Oregon transplants wanted to give kids a chance at an education

When you're a woman in the 1800s, travel 2,000 miles by covered wagon and marry at age 13, it's hard to find time to go to school. Yet Caroline Lee Iler, one of the donors of the Gales Creek Elementary School land, so valued education that she went back to school in her 20s, sitting in classes with her eldest son.

According to family genealogy records and the Washington County Historical Society, Caroline Lee and Savil Iler came to Oregon from Illinois and Indiana, respectively. Their wagon train narrowly escaped the 1847 Whitman Massacre, during which Cayuse and Umatilla Indians killed 13 missionaries and the eight-year Cayuse War began.

Upon arriving in Oregon City, Savil joined the war effort, then tried his luck (unsuccessfully) in the California gold rush. He returned to Gales Creek in 1850 to marry Caroline.

When Caroline was only 17, she had their first child, John Wesley Iler, who was the first of five surviving children. Four years later, the newly-weds inherited 640 acres of donation claim land previously owned by Caroline's father, Philemon Lee.

One acre of land

Two more children were born by the time Caroline and Savil donated one acre of their land in 1862 for Iler Schoolhouse, which would later become Gales Creek Elementary School.

The couple had a strong interest in education: while Caroline was going back to school, Savil served on the school board and, according to a biography of Savil from the historical volume Portland and Vicinities, he 'endeavored to insure to the youth of the present generation more fitting chances than came his own way.'

As years passed in Gales Creek, Caroline became a successful entrepreneur by raising sheep and creating wool gloves, hats and scarves that she sold to pioneers traveling west to Tillamook. Savil served as postmaster in Gales Creek and justice of the peace for the county. In 1899, Savil died at the age of 76, and when Caroline died 14 years later at the age of 77, she was buried with two gold nugget earrings Savil had brought her from California.

Today, Caroline and Savil's descendants live in Oregon and across the country. Two of her great-great-granddaughters, Jeri Iler and Mary LaRae Avery, remain strong advocates for education. 'Caroline was a remarkable, strong woman with a tremendous story, and she loved school,' said Jeri Iler.

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