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Early Pioneerís Faith Finally Rewarded

Excerpts from an article in The Olympian, April 19, 1964
By William J Betts

The man was different.Although one of the wagon trains that crossed the hot dusty trail in 1844 was much like those that followed, it included a man who was different from the pioneers he accompanied. Like the others he enjoyed the adventure of moving out to the Oregon country, but the journey meant more than this. The personal stakes were greater freedom, acceptances and self-esteem. The tired immigrants, walking alongside the wagons, choked by billowing dust clouds, were cheered by him, their spirits lifted. As the oppressive heat rose in shimmering waves from the sun-baked prairie, they looked to him for renewed hope and comfort. He laughed with their children.

When they broke out in song, the big handsome man led them in his rich baritone. Who was this man who had such power to change utter dejection into buoyant good cheer? His name was George W. Bush and he was a free black, one of the first of his race to travel the long trail west in an immigrant train. He was taking his family on a mission of hope, to a new life far from the smoldering pot of hate and prejudice set aboil by the slavery question.

George W. Bush was born in the state of Pennsylvania. His parents had been slaves in the household of a Mr. Stevenson, a wealthy merchant and ship owner. Mr. Stevenson, as kind as he was rich, gave the Bushes their freedom and left them his wealth. George Bush inherited his parentsí fortune, making him not only a free black, but a very wealthy one as well. He was able to indulge himself as he pleased.But for all of his great wealth, there was one thing denied him, to be accepted for himself, as a man, regardless of race, regardless of money.

He began to travel a great deal, perhaps in search of true freedom. When the Was of 1812 broke out he was in New Orleans. He immediately enlisted in the newly formed Seventh Infantry Regiment and fought gallantly under General Andrew Jackson. When the brief was over, Bush was still restless and unable to settle down. He because a voyageur with the Hudsonís Bay Company, traveling throughout the Rocky Mountains and pacific Coast area. He finally returned to Philadelphia where he embraced the Quaker faith, an act which had much influence on his later life.

In 1831, he met and married Isabella James. They moved to Missouri where they purchased a farm in Boone County. Later they sold and moved to Clay County where they continued to prosper.The picture wasnít perfect, however, for Missouri was a slave state. The gentle Quaker felt the rancor of some of his neighbors and it hurt him deeply. In 1843 he decided to leave Missouri for good.

The Bushes had heard stories of the wonderful homesteading opportunities in the Oregon country. Some of the Clay County families were pulling up stakes for the West and asked George Bush and his family to join them. The wagon party left Clay county in the late spring of 1844. With the Bushes were the Michael T. Simmons, David Kindred, James McAllister and Gabriel Jones families as well as three single men.Along the trail, the party joined another group of thirty families under the leadership of a self-appointed "general" who immediately made Michael Simmons his second-in-command. Since the general preferred hunting, the responsibility of leadership fell on the capable shoulders of Simmons. He, in turn, relied on the sound judgment and knowledge of his good friend, George Bush.

The rutted trail, left by previous wagons, was often marked by wooden crosses, Indian, accidents, and cholera took a heavy toll of westward bound pioneers. As the wagon train moved across the parched, alien land, the gentle black Quaker was everywhere, lending a helping hand to the sick, constantly encouraging. And he often gave financial assistance to families who had met misfortune on the trail. The Buses accepted their position in Oregon under the provisional government (which had barred all blacks). Bush didnít mind for himself; he could take anything they might inflict on him but what about his children? No, they couldnít stay Ė they would have to return. Before doing so, however, they went to Fort Vancouver, headquarters for the Pacific Coast division of the Hudsonís Bay Company.

When Dr. McLoughlin, the chief factor, heard that an old time voyageur had returned, he welcomed Bush and his family with open arms. Dr. McLoughlin was aware of the ban on free blacks settling in Oregon. He was deeply concerned, considering discrimination un-Christian.There was one alternative Ė to settle north of the Oregon country. From the rich bounty of the land, the gentle Quaker chose to help the newcomers to Puget Sound rather than devote all his energy to making money off his harvest. He helped the new families through the winter months until they could plan and reap a harvest for themselves.

In the years which followed, Bush was the United States take possession of the great Oregon country north to the Forty-Ninth parallel. He saw Oregon and Washington become territories. He saw the country grow year after year as people streamed into the area. But for all the changes, George Bush, as a black, had no rights as a citizen. He could not vote; he could not own a clear title to his land.

At last, in 1855, congress recognized the great service the black pioneer had rendered his country. In that year, at the insistence of the Washington Territorial legislature, a resolution was passed to give George Bush clear title to his beloved land. George Bush lived out his life on the farm at Tumwater.

Updated: 03/04/08