Photo credit: Mike Francis, Oregonian
Owen Summers is more than just a photo on the wall as you enter the headquarters for the Oregon National Guard.
Owen Summers was born in
on June 13, 1850. At the age of two, his parents, John and Elizabeth Ann
Summers moved the family to Brockville, Canada , where his father worked as
a cobbler. Five years later, Owen and four siblings were left as orphans after
his parents and a younger sister died during the cholera epidemic. Chicago,
Six year old Owen was taken to a farm near
, and spent most of his youth working on
the farm in exchange for room and board. He attended a small schoolhouse in La
Center, Lee County, Ill. Frankfort, Ill.
At the age of 12, Owen and three of his schoolmates tried to enlist in the Army to join the ranks of those fighting in the Civil War, but were refused by recruiting officers because they were too young. Undeterred, Owen tried unsuccessfully twice more. On his fourth attempt to enlist in 1865, he garnered the help of a Pennsylvania Dutchman, who consented to become his guardian. With the permission of this man, the examining Army surgeon granted his acceptance into the United States Army. He was barely 14 years old.
On February 1, 1865, Owen joined Company H, Third Illinois Cavalry. He served in the eastern part of
Mississippi, and later in Alabama,
and the Carolinas. Following the close of the
war, his unit was ordered to St. Louis, Mo., and fought against the Sioux Indians in Minnesota and the Dakotas
before being mustered out of the service on Dec. 11, 1865.
In January, 1875, he headed west, taking odd jobs and bouncing back and forth between
Francisco, San Diego, and . He eventually
settled in Portland , where he and his brother-in-law, J.C.
Olds, founded a crockery and glassware business known as Olds & Summers.
The company occupied a building at Portland, Ore. No.
183 First Street in downtown . Portland
After several set-backs, including a fire which destroyed their building and inventory in 1886, Owen persisted in his business endeavors, becoming a force in the local trade, becoming a well respected, and prominent merchant in the
business community. Portland
During this time, Owen had been appointed to the state legislature as the United States Appraiser of the
. He worked closely with the port of Portland Oregon delegation and the general assembly on the passage
of a bill which resulted in the creation of a militia for the state of . The bill allowed
for the reestablishment of a State Adjutant General, and three regiments and a
company of Veteran Guards, composed of ex-members of Civil War regiments—of
which he was chosen as first lieutenant. Oregon
According to the new law, which came to be known as the “Summers Law,”
’s militia was authorized a minimum
strength of 1,320 men in one battalion and each of its three regiments.
Furthermore, Summers oversaw the outfitting of the units, and the creation of
an efficient, disciplined force. Oregon
In 1887, the militia was reorganized into the Oregon National Guard, and Owen was elected as lieutenant colonel of the First Regiment. Seven years later, he was promoted to the rank of colonel.
At the opening of the Spanish-American War, all National Guard troops were ordered to
into the Second Oregon Regiment of the United States Volunteers. Colonel
Summers was named as commander of this new group, and on May 24, 1898, the
regiment sailed to the Portland .
The unit was the first military unit to leave the continental Philippines ,
and along with the First California and five companies of the 14th U.S.
Infantry, were the first to arrive in a foreign country during the war. The men
under Summers found him kindly, considerate and helpful. United States
Col. Summers’ unit was involved in several battles, including the advance on Guadalupe, the battle of Malabon, and the liberation of
Among the many telegraphs Col. Summers received, the following is said to be
his most prized: Manila
Col. O. Summers, Commander, 2d
Sir: I desire to express to you in very strong terms my appreciate of the manner in which you and your regiment performed the very difficult and delicate duties of acting provost marshal and provost guard during the time immediately following the capitulation of Manila. It gives me much pride and pleasure on the eve of my departure to recall the way in which I have been supported by all of my troops, and the cheerful fortitude with which they have endured the hardships of the campaign.
In 1899, just before his regiment returned to
Col. Summers was recommended for promotion to the rank of brigadier general.
Then, on Sept. 1, 1899, Summers was reappointed as the Oregon United States appraiser by the President in
He shortly began re-immersing himself in the business community, founding
Summers & Prail Crockery Company—a company he sold shortly thereafter. Portland, Ore.
On July 23, 1880, Summers married Clara T. Olds, a native of
and sister to his old business partner, J.C. Olds. The two had only one child,
Owen George. Oregon
In his later years, Summers became active in civic and social circles. He joined the Commercial Club, Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks, and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. He also became a Mason, and was a charter member of Columbia Lodge No. 114.
Summers died of pneumonia in
on Feb. 2, 1911. He was 60. He is buried in Portland, Ore. River
in Portland, Ore.
The title of “Father of the Oregon National Guard” is appropriate, given Summers’ accomplishments throughout his life. The legacy Summers created lives on in the evolution of the 2d Oregon Regiment to what we know today as the 2nd Infantry, 162nd Battalion, also earning him the title of “
’s First Volunteer”. Oregon
Moreover, his effort to create
militia lives on in today’s Oregon National Guard. Summer’s example of
citizen-soldier, model businessman, and successful statesman, is a proud
heritage to which all Oregonians can aspire. Oregon
Information for this post resourced from Oregon State Defense Force History website, Ancestry.com, and Ask.com.