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Cooke Family Letters, 1867-1956

By Rachel Lilley

Collection Overview

Title: Cooke Family Letters, 1867-1956

Predominant Dates: 1894-1956

ID: MSS CookeFamily

Primary Creator: Cooke, Herman R. (1873-1952)

Extent: 0.52 cubic feet. More info below.

Arrangement: The letters are arranged chronologically by year.

Date Acquired: 00/00/2017

Languages of Materials: English [eng]


The Cooke Family Letters are comprised of over one hundred letters written by members of the Herman Wilhelm Cooke family, an Oregon family who migrated to the Pacific Northwest in 1880.

Scope and Content Notes

The Cooke Family Letters are primarily comprised of correspondence between members of the Cooke family, pioneers who moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1880. Family correspondents include: Herman Wilhelm Cooke and Matilda Cooke, Herman Richard Cooke, Oscar Cooke, Joseph Cooke, Annie C. Cooke (Herman Richard’s second wife), Lillian Cooke (Joseph’s wife), Tom Cooke (Herman Richard’s son), Eulalie (Herman Richard’s daughter). There are no letters in the collection written by Daniel or Isaac Cooke. Other correspondents include: Ida and Elizabeth Abadie, Harley Gardner, and Laffayette Rolen. Generally, the letters cover such subjects as: the state of their respective business ventures; health and illness; sending money and wishing they could send more; how their children are doing; and politics and the weather.

Herman Richard was the most prolific correspondent in the Cooke family; his letters, and especially those written to his younger brother Daniel, account for a large portion of the collected letters. Of particular interest are letters written regarding the presidential election of 1896, which seemed to divide the brothers with some acrimony. On December 31, Herman writes to Daniel, responding both to Daniel’s assertion that he will ‘never be a Democrat,’ and explaining why he himself is a “Bryan man,” referring to Democratic political candidate William Jennings Bryan. He continues the discussion in subsequent letters, explaining to Daniel the difference between the Democratic and Republican party – and their respective stances on slavery and the Union – on January 10 and September 25 of the same year. Oscar, for his part, expresses a wish that he alone had the power to decide the election and that he would choose McKinley; James also seems to be pro-McKinley, if Herman’s responses to his letters are anything to go by. Several of Herman’s letters in 1897 also concern McKinley, now president, and he complains often of the failure of the “prosperity” that was promised during McKinley’s campaign.

Other letters of note include a letter from Joseph Cooke to Daniel or Isaac, dated August 22, 1893, in which he mentions having visited the World’s Fair. Though he writes that it would “take a big book to tell every thing [sic] about it,” he does describe the foods he saw on display (including fruit from Walla Walla), the California building, and the Ferris wheel, which he refers to as “one of the wonders of the age.”

Herman wrote several other letters of interest. In one, dated August 9, 1894, Herman writes to Daniel of the “train wrecking and other acts of lawlessness committed in [California] by the strikers and others,” likely referring to the widespread railroad strikes of July 1894. On February 26, 1898, Herman discusses the possibility of a war with Spain, and expresses a wish for a war if it would free Cuba from “Spanish dominion.” Several decades later, on March 25, 1916, Herman discusses World War I, and his feelings about Germans.

The collection also contains a small amount of biographical material and ephemera, including: Herman Wilhelm Cooke’s certificate of citizenship (dated June 26, 1867); a driver’s license and vehicle registration for James Daniel Cooke; receipts from Oscar’s store in Sylvan, Oregon; a hand-written obituary for Oscar Cooke (which he may have written himself); and Oscar’s Last Will and Testament, and probate documents.

An additional biographical file - which includes census data, obituaries, and other pertinent genealogical information - has been compiled by the archivist, and is included in Box 02 of the collection.

Biographical / Historical Notes

Herman Wilhelm Cooke (1836 – 1927) and Matilda Vetel Cooke (1840 - 1928) were married in Sweden in 1866, and immigrated to the United States in the same year, crossing aboard the bark Cavour and landing at Ellis Island July 31, 1866. The passenger manifest lists Herman’s occupation as farmer; the Swedish spelling of his name – Kock – is also listed, but it’s unclear when the family name was changed to Cooke (his citizenship certificate lists the spelling as “Cook”). Herman and Matilda had five living children – Joseph, Oscar, Herman Richard, Isaac, and Daniel (two daughters, both named Ida, died in infancy). Travelling inland, the Cookes initially settled in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1868. The family moved frequently, homesteading in Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, California, and Oregon. In 1877, Herman, Sr. moved the family to Idaho, where he took up a 160-acre land claim; the family left Idaho due to the encroaching conflicts of the Nez Perce War, however, and settled more permanently in Walla Walla, Washington in 1880.

Joseph William Cooke was born in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1868. In 1896, he married Lillian Arabella Miller, and together the pair moved to Sylvan, Oregon, where they spent nearly the next seven decades. Lillian and Joseph had two children together, Royal William (1899 – 1993), and Ernest Miller (1902 – 2003). Joseph spent much of his working life as an employee and partner in his younger brother Oscar’s general store, working both as a grocer and the resident blacksmith. Later in life he would follow in his father’s footsteps – as would several of the brothers – and take up farming. He died May 23, 1964.

Oscar Franklin Cooke was born near Salt Lake City, Utah in 1869. While living with his family in Walla Walla, he attended primary school in the old schoolhouse near Yellowhawk Creek, and continued his education at Empire Business College in California. Oscar returned to Portland in 1896, and established a general store, Cooke Brothers, at Sylvan, Oregon. In 1901, Oscar married Miss Ella M. Gateley, daughter of early Oregon pioneer John Gately. Oscar had considerably diverse business interests: he was eventually made part owner of the Sylvan Brick Company; established the West Hills Winery in the late 1930s, managing its operation until the 1950s; and worked off and on as a building contractor. Lillian and Oscar never had children. Oscar Franklin Cooke died June 25, 1955.

Herman Richard Cooke - sometimes referred to as Herman Jr. in the correspondence - was born January 31, 1873 in Bastrop, Texas. He was educated in public schools in Washington, and attended Whitman College in Walla Walla. Early in his career, Herman dabbled in several industries, including fine cigars; together with R.G. Messerly, he ran the Boise Cigar Factory in Boise City, Idaho, and worked briefly as an insurance broker. In December 1894, he married Katie A. Messerley, presumably a relation of his partner in the cigar factory. Herman would ultimately set his sights on practicing law; he read law in the office of Senator William E. Boran in Boise, Idaho, and was admitted to the bar in Idaho in 1895. Three years later he moved to Tuscarora, Nevada; he practiced there, and in Elko, Nevada, before moving to Reno. In 1906, he moved to Tonopah, Nevada, where he earned recognition by being involved in the White Camps Morning Glory, and Love vs. Mt. Oddie cases. In 1910, he married Annie C. McSorley of Mokelumne Hill, California. It’s unclear whether his first marriage was legally dissolved, or if Katie died; there are several mentions of an illness in Herman’s letters to his brothers. In 1930, he returned to Reno, where he practiced law as part of the partnership of Cooke, French, and Stoddard from 1933 to 1949. Herman was interested and engaged in politics his entire life; he represented Washoe county in the state legislature for one term in 1903, and helped draft the original charters for the cities of Reno and Sparks. He served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1928, and ran against incumbent Key Pittman in the Senate primary in 1934 (he lost). Herman Richard and Annie had two sons, Herman Richard, Jr. and Thomas, and a daughter, Eulalie. Herman Richard Cooke died March 14, 1952.

Isaac Cooke’s adulthood is a sad tale. Isaac Cooke was born in 1879 in Walla Walla, Washington. Herman, in a letter dated December 12, 1894, writes to his parents to dispute their claim that Isaac might be “mentally affected.” By 1910, however, Isaac had been committed to the California Home for the Care and Training of Feeble-Minded Children. Run by William and Hester Ping in 1910, the Home was originally established in 1885 in the town of Santa Clara. Charged with caring for children between the ages of five and eighteen who were “incapable of receiving instructions in the commons schools,” the home was eventually moved to a 1660-acre site near Glen Ellen, California, and renamed the Sonoma State Home in 1915. Despite the home’s mandate, Isaac was never taught to read or write, and by 1910 had stopped speaking altogether. Isaac was still a "resident" of the Sonoma State Home in 1930, and died there at the age of 57 on November 19, 1937.

James Daniel Cooke – known to his family as Dan or J.D. – is the most transient member of the Cooke family. Dan was born in Walla Walla, Washington on August 9, 1880. Daniel moved with his parents to Mountain View, California in the 1890s, presumably to help his mother with an unspecified medical condition (she sent Dan a letter from the Santa Clara County Infirmary in Campbell, California in 1898). By 1900, however, he’d followed his older brothers Joseph and Oscar to Oregon, living with Joseph and Lillian, and Oscar, and working as a hired farm hand on his older brothers’ farms. By 1910, he’d moved to Beaverton, to work on his father’s poultry farm. His draft registration card shows that by 1918 he had moved to Hillsdale, Oregon and was self-employed as a farmer. Two years later, he moved further out, into Beaverton; Herman Wilhelm and Matilda were retired and living with him by then. After the death of his parents – his father in 1927 and his mother in 1928 – Dan moved in with Theodore and Blanche Hainline outside of Beaverton; he boarded in their home, but appears to have continued to work his own land. By 1940, Daniel was living on his own again in West Slope, where he continued to work as a farmer. Daniel never married, though letters from 1916 and 1917 make clear that he was courting or was being courted, and that it may have been two sisters, Ida and Elizabeth Abadie. Sadly, though he eventually proposed to Ida sometime in early 1916, she said no; Daniel never married. James Daniel Cooke died March 21, 1943.

Author: Rachel Lilley

Administrative Information

More Extent Information: 2 boxes

Statement on Access: The collection is open for research.

Acquisition Note: The materials were donated by James Marsh in 2017.

Related Materials:

Other collections of correspondence include the Benjamin F. Cook Letters (MSS CookBF), the David A. Marcus Letters (MSS Marcus), and the Edgar Raymond Shephard Letters (MSS Shephard).

Other collections created by pioneers, or relating to the pioneer experience in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, include the Jesse A. Applegate Collection (MSS Applegate), the Merton and Eleanor Davis History of the Davis and Hall Families (MSS DavisHall), the Francis T. Howard Diary (MSS Howard), and the Oregon Pioneers Oral History Collection (OH 001).

Additional personal and business papers of Oscar F. Cooke's are held by the Oregon Historical Society.

Preferred Citation: Cooke Family Letters (MSS CookeFamily), Oregon State University Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Corvallis, Oregon.


Cooke, Herman R. (1873-1952)
Cooke, Herman Wilhelm (1836-1927)
Cooke, Joseph William (1868-1964)
Cooke, Matilda Vetel (1840-1928)
Cooke, Oscar F. (1869-1955)

People, Places, and Topics

Cooke, Isaac, 1879-1937
Cooke, James Daniel, 1880-1943
Frontier and pioneer life.
Portland (Or.)
Presidents--United States--Election--1896.
World's Columbian Exposition (1893 : Chicago, Ill.)
World War, 1914-1918.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.