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Bill and Phil -The Elting Brothers Go West

By Grace Elting Castle

When James Elting left New Paltz at the age of 16 to seek a new life "Out West" in Iowa, he could never have imagined that two of his grandsons, bitten by the same adventure bug near the turn of the century, would go way "out west" to make their homes near the Pacific Ocean. Or that, years later, one of his great grandsons would follow suit.

Phillip Hasbrouck Elting (photo) and William S. Elting, two of the sons of James and Ada Sommerville, grew up near Dodgeville, Iowa. There "Phil" married Estella G. Miller. The couple made their home on a farm in Dodgeville, near Burlington, Iowa. "Bill" was married to Jessie E. Smith, a native of Idaho, but no record has yet been found of their marriage, so it is unknown whether he was married at the time he left Iowa. I suspect that if he made his way to Oregon by train, as did other Elting men, later, he may have stopped off in Caldwell or Boise for awhile and fallen in love with the young woman who was to become a beloved great-aunt of a houseful of little Eltings on the Oregon Coast.

The exact date of the brothers’ departure from Iowa, and the reasons for it, remain a mystery, though their eldest sister, Kathryn (Kate) Deyo Elting Riddle, remembered that Phil decided to move to Oregon "because of Estella’s health problems." Aunt Kate, was 102 ½ years old in 1976 when I asked her about this, and the details of Estella’s health problems had been lost in a myriad of other memories.

But arrive in Oregon they did. Records have been identified that clearly show them settled in on their farms in the Siletz River valley by June 27, 1914 when Phil became the first postmaster at the tiny hamlet of Orton, Oregon. He served in that position, with the post office being operated out of his home, until November 10, 1915. In June 1921, the name was officially changed to Logsden, Oregon, so as to avoid an ongoing confusion with the nearby postoffice of Nortons, Oregon. The Logsden name remains to this day---a one building store/postoffice/gas station, across the highway from the former Elting farm, and located eight miles east of the town of Siletz, former headquarters for the Coast Indian Reservation.

A 1916 listing in the county newspaper reported that James Elting had traveled from Iowa to visit his sons at Orton.

The farms purchased by the two brothers appear on maps of allotments made to members of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians. Further research of land records may reveal whether the brothers purchased their land from the Indian allotees, or if it had been lost for taxes and picked up through tax sales.

Long time residents of the area recall that Phil Elting’s home, described as a "show piece", burned to the ground some years after the young couple arrived. The new home, designed to further their stance as the center of the social activity in that part of the reservation area, included an entire upstairs "ballroom" for community dances. Many local romances are reported to have blossomed at those events.

Phil’s niece, Helen Shank, in a 1976 letter from Iowa, recalled a trip with her mother, Kate, to Logsden in "1931 or 1932": "..We thought he was quite an individual. I can see him yet as he put on his gloves (good looking ones, too) as we were about to go some place when we were out there. It was quite evident he was a very much respected person. They had no telephone so we drove miles and miles to invite friends to a gathering in our honor. We were there about a week and on numerous occasions we were very proud of Uncle Phillip.."

In those years few employment opportunities existed for the Native people still being restrained within reservation boundaries But many tribal elders a few years ago still remembered their years bucking hay and tending cattle for "Mr. Elting"--- their first opportunity, as young men, to make money, with perhaps the exception of being permitted to pick hops in the Willamette Valley.

The Phil Elting farm, or "ranch" as it was usually called by these elders, was known throughout the area for its herd of Dutch cattle, as well as for its congenial, gregarious and opinionated owner who was the "gentleman farmer" in suit and tie even in this remote, coastal wilderness area accessible only by dirt roads and trails. In fact, Phil and Bill, utilizing Bill’s teams of horses and a lot of human sweat and muscle, worked on the "road gang" that carved new roads into the area; roads that were then graveled with the rock blasted from local hillsides by Bill, the "powder monkey".

Local newspaper articles, and court minutes for the early part of the century document Phil Elting’s involvement and importance in the county. When he traveled to Toledo to visit the courthouse, it was an event to be mentioned in the newspaper. When an important argument was raging in political circles, his opinion was sought, even though it would have taken a concerted effort to travel the more than 20 miles over dirt roads, with several river crossings, first by horseback, later by buggy, then, in even later years, by automobile. Paved roads did not exist in the Siletz-Logsden area in his lifetime.

Bill and Jessie settled on a farm about a mile west of Phil and Estella. Though they were also popular neighbors, they eventually chose to move to "town", settling in Toledo, fed by the largest spruce and fir forests on the continent. There, they quickly became the center of the social circle, hosting popular house parties.

Bill’s name was also occasionally mentioned in the local newspaper, but the stories were much more colorful and, as was the custom of editors in those years, full of advice that the young man straighten out his life instead of engaging in raging street fights. That Elting temper and too much partying just kept getting him into trouble!

Though I remember Uncle Bill and Aunt Jessie well from my childhood, some of most pleasant memories are the stories told to me by their friends in the Toledo community when, as a young adult, I was a reporter for that same newspaper. Uncle Bill had died nearly 20 years before and Aunt Jessie had moved to Idaho, but all I had to do was mention the Elting name to a long-time Toledo resident and the stories would begin to flow.

It may well always remain a mystery why these two brothers undertook an adventure to a remote, nearly inaccessible Oregon Indian reservation in the early 1900s. It is not even certain that they traveled together.

Neither had children, though Phil and Estella did have at least two foster sons, Roy Grinstead and Ernest Anderson who were recognized locally as sons. Roy stayed at home to take care of Estella after Phil’s death and inherited the farm. Roy’s widow sold it after his death as she was unable to manage it alone.

In 1933, two of Bill and Phils nephews, sons of their youngest brother James Henry of Burlington, Iowa, caught the infamous Elting adventure bug, and hopped trains bound for Oregon. One Charles Leland "Red" Elting made it to Oregon, stayed with Phil and Estella for awhile and returned to Iowa, later settling in southern Illinois where he married and raised his family. The other, James Everett "Ev" ran out of money in Montana, so arrived in Oregon later. Though he worked, sporadically, for his Uncle Phil, he was soon unofficially "adopted" by Uncle Bill and Aunt Jessie and lived with them until his marriage. His children, (me included) were treated as grandchildren by these two wonderful people.

Phil and Estella and Bill and Jessie are buried near the Pacific Ocean, in the Eureka Cemetery at Newport, Oregon, now just a short 20 miles drive from the farms where they settled after making what must have been the adventurous trip of a lifetime. Whether they made the trip for reasons of Estella’s health, or because they, like many other Eltings, had to see what was "out there", their actions continued the westward migration begun by James, son of Moses and Phebe (Vredenburgh) Elting when he left New Paltz for his adventure in 1858. His great, great-great, and great-great-great grandchildren continue to have adventures "Out West."


The Road Crew - Bill (2nd) and Phil (3rd) from left

All photos courtesy Grace Elting Castle

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