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Oregon Petticoats book

Books Gayle Shirley has written and published include:

The Fang Gang, 2008, Dickeylake Press.

Amazing Animals of Montana, 2005, Globe Pequot. (formerly Four-Legged Legends of Montana)

Amazing Animals of Oregon, 2005, Globe Pequot. (formerly Four-Legged Legends of Oregon)

Amazing Animals of Colorado, 2005, Globe Pequot. (formerly Four-Legged Legends of Colorado)

More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Colorado Women, 2002, TwoDot/Falcon Press.

More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Oregon Women, 1998, TwoDot/Falcon Press.

Charlie's Trail: The Life and Art of C.M. Russell, 1996, C.M. Russell Museum/Falcon Press.

More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Montana Women, 1995, TwoDot/Falcon Press.

Four-Legged Legends of Oregon, 1995, TwoDot/Falcon Press.

Four-Legged Legends of Colorado, 1994, Falcon Press.

Four-Legged Legends of Montana, 1993, Falcon Press.

Where Dinosaurs Still Rule (co-author with Debbie Tewell), 1993, Falcon Press.

Montana Wildlife: A Beginner's Field Guide, 1993, Falcon Press.

A is for Animals, 1991, Falcon Press. (Out-of-print, but the author has a few for sale.)

C is for Colorado, 1989, ABC Press. (Out-of-print)

M is for Montana, 1988, ABC Press.

To order a copy of The FANG GANG

Or other Gayle Shirley books
send a note to
4150 Bobcat Dr.
Helena, MT 59602
or call: 406.457.1918

or email:

You can also order Gayle's books from Globe Pequot, Amazon, Barnes and Noble or other book stores or online web sites.

While Gayle was an editor at Falcon Press, she conceived the idea for the More Than Petticoats series of books. She went on to write three in the series for Montana, Oregon and Colorado. All told, Globe Pequot has expanded the series to 33 states. The following chapter is from Gayle's More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Oregon Women, which is in the process of being expanded and revised. The new edition is scheduled to be issued in spring of 2010.

"Mother of Oregon"

     Tabitha Moffatt Brown, an elderly widow who weighed less than a hundred pounds, guided her horse through the rugged Umpqua Mountains of southern Oregon. Beside her on that frigid fall day in 1846 rode her brother-in-law, John Brown, a seventy-seven-year-old retired sea captain.

     The two weary travelers were part of a wagon train that had left Missouri for the Oregon Territory seven months earlier. They had ridden on ahead of the others because the emigrants' food supply was almost gone, and word had passed among the wagons to "fly, everyone who can, from starvation." That morning, before leaving her daughter and son-in-law, who had to remain behind to round up the family's few cattle, Tabitha had eaten only three slices of bacon and sipped a cup of tea. She hoped to overtake another wagon train that had passed them the previous day and ask its members to share a bit of food.
    Tabitha was traveling with a light load. Like many other settlers who had made the grueling trek to Oregon, she had watched her wagon splinter to pieces as it jolted over the rocky trail. She had been forced to abandon many precious belongings.
     Now she faced another crisis. Captain Brown was complaining of a "swimming in his head and a pain in his stomach." As they picked their way through the trees and boulders, he toppled from his horse and lay on the ground, too feeble to climb back into the saddle.
     Heavy rain clouds had crept among the peaks, and Tabitha realized she had little time to act before a storm broke. She dared not dismount, because she didn't know if she could get back on her horse. So she held out a cane to the delirious old man so that he could haul himself to his feet. She found a low spot where his horse could stand as she pulled him onto its back. Then, leading his horse by its reins, she searched for a campsite where she could put up a tent, cover her brother-in-law with blankets, and do her best to keep him warm through the night. She doubted that he would survive until morning. Years later, she described her grim predicament like this:

    "Pause for a moment and consider the situation. Worse than alone, in a savage wilderness, without food, without fire, cold and shivering, wolves fighting and howling all around me. Dark clouds hid the stars. All as solitary as death. But that same kind Providence that I had always known was watching over me still. I committed all to Him and felt no fear...."

    To Tabitha's great relief, Captain Brown rallied. The next morning, as she saddled their horses and prepared to break camp, a settler out deer hunting stumbled upon them. He shared some venison with them and helped them find their way back to the trail. They forged on to their destination: the lush Willamette Valley.
     Tabitha had traveled close to two thousand miles through deserts, mountains, and valleys--often, she later recalled, with "mud, rocks, and water up to our horses' sides." She had feared attack by wild animals and hostile Indians. On some days, she had gone hungry. When at last she reached Oregon, she was practically penniless, but the sixty-six-year-old pioneer had clearly proven her mettle.
     Tabitha's odyssey was remarkable enough, but she was yet to conceive her most lasting legacy. During her cross-country journey, she had witnessed the suffering of children whose parents had died on the trail. So she decided to open an orphanage in Oregon. After a few years, it evolved into Pacific University, one of the first liberal-arts colleges in the region. Today, the school boasts a student body of 1,800 and a national reputation for programs in psychology and optometry.
    Tabitha would have been proud of the university's success, but she probably would have dismissed any praise for her accomplishments. She tended to pass the credit to a higher power.
     "God had a work for me to do," she once wrote, "and had seen fit to use me to accomplish His own purposes."
    Faith was a driving force throughout Tabitha's life, which began May 1, 1780, in Brimfield, Massachusetts. At the age of nineteen, she married an Episcopal clergyman, Clark Brown. He died eighteen years later, leaving her to raise their three children alone. To support her family, she taught school in Maryland, Virginia, and Missouri.
     Tabitha's oldest son, Orus, was among the adventurous Americans who made the original "Great Migration" to Oregon in 1843. After spending a year on the Tualatin Plains about twenty-five miles west of present-day Portland, he hustled back to Missouri to extol the "paradise" he'd found. He persuaded Tabitha, his sister and her family, and his uncle, Captain Brown, to join him out West.
    The families embarked by wagon train from St. Charles, Missouri, on April 15, 1846. The expedition went smoothly until the group passed Fort Hall, in what is now southeastern Idaho. There, Tabitha later said, a "rascally fellow" persuaded them to take a newly discovered shortcut, a route that would lead them across the southern Cascades and avoid the difficult trip through the Blue Mountains and the Columbia River valley. But the emigrants soon realized they had taken a shortcut to trouble. As Tabitha recalled:

     "Our sufferings from that time no tongue can tell. We had sixty miles of desert without grass or water, mountains to climb, cattle giving out, wagons breaking, emigrants sick and dying, hostile Indians to guard against by night and by day. We were carried south of Oregon hundreds of miles into Utah Territory and California; fell in with the Clamotte (Klamath) and Rogue River Indians; lost nearly all of our cattle."

     Tabitha and her brother-in-law reached Salem on Christmas Day 1846. A Methodist missionary invited them to stay with his family until they could get established. It was the first time they had been inside a house in more than eight months. Tabitha did domestic chores to earn room and board for herself and Captain Brown. The plucky grandmother had little choice; she had lost almost everything she owned on the trip, including her bed and rocking chair. All she had were a few clothes and a small coin called a picayune, which she discovered in the finger of a glove. It was worth only a fraction more than six cents.
     Tabitha used the money to buy three sewing needles and traded some of her clothes to Indian women for buckskin. She began to make rugged leather gloves, which she sold to loggers and other pioneers who worked hard with their hands. Before long, she had managed to save thirty dollars.
    Although she was rallying financially, Tabitha never really wanted the money for herself. She dreamed of founding an orphanage, a refuge for homeless children.
     In the fall of 1847, she was visiting her son, Orus, in Forest Grove when she was invited to a Presbyterian Church meeting. There, she met the Rev. and Mrs. Harvey Clark, missionaries from New York who had come to Oregon in 1840. The Clarks asked Tabitha to spend the winter with them, an invitation she gratefully accepted.
     "Our intimacy ever since has been more like that of mother and children than strangers," Tabitha wrote later. "They are about the same age as my own children, and look to me for advice."
     Tabitha also wanted advice. She told the Rev. Clark about her desire to start an orphanage. In her memoirs, she recalled the following conversation:

     "I said to Mr. Clark: "Why has Providence frowned on me and left me poor in this world? Had He blessed me with riches as he has many others, I know right well what I would do."
     "What would you do?" was his question.
     "I would establish myself in a comfortable house and receive all poor children and be a mother to them."
     He fixed his keen eyes upon me to see if I was candid in what I said.
     "Yes I am."
     "If so," he replied, "I will try and see what efforts we can make.'"

     Clark was able to sell other church members on the idea. They agreed to build a log boarding house at Forest Grove and provide food and other supplies. Tabitha opened the doors of the orphanage in 1848. For the first year, she worked for free. She also worked hard; housekeeping, sewing, gardening, and cooking were but a few of the tasks that needed her attention.
     "I managed (the children), did almost all my own work but the washing, which was always done by the scholars," she recalled in her memoirs. In one five-month period, she mixed 3,425 pounds of flour into bread.
     Initially, Tabitha supervised thirty boarders ranging in age from four to twenty-one. Not all of them were orphans. Some had been left behind by parents who had rushed to the California goldfields in hopes of finding a fortune. Those parents who could afford it paid a dollar a week per child for board and tuition.
     Tabitha was popular with her charges, and they called her Grandma. She wore white caps trimmed with pillow lace and was "exceedingly quiet and cheerful in her ways," according to Jane Kinney Smith, who lived as a child at the bustling orphanage. So "orderly and intelligent" was Grandma's management that Smith couldn't remember a single discipline problem. She later recalled that:

      "In the mornings, especially Sundays, [Tabitha] would waken her household by singing, and as her voice was still sweet and strong, and her singing good, this made the children feel cheerful all the week. This lady also was something of a mechanic, and contrived many conveniences, one being a clay-made oven, which was the admiration of the neighborhood; having been constructed by simply a wooden framework, of proper size, over which was placed a sufficiency of well-mixed clay, after which the woodwork was burned out, and other fuel added until the clay was hardened into something like brick."

     Another student, Marcus Walker, remembered that Tabitha had a "stern face and dignified bearing, but we knew that behind them lay the kindest heart that ever befriended a homeless orphan."
     By 1851, forty children were enrolled at Tualatin Academy, as the school was called. Three years later, the territorial legislature decreed that it could become Pacific University, but it continued to serve children until 1914.
     Despite her key role in founding the university, Tabitha was not among its original ten trustees. They were all men, which was not uncommon in those days, when women did not even have the right to vote. But strong-willed Tabitha would not be deterred from playing an active role on campus.
      The university's first president, Sidney Harper Marsh, was an Eastern tenderfoot who had to teach classes as well as run the school. He had no house or office, so he fashioned a makeshift "home" in the unfinished upper story of the Science Hall. He balanced his bed on trestles that he laid across the floor joists. To reach it each evening, he had to climb a ladder.
     Marsh was discouraged at times by these primitive conditions, and he would seek out Tabitha when he needed a pep talk.
     "The good soul would cheer him up and bid him take heart," the Oregon Sunday Journal of Portland reported in 1909.
     An oak tree graced the middle of the campus in those days. When it was hot, Tabitha would often take refuge in the shade beneath its branches, a familiar sight in her white cap and calico dress, a book propped open in her lap, her cane lying beside her. She identified with the gnarled old tree because it was aged and crippled, just as she was. The hollow trunk also once sheltered a swarm of bees. When Tabitha died, a plaque was nailed to the oak proclaiming it "Grandma Tabitha's bee tree."
     The oak has long since toppled, but a petrified stump marks the site of the academy's original log cabin. A plaque memorializes the building and Tabitha's contributions.
   Old College Hall, built in 1850, still stands on campus. Tabitha raised money to buy the building materials and supervised meals for the settlers who erected it in only two days. A few years later, the Union Army recruited soldiers for the Civil War on the steps of the building. Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Old College Hall is the oldest building west of the Rocky Mountains that has been used continuously for educational purposes. The wooden structure has been renovated so that it looks as it did in the mid-nineteenth century. It is still used for classes, and the second floor houses a museum that celebrates the history of the university and Tabitha's life.
   Tabitha helped the university and the community in other ways, both large and small. In the fall of 1855, several Indian tribes in the region were growing angry over the encroachment of settlers and miners on their homelands. The people of Forest Grove feared an attack. Tabitha slogged up and down the muddy paths of town, recruiting men and boys to dig a trench around Old College Hall as a defense. A sentry also was dispatched to the hall's cupola, from which he could see three miles in every direction.
     Meanwhile, Tabitha and some of her students set to work sewing an American flag. On it, they arranged twenty stars in the shape of one large five-pointed star. Around the edges, they stitched in narrow letters the words: "Co. 'D' FIRST OREGON VOLUNTEERS 1855-56." According to family lore, Tabitha tore up one of her own petticoats to make the flag, because fabric was scarce.
     Forest Grove never was attacked by Indians, but the company carried the flag when it took part in the Yakima Indian War of 1855 and the Bannock Indian campaign of 1878. Today, the flag is kept at the university museum.
     In 1854, when Tabitha was seventy-four years old, university officials asked her to help the financially strapped school by traveling to the East Coast to solicit donations from Christian groups. She had to turn them down, pointing out that she was simply too old and frail to make the trip cross-country. But because she was thrifty, she had managed to save money to buy cattle and property. She donated some of this to the university for an endowment just before she died on May 4, 1858, three days after her seventy-eighth birthday. She was buried in Pioneer Cemetery in Salem.
    Ella Brown Spooner, who wrote two short books on Tabitha's exploits, described her feisty grandmother as selfless and dedicated. "Instead of pursuing happiness, she allowed it to come to her when she was busy lending a hand. Wherever she went she was held in high esteem."
   Almost a century and a half after Tabitha's death, Oregonians still appreciated her indomitable spirit. In 1987, the state Legislature proclaimed her the "Mother Symbol of Oregon," saying that she "represents the distinctive pioneer heritage and the charitable and compassionate nature of Oregon's people."
   Tabitha herself said she would leave it to others to appraise her life and legacy. Three years before she died, she wrote to relatives:  

       "You must be judges whether I have been doing good or evil. I have labored for myself and the rising generation, but I have now quit hard work, and live at my ease, independent as to worldly concerns. I have a nicely furnished white frame house on a lot in town, within a short distance of the public buildings.... I have eight other lots, without buildings, worth $150 each. I have eight cows and a number of young cattle. The cows I rent out for their milk.... I have rising $1,100 cash due me; $400 of it I have donated to the university, besides $100 I gave the academy three years ago. This much I have been able to accumulate by my own industry, independent of my children, since I drew 6 1/4 cents from the finger of my glove."


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