This is the fourth speech in this collection that Scott Duniway delivered to the association, in which she and her family (pioneers of 1852) had been active for many, many years. It also is the first that was delivered after Oregon women were enfranchised in 1912. The occasion was the association’s forty-first annual reunion, at which “something over 900 white haired men and women, Oregon’s trail blazers, held a campfire meeting in the Masonic Temple” in Portland; although Abigail would turn 79 in four months, she was a comparative youngster in a crowd featuring many celebrants in their eighties and nineties.

The reunion was a day-long affair. First, the pioneers gathered at the Oregon Historical Society and walked (reportedly, only a few of the feeblest rode in the automobiles that had been arranged) through a steady drizzle (“scorning umbrellas”) to the courthouse plaza for a group photograph. Then there were meetings, speeches of welcome, and music. A banquet was given in the Armory by the Women’s Auxiliary. That evening, new officers were elected, resolutions were adopted, including one petitioning the legislature to mark the old Oregon Trail, Mrs. Sarah J. Hill of St. Johns was named “mother queen,” and the campfire program began. Presided over by Col. Robert A. Miller, there were more musical selections and speeches from notables like Cyrus Walker, son of Elkanah and Mary Richardson Walker; former Governor T. T. Geer; and Dr. Bethenia Angelina Owens-Adair, the first woman physician on the Pacific Coast, who came overland in the Applegate wagon train of 1843.

Also delivering a fittingly nostalgic campfire talk, “five minutes, hot from the skillet, selected from the pioneers present, preference given to the women,” was Abigail. The newspapers reported that, even though called upon without notice, she “cloth[ed] her thoughts in well chosen words” and made “the most beautiful speech in her long career as a speaker.”

The text is taken from a five-page manuscript in Mss 432 – Abigail Jane (Scott) Duniway, Misc. Papers, OR Hist. Soc.1 At its end, Abigail added: “Col. R. A. Miller said, when Mrs. Duniway had finished, that he had often heard her speak, but had never heard her do so well before. To which the lady replied ‘That’s because you never heard me speak before as a free woman.’ The audience applauded to the echo.”

Mr. Chairman, brother and sister Pioneers; dear friends and fellow citizens: Looking backward through the receded years, my memory sees the dim old Oregon Trail, with long double rows of slowly moving oxen, the motive powers that propel the jolting and careening ships of the desert, freighted with human beings in every stage of development, from tiny infancy to hoary age, all journeying on, toward the land of the setting sun. Again, I see men, women and children dropping by the wayside, while long arrays of covered wagons halt to bury in the solitudes of the desert, all that is mortal of their beloved dead. I see those that are yet alive, and remain in the body, move mournfully onward, in danger often, in peril always, not knowing how soon some unforeseen calamity will overtake them as they wend their way through lands infested by hostile savages, the air they breathe infested with the roadside stench of dead, decaying cattle, their own food running low, their clothing often worn to rags, their bodies racked by alternate heat and cold. On they wander, and yet on and on. The grandeur of the scenery falls upon their wearied senses; and as one after another of their beloved fellow travelers is laid away for that last long sleep among the haunts of wild beasts and wilder savages, they are left to wonder what it all is for? Dear friends, these trials are all for a purpose. As I looked into your fading eyes, and wrinkled faces as hundreds and hundreds of you took me by the hand today, I thought of those who have passed before us to Elysian fields, and rejoiced as I remembered that there is no death. Our dear ones are not dead, but risen. We shall surely meet again.

“Heaven is nearer than mortals think.
When they look with trembling dread
at the misty future that stretches on
From the silent home of the dead.

“Tis no lone isle in a boundless main,
No brilliant but distant shore,
Where our loving ones who are called away
Must go, to return no more.

“No; Heaven is near us; the mighty veil
Of mortality blinds the eye,
That we see not the glorious angel bands
On the shores of Eternity.

“I know, when the silver cord is loosed,
When the veil is rent away,
Not long and dark shall the passage be
To the realms of endless day.”2


My beloved pioneer sisters, or daughters, as I love to call you, for am older than the most of you, as I look into your fading eyes and beaming faces, my heart goes out once more to the hospitable homes of many of you who welcomed me in my wanderings, when as a missionary of glad tidings, I preached to the people, heralding the day that dawned upon us at last, on the 12th of last November, when through the votes of men we were made equal with them one with another before the law. You will soon depart from us, to your modern homes, bearing memories, not only of the older times upon the plains and of the rude log cabins that first gave us shelter in the wilds of Old Oregon, the proud mother of Washington and Idaho, but you will carry away in your mental vision the tall sky scrapers of our modern city, emblems of a house not made with hands, eternal in the Heavens.

It will not be long e*t farthest till the last of the Pioneers shall pass away. As I look into your faces, perhaps for the last time while in the body, I desire to assure you of the tender love I feel for one and all. May peace and love and ease and plenty crown your declining years, and may you live to come again and again to these reunions, where I intend to come to greet you, whether in the body or out of it, till the last one of us shall be gathered home.


    1. For this and other reasons, the text may be an extemporaneous speech committed “in part” to paper after the event; or Abigail might have anticipated an opportunity to speak “spontaneously.” For reports of the event, see Transactions of the Forty-First; Oregon Journal 20 June 1913. []
    2. This unattributed poem, entitled “Heaven,” was collected in The Changed Cross, and Other Religious Poems, compiled from newspapers and magazines by Anson Davies Fitz Randolph, in 1865 (50). Scott Duniway shortens the original, which is as follows:

      Oh! Heaven is nearer than mortals think,
      When they look with a trembling dread
      At the misty future that stretches on,
      From the silent home of the dead.

      ‘Tis no lone isle on a boundless main,
      No brilliant but distant shore,
      Where the lovely ones who are called away
      Must go to return no more.

      No, heaven is near us; the mighty veil
      Of mortality blinds the eye,
      That we cannot see the angel bands,
      On the shores of eternity.

      The eye that shuts in a dying hour
      Will open the next in bliss;
      The welcome will sound in the heavenly world,
      Ere the farewell is hushed in this.

      We pass from the clasp of mourning friends,
      To the arms of the loved and lost,
      And those smiling faces will greet us there,
      Which on earth we have valued most.

      Yet oft in the hours of holy thought,
      To the thirsting soul is given
      That power to pierce through the mist of sense,
      To the beauteous scenes of heaven.

      Then very near seem its pearly gates,
      And sweetly its harpings fall;
      Till the soul is restless to soar away,
      And longs for the angel’s call.

      I know when the silver cord is loosed,
      When the veil is rent away,
      Not long and dark shall the passage be,
      To the realms of endless day.

      Abigail’s abridged version had appeared previously in her 1905 novel, From the West to the West (129-30), and would appear again in her address before the State Federation of Woman’s Clubs the following October (“Greeting and Reminiscence“). []

    3. Half of a page has been removed here. It is not known whether this represents missing text or Abigail’s intentional editing. []

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