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SAMUEL L. SIMPSON

                             November 10, 1845 to June 14, 1899 

                                       

                               Samuel Leonidas Simpson

 

                        Samuel L. Simpson Gravestone Sm.JPG (222572 bytes)          SL Simpson gs Jane Roger Marilyn Don Carol Sm.JPG (170822 bytes)

Samuel L. Simpson's is buried in the Lone Fir Cemetery, 2115 SE Morrison Street, Portland

Oregon.  On September 7th, 2003, Jane and Roger Hildebrand, Marilyn Ramirez, Don, Liz and Carol

Healy visited the site, one day before Virginia Douglas's Memorial Service.

 

     Samuel Leonidas Simpson (son of Benjamin and Nancy Simpson), was only 6 months old when his family crossed the Oregon Trail.

Oregon's first Poet Laureate, graduated from Willamette University in law. Shy, he became a journalist and editor. Famous for the poem "Beautiful Willamette". His collected poems are calledThe Gold-Gated West. Alcoholism ruined his life.

The preface to The Gold-Gated West  is a concise biography of Samuel L. Simpson's rather tragic life, and follows:

                 PREFACE
  SAMUEL L. SIMPSON, the author of this collection
of poems, was born in the State of Missouri on the
10th day of November, 1845, and was the second son
of Hon. Ben Simpson and Nancy Cooper Simpson.
In 1846 Ben Simpson organized and conducted an
emigrant train across the plains to Oregon.  The
trials, hardships  and triumphs of that great under-
taking are most interestingly told in the poem en-
titled " The Campfires of the Pioneers."
   Sam Simpson, as he was familiarly known, was
taught the alphabet by his mother at the age of four
years, from copies traced in the ashes on the hearth-
stone of their pioneer home.   He attended the
country schools of the time and was reputed preco-
cious in his earlier life.  He has left one gem, a remi-
niscence of his school-days, " The Lost Path."
   At the age of fifteen he was employed in the sut-
ler's  store,  owned by  his  father,  on  the  Grande
Ronde Indian Reservation, a military post at that
time.  Here the precocious boy met and became the
flattered protege of Grant, Sheridan, and others of
that post.  General Sheridan presented him a copy
of Byron's poems, which he prized very highly and
read with great interest.
 
   He entered, at sixteen, the Willamette University,
at Salem, Oregon, from which he was graduated in
the class of '65.  He immediately took up the study
of the law, and passed the required examination for
admission to practice in 1866, but, not being of the
required age, he was not admitted until 1867.
   His prospects in the practice were reasonably
good, though his characteristic timidity qualified his
deserved success.  In 1870 he abandoned the practice
of law, assumed the editorial charge of the "Corvalis
Gazette," and entered on a general journalistic ca-
reer, which he pursued through the rest of his life.
   In 1868 he married Miss Julia Humphrey, to
whom these poems are dedicated.  She was noted
for her beauty and enrapturing voice in music—
his "sweet-throated thrush," of whom he writes:
             Lurlina, Heaven flies not
               From souls it once has blessed ;
             First love may fade, but dies not,
               Though wounded and distressed.
            " Though after-days deride us
               With Hymen's broken rings,
             We know that once beside us
               An angel furled his wings."
 
And, though after-days did deride him with Hymen's
broken rings, he never faltered or wavered in his
devotion to his first and only love.  There were born
to Mr. Simpson and wife two sons, Eugene H. and
Claude L.
  Samuel L. Simpson died in the city of Portland
on the 14th day of June, 1900, and was buried in
Lonefir Cemetery.
  Simpson has been classed by his Western admirers
with Burns and Poe, and in many of his poems he
portrays that keen appreciation of the grandeur and
beauty of nature and that matchless rhythmic style
which certainly render the comparison not uncompli-
mentary to those immortal bards.  And he too, as
they, labored within the bonds of a habit that has
no kindred seal of woe, and to this limitation was
attributable the failures he so bitterly bemoans in the
poems " Quo Me, Bacche? ", " Wreck," and others of
like sentiment.
  The Angel of Silence has now brushed him with
his wings and the pining is hushed.  Life's stormy
seas have baffled and shipwrecked many a divine ge-
nius, who bravely faced the gale with little thought
of anchor or the safe bestowal of his sail; to whom
the flag at the peak was more important than a
strong hand at the helm.  Such a sailor was Sam
Simpson; but he has left us many a beautiful strain
of music, caught from the song of wind and tide;
many a picture glowing with the gold of sunset or
the rose of blossoming spring.  We, who knew him
best, know that he never reached the achievement
that was possible to his talents.  His poems breathe
rather of pathos and shadow than of joy, for they
take their tint from a mind oftentimes world weary.
And we who knew him will judge him gently, and
prize the treasures he brought home from many voy-
ages of fancy, in air and sea and sky.
                                W. T. BURNEY.
______________________________________________________________________
                                            

A review of Samuel Simpson’s work by W.W. Fidler, in an unidentified publication obtained by Lynn Beedle on April 8, 1970, in Portland, Oregon.

 

276                  W. W. FIDLER

  "Simpson's subjects are always well chosen; they are sub-

jects about which it is possible to write poetry, and every head-

ing of the piece shows the man's conception.  It is not Mount

Hood, but 'Hood,' without peer, self-contained, unrivaled,  

White despot of the wild Cascades!

 

  "We know not if Simpson will ever be the fashion, but his

pieces are always welcome at our camp."

  And while I am making quotations I am tempted to use one

more, to close with, that is as appropriate now as it was fifty

years ago, when it was first uttered.  Congressman Keitt, of

South Carolina, in paying a most eloquent tribute to a deceased

Senator, had this to say:

   "The children of genius are bound together by household

ties and the great of earth make but a single family.   From

earliest to latest of those who wear the glories of mind, there

rolls a river of ancestral blood : it rolls through priest and

warrior, through bard and king. through  generations and

empires and history, with all her wealth.  There are kings

of action as well as kings of thought, and both are emblazoned

in the heraldry of this immortal descent."

   And is it not a source of supreme pride to the State of

 Oregon that it had, at so early a date, a man fit for such em-

blazonry, and whose "raptured lines" are apt to live so long as

her mountains stand, and her rivers seek the sea?

 

    NOTE, —Samuel Leonidas Simpson was born in Missouri November 10. 1845, and was the second son of Benjamin and Nancy Cooper Simpson.  His father was born in Tennessee on March  29, 1818. of Scotch ancestry.  His mother was a granddaughter of Col. Cooper, who was a companion of Daniel Boone in Kentucky.  He crossed the plains to Oregon with his parents_in  1846.  His mother taught him the alphabet  when he was  four  years old by tracing letters in the ashes  on  the  hearthstone  of  the  primitive  cabin  in  Marion  county  in  which the family lived in the early days,  and then  taught him  to read.   The first poems he  ever  read.  as  he once  informed  the  writer  of  this  note,  was  a  much  worn volume of Robert Burns which was given to his mother at Oregon City by Dr.  John McLoughin where the Simpson family spent the first winter.  An occasional  country  school  three  months  in  the  year  afforded  the  only opportunity he had  for  education  until  he  was fifteen  years  old.    Then  he  was employed  as  a clerk in the sutler's store of his father at Fort Yamhill, a military post near the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation.  It was here that he became acquainted with Lieut.  Philip  H.  Sheridan  (afterwards  General).  an  intimate  friend  of  his father's  and here it was that he received a copy of Byron's poems from Sheridan.  When sixteen years old Mr. Simpson entered \\'illamette University at Salem, and was graduated in the class of 1865.   Soon afterwards he became editor of the Oregon Statesman, in which his father had an interest at that time, and continued in that relation until the close of  1866.   Meanwhile he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1867, and began practicing; but clients were few, besides the profession of law was not to his liking, hence he entered the journalistic  field, that being more to his taste, and followed that the remainder of his life   He was married to  Miss Julia Humphrey,  of Portland, in  1868, who bore him two sons  He died in Portland June 14. 1900, and was buried in Lone Fir Cemetery—George H. Himes, Assistant Secretary, Oregon Historical Society.

Also from notes of W. W. Fidler:
"... inebriate.  Somebody has already described him in 
print as "the most drunken poet, and the most poetical
drunkard that ever made the Muses smile of weep."
 
From a writer on Bancroft's "History of the Pacific Coast":
"Prevailed on Sam to stop over ... and try to get out an addition of
his poems."
___________________________________________________________________________________

The following was copied from an article that appeared in the Albany Democrat (Albany, Oregon) in 1909.

SIMPSON’S VERSE LIVES

"BEAUTIFUL WILLAMETTE" WAS WRITTEN 41 YEARS AGO.

                                            ____________

 

                                Copy of Original Poem as First Set

                                   in Type Is Photographed From

                                      Files of Albany Democrat.

                                                 ______

Albany, Or., Sept. 18.—(Special)—A photograph was made this week of Sam L. Simpson’s famous poem. "Beautiful Willamette," which is considered the finest poem ever written in this state, just as it was printed for the first time in the State Rights Democrat, in Albany, April 18, 1868.

During past years, scores of people have looked through the files of this paper, which is yet published in Albany, and viewed the wonderful poem as it was printed for the first time, but this is the first time it has ever been photographed.

At the time this famous poem was written, Simpson was practicing law in Albany, following his graduation from Willamette University. He came here in the Fall of 1867, and on December 28 of that year formed a partnership for the practice of law with J. Quinn Thornton, a prominent pioneer lawyer, who took a leading part in early-day affairs in this part of the state. This partnership existed until the next Spring, and during this time Simpson lived at Thornton’s home in Benton County, across the Willamette River from this city, and daily crossed the river on the old ferry to this city. The view up the Willamette from the old ferry here is superb, and it was this scene which inspired the beautiful poem.

On April 11, 1868, a notice appeared in the State Rights Democrat, dissolving the partnership between Thornton and Simpson and in the week following, in which Simpson was very melancholy, he wrote his greatest poem. It is believed by many Albany people who knew Simpson at that time and who remembered him well that not more than two days were consumed in its composition, and it is practically certain that it was written in the week between April 11 and April 18.

Simpson was a great friend of M. V. Brown, one of the most prominent men in Oregon politics and military affairs in early days, who was then one of the proprietors of the State Rights Democrat. He spent a great deal of time in the Democrat office with Brown and M. H. Abbott, who was Brown’s partner and also editor of the paper at that time. So, when he wrote the poem which was destined to live as the greatest piece of poetry ever written in this state, he handed it to Brown.

The poem was set up by ex-County Judge C. H. Stewart, then a compositor in the Democrat office, and who yet resides in this city. It was written clearly and legibly and, in fact, was splendid "copy" to set up. Judge Steward kept the original manuscript for many years, but lost it a few years ago.

The poem appeared in the issue of April 18, 1868, in a rather inconspicuous place on the third page of the paper (an inside page with advertisements on two sides of it. As will be noticed, it was then entitled "Ad Willamettam," but later is was generally called "Beautiful Willamette." Simpson merely signed his initials to the poem when it appeared for the first time.

________________________________________________________________________________________

From the notes of Lynn Beedle:
Hubert H. Bancroft, "Literary Industries", San Francisco, 
History w. 1890, p274 C979 B21
 
"There was Samuel L. Simpson who came down from Oregon and 
edited the Pacific Coast readers for the firm;
a young man of rare ability, though lacking somewhat 
in "steady application".
________________________________________________________________________
His obituary:

Sam Simpson (1846-1899)

"The death of Sam L. Simpson leaves Oregon with no poet of merit or reputation," wrote The Oregonian, in a front-page obituary. Simpson was Oregon's first poet laureate. (Map)

Young Sam Simpson graduated from Willamette University in law but was too shy to practice. Ralph Friedman summarized Simpson's brilliant but tragic career in Tracking Down Oregon. A feckless publisher, failed editor, journalist and drunk, he slipped and hit his head outside the St. Charles Hotel on Portland's river front. Not far from the mast of the battleship Oregon which he christened.

A collection of his work, The Gold-Gated West, came out in 1910. Although criticized for being "over-edited", it can be found in most Oregon libraries. Beautiful Willamette, endures as a Northwest epic and its refrain is chiseled on his tombstone. He is buried in Lone Fir Cemetery.

His life-long battle with alcohol is apparent in:

      The Gorge of Avernus:

I have banished the spectre of sorrow,

And conquered the dragon of drink;

I have torn a blank leaf from the morrow,

And fled from the Stygian brink.

There is death in the dew of the roses

That bloom in the blushes of wine;

There is danger where pleasure reposes,

Though we call her a goddess divine.

One of his best known poems is the following:

Beautiful Willamette

 

From the Cascades' frozen gorges,

Leaping like a child at play,

Onward ever,

Lovely River,

Softly calling to the sea,

Time, that scars us,

Maims and mars us,

Leaves no track or trace on thee.

 

Spring's green witchery is weaving

Braid and border for thy side;

Grace forever haunts thy journey,

Beauty dimples on thy tide;

Through the purple gates of morning

Now thy roseate ripples dance,

Golden then, when day, departing,

On thy waters trails his lance.

Waltzing, flashing,

Tinkling, splashing,

Limpid, volatile, and free

Always hurried

To be buried

In the bitter, moon-mad sea.

 

In thy crystal deeps inverted

Swings a picture of the sky,

Like those wavering hopes of Aidenn,

Dimly in our dreams that lie;

Clouded often, drowned in turmoil,

Faint and lovely, far away -

Wreathing sunshine on the morrow,

Breathing fragrance round to-day.

Love would wander

Here and ponder.

Life's old questions,

Sad suggestions,

Whence and whither? throng thy stream.

 

On the roaring waste of ocean

Shall thy scattered waves be tossed,

'Mid the surge's rhythmic thunder

Shall thy silver tongues be lost.

O! thy glimmering rush of gladness

Mocks this turbid life of mine!

Racing to the wild Forever

Down the sloping paths of Time.

Onward ever,

Lovely River,

Softly calling to the sea;

Time that scars us,

Maims and mars us,

Leaves no track or trace on thee.

-Sam Simpson

                         SAMUEL SIMPSON -- PAGE 2