selected articles from the Spring 2015 Newsletter
The Legacy of Earl Leggett
by Patrick Harris
In 1993 Earl Leggett, supported by local sponsors, and with critical assistance from an on-site support team, drove the Aurora wagon across the entire length of the Oregon Trail, fulfilling at least symbolically, a promise made by Dr. Wilhelm Keil to his dying son Willie that he would not be left behind in Missouri.
Willie Keil, nineteen years old in 1855, had been promised the lead wagon in his father’s caravan that was scheduled to leave Bethel, Missouri in April and arrive at Willapa in the Washington Territory early in the fall. Willie, however, contracted a fever, which delayed the train’s departure, as everyone hoped that he would recover. Unfortunately, Willie died.
Dr. Keil, in an effort to fulfill his promise to Willie, had a special coffin made for him, placed the boy’s body in it and then sealed the coffin after it was filled with the colony’s own distilled Golden Rule Whiskey. Willie’s hearse wagon led the procession to Willapa, where he was buried the day after Christmas 1855.
In 1991 the Aurora Chamber of Commerce hosted a representative from the State of Oregon who was on the planning committee for the celebration of the Sesquicentennial of the Oregon Trail in 1993. Initially, all six states represented along the trail planned to participate in a mass crossing of the trail. Hearing this, members of the Aurora Chamber, with Earl as a leading voice, saw this as an opportunity for our community to have our own wagon join the parade. “We can bring Willie home,” Earl said, seeing as he was not buried where the colony actually settled with the rest of the family at Aurora.
Earl was not suggesting that we move Willie’s actual body. His idea, supported and endorsed by others, was to restore the museum’s old hotel service wagon, preparing that for the trip. Earl eagerly volunteered for the trip, as did others, and the preparations began. A local woodworker crafted the wood exterior of the coffin. A local tinsmith worked on the interior. Key sponsors provided funding and Aurora was on its way.
However, the six state plan did not receive enough support and so Oregon and Idaho decided to travel just those two states. That would not work for Aurora. As a community we were bound and determined to take our wagon back to Missouri and, if necessary, make the trek alone. Eventually, Aurora signed on with a wagon master from Wyoming who also planned to make the entire trip.
Earl’s account of this journey is told through the mouths of the mules, Ann and Sue. The mules were purchased in Kentucky, and then brought to Independence, Missouri where the Aurora group gathered for departure. While many people played important and essential parts in the completion of our task to “Bring Willie Home” this is Earl’s story about his relationship to the mules who he believes knew him best. For long stretches of the trek Earl imagined what the mules might be thinking as they also reacted to the many adventures. Rather than mention some people and not others, Earl chose to name only the mules.
Earl died on April 8, 2015.
Update on the Giesy Store
by Reg Keddie
The last newsletter reported that the board had voted to repair the front porch of the Giesy Store. Over the years, the porch had borne the brunt of all kinds of weather and was in serious disrepair with many of the balusters on the balcony falling off. There was serious wood rot on all the pillars.
Local contractor, Brain Asher, was selected to do the repair work due to his extensive remodeling work on historic buildings.
The project was supported financially
by the following:
The estate of Bob Hurst
The Oregon Community Foundation - Fred W. Field Fund
The Kinsman Foundation
Descendants of the Giesy families
Mr. Asher started the project on January 12 and it was completed on February 13. The photos will show how the work progressed and we are happy to say that the project was completed on time and on budget. Brian and his helpers did a fantastic job in the removal of the damaged materials and returning the porch back to its original beauty. We feel confident that this repair work will last for a long time.
SAVE THE DATE Party at the Farm – August 22nd
by Luana Hill
Mark your calendar for August 22, 2015 – and then get ready to Party at the Farm—the Stauffer-Will Farm! Your board of directors is working hard to make this dinner and auction a fun and festive evening, and we’d love to see you there. We’re sourcing all our dinner ingredients from local farms, breweries, and wineries, so you’ll enjoy farm-to-table freshness and flavor. Headlining the menu will be BBQ chicken, grilled on site. And, as a guest, you’ll have a great opportunity to see a historic site that is not often open to the public (since it is used primarily for our school program).
We’ll be giving brief tours of the farmhouse and barn, and there will be live music, a farm-to-table meal, and silent and live auctions. All for just $50 a person, with special rates for tables of 6 or 8. You can purchase tickets at http://www.auroracolony.org or give the museum a call at 503-678-5754.
ACHS depends on the money raised by Party at the Farm to provide much-needed funds for building restoration, preserving artifacts, conducting research, and creating exciting learning programs. So please join us!
If you can provide auction items such as use of a vacation home, event tickets, special experiences, etc., or if you could supply vegetables (especially fresh corn) or marionberries to use in the dinner, please let us know. We are also looking for a golf cart to borrow for the evening, so we can make it easier for guests who don’t like to walk from the barn to the farmhouse. If you can help with any of these items or would like to help plan the event, call Luana Hill at 503-263-8771.
New Beginnings - 43rd Annual Quilt Show
The Old Aurora Colony Museum’s quilt show “Aurora, New Beginnings” will be held from October 9 through October 18. The quilt show will help celebrate the 160th anniversary of the Oregon Trail journey of the future Aurora Colonists from Bethel, Missouri. Enjoy the art and artistry of contemporary, vintage, and antique quilts.
The “Log Cabin - New Beginnings” raffle quilt is in the frame, so stop by and see this beauty. Our quilters are here every Tuesday morning and would love to have you join them.
Block contest rules for next year’s quilt are available online and at the museum.
By the way - we need “good stuff” donations for our quilt show’s Colony Store. During the ten-day show the popular Colony Store is a destination for quilters and crafters who are looking for unique fabrics, vintage textiles, and all kinds of needlework notions at bargain prices! So look around your fabric stacks and craft bins—donate those extra fat quarters, patterns, and other fabric craft goodies to our Colony Store. Your tax deductible donations will be accepted through Saturday, October 3rd at the Old Aurora Colony Museum.