“Go West, young man!” is exactly what William Valpied Langlois did, even if it was many years before Horace Greeley popularized the phrase, and Langlois had to start his travels from a lot further East - from England to be exact.
William V. Langlois: Grandfather Pioneer
William V. Langlois was a seafaring man in his 30s when he came to America from the Isle of Guernsey. He went to sea as a boy, later served as an officer in the British Navy on a man-of-war ship, After arriving in America, he became the captain of a whaler. So it was natural that he would want be near the ocean when he staked a squatter’s claim in the future Portland area of the Oregon Country in 1844. When he was ready to start a family, he married Mary Ann King, and by 1847, had moved 40 miles south to another claim at Silverton, Oregon, to be a farmer. It was here that his second son, future famed Cape Blanco Lighthouse keeper James S. Langlois, was born on April, 29 1848. Two years later, a third son, future Cape Arago Lighthouse keeper Frances “Frank” M. Langlois, was born near Silverton on August 21, 1850.
By the end of 1850, William and his young family had moved again another 250 miles further south to the mining camp Port Orford. Between 1852 and 1854, he purchased several hundred acres of land along Floras Creek, some 12 miles to the north of Port Orford, to homestead and put down permanent family roots. He set up a dairy farm there, and soon thereafter the area was called Dairyville.
LIFE ON THE OREGON FRONTIER IN THE 1850s
Mary Ann Langlois was the first white woman to settle along Floras Creek. There was a Chinookan Indian group about a quarter mile away, and the young Langlois boys grew up playing with them almost exclusively as their childhood playmates. They became fluent in the Chinookan tongue and as the boys never attended a formal school up to that point, they went many years without seeing any other white children.
Frank Langlois later recounted a visit of a white family passing through the area. When asked to play with the white 8-year-old boy, Frank, who was close to the same age, was frightened by his looks. He fled to hide in the tall ferns until he was caught by his father and forcibly returned to the cabin to play with the boy. But instead, he sat “frozen with terror” until the family left.
Another story that Frank told of those early years was of trying to protect one of their pigs from a cougar. He and James had a shotgun, but no shot, because it was too expensive. They used dried peas instead, which were sufficient to get the cougar to drop the pig from its jaws during the first attack. That night, their father told them to tie the pig near the smokehouse, and presumably armed with real shot, they lay in wait for the cougar to come back so they could kill it. Instead, both boys fell asleep and unfortunately there were only cougar tracks and an empty rope at the smokehouse the next morning when they awakened.
Frank also remembered his first “best” suit being made by his mother. It consisted of trousers made from the canvas of a sail, and the coat and hat were made from flour sacks. He said he was perfectly willing to tackle a cougar, but girls scared him to death and he suffered the “tortures of the damned” if one even looked at him. Frank left home in his teens after an altercation with his father, and went to work in a hotel in Empire, followed, at age 18, by a stint at a sawmill 50 miles from Empire
Frank Langlois told of buying his first store-bought clothes from his four month earnings of $105 in silver, and then walking the 50 miles to Empire to attend a 4th of July picnic just so he could show off the clothes. Before the day was out, he ended up spending all but $2 of his pay on some 40 local kids and the lemonade stand vendor who, for the first time in his life, called him “Mr. Langlois.” All in all, he thought he had gotten his $100 worth that day.
FRANCES “FRANK” M. LANGLOIS AT CAPE ARAGO LIGHTHOUSE
According to Frank’s hand-written memoirs, he went into the Lighthouse Service at Cape Arago Lighthouse as an assistant keeper from 1871-1873, but the official United States Lighthouse Service ledgers show only one year of service for him in 1874. Cape Arago lighthouse, originally known as Cape Gregory, was built in 1866. By the time of Frank’s assignment there, it had become somewhat of a tourist destination.
One local newspaper account from 1874 was written by one of a group of gentlemen and ladies from Empire who made the trek out to the lighthouse and were offered hospitality by head keeper William S. Roberts and assistant Frank M. Langlois. “Suffice it to say, we were cordially welcomed by these gentlemen, whose characteristic kindness and hospitality were too well known to need comment.” Reportedly, they were rowed out to the island by the “light-house boys,” stayed the night, and were fed a wonderful meal by another Empire visitor who was in charge of the kitchen.
Besides visiting the lighthouse, the group “strolled along the rocky shore in search of shells, and other quaint specimens of the sea; while others took a row out to sea.” The author summed up the wonderful visit by saying, “Strong had been my desire to visit the light-house, but never had I conceived the beauty and grandeur of the scenes, presented to the eye, as I saw at Cape Arago.”
Following his lighthouse service, Frank Langlois moved back to Dairyville, which by then needed a post office. In 1881, it officially became Langlois, named after Frank and his family, and Frank became the first postmaster, serving for the next 20 years. He married Georgia Hormen in 1886 and in 1892 the couple were blessed by a daughter, Ivy. He also owned a store and livery stable and served as the Curry County assessor. He remained in Langlois until 1925 when he moved to Dallas, Oregon to be near Ivy. He passed away there in 1935 at the age of 81.
James S. Langlois Goes to War
When Frank’s older brother James left the family home some time in his early teens, his first job was rounding up and butchering cattle for a trader on Coos Bay. By the time he was 16, James had enlisted to fight in the Civil War. He was detailed to the Indian Wars in Oregon instead. Private Langlois served in the First Volunteer Regiment, Company A, of the Oregon Calvary against the uprisings in central Oregon at Fort Rock and in the Applegate country. He was wounded, and by the time had been mustered out at the end of the war in 1866, he had been promoted to either a sergeant or first lieutenant, which was impressive for a young man under the age of twenty.
Following the war, James returned home to Dairyville and worked at farming for a stint before moving south to the Wedderburn area to work in the freight business servicing the gold mines in Jacksonville. He married Elizabeth Rudolph in 1873 and came back to Empire where his eldest son, future Tillamook Rock Lighthouse keeper William Thomas Langlois, was born in 1874.
James S. Langlois at Cape Blanco Lighthouse
In that same year, Charles H. Peirce, the only lighthouse keeper ever to serve at Yaquina Bay Lighthouse for the three years that it was operational, transferred to Cape Blanco Lighthouse to become the head keeper. James S. Langlois started working as an assistant at Cape Blanco Lighthouse under Charles H. Peirce in 1875. Charles Peirce had a large family of at least nine children. His eldest daughter, Gertrude, became quickly acquainted with the Langlois family, possibly through James and Charles’ relationship, and in September 1876 she married Thomas Orford Langlois, who was a younger brother to James and Frank.
Charles Peirce and James Langlois continued working together for the next seven years until Charles left lighthouse service in 1883. James was then promoted to head keeper, a post he would keep for the next 35 years, bringing his total years of service at Cape Blanco to more than 42 years. No other lighthouse keeper along the Pacific Coast, and possibly across the entire United States, either before or after, served longer at a single lighthouse than James S. Langlois. It was a record to be proud of and one for which he gained notoriety during his lifetime.
James served with more than a dozen other keepers during his 42 years. The most notable was James S. Hughes, who served close to 30 years as his assistant, before taking over as head keeper for another seven years after James Langlois retired.
Langlois received the efficiency star at least once, and according to a newspaper article, “he was further honored in the service by being placed in charge of the U.S. lighthouse display” at the World’s Fair in San Francisco in 1915.
In 1918, James Langlois retired from the Lighthouse Service at the mandatory retirement age of 70. In 1920, he was still employed, working in the Civil Service in Bandon, Oregon. James was active in many local organizations such as the Bandon chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) and masonic lodges. His wife, Elizabeth, passed away four years later and James remarried in 1923 to Henrietta Dyer Buckingham.
In 1936, a terrible fire swept through Bandon and destroyed their home along with the whole town. According to newspaper accounts, James and Henrietta Langlois barely made it out alive as flames engulfed their car as they escaped. They were forced to move to Monroe to live with Henrietta’s oldest son, George, and his family. It was here, three months later at the age of 88, that James passed away on December 19, 1936.
James S. Langlois left an incredible lighthouse legacy, not just with his years of service, but with his family and their future contributions. He and Elizabeth had six children altogether; five were born while he served at Cape Blanco Lighthouse and all six were raised there. Clearly, James imparted his love of the Lighthouse Service to his children, as the four who survived childhood would somehow have future dealings with it.
Besides eldest son William T. Langlois becoming a lighthouse keeper, his second son, James M. Langlois, would eventually serve in the United States Life Saving Service for several years. Third son, Oscar R. Langlois, was a long-time lighthouse keeper at Coquille River Lighthouse and his eldest daughter, Mary Grace, would have a second marriage to lighthouse keeper George E. McGinitie, who served at Cape Blanco Lighthouse for at least a couple of years upon James’ retirement. Sadly, James and Elizabeth’s two youngest daughters, Idella and Audrey, died at ages 5 and 9 respectively.
Little did James’ father, William Valpied Langlois, realize when he came to America almost 175 years ago, that he would be fathering a lighthouse keeper dynasty that would serve for well over 100 years of total service at six different lighthouses through the next two generations of children, grandchildren, and in-laws. Or maybe he did know – that his love of the sea would somehow have to be passed down through the family, and that the name of Langlois would one day become synonymous with exemplary lighthouse service on the Pacific Coast.
This story appeared in the
Mar/Apr 2017 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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