Asahel Bush

Asahel Bush portrait

"Portrait & Biographical Record of the Willamette Valley Oregon." Chapman Publishing Company, 1903. p. 27.


The career of Asahel Bush, pioneer journalist and banker, of Salem, illustrates in a striking degree the possibilities of the Northwest during the first half-century of its development. The citizenship of Oregon probably affords to-day no more conspicuous example of the self-made man of affairs, no better or more worthy type of American citizenship, than is to be found in the subject of this necessarily rather brief memoir. A record of the salient points in his career, illustrating the various steps he has taken onward and upward to the attainment of the unquestionable and unquestioned position as the foremost citizen of the Willamette valley should, and undoubtedly will, prove a source of inspiration to the ambitious young men of the present generation whose aspirations lie along lines of a nature more or less similar to those pursued by Mr. Bush during the days preceding the period since which his position in the commercial world has been assured.

The ancestral history of Mr. Bush, both lineal and collateral, is distinctly American. The founders of the family in the New World emigrated from England in 1630 and from that time to the present men bearing that name have lent their best efforts toward the promotion of the welfare of the country, placing America first in their affections and interests. In 1650 representatives of the family moved from the state of Connecticut, where they had resided for more than twenty years, to Westfield, Mass. Aaron Bush, grandfather of Asahel Bush, was a farmer of New England, where his entire life was spent. Asahel Bush, his son, father of the pioneer of whom we are writing, was born in Westfield, Mass., also carried on agricultural pursuits in that state. In public affairs he was prominent and influential, and served as selectman of his town and as a representative in the Massachusetts State Legislature. He was a believer in the Universalist faith, and a man of broad mind and liberal views. In early manhood he wedded Sally Noble, a native of Westfield, Mass., whose ancestry may also be traced back to England. Asahel and Sally (Noble) Bush became the parents of six children, but two of whom are now living.

Asahel Bush, whose name introduces this memoir, was the fifth child in order of birth, and the only one who located on the Pacific coast. He was born in Westfield, Mass., June 4, 1824, was reared in that town, and completed his literary education in the Westfield Academy. At the age of seventeen years he moved to Saratoga Springs, N. Y., where he was apprenticed to the printer's trade in the office of the Saratoga Sentinel. Here he was employed for about four years, during which time he learned the details of the trade, it having been his original intention to make newspaper work his vocation. As he grew to maturity his views of life broadened, and he determined to make his life more useful by mastering the law, thereby equipping himself more fully for the struggle which he realized lay ahead of him. With this ambition dominant in his mind, he returned to his native state and began the study of the law in Westfield under the direction of William Blair and Patrick Boise, being admitted to the bar of Massachusetts in 1850. Judge R. P. Boise of Salem, a nephew of Patrick Boise, who had previously been a student in his uncle's law office, was a friend of Mr. Bush, and the aspirations of the two young men about this time tended in the same direction, both arriving at the conclusion that the well-nigh boundless resources of the then new and undeveloped Northwest offered to diem broader opportunities than the East. Accordingly they decided to put their fortunes to the test in the territory of Oregon, whither a tide of immigration was then flowing. Soon after having been admitted to the practice of his chosen profession, Mr. Bush started for Oregon by way of the Panama route, leaving New York City as a passenger on the steamer Empire City, bound for Aspinwall. He made the journey across the Isthmus on a boat poled up the Chagres river and on the back of a mule over the mountains, and re-embarked on the steamer Panama, which, after stopping for a short time in the harbor of San Francisco, proceeded northward to Astoria. At that point Mr. Bush took a small boat up the Columbia and Willamette rivers to Portland. A short time afterward he located at Oregon City, where he established a newspaper, which he named the Oregon Statesman, for the publication of which he had had a printing press shipped from the East around the Horn. The first issue of the Statesman appeared in March, 1851. Mr. Bush continued to be editor, proprietor and publisher of this pioneer newspaper until 1853, when he removed his office to Salem, there continuing in journalism until 1861. The business evidently appealed to him as more fascinating and satisfactory than the practice of the law, for by this time he had abandoned the idea of engaging in the practice of his profession.

In 1861 Mr. Bush sold his newspaper, which thereafter was known as the Union. In 1867 he engaged in the banking business in Salem as a member of the firm of Ladd & Bush, his partner in this enterprise being the late W. S. Ladd of Portland. This relation was sustained until 1877, when Mr. Bush purchased the interest of his partner. For me past twenty-six years he has retained control of the institution and has been actively engaged in the conduct of its affairs, and through his individual efforts he has made it one of the strongest banking houses in the Pacific Northwest. In 1867 he erected the commodious brick structure now devoted to the purposes of his business.

Mr. Bush has further contributed to the improvement of the city through the erection of a number of stores and other buildings. He is a stockholder in and president of the Salem Flouring- Mills, in which he has been interested for many years. In company with Mr. Ladd and others he purchased this enterprise several years ago and equipped the plant with roller process machinery. When me mill was destroyed by fire it was immediately rebuilt, and there is now a modern mill having a daily capacity of four hundred barrels. He is also financially interested in the Salem Woolen Mills, is the owner of the Salem Foundry, and for some time was a stockholder in the old Oregon Steam Navigation Company, the predecessor of the present system known as the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Company. In addition to these enterprises, in which much of his capital has been profitably invested and to which he has devoted no inconsiderable portion of his time and energy, he has, at various times, been identified with other local enterprises which have helped to establish the city of Salem on a sound manufacturing, commercial and financial basis.

In his political views Mr. Bush is a Democrat who has always remained firm in his belief in the principle of free trade. He has taken an active part in the promotion of the welfare of his party in Oregon, and probably no other man has accomplished, more for the general well-being of the Democracy of this state than he. For several years he was a member of the Democratic State Central Committee, of which he served for a time as chairman. In 1892 he was sent as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention at Chicago, on which occasion Grover Cleveland was nominated for the presidency for the third time. For eight years he served as Territorial Printer for Oregon, the first and only man to hold that office. He was appointed one of the board of visitors to the United States Military Academy at West Point, N. Y., filling that post in 1861, when two classes were graduated for the purpose of providing officers for the army in the Civil war. For many years he was a regent of the Oregon State University, but resigned the office; and at the time of its incorporation was a trustee of Willamette University. He is a member of the Oregon Historical Society, and in religious faith is a Unitarian. In 1902 he was made a member of the Board of Directors of the Lewis and dark Centennial Exposition to be held in Portland in 1905.

In 1854 Mr. Bush made a trip to his old home in Massachusetts by way of the Panama route, returning to Salem the same year. In 1861 he made a second trip by the same route, and in 1865 he crossed the plains to the East by stage, returning home by way of the Isthmus.

The marriage of Mr. Bush occurred in Salem in October, 1854, and united him with Eugenia Zieber, who was born in 1833 in Princess Anne, Princess Anne county, on the Eastern shore of Maryland. Her father was a native of Philadelphia, and her mother of Maryland. Her family crossed the plains in 1851, settling in Oregon City, but afterward removing to Salem. John S. Zieber, her father, became surveyor-general of Oregon in 1853, filling the office for one term. Mrs. Bush was a graduate of the Moravian Seminary at Bethlehem, Pa., and was a lady of superior culture and refinement, possessed of many graces of character. She died in Salem in 1863, leaving four children : Estelle, who is a graduate of the school in which her mother received her education; Asahel N., a graduate of Amherst College, class of 1882, now a partner of his father in the banking business; Sally, a graduate of Smith College at Northampton, Mass.; and Eugenia, who is a graduate of Wellesley College.

It is difficult to place a proper estimate upon the services of Asahel Bush to the state of Oregon, and particularly to the community in which he has been for so long a period a most potent factor. Thoughtful men who have watched the progress of the state for the past four or five decades are generally agreed that there is living to-day no other individual whose personality, sound judgment in affairs of finance, trade and commerce, broad-mindedness, thoughtfulness for the welfare of the community at large, and unselfish and disinterested desire to witness the most economical utilization of the partially developed resources so abundant throughout the country in which he was a pioneer, has made, and is yet making, so marked an impress upon the trend of events in the state. For many years his strong guiding hand has been felt in nearly all important undertakings throughout a large expanse of territory within the borders of the state, and his judgment has been sought and deferred to by hundreds of men in all walks of life. A common expression in local commercial and manufacturing circles has been: "Ask Mr. Bush what he thinks about it." His integrity has always been above reproach, and his motives in all his operations have never been questioned. Honored and respected by all who have learned to know him, and well-beloved by those who have been favored by an intimate acquaintance with him, he is now in his eightieth year recognized as the foremost citizen of the Willamette valley, if not, indeed, of the entire state of Oregon.

Such, in brief, is the life history of Asahel Bush. Those whose discernment enables them to read "between the lines" and who are familiar with the history of the state, will readily realize the nature of the environments which surrounded him in the early years of his residence here, and what courage and fortitude, as well as enterprise and energy, it required to face the pioneer conditions of the Northwest and establish large business interests here upon a profitable basis. In his undertakings, however, he has been greeted with such a measure of success that his methods naturally prove of profound interest to the commercial and financial world. Yet there is no secret in connection with his advancement, for his success has been attained through earnest and conscientious effort, guided by sound judgment and keen foresight, supplemented by principles of honorable manhood.


Submitted to the Oregon Bios. Project in December 2008 by Diana Smith. Submitter has no additional information about the person(s) or family mentioned above.

Editor's note: Asahel Bush's family home in Salem, OR is now a museum.