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John Pollard Gaines
 
John Pollard Gaines, who was born in Augusta County, Virginia, served with General Winfield Scott in the Mexican-American War and represented Kentucky in the United States Congress before coming to Oregon. Appointed Territorial Governor in 1850 by President Taylor, he held that post until 1854; during this time the first Indian war occurred in Oregon.

Born September 22, 1795 in Augusta County, Virginia to Abner Legrand Gaines and Elizabeth Mathews Gaines. His grandfather and great-grandfather served during the Revolutionary War. He received an education and studied law, he volunteered in the War of 1812. He was a lawyer with his practice in Boone County, Kentucky. He was a state legislator in Kentucky during the 1820's and 1830's. He volunteered and was appointed the rank of "Major" for the War with Mexico in 1846. He and some 80 soldiers were captured at Incarnation in January 1847. They were held captive in Mexico City until August. After revoking his “parole of honor” he along with a midshipman, escaped from Mexico City and arrived in Puebla on August 3 or 4, 1847.

Major Gaines led the first wagon train out of Mexico headed back to the United States. One of the travelers, Mrs. Noah Smith died at sea on board the ship taking her and her two small children back to the U.S., Major Gaines took her children back to Kentucky with him and then on to relatives. In caring for these youngsters he was late to his first session of Congress.

While a prisoner of War in Mexico, his district back in Boone County Kentucky elected him to the 30th United States Congress. At the end of his term as congressman he returned to Boone County and in October of 1849 he accepted the position of Governor of the Territory of Oregon. Abraham Lincoln refused this position first, how different history may have been if “Honest” Abe had gone to Oregon.

Gaines first wife, Elizabeth Kincaid, died the year after their move to Oregon; two years later, in 1853, he married Margaret B. Wands.

At the end of Governor Gaines' term in 1853 he settled on his farm just outside Salem, Oregon. In 1854 he and two of his sons (Archibald & Abner) drove over 200 head of cattle from Kentucky and Arkansas across the plains to Oregon. The herd included 35 pure bred Durham cattle. In September of 1854 his daughter Catherine was born to him and his second wife Margaret Wands. Governor Gaines' appointment to the governorship cost him the death of several of his family. Two daughters (Harriet & Florella) in 1850 in Brazil, his first wife (Elizabeth) in 1851 in a fall from a horse, at which time his remaining children were sent back to relatives in the east. His daughter Matilda died in Tennessee in the spring of 1857, it was the last of several blows his poor body and soul could not overcome. He died December 9, 1857 of Typhoid Fever, and is interred in the Old Pioneer Cemetery at Salem, Oregon.

His son Archibald went to the Clatsop Plains Cemetery in late December of 1857 and brought back his mother’s remains so that she and his father would reside next to each other for eternity.

Compiled by John Calvin Gaines, III

Bibliography:
Bellinghausen, Frank. "Pioneer Cemetery, Nomination for Historic Registry," Salem Parks and Recreation Department, December 5, 1984.

John Calvin Gaines III, biographical information and photos, October, 2002

 

 
Governor Gaines official portrait
Governor Gaines official portrait
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Family photo of John Pollard Gaines, 1849
Family photo of John Pollard Gaines, 1849
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