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Confederate Private Becomes Oregon College Regent

By his own reckoning, John Richard Newton Bell survived 32 Civil War battles as a teen-age private in the Confederate Army before ending up in a Union prisoner-of-war camp.

A theology student before the war, Bell became an ordained minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church South.  In 1874, he and his wife, Margaret Kirk, headed West from Arkansas.

The author, Randol B. Fletcher, says in his book titled “Hidden History of Civil War Oregon” that Bell arrived with only a silver dollar in his pocket in Ashland, Ore., where he “cleared ditches, cut firewood and worked in the fields of southern Oregon – anything to pay for the groceries.”  Bell became an ordained Southern Methodist pastor and took charge of the Ashland church.

Bell spent 50 years in the ministry, marrying more than 1,000 couples, and became the best-known clergyman in Oregon by serving as pastor in several other towns and guest preacher at hundreds of churches around the state.  He was grand chaplain of the Masons for many years, published several newspapers, including Southern Oregon’s Roseburg Review, and was a popular regent of Oregon Agricultural College, now Oregon State University.


Source: Fletcher, Randol B. Hidden History of Civil War Oregon. Charleston, S.C.: The History Press, 2011. 59-63. Print.

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.