Academic journal article Oregon Historical Quarterly

"Frank Burns Was a Soldier": The World War I Epoch of Frank Cassius Burns

Academic journal article Oregon Historical Quarterly

"Frank Burns Was a Soldier": The World War I Epoch of Frank Cassius Burns

Article excerpt

ON SEPTEMBER 30, 1894, JUST less than twenty-four years before he would leave the bustling frontier town of Condon, Oregon, for the World War I battlefields of France, Frank Cassius Burns, the youngest of eight children, was born in Toledo, Ohio, to Frank W. Burns and Anna Dunn Burns. "Cassius" was the name of a favorite race horse belonging to his father, who had been a traveling fruit-tree salesman in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, as well as a landscaper, nurseryman, and mortician, but was above all else a trainer and fancier of racehorses, as was Frank as he grew to adulthood. (1) At the time of Frank's birth, his father (my grandfather) was the superintendent and sexton of the Calvary Cemetery on Door Street in Toledo, a job that provided the large Burns family with an ample home on the grounds but very little income. Each of the three eldest children, therefore, had to leave school by the fifth grade to take jobs that would assist with the family's support.

In June 1898, Frank's brother Jim (my father) left his job with the American District Telegraph Company in Toledo and immigrated to Condon, Oregon, to work in a general mercantile store owned by his uncles, Jim and Edward Dunn. The brothers had moved from Monroe County, Michigan, to Gilliam County not too long after it was established by Oregon's Legislature. (2) Initially, Edward Dunn taught school at Rock Creek and Jim Dunn herded sheep for Simon Barker, the county's largest landowner with whom they would soon compete for Condon's general mercantile business. In 1887, they filed on a homestead in Ferry Canyon, west of Condon, where they lived and worked until opening, with a third partner, a small general store in 1890 under the name of Miller and Dunn. By 1893, Miller was gone and the store had become Dunn Brothers. (3) Jim Burns was soon joined in Condon by his older brother Will and thereafter by his brother Gerald and sister Loretta, the eldest of the four Burns daughters. (4) All worked in their uncles' Dunn Brothers store, which soon became, along with the S.B. Barker Company, one of the town's two leading general merchandise stores. The pull on Frank to be "Out West" with his big brothers was so great that, in 1908, his parents permitted Frank to return to Condon with Gerald, who had been in Toledo for a visit. (5) Once in Condon, Frank elected to stay. His parents and the three youngest daughters, Grace, Bess, and Julia, moved to Condon permanently in 1910. (6)

Located in North-Central Oregon, thirty-eight miles south of the Columbia River at Arlington, Condon was referred to by locals during the early 1900s as the "Wheat City," because it had shipped such a large amount of wheat for a city its size. Ranchers also shipped large quantities of cattle, sheep, and wool from Condon. The town, which had a population of about 1,200, boasted a variety of businesses, professionals, and recreation opportunities, including "two newspapers, three mercantile stores, four main hotels ... five churches, five saloons ... flour mill, three blacksmith shops, meat market, two lodge halls, skating rink and dance hall ... three grain and wool storage warehouses, three restaurants ... photo studio, shooting gallery and bowling alley ...two lawyers offices, two doctors, one dentist, jewelry store . . . daily train service--passenger and freight--to Arlington, daily stage service between Condon and Fossil, and ten fraternal organizations." (7) Frank first attended Condon's one public elementary school, and then St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Academy, which opened in 1909. He worked at the local butcher shop, at Dunn Brothers, and on local ranches. (8) He had an extraordinary affinity for race horses and often rode in the popular Condon race meets. His father wanted Frank to be a professional jockey, but his mother refused to allow it. Still, when fully grown, he was slight of build, not weighing more than 115 pounds.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

For a time, the lure of the big city induced Frank to Portland, where he worked at Shanahan's General Merchandiser on southwest Washington Street and quickly became a well-known boxing enthusiast. …

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