Born in Kentucky in 1845, Arvazena A. Cooper spent her formative years in southwestern Missouri. At sixteen, she married Daniel Jackson Cooper (May 1861) and eight months later, their first child arrived. Cooper described the violence that plagued them in Missouri during the Civil War and cites this as the reason she and her husband decided to move to the Far West. In 1863, Cooper, her husband, father-in-law, and infant set out by wagon for the state of Oregon. The family settled in the Willamette Valley.
Cooper settled near Corvallis, Oregon, and performed the duties expected of mid-nineteenth-century wives and mothers. She bore thirteen children in Oregon (and one en route). She managed her growing household by caring for and nursing her children and her husband; she prepared their food and made their clothes. Cooper’s commitment to child rearing extended beyond her own family. Cooper contributed to the building of Farm Home, a Corvallis receiving home for orphans. She saw her fifteen children grow to adulthood as well as some of her grandchildren. Cooper died in 1929 and is buried in The Dalles, Oregon.
The Arvazena Cooper Papers contain several documents relating to Arvazena Cooper’s pioneer life. Included is a biographical sketch by Mrs. F. W. Bayley, Cooper’s handwritten reminiscence of her 1863 migration to the state of Oregon, and a typewritten copy of the reminiscence, which includes a preface by L.W. Peters. This collection is unique in terms of its first-hand, personal narrative of one woman’s “pioneering” experience. Cooper offered detailed information on her move from Missouri to Oregon, including her impressions of the land, her child’s antics, problems mobilizing the wagon train, and encounters with Native Americans along the way. Cooper describes various wagons that joined and left their train as well as the friendships and discord that close proximity produced.
Cooper wrote her narrative in 1901. Sometime thereafter someone, perhaps L. W. Peters, made a typed copy of the manuscript. The Cooper Papers also include biographical information on Arvazena Cooper. This information directs researchers who are looking for more information on the Cooper family to Cooper’s sister J. C. Cooper (born Melzena Parallee Spillman).
The State Historical Society of Missouri appears to include a copy of this family narrative. The Typescript Collection (collection # C0995) contains the following entry: Item #229. “Cooper, Nan P., ‘Mother's Trip Across the Plains,’ 1901 (Account of a journey by wagon train from Lawrence County, Missouri, to Oregon in 1863, told by Arvazena Angeline Cooper.)”
Available in microfilm as part of: Women's lives. Series 3, American women missionaries and pioneers collection (MICROFILM BV3703 .W66 2006, reel 80); Primary Source Microfilm, 12 Lunar Dr., Woodbridge, Conn. 06525.
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[Identification of item], Arvazena A. Cooper Papers, CB C784, Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, Eugene, Oregon.
Biographical sketch of Arvazena A. Cooper