Two Degrees of Separation from the Oregon Trail, and an Old Murder

I’ve just begun to realize what a gift my father gave me in having our old family movies saved to DVDs. Each time I watch them, I remember something new – or something old – in our family history. You’ve seen a few of my family stories in earlier posts (see here and here).

Today’s recollection is about my great-grandfather, Thomas Benton Hooker, Sr.

Granddad Hooker, Theresa & brother

He was an old man when I remember him – he was born in August 1879, and lived until July 1965, when he was just short of 86.  The picture on the left, taken in 1957, shows Granddad Hooker playing with my brother and me. I was too young to remember this occasion, but I do remember visiting him later in my childhood.  He and his wife Nona kept a cigar box with a few small toys – metal soldiers and the like. That was all there was to play with at their house, and I got very bored when we visited.

Granddad Hooker was sheriff in Polk County, Oregon, for many years.  He lived in Dallas, Oregon, the county seat.  Dallas was first named “Cynthiana” and was settled in about 1847.  That’s important, because my novel about travel along the Oregon Trail takes place in 1847. I’d read in a family genealogy that my Hooker ancestors first came to Oregon in 1848.  I debated whether to set my novel in 1847 or 1848, and I’ll explain in a future post why I picked 1847.

Granddad Hooker’s grandparents were the ones who emigrated to Oregon.  Permenus Petronius Hooker was born in Illinois in 1816 and married Charlotte Jane Kinkead in 1847. They emigrated to Oregon in 1848, along with his two brothers, Cyrenus and Demetrius Hooker. (What names!)

Permenus and Charlotte had four children, one of whom was Ira Allen Hooker, born in 1854, my first ancestor born in Oregon. Ira married Mary Blanche Williams, and they had six children, one of whom was my great-grandfather, Thomas Benton Hooker.

(How did the name “Thomas Benton” come into the family? Senator Thomas Hart Benton from Missouri was a huge advocate of westward expansion. He was instrumental in persuading the U.S. to acquire Oregon from Britain and in the passage of the early Oregon land grant acts. Was he simply a famous name in local history, or was there some family connection? Or was there another Thomas Benton that my great-grandfather was named for? There were some other Thomases in the family, but Granddad Hooker was the first Benton.)

Permenus lived till 1880. My Granddad Hooker was born in 1879, so he would have known (though not remembered) his grandfather Permenus. Since I knew Granddad Hooker, I am just two degrees of separation from the Oregon Trail. No wonder it has fascinated me all my life.

Prior to drafting this post, all I knew about the family’s migration to Oregon was that an ancestor had arrived in 1848.  In the research I did for this post, I learned some interesting facts about Permenus and his family.

Charlotte Hooker, wife of Permenus, died in 1866.  Permenus never married again, and their oldest child Sarah raised the younger children until her marriage.  This aunt Sarah and her family moved between Oregon and Napa Valley in California, but finally settled in Oregon, because “she didn’t want to raise her children where there were so many wine cellars.

Demitrius Hooker had one wife and 16 children. Several of them were boys, and Ira Allen Hooker had other sons in addition to my Granddad Hooker. So any Hookers who have been in Polk County, Oregon, for a couple of generations are probably my relatives.

Permenus’s brother Cyrenus was murdered in Polk County in 1852. According to one family history, Cyrenus was murdered for his money.  Judge Orville C. Pratt, the first officially appointed judge in Polk County, tried Cyrenus’s murderer in the county’s first murder trial. One man was hanged as the murderer, an accessory was sold into servitude, and another accessory later exonerated and pardoned.   An account of the murder can be found in Legal Executions in the Western Territories, 1847-1911, by R. Michael Wilson (2010), p. 155 et seq.

Thomas Benton Hooker’s gravestone, Dallas, Oregon

I’ve often wondered why Granddad Hooker became a sheriff.  Now I wonder whether it was because of his great-uncle’s murder, which happened a quarter century before Granddad was born, but must have been part of his family stories when he grew up.

As I learn more about my family history, I discover more stories I want to know. The Internet can only take me so far. The rest is left to legend or speculation.

But who knows? Perhaps the story of Cyrenus’s murder and a later generation sheriff will turn up in my fiction, where I can speculate as much as I please.

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  6. I am also a descendant of Ira Permenus Petronius Hooker. He is my 3rd great grandfather. I have been searching for source listing Permenus a a son of Israel Scott Hooker. Israel was a soldier in the American Revolution. I need the proof for my Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) application. Something like a death certificate listing his parents would work. Do you have anything that might work?

    I enjoyed your story.

    • Rod, I don’t have anything from the Revolutionary War period on the Hookers. My information has come only from and a book I found on the murder in Oregon, which won’t help you. Good luck!

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