Was Elgin once named Fort Baker?

By Dick Mason, The Observer May 27, 2013 10:52 am
No, but there once was a building in Elgin known as Fort Baker.

The structure was a log house building where settlers gathered for safety in 1878 when they faced the threat of attacks from Indians, according to the website www.oregongenealogy.com.

The community was known as Fish Trap and Indian Valley before it officially gained its present name on Sept. 28, 1885, when its post office opened under the name of Elgin.

Where was the county seat of Union County first located?

La Grande was the home of the Union County seat initially. A provision in the Legislature's bill that created  Union County in 1864 stated that La Grande would initially serve as the county seat. The bill mandated that voters select a county seat during the first general election after 1864 according to a story in the Feb. 24, 1961  Observer. 

Voters in 1868 selected La Grande over Union 759 to 501. The vote total of 1,260 raised eyebrows because Union County had only 1,200 registered voters in 1868. 

The likelihood of voter fraud may be why a second election was conducted in 1872, one in which Union was selected as the county seat. 

Union remained the county seat until 1904 when voters elected to move the county seat back to La Grande where it has remained.

What was the
first road in
Union County?

It may have been Black Hawk Trail, according to a story in the Feb. 24, 1961 Observer.  The road was built in the 1800s and named in memory of Chief Black Hawk, a Umatilla Indian leader who was popular with early settlers. 

Black Hawk led members of his tribe into the Grande Ronde Valley each summer, according to an article by Rebecca Davis in the 1961 Union County Historical Society Annual. 

Chief Black Hawk won the hearts of people in the Mount Glenn area when there was talk of an Indian uprising and possible attack in the 1870s. Black Hawk advised the homesteaders to round up their children and take them to a nearby fort. He told them he would send
up a smoke signal from the top of Fox Hill to warn his friends. 

“I will do all I can for you. I am not coming with them to kill,’’ Black Hawk said.

Fortunately the attack against the settlers never occurred.  

The road named in Black Hawk’s honor was built with the assistance of a road poll tax. The tax required all men to work two days a year on roads, according to the story in the Feb. 24, 1961 Observer. No other details of the road poll tax were given in the article. However, if the Union County road poll tax worked like it did in other communities in the 1800s, all men 21  and over would have had the  option of paying a tax in lieu of doing road work each
year.