis, died March 20 at the age of 40, leaving three young children.
Kate Comes to
The Eastern Oregon Republican, a weekly newspaper, printed the following item on
Kate Efner Pettis was 62 years old when she arrived in
Kate's half-brother Billy would turn 50 in late November. I don't know the state of his health when Kate arrived, or whether they were able to attend the parade and circus. But by the time of his birthday, he was ill with diabetes and under the care of Dr. C. E. Saunders, M.D. Dr. Saunders examined Billy on November 21 and did a urinalysis that day and each of the next three days. He made two house calls to see Billy on Saturday, November 28, two more Sunday, and three Monday, but to no avail. The use of insulin to treat diabetes was almost 20 years away.
Kate was Billy's only heir and was appointed administratrix of his estate, valued at $1,581.75. In addition to the real property, there were tools and supplies, cordwood, household furniture and stoves, and 18 dozen chickens. Billy had $45 in his account at First National Bank in
It appears that Kate remained in
Billy's gravestone was erected in late October 1907, not long before Kate left. It is a tall obelisk, engraved thus:
AGED 50 YRS.
I talked for awhile with Marvin Gilkison, the clerk at
It took about two minutes to get from cemetery to post office. When I walked in, the postmaster looked up and said, "Well, you must be T.K." So it is in the small town of
While no journal has been found detailing Billy's life, nor any personal correspondence, we can assume that the life of the town was his life to a great extent. We are all inextricably involved with the place we live in: climate, politics, economy, social events, the lay of the land. These are the things we can know about Billy's life. The rest we can only imagine.
1 Davis, Lewis J., Our Kinsmen: A Family History (Portland, OR, 1936), p. 25. (Note: Lewis J. Davis, another son of J.E. Davis, was almost 11 years old on that westward journey in 1876.)
2 An Illustrated History of