Balch Creek and the beginning of Forest Park……

With recent interest over saving an historic house in the Balch Creek area of Portland – here is a little research from a few years ago on the namesake of the creek: 

Danford Balch (Danforth) is listed in Galusha Balch’s book of descendants of John Balch of Beverly, MA as an ‘unconnected’ Balch. From his statement that his mother married “C. Brockett” it appears that she was Anna Balch, #756 in Galusha’s book – “Anna, daughter of John and Lucy Bowen Balch, was born October 4, 1787. She married Chauncey Brockett. They had four children; then they moved to Ohio, and nothing more is known of them; their children were Hosea, Nancy, Lucy Ann and Matilda.” Danforth, as he later stated, was the illegitimate child of an unknown father.

Danforth’s entry in the book reads: “Danforth Balch, whose ancestry has not been traced, crossed the plains in 1847, and took up a donation claim of 348 acres of land on what is now the northwest corner of Portland, Oregon. Here he cleared about 20 acres, lived with his wife Mary Jane and nine children were born. On October 17, 1859, he died. Then commenced a studied plan of legal robbery and twenty-four years of litigation, through which the minor children were turned out upon the world, without education or property, with the exception of John, who saved about $5,000. The children are as follows: Ann Hamilton, b. 1844, lives in Portland; Hosea, b. 1846, lives in California; John, b. 1854; lived on Sauvies Island, near Portland; Daniel, b. 1855; Celeste, b. ?; Emma, b. 1858, lives at Olympia WA; Louis, b.?”

[The Portland Oregonian, October 22, 1859]
Danford Balch, who shot his son-in-law, Mortimer Stump, last spring, on the ferry boat in this city, expiated his crime on the gallows on Monday last, at fifteen minutes before eleven o’clock A. M.
There were about five or six hundred people present to witness the death of this unfortunate man, who under the excitement of intoxicating drink, ignorance of the law, and evil advice, slew his fellow man. We are glad to chronicle the fact that but few of the citizens of this city attended the execution. The people were generally from the interior; among whom, we are credibly informed, was the whole Stump family, accompanied by the daughter of Balch, widow of the murdered man, Mortimer Stump. The idea of a daughter, by her own volition, attending the execution of a father upon a gallows, is a disgrace to the intelligence of the age, and to every principle of filial affection manifested or exhibited by every species of the brute creation, in the sea or upon the earth. This fact is of a character that we cannot pass unnoticed, and must meet with the surprise, reprobation and detestation of the whole community.
Rev. Mr. Pearne, editor of the Christian Advocate, has kindly furnished us with Mr. Balch’s confession.

Dying Statement of Danford Balch.
I was born in Colerain, Mass., 29th Nov., 1811. While I was a babe my mother removed to Onondaga county. N.Y., and was married when I was four years old to Mr. C. Brockett. I lived in Onandaga county until nine years old. Thence we moved to Farmington, Trumbull county, Ohio, where I remained until thirty years of age. In 1840 I came to Iowa. In 1841, June 12, in Augusta Demoines county, Iowa, I was married to my present wife. My opportunities for education were very limited. Except two or three seasons in which I attended common school when quite young, I have had no advantages of education. My mother had four children, – three daughters and a son, by my step-father. She and they are living. My mother belongs to the Campbellite Baptists. I have nine, children, five boys and four girls. The eldest, a daughter sixteen and a half years old, the youngest, a son fifteen months old. The eldest child at home is a son, who was twelve years old the 17th of last June. I have never heretofore made any religious professions; but have thought that the Universalist doctrine was a pretty good doctrine to live by. As to the facts of the killing of Mortimer Stump, they are as I recollect them about as follows: – On the day of the killing, I was standing by the door of Starr’s tin shop when Ad Stump and then the old man and afterwards Mortimer Stump came up. When he saw me the old man commenced growling or muttering at me and wanted to know what I had against him. I told him I had nothing against him. He said I should not talk that way to him. He cursed a good deal and said I was making a great fuss about my child; that she was an ordinary little b—-h, and did not know what —– I wanted of her. There was more said. I do not recollect saying another word. This was on the day of the killing, and just before it. After that, my gun standing at my left hand, I took it up and started for the boat.

I saw my girl on the boat. It was the first time I had seen her. I went down on the ferry-boat and went past a team or something on the boat. I does not seem as if it was a team but something else. I looked up and saw Mr. Pullen and Mr. Stump near the fore end of the wagon. Pullen was standing with one foot on the box. Stump was standing with his hand on the front end of the wagon box. He started towards me; came three or four steps towards me when I turned my head to see where his brother that started to go down to the boat with me, was. While I was looking back, the gun went off – how, I cannot tell. I had the gun lying across my left arm. As the gun went off, I felt the jar. I have no recollections of hearing the report of the gun. My first thought on feeling the jar, was that young Stump had hold of the gun, but on turning my head, I discovered the smoke which was the first I knew that the gun was discharged. The next I saw was Stump, lying on the boat, shot. On turning around I met the ferryman who said he did not allow such work there. I told him I could not help it, it was an accident. Immediately Mr. Miller seized me by the throat and said I was his prisoner. He used me pretty roughly. I don’t recollect what was said after that. Mr. Harkness took hold of the gun, and I let go of it. The next think [sic] I recollect, I was in jail talking with Mr. McMillen and with Mr. Smith. I should thing [sic] I was ten or twelve feet from the hind end of the wagon; but it might not have been so far. When I went on the boat it was with the intention of getting my child. I had been told by someone that Mortimer Stump had said that if I ever came after my girl, he would pound me within an inch of my life. I took my gun for the purpose of defending myself, if it should become necessary. I think the gun was not cocked when it lay on my arm. I have no recollections of cocking it or touching the lock.
I have felt since the trial, that there was some evidence in my behalf that should have been adduced, which was not. I do not know as it is worth while to say what evidence. I have no recollection of having seen the men who testified that I had several days previous to the killing, threatened to take Mortimer Stump’s life; nor of having said anything of the sort. I was astonished to hear their testimony to that effect. These threats were said to have been made on the Tuesday after the girl went away and before the killing of Stump. Much was testified as having been said by me on that day, of which I have no recollection. The night I came home and found the girl gone, it struck a pain to my heart, like a knife cutting me. I ate a little supper and went to bed, but did not sleep a wink all night. In the morning, at once after getting up, I started for town, and it seemed as if my stomach would burst from anxiety and grief, which were more than I can express. It kept growing worse and worse on me until I had been in jail three or four days. For a long time I don’t think I slept an hour a night and probably the first three or four nights, not at all. After being in jail three or four days I was taken with a cholic an flux which greatly reduced me. From the time the girl was married, until I had been jail several days I recollect very little that happened. All seemed more like a dream than a reality, I have felt hard towards many for their treatment of me; but I have, in a measure, got over that. I suppose I ought not cherish such feelings, but there is a sense of injury as to the cause of present difficulty, of which I cannot divest myself. I am not able, because I have not sufficient liberty of mind, to tell what that injury was. I have thought, if my injuries and the abuse which I have received, had been set forth to the jury, that my sentence would have been altogether different. I do not feel, however, as I did some time ago. I trust it will be well with me in another world. My reasons for feeling and hoping so, are my reading of the Scriptures and prayers during my confinement and my hope in the mercy of God that my sins are forgiven. I feel much better in mind than I have done, and trust it will be well with me.

I have great solicitude about my children. I suppose the married one will not return home. As to the children that are at home, I would like my wife to put them out at good homes, where they will be well trained and educated. It is my desire that my wife should deed her part of the claim to the children, renting it in the mean time for her and their support. I suppose my half of the claim will be required to pay the demands against me. I have resided on my claim since October 1st, 1850. I have never before had any difficulty with any one; never was arrested for any crime. After the killing of Stump, there was a rumor that I and another had been concerned in the killing of a man whose remains were found in the canyon some three years since, but there is no truth whatever in the report. I never had occasion to strike a man in anger, in my life.
Danford Balch, by T. H. Pearne.

The above was communicated to me by Mr. Balch, on Sunday evening last. On Monday morning, I read it over to him; he approved it and added, that for several years past he had been indulging somewhat freely in the use of intoxicating drinks, and that on the day Stump was killed
he had taken two drinks. He explained about the shooting of Stump, that Stump must have approached him from where he stood and received the contents of the gun, accidentally discharged as he lay when dead, near the end of the wagon. On reviewing what was written about his feelings towards those who had injured him, he wished to say that he felt no hardness or unforgiving spirit toward any persons.

Editorials in the Oregonian decrying the public attendance led to Balch’s hanging being the last public hanging in the city. 

[From History of the Oregon Country, Compiler’s Appendix by Leslie M. Scott: End of Volume III]
Danford Balch, a settler of 1850, and his wife, Mary Jane, held a donation land claim in what is now the Willamette Heights district of Portland, Oregon. Their children were nine in number. The eldest, Anna, married Mortimer Stump, to whom the father bitterly objected, and shortly afterwards the father shot and killed the son-in-law on the Stark Street ferry, at Portland. The father was hanged October 17, 1859. His biography appears in The Oregonian, October 22, 1859, with his own statement of the homicide. The hanging of Balch was the more pathetic because it was attended by the daughter whose marriage had led to the tragedy.
By agreement with his wife, Balch’s half of the donation land claim was to be deeded by her to the eight minor children, subject to her life estate. She executed such deed but it was never recorded. About the year 1863, the mother married John A. Confer. Previous to the marriage she deeded the children’s portion to Confer (December 8, 1862) and the pair deeded hers to John H. Mitchell (December 14, 1864). But, pursuant to mandate of the supreme court of Oregon, Confer and the mother (then Mrs. Confer) restored the children’s portion to them by deed, dated September 3, 1866. The next move against the children’s interest was a sale of the land by their guardian, C. S. Silver, by order of the county (probate) court, to John H. Mitchell, September 24, 1870, for a putative $5500. Mitchell, thus having acquired the children’s portion and otherwise gained possession of the mother’s, sold it to Bernard Goldsmith October 4, 1870, for $15,000, supposing that the children’s rights were thus extinguished. But four of the eight children obtained a mandate of the supreme court of Oregon June 25, 1883, voiding the guardian’s sale to Mitchell of September 24, 1870, and restoring to the four – Emma Balch Dickinson and John, Danford and Louise H. Balch – their rights in the land. Four others had previously conveyed their rights away – Hosea, Thomas, Celestia and Celinda. For further history of the Balch land case, ibid., November 25, 1886, p.4; letter from Bernard Goldsmith and reply, November 14, 1886, p. 2; also November 11, 1886, p. 3.


Having passed through several hands, the lion’s share of his former land was in 1897 donated to the city by its then-owner Donald Macleay, who was sick of paying taxes on the unprofitable parcel. That was the time the famously green PDX received its first land gift designated by the donor for parkland: Macleay Park. (Including a Balch Creek.)

Today, it’s all part of the larger Forest Park, and it’s a lovely hiking space for a city that grooves on its outdoor rec … complete with a gorgeously ruined Depression-era stone ranger station that’s popularly believed to be haunted, maybe by the spirit of poor old Danford Balch himself.