By Steve Lent
(Author and historian Lent will publish a new picture book on Madras pioneer history in July. The following is one of the families featured)
Cora Converse Luelling came to Central Oregon with her husband Seth and were among the earliest settlers on Agency Plains north of Madras.
Cora Ellen Converse was born near Brundy Center, Iowa, in 1877. She came to Oregon with her parents by train in 1894.
She met Seth Luelling near McMinnville, and a relationship soon began. They were married in McMinnville on Sept. 16, 1896. They rented a farm in the Willamette Valley until 1904. Four children were born during this period.
They became discouraged with their ability to make a living on rented land and, when they heard of opportunities for free homestead land in Central Oregon, they decided to move there.
In the fall of 1904, the Luellings headed over the Cascade Mountains by wagon. They set up a tent near a friend's home upon arrival in Madras.
Seth went looking for a homestead site while Cora tended their children. They decided to homestead on the northern edge of Agency Plains just north of Madras. Lumber was hauled from a mill near Grizzly Mountain to build a single-walled cabin.
They spent their first winter in the drafty cabin. In 1905 a house was built at their homestead site. They also constructed a cistern to hold water that had to be hauled from springs or water holes some distance away.
They cleared land to start some crops but income from dry land farming was meager and Seth soon began freighting to supplement the family income.
While Seth was away on freighting trips, Cora and the children cleared brush from the rest of the land and planted some crops.
Cora had a treadle-operated singer sewing machine and made most of the clothing for the family. Eggs and butter were traded at the store for needed items that could not be grown on the farm.
Seth began working full time on the farm after the arrival of the railroad in 1911. They began buying up neighboring land. Cora and the children helped with farming chores.
Cora also began working on photography after Seth bought her a camera. She set up a dark room and began taking photos of people, places and events in the local area. Many of her photos are now in local museums.
Seth died in July 1939. Cora remained active in local social organizations. She died in 1969 at the age of 92. She was a pioneer of the Madras region and a pioneer photographer of Central Oregon.
Steve Lent is the author of historical books about Central Oregon Towns and the assistant director of the Bowman Museum in Prineville.