Pioneer Profiles – August 2016
When John McCully took the stage out of Jacksonville in the winter of 1861, he closed the door on the town, his home, his marriage, and his family. He left his wife, Jane, with his debt and three children. Over $7,500 was owed on his 2-story brick commercial building and his fine new home. His properties were on the brink of foreclosure, and creditors threatened to also take his land and attach his business interests.
Jane Mason McCully made it clear to children and town folk that they were never to mention John McCully’s name again.
But Jane was also a survivor. And she had her children—Jimmy (James), Molly (Mary), and Issie (Isabel)—to consider. They had to be fed, clothed, and educated. So Jane set about salvaging her life, her family, and whatever business interests she could.
McCully Hall had to be abandoned. It was only half paid for and would have to be sold at sheriff’s auction. The city lot was mortgaged to its limit and would have to go. But she had to hang onto the house or her children would be homeless. She would have the title transferred to her name. She could sell the interest in the dairy and use that money to make a payment on the house. The part ownership of the El Dorado Saloon was clear—it brought in a little money each month that could go towards the bills.
And she would start a school. There was little schooling available locally, and people were clamoring for more. Jane was a trained teacher—she had been a teacher in Indiana when she first met John, and she had taught at a private school in Salem to tide them over the winter after they reached Oregon.
Jane couldn’t start a school overnight. There had to be a curriculum and lessons and textbooks and supplies—which could take months. There had to be an interim source of money.
Fortune shone upon Jane. Amos Rogers and his wife, new arrivals in Jacksonville, asked to rent the downstairs rooms and kitchen of her home so they could open a boarding house—and they would pay her to help with the baking. It may have seemed like déjà vu to Jane—a reversion to her arrival in Jacksonville 10 years earlier when she had baked bread, pies, and cakes to keep the family afloat. But it was respectable work, not charity; she would be providing tasty meals to the hungry townspeople; and it would provide a lifeline until she could open her school.
In the fall of 1862, Jane opened Mrs. McCully’s Seminary in the family’s old log cabin, the town’s first school for girls. There were no empty seats, and after the first year, the Rogers moved their boarding house to another location, and Jane took over the entire home for her school. In addition to full day sessions, she taught English for $14 a term, piano for $40, and drawing and painting for $15.
Jane initially thought of the Seminary as a “finishing school” for the daughters of Jacksonville’s upper-class families, but she was soon persuaded to admit boys as well. Even after public schools were available, Jane provided advanced education for both girls and boys. She was the only teacher the children of many of Jacksonville’s prominent citizens ever knew. Her pupils included Hoffmans, Bybees, Klippels, and other first families. Most went on to university, ranking at the top of their classes, and she was partly responsible for their becoming important personalities in Oregon history.
Dr. John McCully and Jane Mason McCully never divorced and there is no record of their ever again communicating. Jane continued to live in the McCully House for almost 40 years. She wrote poetry and was described in a newspaper article as “the author of many poems of merit.” She was active in civic and social affairs, an enthusiastic member of the Eastern Star lodge, and an important participant in the Pioneer Society.
It also appears that Jane had a good head for business. Over the years, local papers reported various Jane McCully investments and financial enterprises. She bought lots and houses and she increased her investment in various business interests. Her success was such that her unmarried daughter, Issie, never had to worry about finances.
As for John McCully, it would appear that he slowly set about rebuilding his life. Some of the details are sketchy for the five years after he left Jacksonville, but John apparently spent some time in gold mining camps in Idaho and Montana. He went back to the study of medicine, taking a course of medical study in St. Louis, Missouri, and practicing for a short period in Iowa. After which, he became a purser on the river steamers plying the Willamette, working the next years for a company owned by his two older, and much more successful, brothers.
The 1880 census lists John as a “gardener” in Yamhill County. His brothers and nephews had substantial farming and cattle enterprises in the area, and again, he may have been working for them in some capacity.
However, it appears that soon thereafter John moved on to Joseph, Oregon, where his nephews were some of the prominent founding fathers. In Josephs, he was known as “Uncle Doc,” and may even have opened a medical practice there. Some sources credit him with founding Josephs’ Masonic Order.
John died in 1889 at the age of 68. According to a letter from one of his nephews, he had the biggest funeral procession Joseph had ever seen—courtesy of the Masons—“with 40 teams and 30 walking Masons attending the casket.” Whether this was a tribute to John or to his family, we do not know. John is buried in the Masonic cemetery near Joseph.
Jane outlived John by 10 years. In 1899, at the age of 75, she fell ill, suffering from “a painful debility.”
The Pioneer Society memorialized her death with one of Jane’s own poems:
“The old Pioneers are all slipping away
To join that big throng on that joyful day
Our days are all numbered, our tasks are all done.
We’re all waiting to cross over, One by One.
The Heavenly gates are standing ajar,
To welcome the Old Pioneers from afar.”
Pioneer Profiles is a project of Historic Jacksonville, Inc. Visit us at www.historicjacksonville.org and follow us on Facebook (historicjville) for upcoming events and more Jacksonville history.