I was looking up our State Symbols the other day to find out what our State Pox is. We have a State Microbe (brewer’s yeast). We have a State Father (John McLoughlin). We do not have a State Pox yet. But it’s just a matter of time.

What I did not know is that we also have a State Mother. Her name was Tabitha Moffatt Brown. She was born in 1780, making her four years older than our State Father, but those things happen occasionally. They had a lot of work to do getting the Oregon ball rolling, because there was hardly anyone in the region at the time, other than all the Paiute, Chinook, Santiam, Umatilla, Tillamook, Coquille, Umpqua, Siuslaw, and so on and so forth, who have generously bequeathed their names to a number of cities and at least two good ice cream brands.

Tabitha was a ball of fire though. She married and had four children, who were not little Oregonians at the time. The names she chose for them indicated her degree of education. Orus was Greek for “first-born;” Manthano was Greek for “learning;” Pherne, the fourth child and only daughter, was Greek for “wife’s gift to her husband.” John, the third child, was pretty much a throwaway name and sure enough he died at age six.

When Tabitha was widowed, she and the kids moved in with George and Martha Washington for a while, as one does, before finding a home in Maryland. At that point her brother-in-law John Brown (not the mouldering one) retired as a sea captain and moved in with the family. That is what old men do: they find some woman to take care of them because maybe they were hot stuff on the open seas but they never learned the basic skills themselves.

Later she moved to Missouri, where Tabitha opened a school and supported the whole family teaching for twenty years. No evidence John Brown did anything but show up for meals and scratch himself. I’m reading between the lines here, but I’ve seen it before.

Later, in 1843, oldest child Orus up and left his second wife and seven children to fend for themselves while he hove off to Oregon to see the sights. He hung out for a couple years getting it out of his system and then returned for his family. He talked his sister Pherne and her husband Virgil Pringle into coming along, and in 1846 they joined a caravan and hit the Oregon Trail. Just Orus and his brood and his oxen and a bunch of Pringles. The plan was to leave their mother Tabitha behind.

Ha and ha! I don’t think so! Tabitha signed up with a wagon and tagged right along. They were all the way to Wyoming before Orus was finally able to pull ahead with his wagon train and kept going on the traditional Columbia River route. Tabitha and all the Pringles, now separated from Orus, got talked into heading south and ended up on an even more dreadful new route. It was one thing after another, mountain ranges and icy stream crossings and the landscape filling up with dead oxen and broken wagons and starving, morose emigrants. Tabitha Brown, who was (incidentally) 66 years old at the time, displayed great stoutness of spirit and faith in Providence although it should be noted that a whole slew of similarly faithful and stoical people fell by the wayside.

At one point all Tabitha had left was her original horse. The cattle were in bad shape and her daughter Pherne took that opportunity to stay behind and nurse them back to working condition, and told her mother she should go on ahead. So Tabitha took her horse and a bit of bacon and set off, but not by herself, oh no—good old John Brown, who was 77 years old, came with her. John, the Brother-in-law of Oregon, was a bunch of help. He kept falling off his horse and she kept levering him back on. She was trying to catch up to another wagon train but when it started raining she couldn’t see the tracks any longer, and decided to pack it up for the night. John Brown promptly gave a groan and fell off his horse, insensate. She covered him up and prayed all night but the old fart revived by morning anyway.

Meanwhile, Orus, who had made it to Oregon City fully three months earlier, well before winter, heard there were emigrants in trouble and came down valley with pack horses and provisions and darned if his Mom wasn’t there! Imagine his surprise!

Tabitha Moffatt Brown went on to found another school which eventually became Pacific University. In 1987, the Oregon legislature declared her the Mother of Oregon because she “represents the distinctive pioneer heritage, and the charitable and compassionate nature, of Oregon’s people.” Which was true enough, as long as we leave out how she felt about the tribes.

John McLoughlin, the Father of Oregon, on the other hand, was kind of an asshole.