John Odell

Name: John Odell
Born: 21 April 1799 / South Carolina
Died: 29 January 1869 / Dayton, Oregon
Spouse: Sarah Holman Odell
Married: March 1820 / Wayne County, Indiana
Arrived in Ore.: 26 September 1851
DLC: OC 913 / 320.12 acres
Occupation: Farmer

John Odell was born on April 21, 1799, in South Carolina. In 1802, he moved with his parents, James Odell, Sr. & Sarah Martindale Odell to what would become the state of Ohio the following year. A few years later, the Odell family again moved further west to Indiana.

John married Sarah Holman in March of 1820. They welcomed their first child, Martha, in 1822.

In February 1825, John moved his growing family from Wayne County, Indiana to the rugged wilderness of Deer Creek Township, Indiana (in what would become Carroll County).  The journey took approximately fourteen days. Mrs. Frances Stirlin, who joined the Odells on their journey to Deer Creek, remarked:

“We had rain every day, except two, during our trip. The men would cut brush on which to lay our beds, to sleep. Our clothes would be wet upon our backs in the morning, sometimes. The country from White River to the Wabash was an unbroken wilderness, uninhabited, with the exception of a few Indians at Thorntown.

– Recollections of the Early Settlement of Carroll County, Indiana, p.77

The Odells were among the first white settlers in the area.  John Odell built the first schoolhouse on his land, a small building made of logs that accommodated all of the children in the area. In November of 1826, John Odell, along with a handful of other settlers, organised the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Delphi. Nine years later, fifteen members of the church in Delphi founded a new church at John Odell’s log schoolhouse, called the “Deer Creek Church”.

John Odell was a devout Methodist, and was known to be a man of unfailing character. John & Sarah had a total of 10 children.

In March of 1851, the Odells again uprooted their lives to move to new, virgin country. They brought all of their 10 children with them. John & Sarah’s son, W.H. Odell, remarked:

“I drove a prairie schooner whose motor power was a four yoke of oxen. There were 16 wagons in our train and we never lost a steer coming across the plains.” – Oregon Journal, April 2, 1922

The Odells arrived in Oregon on September 26, 1851, and settled in Yamhill County on October 3. John Odell secured a Donation Land Claim of 320 acres in what would become known as the community of Webfoot. In 1856, John Odell sectioned off a small portion of his land to build a small wooden Methodist chapel, the first church in the Dayton area. The church also hosted the first Sunday school in the area.

Granddaughter Mary Lambert (daughter of Abram and Martha Odell Coovert), who was only 6 months old when she crossed the plains with the Odell family in 1851, recollected:

“There were 16 wagons, each of which was drawn by four yoke of oxen, that started from the Odell neighborhood in Indiana. They crossed the Illinois river at Peoria. They crossed the Mississippi at Fort Madison and the Missouri at Council Bluffs. While passing through Iowa they bought 150 head of loose cattle to take to Oregon. They arrived at their destination in Yamhill county early in October. My grandfather, John Odell, took up a donation land claim three miles south of Dayton. He donated land from his claim on which the Ebenezer Methodist church was built.” – Oregon Journal, November 16, 1932

John Odell died on January 29, 1869, at the age of 69 years old.  He is buried next to his wife, Sarah, who died in 1888, and is surrounded by his many children.


“In 1825 he took up his abode near Delphi, Ind., being the first settler of the township, following an old trail to his home, as there was no wagonroad. Having built a log house he began hewing out a farm in the midst of the forest of oak and black walnut trees, and continued his farming operations in the Hooiser state until 1851, when he came with his family to Oregon, traveling across the country until he reached Yamhill county. He settled near Dayton, securing a donation land claim of three hundred and twenty acres, which he broke and improved, making his home theron until his death, in March, 1869. In politics he was first a Whig and afterward a Republican; and religiously he was a devoted member of the Methodist Episccopal Church. While in Indiana he married Sarah Holman, who was born near Louisville, Ky., a cousin of Congressman Holman, and a daughter of George Holman, who, in 1781, at the age of sixteen years, was taken prisoner by the Indians while acting as an escort to a government team on the road from Virginia to Kentucky. For three years he was held captive by the Indians, and then securing his freedom, he settled near Centerville, Wayne county, Ind., where he followed farming until his death, at the age of one hundred and two years. He was a representative of an old Virginia family, of English descent. His daughter, Mrs. Odell, died in Yamhill county, in 1888, at the age of eighty-three years.”

– Portrait and Biographical Record of the Willamette Valley Oregon, Chapman Publishing Company, 1903, p. 351.

Footstone of John Odell’s grave

In an letter dated 30 May, 1852, John Odell wrote to wife Sarah Odell Holman’s sister and husband who still lived in Indiana.  He described his observations about the success of his family’s move to Oregon, and whether or not he would advise his sister-and-brother-in-law to make the same move:

You ask several questions which I will answer to the best of my judgment.  I have seen but little of the country.  Consequently can not give all the desired information. You ask if I think we bettered situation in life as far as health climate and making a living.  I think we have. A man can make living here with one half the work he has to do in states as the grass is green all winter and cattle constitutes the principle part of the wealth of this country.  What land will be worth when people get rights to their land I can not tell, but think it will be high as claims are selling high now and very few wanting to leave, the country.  Their was a prairie claim with very little timber sold for 25 hundred dollars. It had a small cabin and a field of 20 or 30 acres fenced.

You ask if I think it would be better for you to come. Now that is a hard question, but I would say if it was not for the dangers, hardships, and all most impossibility of getting here, and the health of your family should improve as much as our has,  I think it would pay. You ask is their country enough to afford a great population.  I am told it is about large enough for two states. This part of the country would afford a dense population if it was not for this thing of every man holding a section.  You ask is their timber plenty,  I answer there is a scarcity in some parts of the valley but the mountains so far exceed any thing you ever saw that you would not believe if I was to try to tell you. In fact I hardly know how to believe my own eyes that trees can stand twice as thick as do in your country.  All good rail trees three hundred feet high.  I do not know but there is timber enough in the cascades and blue mountains to fence in the world… you ask is their limestone—answer no… you ask is the valley wide or narrow  I am told from 30 to 50 miles.  You ask are the hills and mountains bad to cross.  They where high but not bad to cross they are covered with a good coat of grass and produce well. The mountains are huge but I suppose not worse than the Alleganys. I have not seen them only as I came across except what I can see by going a mile on the hills… you ask is there stone on the farming land not that I seen…you ask if think the land will wear well. Answer the soil is deep and solid I cannot see why it should fail if properly cultivated …. You ask is the rainy season very muddy and disagreeable..answer I think not so bad as it would be in the states from the fact that it does freeze and thaw consequently the mud does not get so deep…you ask what proportion of the country is susceptible of cultivation…answer a very large portion. John Cary says all…you ask what the grains it will produce…answer wheat, oats, grass and peas in great abundance. Garden vegetables will not do very well without manuring. There was the best gardens and the greatest amount of potatoes, cabbage, beets, parsnips, and onions.  All of them decidedly a better quality than I ever saw before…you ask are the seasons as changeable here as they are there… answer since wee have been here there has been no sudden change.  It has not been cold enough to freeze potatoes in an out house.  They do not dig them, only as they want them.  I could have got several hundred bushels for digging this ask how do we like the laws…. answer the governor and the legislature got into snarls at present. Theirs is a confused state of things.  The society is as good as any person could expect, but plenty of room to mend.  As to schools I think they will be some, unhandy as long as every man holds a section of land. That fare famed Oregon land bill was the poorest thing that ever got through Congress.  It was intended to favour a certain set of individuals,  I call them the old hens, blue chickens.  They are allowed to run their lines in any shape whatever.  Other settlers that have come in since are required to run their lines according to the cardinal points.

He also discusses the rumors that he had trouble with his hired hands on the Oregon Trial:

You say there has good many reports went back that I fell out with my hands. Now the best answer that I can give to that is if ever you try that road with loose cattle, don’t pick up a set of loose fellows a bout town. You had better pay some men 20 dollars a month than get others for their board.  I think there was very few trains got through with less difficulty than we did.  I never tried harder to do right than I did on the road.  I never felt more like squaring my life by the scriptures for I believe in them with all my heart.

A full version of the letter can be found here:  Letter from John Odell, 1852. For an unedited version of the letter: Sarah Holman and John Odell by Marlou Belyea

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Reference: Doris Huffman Papers, Fred Lockley Collection, MSS 1864, Oregon Historical Research Library: Lockley, Fred. “Observations of the Journal Man”, Oregon Journal, April 2, 1922, November 11, 1932 | Letter: (original: Indiana State Historical Library) | 1820, 1830, 1840 1850, & 1860 United States Federal Census | Doliante, Sharon J., Maryland and Virginia Colonials: Genealogies of Some Colonial Families, Vol. 1. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing. Co., Inc.,1991. | Oregon Historical Society; Portland, OR; Index Collection: Pioneer Index | Early Oregonians Index, 1800-1860 | Stewart, Dr. James Hervey, Recollections of the Early Settlement of Carroll County, Indiana. Cincinnati: Hitchcock and Walden, 1872 | | Odell, John C., History of Carroll County, Indiana. Indianapolis: B.F. Bowen & Company, Inc., 1916 | Portrait and Biographical Record of the Willamette Valley Oregon. Chicago: The Chapman Publishing Company, 1903 | Helm, Thomas B., History of Carroll County, Indiana. Chicago: Kingman Brothers, 1882