By Don MacGillivray
People often ask about the name of Buckman’s Colonel Summers Park and some suggest that there might be a better one. In fact, Colonel Owen Summers was a well-respected and accomplished resident in the early twentieth century and deserves this honor.
Born in eastern Canada in 1850, Owen Summers had a hard childhood. The family moved to Chicago, Illinois where his father worked in the shoe business. At the age of six, Owen and his four siblings lost both of their parents due to a cholera epidemic. As an orphan, Owen lived and worked on a farm in Illinois in exchange for room, board, and clothing. He was lucky to be able to attend a small school a few miles away.
At the age of fourteen he left the farm to fight in the Civil War. Weighing only one hundred pounds and being just over five feet tall, the Union Army didn’t want him. After three unsuccessful attempts he was finally accepted into the Third Illinois Cavalry three months before the end of the war. He served in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, and both Carolinas. After the war he was ordered to St. Louis, Missouri where he was sent to the Dakotas to fight the Sioux Indians before being mustered out of the Army at the end of 1865.
His next six years were spent farming before moving to Chicago in 1871, just in time to get caught up in the great Chicago fire. At the risk of his life he saved his family and two others. He then worked in Chicago helping to rebuild the city.
Several years later he journeyed to Portland. He and his brother-in-law, J. C. Olds, founded the crockery and glassware business of Olds and Summers located on First St. in downtown Portland. The Portland fire of 1886 destroyed their building, but their business survived and prospered, making him a prominent merchant in the Pacific Northwest.
He worked to create an official Oregon State Militia from a company of Civil War veterans. The legislation came to be known as “Summers Law,” which authorized a command of 1,320 men. Due to his experience in the Civil War and business, he was chosen as first lieutenant and was instrumental in making the militia into the Oregon National Guard in 1886.
Elected lieutenant colonel of the Oregon 2nd Infantry Regiment of United States Volunteers, Summers oversaw the outfitting of the units and the creation of an efficient force.
The Oregon Volunteers sailed for the Philippines in May of 1898 as the first regiment to leave the United States in the recently declared Spanish-American war. They arrived in Manila in August and, on their second day in country, they accepted the surrender of the Spanish Army of 15,000 soldiers.
Unfortunately the Philippine insurgents who had been fighting the Spanish for several years expected to become the government of the new independent nation. The battle of Manila marked the end of Filipino-American collaboration and began the fighting of 11,000 American soldiers versus the Philippine insurgents.
The Oregon 2nd Infantry helped drive the insurgents out of Manila and over the next four months, battles were successfully fought at Caloocan, Malabon, Bocave, Santa Maria, Angot, San Rafael, Bailiuag, San Miguel, and San Isidro.
The Oregon 2nd Infantry had participated in forty-two engagements under the command of Brevet General Owen Summers. He was promoted to Colonel and the men under Colonel Summers found him kindly, considerate and helpful.
Colonel Summers received many letters of accommodation from the army general staff in praise of his leadership, skill, courage and bravery and that of the Oregon men and officers. One letter compared the Second Oregon Volunteer Infantry as worthy successors to the soldiers that fought in the Civil War battles of Shiloh and Gettysburg.
Upon his return from Manila in 1899, the state of Oregon presented Summers with a jeweled sword that became a prized possession. He soon sold his interest in the crockery company and participated in prominent social organizations including the Republican party, the Commercial Club, the Columbia Masonic Lodge, the First Unitarian Church, and the Odd Fellows until his death from pneumonia in 1911.
He was known for discipline and bearing while being considerate and helpful. The title of “Father of the Oregon National Guard” and “Oregon’s First Volunteer” were well-deserved.
Owen Summers was a citizen-soldier, model businessman, and successful statesman and Colonel Summers Park could not have been named for a more honorable Oregonian.