George Fristo McCorkle - Oregon Pioneer
McCorkle was the son of Alexander and Rebecca Elizabeth Fristo McCorkle and the
great grandson of Samuel and Sarah Buchanan McCorkle of Augusta County,
Virginia. Alexander and Elizabeth were married in 1818 in Christian County,
Kentucky and George was born about a year latter. George's grand parents,
John and Lydia Forrest McCorkle moved from to Green County, Kentucky about 1800
and John was killed by renegades in 1814. John’s widow, Lydia, soon moved to
Missouri with her thirteen children. In 1855, Alexander died in Buchanan County,
Missouri 1855 leaving a will.
What little is known about the early days of the Alexander McCorkle family in Missouri comes from the short biography of George’s brother Nelson McCorkle which was published in 1883. The family first lived in Cooper County, but soon moved to Clay County and then finally to Buchanan County in 1833. It was in Buchanan that George probably met Elizabeth Howell whom he married February 6, 1840. Elizabeth was born in Tennessee and was the daughter of John and Temperance Howell. Howell family tradition relates that John traveled to Oregon in 1837 as a member of a surveying team. Upon his return to Missouri, his experiences must have had a very positive impact on the community since, in 1843, George, Elizabeth and their infant daughter Temperance McCorkle joined John Howell, his family and several other Buchanan County residents on the perilous two thousand mile journey to the Oregon Country.
Some forty years before, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark had been commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson to explore a route to the Pacific Ocean. Their journey to Oregon from St. Louis took almost a year and a half to complete and is considered by many to be one of the greatest exploratory adventures in history. In the next four decades, many adventurers, fur traders, frontiersman and missionaries had made their way to the Pacific Northwest by land and by sea, but 1842 marks the beginning of the first large wagon immigration involving families. In that year, some 130 individuals made the long journey. The next year, four large contingents totaling some one thousand people left Independence Missouri for Oregon. These events occurred before Great Britain and United States had agreed on a common Oregon Country border at the 49th parallel in 1846. Oregon became a U. S. Territory in 1848 and 33rd state in 1859.
Many of the guides that were hired by the travelers were ex-mountain men, hunters and trappers that had already been west. Most of the families traveled with modified farm wagons called Prairie Schooners which were usually pulled by oxen. Because the trip cost nearly one thousand dollars, it took an average family three to five years to accumulate the funds to make the trip. Many families also took milk cows, horses and cattle. The modern “Western” movie has over dramatized and greatly exaggerated the danger presented by Indians. Far more dangerous for the early travelers was disease, primarily cholera. Probably more people were drowned in rivers crossings than were killed by Indians. Numerous others were killed and injured by being run over by wagon wheels, trampled in livestock stampedes and accidental shootings. The mortality rate for the trip has been estimated to be about five percent. One of every 17 adults died making the trip and one of every five children was buried beside the trail. Extended bad weather was another serious concern. Heavy rain and accompanying mud could slow the wagon train from oxen to snail’s pace. Delays increased the probability that the travelers would not make it across the Oregon mountains by winter’s snowfall.
On May 22, 1843, the Oregon Emigrating Company of some 700/800
men, women and children and 100 Prairie Schooners embarked from Independence.
Many in the company brought rather large herds of cattle. John Gantt, a mountain
man, was engaged to guide the train to Fort Hall and Dr. Marcus Whitman, a
missionary returning to Oregon, also accompanied the
company. In addition to their personal belongings and livestock the travelers
were advised to bring 150 pounds of flour, 15 pounds of coffee, 25 pounds of
bacon, 25 pounds of sugar, a quantity of yeast for bread making, salt and
pepper. At the Kansas River ford, Peter Burnett and James Nesmith were elected
Captain and Orderly Sergeant. Later on, however, severe friction developed
between the cattle owners and the non-cattle owners. This resulted in the
company being split into two groups: Jesse Applegate was elected Captain of the
cow contingent and William Martin lead the column without cattle. During the
most trying times, Dr. Whitman seems to have been a very steadying influence.
The average progress for a day was about fifteen miles. Several of the party
kept diaries and others recorded their recollections later. Stephenie Flora has
integrated these sources and compiled a day-to-day account of the journey. This
interesting chronology may be viewed at The Emigration to the Oregon
Country in 1843. The young George McCorkle, his infant daughter Temperance
and his father-in-law John Howell are mentioned as members of the 1843 company
in some of these accounts, but very little more is recorded about them.
The Oregon Trail and Calendar of the 1843 Oregon Emigrating Company
May 22 - Left Independence Missouri
July 14 - Fort Laramie
August 6 – Crossed the Continental Divide
August 14 - Fort Bridger
August 27 –Fort Hall
September 20 – Fort Boise
October 5 – Crossed the Oregon Blue Mountains
October 10 – Dr. Whitman’s Mission
October 16 – Fort Walla Walla
November 20 – Arrived Oregon City, Oregon
In 1845, John Howell and his large family were enumerated in
Champoeg District as part of the Oregon Territorial Census. At that time George
and Elizabeth were probably living with the Howells, but in the 1849 census of
the same district, the McCorkles were listed. Later in 1849, Champoeg was
renamed Marion County and on January 23, 1850, George, Elizabeth and five
children were enumerated. Two homes away were John and Frances Howell and
family. On July 9, 1860, the McCorkle family was enumerated in Howell Prairie,
Marion County. Their post office was listed as Silverton. Nearby were Jno and
Francis Howell. Howell Prairie was named for John Howell and is west of
Silverton between the branches Pudding River.
Although George McCorkle must have claimed land shortly after arriving in Oregon, this property was not patented until March 19, 1866, when George F. and Elizabeth F. McCorkle patented 639.77 contiguous acres in Marion County. This land is in Range 2 West, Township 6 South, Sections 25, 26, 35 & 36 and Township 7 South, Section 2. The patent was free under the terms of the 1850 Oregon-Donation Act passed by Congress to encourage the settlement of Oregon after statehood was granted. The location of this property is now called North Howell and is about six miles west of Silverton. On the left is an engraving of the McCorkle home from the 1878 Atlas of of Marion & Linn Counties, Oregon, published by Edgar Williams & Co., San Francisco, California.
On the right is a 1914 photo of the McCorkle home from the Oregon Historic Photo Collection. We do not know the history of this home; however, the resemblance to the above engraving is remarkable. We welcome any other information concerning this home.
In 1848, Temperance, the 1st wife of John Howell died and was buried near the Howell home. This was the start the Howell Prairie Cemetery. When John Howell died in 1869, James Murphy purchased some of the Howell estate, but controversy arose over the status of the cemetery. To settle this problem, Alexander, son of George McCorkle and son-in-law of James Murphy purchased the cemetery land for $30 and recorded the deed as a permanent cemetery. George F. and Elizabeth Howell McCorkle are also buried here.
Thanks to the research of Linda Morley, we can add some contemporary photos to this narrative. Even though it has been altered at some time, the George F. McCorkle House, located at 8474 Hazel Green Road in Silverton, was placed on the Oregon Historical Register in 1974. The date of construction was ca. 1851.
If the reader can add anything to this narrative, please contact me at my email address below.
Bureau of Land
Management – General Land Office Records
Eddins, O. Ned Historical Facts of the Oregon Trail and America's Manifest Destiny
End of the Oregon Trail Resources
Flora, Stephenie Emigrants to Oregon in 1843
Flora, Stephenie The Emigration to the Oregon Country in 1843
Munkres, Dr. Robert L. Oregon-California Trails Association, Trail Facts
Oregon Historic Photograph Collections
Oregon Native Son and Historical Magazine Vol. 2, No. 6. Native Son Publishing Co., Portland, Oregon, 1900
Oregon State Archives
Pioneer History – Churches of Christ & Christian Churches in the Pacific Northwest
Portrait and Biographical Record, Buchanan and Clinton Counties, Missouri, containing Biographical Sketches of Prominent and Representative Citizens, together with Biographies and Portraits of all the Presidents of the United States. Chapman Bros., Chicago, 1883
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Revised Sep 4, 2012