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WPA Interview with George Buckingham

Privacy Level: Open (White)
Date: Sep 1938
Location: Bellfountain, Benton County, Oregonmap
Surname/tag: Buckingham
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WPA Interview with George Buckingham

The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was established in 1935 by resident Franklin Delano Roosevelt as part of his administration's New Deal. [1] The Federal Writers' Project in Oregon part of his efforts to provide employment opportunities for Artists during the Great Depression.[2]

"The Writers' Project offered wages of twenty-five to fifty dollars a month, which supported the families of hundreds of young writers. Across America, famous or soon-to-be famous writers such as John Steinbeck, Zora Neale Hurston, Saul Bellow, May Swenson, John Cheever, Ralph Ellison, and Studs Terkel wielded pencils, manual typewriters, and Edison recorders on the government's behalf. They collected stories, conducted interviews, and wrote enough books and pamphlets to fill 84 feet of shelf space. They gathered song lyrics, published travel guides, clipped newspaper articles, and promoted tourism through radio and print programs."[2]

Mark Phinney was one of those writers and he conducted extensive interviews with the surviving family of the Oregon Pioneers in Benton County. The following interview was conducted with George Buckingham, grandson of Heman Buckingham and son of Augustus Buckingham.[3]


September 1938

Mr. BUCKINGHAM was interviewed at his home about one and one-half miles southwest of Belfountain, where he farms a part of his grandfather's donation land claim. Being of the third generation he knew little directly of the early days but was able to supply valuable and interesting items.

"My grandfather, Heman C. BUCKINGHAM, came from Illinois to Oregon in 1846. He left New York State in 1845 but was too late to make the train and so stayed in Missouri until the next year. He came first to Oregon City where he conducted some sort of a store until 1850. He then came to this community and took a donation land claim. This is how he located here."

"Grandfather and his partner had driven a wagon to Eugene looking for a location. They were not satisfied with the prospect there and sold their team, but loaded their wagon on two canoes and started down the river to Oregon City again. Some where about east of here they were wrecked and swam out to the west bank of the Willamette. When they got on to higher ground they saw a light and tramped some miles across country to reach shelter. The light was at the home of Thomas REEVES who had the claim about two miles northeast of Bellfountain. The REEVES had been kept up with a sick child. They took in the unfortunate men, and furnished them with a horse to get back to Oregon City. Then grandfather moved here."

"Grandfather had first married in New York but his wife died with their first child. Later he married Betsy TRUMBULL and moved to Illinois, and later to Oregon. This second wife died soon after coming to this state, leaving two children, Lavina, and George W. Lavina married a man named GRAGG and her descendants are living north of Bellfountain."

"After coming to Bellfountain grandfather married my grandmother, Matilda STARR, daughter of John STARR. Their children were Precious (PRUETT), Augustus H. (my father), Deete S., John, Edith (RAYBURN), Winifred (WOODCOCK). Grandfather lived the rest of his life on the farm here. He was a staunch Republican and served one term as state representative at Salem. I do not know the date but think it was before the Civil War."

"Father was not rugged enough, physically, to do the heavy work of farming. He had a grocery store at Pendleton in Eastern Oregon for a few years after 1885 and then moved to Bandon in Coos County and ran a store there. Grandfather was then dead and father was looking after grandmother's interests in the farm. He alternated somewhat between Bandon and Bellfountain, and finally left Bandon altogether and bought the store in Bellfountain."

"Father first married Lillian FRINK, sister of Guy FRINK who now has a farm near Philomath. After her death he married my mother, Henrietta DYER of Coos County, in 1886. Mother was born in Coos County in 1863. Grandfather DYER had come west to look over the country in the late 'fifties'. Then he went back to Iowa, married the girl who had been waiting for him, and started west again. In San Francisco he ran out of money. He went to a bank, told them he was broke and asked for money to get to Port Orford, Oregon. After sizing him up they let him have the money. Grandfather was a man of considerable force. He was chosen as County Judge of Coos County and laid out the town of Bandon. His children were my mother, Florence (RADLEY), Alice (BIGGS), and Elbert."

"My parents were married in 1886. Their children were myself, Lela (CHEESMAN), Velma (RICKARD), Elbert and Harlan."

"My wife was Elsie Grace PHILPOTS, whose people came to Coos County in 1906. We belong to this century and know nothing directly of pioneering."

"I have heard my parents talk of the fun and social diversions of the early days. One great sport, as well as convenience, was horseback riding. The young men used to get great pleasure out of breaking and riding horses. It was also a social event, when groups got together to compete in breaking untamed animals. The two sexes got together at dances and spelling bees as well as at church. Mother used dance although her folks were Methodists. Father had to hide out to play cards, but he didn't make that necessary for his children."

"Father never ran for office, but he was active in the local affairs of the Republican party, and often acted as precinct committeeman."


  1. "Works Progress Administration (WPA) (1935)." The Living New Deal. Accessed July 20, 2018. https://livingnewdeal.org/glossary/works-progress-administration-wpa-1935/.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Nash, Tom. "Federal Writers' Project in Oregon." The Oregon Encyclopedia. 2018. Accessed July 20, 2018. https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/federal_writers_project_in_oregon/#.W1JXVbgh1hE.
  3. Phinney, Mark, Danell Aukerman, eds. WPA Historical Records Survey, Benton County Oregon. Philomath: Benton County Historical Society, 2000. Index. 457 pages. Phinney Interviews

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