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Cornelius Gilliam

In office
1838 – 1842
Constituency District 12

In office
1842 – 1844
Constituency District 10

Born April 13, 1798
Buncombe County, North Carolina
Died March 24, 1848 (aged 49)
Spouse(s) Mary Crawford
Military service
Allegiance United States
Provisional Government of Oregon
Service/branch Army
Rank Captain
Battles/wars Black Hawk War
Seminole Wars
Cayuse War

Cornelius Gilliam (April 13, 1798 – March 24, 1848) was a pioneer of the U.S. state of Oregon who was best known as the commander of the volunteer forces against the Cayuse in the Cayuse War. A native of North Carolina, he served in the Black Hawk War and Seminole Wars before settling in Missouri. There he served in the militia against the Mormons, was a county sheriff, and a member of the Missouri State Senate before immigrating to the Oregon Country.


Early life

Cornelius Gilliam was born in North Carolina on April 13, 1798.[1] Born in Buncombe County, he was the son of Epaphroditus and Sarah Ann (née Israel) Gilliam.[2] In North Carolina he married Mary Crawford in 1820, and they had eight children, six of those daughters.[1] He fought in the against the Native Americans in 1832 during the Black Hawk War in the Midwest, and in 1837 in the Seminole Wars in Florida.[3] During the Seminole War he served as a captain.[1] Following the war he settled in Missouri where he continued his military service as a captain in the state militia during the battles with the Mormons in 1838.[1] That year he was elected to the Missouri Senate to represent District 12, and was re-elected in 1842 to represent District 10.[4] In Missouri, Gilliam was also the sheriff of Clay County.[5]


In 1844, he headed west over the Oregon Trail to the unorganized Oregon Country.[1] Gilliam was in charge of the wagon train at the beginning of the journey, though the wagon train later split into smaller groups.[6] After the Whitman massacre in 1847, the Provisional Government of Oregon organized a force of about 600 and made Gilliam colonel to prosecute the Cayuse.[5] In 1848, he led his forces east to engage the Native Americans, arriving at The Dalles in February.[7] His forces pressed on to the Whitman Mission, arriving in March.[7]

Death and legacy

Gilliam then headed back to The Dalles to resupply that settlement and then on to Oregon City to report to Governor George Abernethy when he was accidentally shot and killed in what is now Morrow County on March 24, 1848.[1][7] His body was returned to Oregon City by Henry A. G. Lee and he was buried in Polk County at the Dallas Cemetery.[2][7] Gilliam County, Oregon is named for him.[1] The ship Cornilius Gilliam also named for him, used in World War II in the U.S. Merchant Service.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Corning, Howard M. (1989) Dictionary of Oregon History. Binfords & Mort Publishing. p. 100.
  2. ^ a b "Col Cornelius "Neal" Gilliam". Find A Grave. August 31, 2007. Retrieved 2009-05-24.  
  3. ^ Rogue River War., accessed September 25, 2007.
  4. ^ Missouri State Legislators 1820-2000. Missouri State Archives. Retrieved on May 23, 2009.
  5. ^ a b Cogswell, Philip Jr. (1977). Capitol Names: Individuals Woven Into Oregon's History. Portland, Oregon: Oregon Historical Society. pp. 103–104.  
  6. ^ Thwaites, Reuben Gold. (1906) Early Western Travels, 1748-1846 A Series of Annotated Reprints of Some of the Best and Rarest Contemporary Volumes of Travel, Descriptive of the Aborigines and Social and Economic Conditions in the Middle and Far West, During the Period of Early American Settlement. A. H. Clark Company. Vol. 30, p. 174.
  7. ^ a b c d Fagan, David D. 1885. History of Benton County, Oregon: including its geology, topography, soil and productions, together with the early history of the Pacific Coast, compiled from the most authentic sources : a full political history ... incidents of pioneer life and biographical sketches of early and prominent citizens : also containing the history of the cities, towns, churches, schools, secret societies, etc. [Oregon]: D.D. Fagan.

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