January 18, 1928
On a Christmas day more than four score years ago – the twenty-fifth of December, 1845 – a man, a woman, and eight children, a hardy little band, stepped ashore from the broad Columbia to find Fort Vancouver a little trade center in the wilderness, hospitable to the travelers it was later to fight so determinedly. Thus the Shorts, farmers of Pennsylvania and Illinois, came to Vancouver.
There is no history to which one can turn to find out what these pioneers thought of this one spot in a wilderness. But they must have liked it even then. Maybe the man, bearded and rugged, saw in the untouched forest a farm, and a home a a peaceful if active end to the trail from Illinois. Maybe the woman, sturdy and strong and capable, saw a bright home and a land where her children might hew their way unhampered for lack of enough room in the world.
They must have wandered about looking, this Amos S. and Esther Short, and they must have said, “Now there’s a likely place. Twouldn’t take so much clearing, and the land is good …” They must have looked, and they must have spoken, for they came back.
Not just right away, of course. This was a broad land. they would look elsewhere. But they came back in 1847, from the place that is now the town of Linnton, Oregon, and so this city of Vancouver began, unknown to the pioneers.
Amos and Esther Short, man and wife, took up a homestead – a donation land claim – in the wilderness near the fort. Its eastern boundary was one day to become Main street and its northern boundary was even later to become Twenty-sixth street, but the forest trees that towered along the future thoroughfares gave no hint of such a future.
That was a contrast with the present day! It is hard to realize, here in this old city, that the bustling commerce, the old buildings and even the stately shade trees all hark back to a man and a woman and a homestead in the forest.
Britain Wanted Land
Then came the cloud. A new young United States of America and an old wise British crown were contending for mastery and ownership of the broad land cleaved by the Columbia. Britain wanted to hold everything down to the north back of the river. And so the Shorts, Americans and settlers, suddenly became a menace to the claims of England and a bulwark to the claims of the United States.
Family Ordered Away
It did not take the British long to decide that the thing to do was to remove the Shorts. Only Amos and Esther Short and the children (there were ten now) would not remove. So began the strife that was to last for years and was to find Esther Short, undaunted, standing her ground alone and victorious.
The British swooped the first time when the father was not home. They took the mother and her children, put them in a boat, and took them across the Columbia to Hayden island – the Yankee side to the river where they were put ashore and told to stay.
Stay? Not Esther Short. Not Amos Short. They came back. That was in 1848. And the British, swooping again, caught the whole family unprepared. The family was loaded into a scow and set adrift on the Columbia without oars. But Amos Short and his wife and children reached land – and they came back! These Yankees would not back down.
Esther Short Struck
There was always trouble after that. Once a man coming to the cabin door, struck Esther Short across the face with a heavy club. Thereafter Amos Short carried his rifle handy, and one day there was a battle.
Again the men of England came down to evict the homesteaders. Short warned of their coming took the four or five men who were working for him and who volunteered, and went forthe to meet the British.
He ordered them to keep off his land. They came on. He warned them of what he would do. They did not heed. Battle followed, and Short shot down two men, one a Hawaiian and one a white man, who exonerated him in an affidavit before he died.
Short was in legal battles after that to save his life, and he won. A territorial judge who acquitted him is reported to have said. “The only trouble I find with you, Short is that you didn’t shoot more of them.”
That was the highlight of the struggle for freedom from aggression, but there were other bright flashes of courage. Once another expedition came down, finding the mother alone. Strong woman that she was, she came out alone and slapped the leader, knocking him to the earth, and the man went away convinced that she was too brave a mother to be evicted.
The treacherous Columbia River bar claimed the ship that was bearing Amos home after he had delivered potatoes to California. Where demand for food was high with the gold rush on and Amos and Esther were making good money. He was lost on January 7, 1853, that left Esther alone. And alone she carried on – building a city, now that Britain’s claims had been relinquished.
With her husband lost, Esther Short, then under the terms of an old law took the eastern half of their land claim, the half that went always to the widow. The western half went to the children, and so was divided into ten strips by parallel north-and-south lines.
Settlers were coming, more and more. And Esther Short, renting some of her land at first, presently saw a better plan. Thus it was in 1855 that the city of Vancouver was platted up to Eighth Street, and that she gave Esther Short park to the city, and that she gave to the city also a long strip of waterfront to be the city’s perpetually.
Esther Short died on June 28, 1862. She rests in the old city cemetery. She had been born in Pennsylvania in 1806, and she had mothered ten children besides losing two more. Curtis, Jersusha, Drusilla, Clark, Samantha, Maxey, Deloss, Grant, Esther and Emmaline — these children, with the spirit of the pioneers strong in their souls, scattered far and wide. Left to recall her in memory is only the youngest, Emmaline, who came home to live in a modern hotel on a part of the land in the city that dates back to a noation land claim and a man and a woman who knew no fear and who could not be cowed.