Echoes from the Past

The Condra Tree

 

November 30, 2023 | View PDF

Lane County Historian VIII No. 2, June 1967

A special interest has been added to the finding of the Condra tree markings discovered in 1960 in the McKenzie River Valley Country, with the earth circling on February 20 by John Glenn, the first American astronaut. It is interesting to note that Glenn is a relative of the Condra who carved this record on the hemlock tree in 1867 - almost a century ago.

Another occasion for this story is that the section of the tree bearing the scribing has been on display at the Lane County Museum in Eugene and is being viewed by thousands of visitors. The preservation and display are due to the efforts of Lester Calder, an official of the Weyerhaeuser Company of Springfield and former chairman of the Museum Commission.

The following account was published in the Springfield News of September 29, 1960, telling of the date of the crossing of the plains to Oregon of the Condra family who settled near Halsey in Linn County, and were relatives of Rev. Robert Robe, who took such an active part in the building of Eugene City and Lane County, in the 1850’s.

“Silas R. Condra (age 8) traveled west with his father, mother, four brothers, and one sister in 1853. It was only during that migration season of that year that the government attempted to register the wagon trains at Umatilla Agency. Here the record shows that Aaron and Cordelia Condra, their five children at their side, checked in on October 29, 1853.

“Aaron took up Donation Land Claim No. 1760 about 6 miles southeast of Halsey, Ore. Silas, like any other youngster in a strange and beautiful land, roamed the hills in the area. One day in the early Spring of 1867 (it seems), Silas and some of his young friends rode off into the hills. They followed an old trail, which the Calapooya Indians used in going from the Willamette Valley to Sisters where they obtained obsidian to make their arrowheads.

“Silas may have been hunting game for the Condra household but being too far from home he hadn’t shot any prey, lest it spoil on his return trip. Or he may have been a 22-year-old man out roaming.

After his long ride, he sat down in front of the trunk of a Hemlock tree and carved his name and brief life history. This is what he scribed: June 12, 1867 - Silas R. Condra - Born July 11, 1845 - in Nox. Co., Ill. - crossed plains in 1853 - Son. (The dates were verified through current research). He started to carve “son” but his friends (may have) called impatiently to be on their way so he left the tree with just “son” inscribed.

“Ninety-three years later Cecil Cunningham, assistant branch forester for the Weyerhaeuser Calapooya Tree Farm found the hemlock with the long scar not completely healed over along a fire protection road near Vida. Since the scar was similar to those found at section corners where “bearing trees” are scribed by the government, Cunningham was curious and chopped away the live wood covering which exposed the knife scribing. Along the right edge of the inscription rotten wood partially destroyed the last part of the numerals.

The tree when felled in 1960 was about 200 years old and 30 inches in diameter. It stood on the ridge between Gate Creek and Calapooya River, about four miles east and six miles north of the village of Vida which is about 30 miles east of Eugene on the McKenzie River. Delford Condra, nephew of Silas, is presently an employee of Weyerhaeuser Company in Cottage Grove, Oregon.

 

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