James W. Cook

J. W. Cook portrait

Lockley, Fred. "History of the Columbia River Valley, From The Dalles to the Sea." Vol. 2. S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1928. p. 108.


Investigation into the history of Portland and the northwest will indicate clearly how closely James W. Cook was associated with the development and upbuilding of this section of the country. The beautiful metropolitan city of Oregon is largely a monument to his enterprise, clear vision and recognition and utilization of opportunity.

His life story had its beginning in Newark, New Jersey, on the 22d of August, 1833, his parents being Horatio and Anna (Bennett) Cook, the former a native of Worcestershire, England, and the latter of the city of London, where her birth occurred in 1795. She was a soldier's daughter, her father serving in the war against Napoleon in Egypt, in which his life was sacrificed. When twenty years of age Anna Bennett came alone to the new world on the same ship on which Horatio Cook was a passenger, and the acquaintance then formed culminated in their marriage in New York. After residing in that city for a time they established their home in Newark, New Jersey, where Mr. Cook engaged in business as a wood turner, being regarded as one of the most expert in that line in the United States. In 1837 he went to Chicago, which was incorporated that year, and in 1839 he was there joined by his wife and their six children. In 1852 the two eldest sons came to Portland, where in the following year they were joined by the father, and in 1854 the other members of the family arrived in Portland, their journey being concluded on the 26th of January, 1855. It was in their home, known as the Robbins house, that the first Unitarian congregation met, which later became the Church of Our Father, Mrs. Cook being always one of its devoted workers. It was said of her : "A woman of remarkable strength of character, she was one of the best known, best loved of Portland's pioneer settlers, and her death January 4, 1880, at the advanced age of eighty-five years, was the occasion for universal sorrow."

Such a mother undoubtedly had marked influence over the life of her children and James W. Cook never tired of honoring her memory. He was a young man of twenty-one years when he accompanied his mother and other members of the family on the trip to Oregon by way of the Isthmus of Panama and later met the usual experiences of frontier life in Portland. He had a cash capital of but five dollars when on attaining his majority he started out independently. While in Chicago he had learned the trade of a chair finisher and here he first worked along that line. In 1855 he turned his attention to the manufacture of tents and wagon covers, which was the first business of that kind in the city, meeting a long-felt want here, as all travel in that day across the country was by wagon train. With the passing years his business grew in volume and importance and was continued successfully until 1870. In the meantime Mr. Cook had realized something of what the future had in store for this great and growing western country and judiciously invested in real estate both in Portland and in the adjoining districts. These investments in the course of years brought him very substantial returns as property values increased. He also utilized his opportunity for investment in different business enterprises which were established. He knew that industrial and commercial activity would constitute the basis of the city's growth and he was even willing to risk a loss if he could promote Portland's development. He became one of the pioneers in the salmon packing industry when in 1870 he and his brother Vincent began that business under the firm name of J. W. & V. Cook. In 1873 they built a cannery at Clifton and for twenty-five years thereafter were closely associated with an industry that has constituted one of the basic elements of commercial development here. The plant was sold in 1898, but in the meantime the partners had realized handsome profits from their labors. Two years later, or in 1900, they established canneries at Port Townsend and Blaine on Puget Sound and operated these until 1909, when after forty years of connection with salmon packing they sold out and retired from active business. For an extended period they had ranked as the largest packers on the Columbia river and the Sound and their output was shipped to many markets of the world.

On the 4th of January, 1888, in Salem, Oregon, Mr. Cook wedded Iantha Miller, a daughter of John F. and Zarilda (Jackson) Miller of that city. Her mother was a daughter of Hancock Lee Jackson, who at one time was governor of Missouri. Mrs. Cook's grandfather, Robert E. Miller, was an Oregon pioneer of 1849, in which year he took up a donation land claim on the upper end of Sauvies Island. In the spring of 1852 he removed to southern Oregon, where he resided for five years, this being during the period of the gold excitement at Jacksonville, gold being so plentiful that an ounce of the precious metal was traded for its weight in salt. While the Miller family was living in southern Oregon, John F. Miller, the father of Mrs. Iantha (Miller) Cook, ran a pack train from Oregon City to the mines. After five years spent in that section of the state he removed to Yamhill county, his father having in the meantime died in southern Oregon. When another five-year period had passed the Miller family settled in Salem, where they made their home for forty years, and there John F. Miller became a leader in business circles and in the public life of the community. He was president of the first woolen mills there operated and for a time was associated in business with Joe Smith, who later sold his interest to L. F. Grove, subsequently governor of the state. After conducting his interests profitably at Salem for a number of years John F. Miller sold out there and went to Lake county, Oregon, where he engaged in the cattle business on a very extensive scale until a short time prior to his death. There was an interesting military chapter in his life record, for before coming to Oregon, at the time of the Mexican war, he had raised a company and went to the front with General Scott, participating in all of the campaigns that led to the advance on Mexico City. It was after the close of the war that he returned to Missouri, married and then came to Oregon, where he was known as one of the most active and influential men of the state. During the Indian troubles in the southwestern part of Oregon he raised a company and went to the scene of hostilities, participating in the fighting which largely occurred in Curry county. It was his daughter Iantha who became the wife of James W. Cook and to them were born two daughters. Cornelia is the wife of P. L. Menefee, of Pasadena, California, and the mother of three children—Bruce Lee, Towner and Cornelia, the last two being twins. The daughter, Cully Ann, is the widow of Maurice Crum-packer, who is mentioned elsewhere in this work.

Mr. Cook established a beautiful residence on Portland Heights, overlooking the Willamette valley for miles and with a splendid view of snow-capped Mount Hood. In his later years he lived retired, devoting his time to those interests which furnished him recreation and enjoyment. He held membership in the Commercial and in the Portland Heights clubs and for more than a half century he was well known in Masonic circles here, the honorary thirty-third degree having been conferred upon him. At its organization he became a member of the Chamber of Commerce and was in hearty sympathy with. all of its projects for Portland's development and up-building. His first vote was cast soon after his arrival in Portland and he was an active supporter of Lincoln in the campaign of 1860. Thereafter he was recognized as one of the republican leaders of Oregon and by appointment he served as a member of the city council yet was not desirous of filling office, preferring to discharge his public duties as a private citizen. He was a gentleman of innate culture and refinement, of high ideals and of firm purpose. He accomplished what he undertook by methods that neither sought nor required disguise and his operations were so extensive as to make him one of the. foremost business men of the northwest—a man honored wherever known and most of all where best known. He had attained the venerable age of eighty years when called to his final rest on the 25th of August, 1913.


Submitted to the Oregon Bios. Project in May 2010 by Diana Smith. Submitter has no additional information about the person(s) or family mentioned above.

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