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Notable Oregonians: C.E.S. Wood - Soldier, Attorney, Writer

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C.E.S. Wood

C.E.S. Wood, 1852-1944

Charles Erskine Scott Wood was born in Erie, Pennsylvania on February 20, 1852 to William and Rose Mary Wood. He graduated from West Point Military Academy in 1874 and served as an army lieutenant. Wood fought in both the Nez Perce War in 1877 and the Bannock-Paiute War in 1878. It was in this capacity that he experienced the southeastern Oregon desert, described as a "lean and stricken land," that was to have a deep influence on him. While still in the military, he began contributing articles to periodicals. He also attended Columbia University and by 1883 he had collected a Ph.D. and a law degree.

 

The next year Wood left military service after he was admitted to the Oregon bar. He began a law practice in Portland that would span 35 years. Instrumental in founding the library and art museum, he became a leading figure in Portland's cultural scene. Meanwhile, he wrote both poetry and prose. His Poet in the Desert became a literary success soon after it was published in 1915. Ironically, while Wood was an avowed social anarchist, he served as attorney for one of eastern Oregon's biggest land monopolies. He argued a major land claim related to the old military wagon roads across Oregon and won a million dollar law fee.

 

Wood spent the last 25 years of his life with his second wife, poet Sara Bard Field, in the Los Gatos, California, retreat that they called "The Cats." Here he authored works that brought him national recognition. Among them was his satirical drama Heavenly Discourse, published in 1927, which soon became a bestseller.

Wood was a fascinating and polished personality, as at ease in a banker's drawing room as he was at a gathering of Wobblies. He drew friends from contrasting corners of society, including such well-known figures as Chief Joseph, Mark Twain, Emma Goldman, Ansel Adams, Robinson Jeffers, Clarence Darrow, Childe Hassam, Margaret Sanger, and John Steinbeck.

 

Wood died in Los Gatos, California on January 22, 1944.

 

Also see Wood's firsthand account The Pursuit and Capture of Chief Joseph documenting the 1877 retreat by Nez Perce Indians.

 

Also see Nan Wood Honeyman.

 

(Source: Dictionary of Oregon History) Revised 1/2013

 

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