Avery Park and Corvallis, Oregon Founder Joseph Avery: the Story

The city's best known park is named after Joe Avery,  regarded as the founder of Corvallis (formerly Marysville). Avery was one of the most unsavory characters in Oregon history.

Above: The Modocs in the War

He has been held responsible, perhaps over-optimistically, for the war against the Modoc Indians, as a means of drumming up army business for his grocery after the California Gold Rush began to fade. He was involved in a very questionable railroad investment scheme that cost the country plenty and left much of the town bankrupt. He was also an unflagging propagandist for slavery, using his newspaper the Occidental Messenger: the Democratic Crisis, which was, as the direct ancestor of the Corvallis Gazette, suppressed by Abraham Lincoln in the Civil War for its incendiary views.

For years, many in Corvallis, including a columnist for the Gazette-Times, have denied the connection of the Messenger with Avery, but no less a person than Mark Twain has forever linked Avery to the Messenger in a story called Avery's Ox, in Gold Rush Days.

Mark Twain
Corvallis Pioneer Moments
"My grandfather, Anthony CLEMENS, came from Missouri. He was a brother of Mark Twain's father, making my father a first cousin and me a second cousin of the noted humorist. Grandfather CLEMENS brought his family to Lane County in the 'forties. My father's name was Thomas and he had a brother, Henry. Both took part in the expedition against the Indians following the WHITMAN massacre. Henry was a scout. With two companions he was surprised by a stronger party of Indians, somewhere in the country beyond Pendleton. Uncle Henry's horse was killed under him, but he saved himself by using it for a breastwork. His two friends were killed but he killed so many of the Indians that the rest withdrew. He secured his saddle from the dead horse and escaped on foot back to the regiment."
Alfred CLEMENS; Corvallis Pioneer

Following is a column from the Messenger, urging that slavery be institutionalized in the State Constitution:

"That the African was placed on earth for some purpose is a rational conclusion. The great question of the day, at issue is - what position shall he take in the human family, to establish the most to his own welfare, and to the world's economy? The United States will probably settle this question about the year 1870. But, as Oregon is about to become a sovereign state, the subject is on the table for discussion; to divest it of all fanaticism, it would easily be disposed of. Phrenologists feel the head of their pupils to direct aright their genius - it is respectfully suggested that the head of Africa, on an average, be submitted to an examination; the result would be somewhat this: 'sagacity and instinct of an animal creation with a few degrees more of intellect; not capable of self-government without amalgamation,' and to do this would bring on another dark age another 30 years war. Yet in the world's economy he is a useful member; his labor when well directed, is a benefit to himself as well as his master. In Africa, they are barborous, and cannot be Christianized to any extent; their priests, or Fetiches, will breakfast on the blood of a Methodist missionary with much gusto.

England will probably establish 'apprentice' slavery in China within a score of years, to work the coolies - which will give an ipetus to commerce in the Pacific without  parallel. The Pacific States of America will be compelled, by their geographical position, to use this kind of labor to a great extent; and Oregon, if she adopt slavery, in the event of a short supply of labor from the trans-rocky mountain states, can import apprentices. It may be urged that we could have the same priivilege without a slave constitution. The answer would be that the relations of master and slave are the same under both systems, and the same protection is necessary. Oregon is undoubtedly an agricultural country, and recent experiments made in the Rogue River valley, prove beyond a doubt the adaptability of the soil to the growth of Chinese sugar cane, it becomes a question of importance then, whether we can have, without slavery, a permanent supply of labor. White man is very uncertain; can't keep him on a farm at one dollar per day when surrounded by mines. Chinaman no likee - no sabby. Free negro wants five dollars per day. The result it is feared, would be deplorable to sugar interests and farming generally. This is a strong argument in favor of slavery..."

- One of many such editorials in the Occidental Messenger. Copies of this and other issues are in the OSU library.

Note: It might be useful to rename the park after the County clerk of that era, or any of the many Methodists, including the founder of Monroe, Rev. Starr, Mary Stewart or the United Brethren train members, who founded the College, all of whom  were considered slavery a moral wrong. In fact, except for 3 clans, the Averys, the Greenberry Smiths, and the Williams, the county seems to have been overwhelmingly antislavery. The economic predominance of these 3 clans lent them a weight far beyond their actual numbers. 

 A few years ago, there was a controversy over whether to name the groves along the Riverfront after Martin Luther King or after the late spouse of our mayor.  Advocates of Dr. King setled for a tree, which now seems doomed by the City Council's Riverfront plan. It might actually have been best to abandon the riverfront to the mayor and  re name Avery Park after Dr. King, or better yet, after the Shipleys, whose own experience as slaves might have left them bitter rather than generous to those of us who hail from Corvallis. Click here for their story.