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

Footstone of John Odell’s grave

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.


In a 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 others to make the same move. His letter was printed in the local paper, the Delphi Weekly Times:

Oregon Letter.From John Odell to Adam Porter.

Yamhill Co., Oregon Ter.,
May 30, 1852

Dear Brother, – You ask me several questions, all of which I will answer to the best of my judgment. I have seen but little of the country, and consequently cannot give you all the desired information.

You ask me if I think we have bettered our condition, as to health and climate and the means of making a living. I think we have. In respect to making a living, a man can live here with one half the work he could in the States; for the reason, that the grass is green all Winter, and that cattle which is the principal part of the wealth of the country, can live without being fed through the winter. It is impossible to say what land will be worth when the people get titles to it; but I suppose it will be very high. There was a prairie claim sold here, with but very little timber on it, having a cabin and 20 or 30 acres fenced on it, for $2500. You ask me, “do you think it would be better for me to come to that country?” That is a hard question. But I will say that, if it were not for all the danger and hardships, and the almost impossibility of getting here, and if the health of your family should improve as much as mine has, it would pay. You ask, “would the country afford a large population?” I am told that it will make about two States, and this part of it would support a very dense population, if it was not that each man is allowed to hold a section of land.

You ask, “is there plenty of timber?” There is a scarcity in some parts of the valley; but the mountains so far exceed any thing I have before seen, that I can hardly believe with my own eyes. I have seen trees three hundred feet high, and standing twice as thick on the ground as they do in your country, and every one a rail tree. I do not know but there is timber enough on the Cascade mountains to fence the world.

You ask, is there any lime-stone? I answer, no. You ask, are the valleys wide or narrow? This valley is said to be from 30 to 50 miles wide. You ask, are the hills and mountains difficult to cross? The hills are high, but not difficult to cross; they are covered with a good coat of grass, and produce well. You ask, “is the farm land stony?” Not that I have seen. You ask if I think the lands will wear well. The soil is deep and solid, and I cannot see why it should fail, if properly cultivated. You ask, “is it very muddy or disagreeable in the rainy season?” I think not so bad as it would be in the States, from the fact that it does not freeze and thaw, and consequently the mud does not get so deep. You ask, “what proportion of the country is susceptible of cultivation?” A very large proportion. You ask, “what are the productions of the country?” Wheat, oats, grass and peas, in great abundance. Vegetables do not do so well without manuring. There are the best gardens here, and the largest potatoes, cabbage, beets, onions and parsnips, I ever saw in my life, and of a superior quality. You ask, “are the seasons as changeable in Oregon as in the States?” Since I have been here there has been no sudden changes in the weather. It has not been cold enough, at any time, to freeze potatoes in an out-house — they only dig them as they want to use them. — You ask in relation to our civil affairs. The Governor and the Legislature have gotten into a snarl, and at present, affairs are in rather a confused state. The society in general is as good as could be expected; yet there is plenty of room for reform. — As to schools, I think there will be some inconvenience so long as each and holds such large tracts of land. You ask about fruit. There is not much here; but what there is does well, although a good many of the peaches were killed this season. They blossomed out in February. The apple trees are very full.

You must be your own judge as to the propriety of your coming here. — I am decidedly of the opinion that it is much healthier here, than it is where you live.

I should be very glad to see our friends all here, safe and well, but they must remember that it is a great undertaking to cross the Plains. We are all well, and I never saw the family look so healthy in my life.

Notwithstanding there are many good things in this country, yet there are some objections to it. One is, that the water and timber is not equally divided over the country. Near the Mountains there are fine water privileges, but as the streams pass through the valleys, they seem to dry up; and from this you would be led to suppose that the valleys are sandy; but not so, the waters must dry up by evaporation. The country is very level, and the soil is deep. — There is very little rain in the summer season, and a good deal in the winter, and this is an objection to the country. But take it all in all, I think it is a pretty good country. If any of you think of coming to this country, ship around by water, every thing you wish to bring to this country, especially everything of a heavy character. And do not forget to ship reaping machines, and a good number of good ploughs.

The two waggons that were made at Peru, of water-seasoned timber, were the best waggons in our train. They were most too heavy for the road, but just right, here. Those light waggons, made by Mr. Dunkle were pretty good waggons and about the right size.

I would recommend to any persons coming here, to bring as many more oxen as they expect to use at a time, and then change them everyday or two; and when you get here you can double your money on them.

Yours, truly,

— Delphi Weekly Times, 9 Oct 1852, 2:5

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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 | 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