Biography of General William H. Odell
Oregon Biographies





It is imperative that mention be made of General William Holman Odell, who in large measure left the impress of his individuality upon the pioneer history and later development of Oregon. He was born in Carroll county, Indiana, December 25, 1830, his parents being John and Sarah (Holman) Odell. The father was born in South Carolina, April 21, 1799, and in 1803 accompanied his parents to Wayne county, Ohio, while in 1808 a removal was made to Wayne county, Indiana, where John Odell grew to manhood, and there on the 30th of March, 1820, he was married to Sarah Holman, who was born in Kentucky, December 10, 1803. The death of John Odell occurred March 31, 1869, while his widow survived for a number of years, passing away January 1, 1887.

William H. Odell pursued his education in the district schools of Indiana and also spent two years as a student in Willamette University at Salem, Oregon, following the removal of the family to the northwest. On starting out in the business world W. H. Odell spent five years as a farmer of Yamhill county, Oregon, and subsequent to his first marriage he took up the profession of teaching, being for three years a teacher in the Santiam Academy in Lebanon. For a year he was a public school teacher in Albany, Oregon, and in 1864 removed to Eugene, where he accepted the position of United States deputy surveyor of public lands. In this connection he explored and surveyed the line of road for the Willamette Military Wagon Road Company, from Eugene via the middle fork of the Willamette to the eastern terminus. He also superintended the construction of the road from Crescent lake eastward to the Idaho line. In 1871 he was appointed to the position of surveyor general of the district of Oregon and in 1876 was chosen the presidential elector and carried the returns to Washington. He spent the winter in the national capital and witnessed the inauguration of President Hayes.

Following his return to Oregon, Mr. Odell in 1877 purchased the Oregon Statesman which he published for six years. In the interim he served for two years as state printer, filling out an unexpired term, his predecessor in the office having died. In 1885 General Odell was appointed postmaster at Salem and occupied the position for four years. In 1891-2 he was employed as locating engineer in the allotment of lands to the Indians on the Siletz reservation and was appointed a commissioner in conjunction with Judge R. P. Boise and Colonel Harding to negotiate a treaty with the Indians for the sale of the lands not allotted on the reservation. He was again called to public office when in 1895 he was elected clerk of the state land board and occupied that position for four years. Since the expiration of his term, or 1899, he has lived retired, enjoying a well earned rest. His life has largely been devoted to public service and has at all times been characterized by the utmost fidelity to duty in every relation. The cause of education has ever found in him a stalwart champion and for sixteen years, ending in 1904, he was a member of the board of trustees and president of the board of Willamette University.

On the 16th of October, 1855, Mr. Odell was united in marriage to Elizabeth F. McLench, who was born in Kennebec county, Maine, December 23, 1816, and passed away at Portland, Oregon, March 31, 1890. In 1844 she became the wife of Samuel R. Thurston and in 1846 they removed to Iowa, living in Burlington for a year and then crossing the plains in 1847. They resided at Oregon City until Mr. Thurston was elected a delegate to congress and she remained in the west, meeting the hardships and difficulties of frontier life in order to care for their little family and aid in the pioneer development of the region while her husband was absent from home on the duties that took him to Washington. While he was on the return trip in 1851, death called him. In 1853 his widow became preceptress in Willamette University and filled the position for two years, bringing to her educational work unusual ability, both natural and acquired. She had not only been well trained in the English branches of learning but was also proficient in Latin, Italian, French and Spanish. In 1855 she became the wife of W. H. Odell and accompanied her husband on various removals previously indicated in this record. After the family home was established in Eugene in 1864 Mr. Odell, then engaged in civil engineering, was necessarily much from home and to beguile the hours Mrs. Odell opened a private school. In 1877 they removed to Salem and in 1889 went to live with their daughter, Mrs. Stowell, in Portland, where about a year later Mrs. Odell passed away. Her pallbearers were some of the most distinguished men of the state, who thus paid their last tribute of respect to one whose career was typical of American Christian womanhood. By her first marriage she had a son, George H. Thurston, and a daughter, Mrs. A. W. Stowell, deceased.

Four years later, on the 23d of May, 1894, General Odell was married to Mrs. Carrie Bright Taylor, who was born July 29, 1834, and was left an orphan in infancy. She was reared as a member of Dr. Walker's family in Kentucky, and after attending the public schools she became a student in Columbia College and was graduated in English, Latin and music. She taught for five years in country schools and for two years in Columbia College, and in 1861 she became the wife of Dr. James Gwinn Taylor who passed away August 11, 1889. Five years later she became the wife of General Odell and for twenty five years they traveled life's journey happily together, the death of Mrs. Odell occurring July 4, 1919. The funeral service bore testimony to her high worth. In the funeral oration it was said: "Mrs. Odell knew the dignity of human life, prized her inheritance as a Christian and looked at life and its problems in a philosophical way. She grew to God like a flower, or a tree. She did not suppress and stamp out the upliftings of her spirit. * * * Her faith expressed itself in terms of service. Her motto might well have been that of the Master himself, 'I am among you as one that serves.' She loved to serve and the joy of her life was in doing something helpful for others."

General Odell has for seventy five years been a member of the Methodist Episcopal church and was a lay delegate to the general conference in May, 1900, and also to the general conference in Los Angeles in 1904, serving on the latter occasion as alternate and filling out half of the term. Fraternally he has been connected with the Ancient Order of United Workmen since 1888. His political allegiance was first given to the whig party and since its dissolution he has been a stalwart champion of republican principles. His life has been one of great activity and usefulness and he has reached the evening of his days - being now a nonagenarian - crowned with the honor and respect which are the legitimate outgrowth of an upright life.

From:
History of Oregon Illistrated
Vol. 2
BY: Charles H. Carney
The Pioneer Historical Publishing Company
Chicago - Portland 1922


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