FAMILY DONATION LAND CLAIMS: Henry and Rachel Cooper Matheny

Rachel’s daughter Sarah Jane had married Aaron Layson unexpectedly while witnessing the elopement wedding of Aaron’s sister, also named Sarah Jane, with Adam Matheny. At first upset by the unplanned wedding, Rachel learned to have a very close relationship with this son-in-law, rearing his motherless children and housekeeping for him while he farmed her land. But that was to be in the future, During the 1843 migration, they were learning how to be kin. When the Oregon company met to organize at the grove West of Fizhugh’s Mill on May 18, 1843, Aaron Layson was called upon to act as chairman, quite an honor for the twenty-three- year- old newlywed. Peter H. Burnett, later to become California’s first governor was elected secretary. (James W. Nesmith diary, Oregon Historical Quarterly Vol. 7, p.329) At the end of the Oregon trip, Henry and Rachel wintered at the Methodist Mission at The Dalles, not entering the Willamette Valley until spring (unlike Mary and Daniel Matheny, who crossed over Mt. Hood and wintered in the Tualatin Valley).

In the spring of 1844, Rachel and Henry settled at what is now Hopewell, Yamhill County, Oregon, against the Eola Hills. When the first death occurred in the area, because their claim lay on high ground, Rachel and Henry donated a portion of their land as the local cemetery, where Rachel herself would one day be buried. At the Hopewell Cemetery there is a monument dedicated to Rachel. Henry apparently accompanied Rachel’s brothers to the California gold fields in 1849, and most of the women went too, including Rachel and her daughter Sarah Jane Layson. It was in what is now called Cooper Canyon a mile or two west of Pilot Hill, CA, where the Mathenys and Coopers worked the gravel. It was there in the autumn that “camp fever” ravaged the canyon. One by one Rachel saw her husband, her daughter, her brother John, and her father die there and be carried to the graveyard at Sutter’s Mill (Coloma). She couldn’t have helped wishing the family had remained in Oregon on their land, but now she had too much to do to spend too much time reflecting. There in the epidemic-plagued Mother Lode, she took over the care of Sarah Jane’s motherless children, the youngest a newborn baby. With Henry alive, the Mathenys had qualified for 640 acres of Oregon land, but alone, she could only qualify for 320. Her son-in-law Aaron Layson was now in the same situation; so he took over half of her land claim. She cooked, cared for the children (Ann, born c1844; James Benjamin, born c1846; and Cena Abigale, born 1849), and took care of the house; he farmed the land. Only twenty-nine when his wife died, Aaron never remarried until after Rachel’s death many years later.

The 1850 Census shows that Rachel was living alone with grandchildren Ann E., 6; James R.; 4, and Abby, 1; Aaron must have still been in the California gold country. But by 1860 Rachel was again living with Aaron and two unmarried grandchildren. The 1865 personal property tax list shows that Rachel owned or produced that year 2 tons of hay, 40 bushels of apples, 2 hogs, 7 horses, 16 cattle, 10 bushels of potatoes, 100 pounds of butter, 70 bushels of wheat, and 100 bushels of oats. She had twenty acres under cultivation.

It appears that there was bad blood between the Laysons and the Kirkwoods. As early as January 1868, Joseph Kirkwood had foreclosed on a loan to his brother-in-law Aaron Layson. In March of 1874, Aaron Layson is on record as having sued Joseph Kirkwood, but no resolution of the case is listed the Circuit Court Journal. In 1876 Rachel sold her farm for $5,000 to her three Layson grandchildren. This sale may have provoked litigation. In March of 1877, Aaron Layson again sued Joseph Kirkwood. Records also show that in June of 1877, Joseph Kirkwood filed a suit against M.E.Bailey, husband of Cena Layson Bailey, the daughter of Aaron and Sarah Jane Matheny Layson. At the height this lawsuit, Rachel Cooper Matheny died on June 25, 1877, at the age of seventy-four. The friction among her family no doubt caused Rachel considerable stress.

Rachel had been the last of her generation of the family left in the Willamette Valley. Her brothers Enoch and Bill had moved to eastern Washington and her brother Isaiah to the Midwest; the rest were dead. She was buried in the cemetery on her own land, next to Mary and Daniel Matheny.

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