blue and white lines

William Watkinds

Birth place or City of origin: Greencastle
State of origin: IN
Last known City: Portland
Last known State: OR
Start/Birth date: 1835
Death/End date: 1889

One of the most diverse personalities in this series, William H. Watkinds crosses the spectrum of
saddle manufacturing and Oregon’s early politics. W.H. Watkinds was born 7 Dec. 1835, in
Greencastle, Putnam County, Indiana. Arriving by ox wagon in the Willamette Valley in 1852,
his family settled in Linn county, near Soda Springs, where his father had staked a timber claim.
William worked the farm until 1855, when he became an apprentice in Portland to learn the
harness and saddle trade.
He returned to Salem, where he married Mary E. Hixon in 1863, a native of Clay County,
Missouri. She and her parents had emigrated to Salem from Kansas in 1861. The couple had
three children, but only one daughter survived to adulthood, and was later married in Portland.
City Directories from Salem show that W.H. did practice the saddler art in Salem, circa 1871.
Very often his last name is spelled incorrectly. Highly active in the Democratic Party politics of
Oregon, he was appointed as superintendant of the Oregon Penitentiary by Governor Grover in
1870, and again in 1874. During that term, he resigned when Gov. Grover left to take a Senate
seat in Washington DC , and became the chairman of the [new] Penitentiary Building
Always politically vocal, he aided in starting a newspaper that echoed his views. In a quarrel
over political differences of the period, he shot S.A. Clarke, editor of the Salem Statesman
newspaper. Clarke sued Watkinds, but lost his case. There is ample reason to believe he sold his
saddlery building in Salem in 1875. Historic building records indicate that this may have been
the Watkins-Dearborn Building. It was purchased from Watkinds by R.H. Dearborn, a harness
maker who occupied the north end of the building with his business until circa 1910.
Details of his move to Portland, without his wife, are lacking; however it might be related to the
shooting. He moved to Portland in 1876 and is listed in Portland City Directories as a saddle and
harness maker at 105 Front Street in 1881 and 1882. During the winter and spring of 1877, the
Superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary let contracts with both Bennett & Harvey, and
former Superintendent-turned-saddle maker, W.H. Watkinds to lease prison labor to produce
harness. In the fiscal year 1879-1880, he employed 15 persons, 12 were male.
Despite past controversy, he was known as a political heavyweight in Portland as well as in
Salem. In 1883 and 1884, he was appointed the Chief of Police of the Metropolitan Police Force
by the Board of Police Commissioners. It is not known by this author if he returned to the saddle
making, or remained a politician, however, the 1884 McCormick’s Business Directory of Portland
lists M.E. [Mary E.] Watkinds in the saddlery category. It would seem possible, but unproven,
that she managed the saddlery while her husband managed the criminals. In any case, William
did not return to the leather business after his tour with the police.
About 1886, Mrs. Watkinds was appointed the matron of the State asylum, in Salem. She
maintained that position until her death, in that city, until 25 May 1891. She was buried in the
Salem IOOF cemetery, beside her husband, who had died of “heart disease” on 4 November,
1889, in Portland. He was 54 years old. The funeral was held on the train from Portland.
For an example of this maker mark (Salem OGN) on a holster, see PACKING IRON by Richard C. Rattenbury,
Zon International, Milwood, NY, 1993, page 82
[The Watkinds saddle shop was in business in Salem circa 1862 – circa 1875]
[The Watkinds Saddle shop was in business in Portland circa 1875 - circa 1884]
Daily Oregon Statesman 5 November 1889 4:3
IOOF Register of Burials
1870 Census, Oregon, Marion County, Salem, East Precinct
Oregon Statesman 25 March 1941
1871 City Directory, Salem, Oregon, photocopy, Genealogical Forum of Oregon
City Directory, Portland, Oregon 1881-1889 [Watkins]
Disturnell’s Business Directory- of the West Coast -, Portland, Ore. 1882 [sp Watkinds]
Pen Pictures of Representative Men of Oregon, Hodgkin, Frank E. and J.J. Galvin. Farmer & Dairyman Pub., Portland,
Clarke, Robert Carleton. History of the Willamette Valley. S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, Chicago, 1927
Research of Sue Woodford-Beals in pursuit of a forthcoming book on Penitentiary Superintendents in Oregon
Liza Dormandy, curator of the Portland Police Museum
Report of the Superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary, Salem, Sept 1, 1878
1880 Federal Mortality Census and Special industrial Schedule- Portland, OR- microfilm
Research by Richard and Dorothy Egan


High Noon  |  9929 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90034  |  |  (310) 202-9010

© 2021 High Noon Western Americana
If problems with website occur, please contact the webmaster. Site designed by Ireland Graphic Design.