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Steve Jacobson

THOMAS MADISON MAY and MARTHA DODSON

Submited by Kate McCarter
Copyright © 2000 by Kate McCarter

Surname: Blower, Dodson, Elder, Harsch, Hester, May, Moyers, Rowley, Schaeffer, Thorpe, Young

Thomas May and Martha Dodson were early pioneers in both Oregon and Washington Territories. Martha was born November 11, 1841 in McDonald County, Missouri. When she was 11 years old, her family crossed the Oregon Trail to settle an Oregon Donation Land Claim in Douglas County. Martha claimed French ancestry perhaps on her mother's side of the family as the Dodsons were of English descent. Mattie Thorpe McCarter remembered her grandmother Martha as a small, slender woman who was very kind and loving. When she was 19, Martha married Thomas Madison May, a 26-year-old carpenter and resident of Roseburg.

Thomas M. May was born February 24, 1834 in Meadville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania to Thomas C. May and Jane Moyers. His grandfather was John May who had immigrated from Ireland shortly before the Revolutionary War.
When he was ten years old, Thomas' parents moved to Illinois and settled on a farm in Dekalb County, sixty miles west of Chicago. Thomas acquired a common school education, and then served as an apprentice to a cabinetmaker.
After his apprenticeship ended, he headed for New York City where he boarded a ship for the gold fields of California. His trip may have been inspired by his cousin, John W. May, who lived in neighboring Boone County. A year earlier John had returned from a three-year adventure in California with a small fortune $3,600 in gold nuggets.

Thomas left New York harbor on September 5, 1855 and arrived in San Francisco on October 26, 1855. Had he taken a clipper ship around Cape Horn, his journey would have taken up to six months, so he must have traveled on one of the many steamers which chugged from New York to Aspinwall, a port on the Atlantic side of the Isthmus of Panama. The trip across the Isthmus would have involved a 13-mile train trip into the jungle, followed by a three-day pack trip on mules to Panama City, on the Pacific Ocean. From there, he would have boarded another steamship that would have taken him and the other prospectors, packed shoulder to shoulder, to San Francisco.
While fraught with many dangers and inconveniences, this route to the West must have been much easier than the six-month Oregon Trail trek his future in-laws, the Dodsons, had endured a few years earlier.

Thomas lived in California for several years mining gold in Shasta County, on the California-Oregon border. Then in the spring of 1858 he headed north to Douglas County, Oregon where he met Martha. They were married in Roseburg on December 13, 1860.
The Mays spent the first decade of their marriage in Roseburg where Thomas worked as a carpenter, and Martha had the first of their nine children. In 1871 the family sold out and headed for Washington Territory. They homesteaded on Rock Creek in Whitman County in an area known as the Palouse so named for the small band of Indians who were indigenous to the region.
Because of relatively low rainfall, the first settlers in the Palouse believed the land was suitable for little more than grazing. But in the mid-1870s, immigrants from eastern Europe, who were familiar with similar climatic conditions, began growing winter wheat a crop planted in the fall and harvested the following summer. With winter wheat, the Palouse country had found its destiny and the settlers their prosperity.

In the spring of 1876, the Mays sold out again and moved to the town of Dayton which sits at the confluence of Patit Creek and the Touchet River in Columbia County. This is an area with a rich and interesting history. Lewis and Clark had been through in 1806, camping on the banks of Patit Creek, on their return trip east. At that time, the current town site of Dayton served as a major camping ground for the regional Indian tribes which included the Nez Perce, Walla Walla, Yakama, and Umatilla. What is now Dayton's main street was the tribes' horse racing track. Even as late as 1859, there were 100 Indian families camped on the site.
Although Dayton had been platted in 1871, at the time of the May's arrival, it consisted of little more than a flouring mill, general store and post office. By the end of the decade, however, Dayton had seen considerable growth and came to be known as a "wild and wooley" place. It had a Weinhard brewery and 15 saloons for its 1,500 residents. Gambling was wide open, and Dayton entertained some of the best-known desperados of the West until law and order was established.

In 1878, a couple of years after their move to Dayton, Thomas formed a partnership with Henry Gale, and they founded Dayton's first and only Republican newspaper, The Columbia Chronicle. Henry was the editor and Thomas was the business manager. An article on Thomas stated, "Mr. May is a staunch Republican and always has been, casting his first vote for Abraham Lincoln and for every Republican president since that date. He has never scratched a ticket, always taking it straight."
In addition to managing the newspaper, Thomas turned again to wheat farming when in 1882 he submitted homestead applications for land in Thorn Hollow, a valley about five miles northwest of Dayton. The family always referred to the home place as the "ranch." Thomas kept a number of horses there and, according to his granddaughter Mattie, only drove and rode the very best.

Martha and Thomas were so successful in their business ventures that they built a fine Victorian home in Dayton. Between 1880 and 1910 many other prosperous settlers also built large homes in Dayton in the Queen Anne, Italianate, Gothic, and Craftsman styles. Today, 90 of these are on the National Register of Historic Places including the train depot and county courthouse, which are the oldest in the state.
Both May sons were said to have gone to college, and it is likely that all the children completed 12 grades since Dayton boasted Washington Territory's first high school. After they were grown, most of the May children stayed in the Palouse and seemed to have prospered as well as their parents.

Roxy May, the oldest, was born September 27, 1861 in Roseburg. On March 30, 1882, she married Henry J. Young and they settled on a large wheat farm in Pullman, Washington. They had four or five boys, all of whom went to college.

My grandmother Genette May was born December 4, 1862 in Roseburg. She was said to be very fond of her little sister Mary who was six years her junior. She became a school teacher and on June 5, 1888 married my grandfather Arthur Thorpe in her parent's home in Dayton.

Hugh Delos May was born July 14, 1864 in Roseburg. He and his younger brother Thomas Edward May always went by their middle names Delos and Edward. When he was 20, Delos married Ava Elder whose family also had a place in Thorn Hollow. They lived for a time at his parent's ranch and then moved to a farm near Washtucna in Adams County. They had six children Grace, Nina, Nita, Mayme, Delbert, and little Dale who died as a toddler at the home of his grandparents in Dayton. Delos and Ava divorced in 1907, and he married Ruby Eleanor Rowley of Roseburg, Oregon. They moved to a farm in Walla Walla, Washington and had two daughters, Eleanor and Helen. Besides farming, Delos was also a federal employment agent for several years, was engaged in the real estate business, was president of the Walla Walla Dairymen's Association, and was a member of the farm loan board. He had lived in Walla Walla for 25 years when he died in 1935 at the age of 71.

Byra May was born April 23, 1866 in Roseburg and was 18 when she married Edwin J. Elder on September 24, 1884. Edwin was a photographer, and they made their home in Dayton. They had at least two children. One son, Wayne, was born in 1888, and Byra was just 35 when she died in 1901 after giving birth to their last child, also a boy. The names of their other children are not known.

Mary L. May was born in Roseburg on March 24, 1868. She graduated from Dayton High School and took up nursing, taking care of patients in their homes long before there was a hospital in the community. On July 30, 1893, she married Robert M. Hester and they had two children, Walton and Hester May Hester. In 1915 when Dayton opened Brining Hospital, Mary became its manager. A 1918 newspaper article written in honor of Mary's fiftieth birthday reads, "She ministers to all cases with a tenderness and patience that, combined with the skill obtained from her years of study and practice, bring about remarkable recoveries and win for her the lasting gratitude and friendship of her patients." When her daughter Hester died of a heart condition in 1928, Mary also raised her two grandsons, Maurice and Pat. By this time she and Robert had moved to Clarkston, Washington. She lived out the rest of her life in Clarkston, dying in 1946 at the age of 78. Her obituary paid tribute by saying, "She was a fortress of strength to her family and to her many friends in time of sickness or sorrow."

Mida I. May was born September 18, 1876 in Dayton, and died when she was just 19 months old.

Lena May was born in Dayton on April 14, 1879. She was 21 years old when she married Jasper William Harsch on May 27, 1900. In 1916 the couple moved to a large wheat farm outside Waitsburg in Walla County. Lena and Jasper had six children Carl, Donovan, Jack, Myron, Martha, and another daughter. Lena had been chronically ill for many years when she died at the age of 59 from heart failure.

Thomas Edward May was born July 30, 1881 in Dayton. He married Mary Schaeffer and they took over the family place in Thorn Hollow. He and Mary later moved to Dayton where they lived out their lives. He died there on July 5, 1952.

Martha May, the youngest child, was named for her mother and went by the nickname Mattie. She was born November 23, 1884 in Dayton. She married Mack Blower, an older man who owned a music store in Portland, Oregon. They had no children but Mary Thorpe Newcomb went to live with her Aunt Mattie for some time after her mother Genette died 1922.

Newspaper articles on the Mays show a close-knit family with Thomas and Martha's large house serving as the hub of activity. Most of the May children were married in their parent's home, and many of the grandchildren born there when the daughters came home for their confinements. One of these grandchildren was Mattie Thorpe McCarter, born there on December 6, 1892. Thomas and Martha were also visited by long distance relatives including his brother and sister from Illinois, and Martha's sister Lydia from Montana. They also made frequent trips to Roseburg, Oregon to visit Martha's family.

Thomas was just 69 when he died on December 14, 1903. He had lived through Dayton's heyday and watched the population of Columbia County swell to more than 7,000 residents. He also lived to see California, Oregon, and Washington gain statehood. His obituary stated that Thomas was a successful businessman and left a valuable estate to his family.
Martha lived for another 17 years. She attended the Methodist Church and was a highly respected member of the community for more than 40 years. She was 79 when she died on May 26, 1920 at the home of her son Edward.

Coincidentally, both she and Thomas died of kidney disease, perhaps having had scarlet fever at some time in their lives. They are buried in the Dayton Cemetery as are most of their children.

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Copyright © 2000 by Steve Jacobson