More on General Joe Lane [1801-1881]


General Joe Lane

by Don Rivara

In the June 2009 issue of the newsletter was an article about General Joseph Lane, who was sent to Oregon to be its military commander after mountain man Joe Meek’s famous ride east to get help for Oregon after the Whitman Massacre, in which Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and others were murdered. Joe Meek was a cousin to President Polk’s wife, which was the reason he was sent east to request help.

Charlotte Matheny Kirkwood, on page 114 of Into the Eye of the Setting Sun,, called General Lane “a fine, dignified old gentleman…Father was a Democrat and so was General Lane”.  She stated that he had visited at the Matheny home at the Wheatland Ferry, then called “Matheny’s Ferry”.

Lane came to Oregon in 1849 at the time of the California gold rush. When Oregon became a state in 1859, Joe Lane and Edward Baker, a friend of Abraham Lincoln’s, became Oregon first two senators.

The Democratic Party split in two in the election of 1860.  Lane, a Kentuckian, sided with the Southern, pro-slavery Democrats, who nominated John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky for president and General Lane for vice president. The Mathenys [except for Isaiah C. Matheny] sided with the Northern, anti-slavery Democrats, whose candidate was Stephen H. Douglas.

Lane’s term as U.S. senator ended in 1861 just as the Civil War began.  He returned to Oregon, where he was met with much hostility by the Union-sympathizers.  What made matters worse was that Oregon’s other senator, Edward Baker, had been killed fighting for the Union cause. That heightened the sense that Lane was a traitor.

He apparently arrived in Portland or Oregon City because he was making his way south down the Willamette Valley to his home in Roseburg when an assassin shot him off his horse near Yoncalla.  The wounded Lane was found, and Jesse Applegate, who lived nearby, ordered that the general be brought to his home.

There, the strongly pro-Union Applegate placed the wounded ex-senator on a couch and tenderly nursed him back to health.  Yet when Applegate’s own daughter fell in love with a secessionist, he disowned her and wouldn’t even talk to her when she was brought to his home to die of tuberculosis.

Lane eventually was able to return to his home in Roseburg, where he died in 1881.  The museum there is full of Lane memorabilia.  Lane County, where the city of Eugene is located, was named for General Lane.

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