Friday, May 22, 2020


The Dr. Murray’s Magic Oil bottles have remained a sort of unclarified mystery as to their origins. Several variants that were produced over a period of time, from as early as the late 1860’s to the mid 1880’s, have been found throughout the West. The best documentation that can be relied upon to determine the origin of the bottles has been newspaper accounts and census records, with one exception. A labeled example helps clarify the mystery but at the same time tends to muddy the issue.

The one known existing labeled bottle notes the proprietor as Dr. O.S. Murray & Co., of San Francisco. Thus we can at least pin down this proprietor as Orlando S. Murray, born July 30, 1838, in Troy, Miami, Ohio. He was still living in Troy as noted in the 1860 U.S. census, in the home of Daniel and Mary Miller, his wife’s parents. In April 1861 Murray enlisted in Company D, Ohio 11th Infantry, and was mustered out by 1863 in Louisville, Kentucky.

Orlando was listed in the 1864 Cincinnati, Ohio, business directory, but no occupation is given. He disappears from the Midwest for a few years but likely followed his dreams to the West Coast shortly thereafter. He was listed in the Yuba County (Marysville) 1871 and 1872 and 1873 Great Register as a druggist, and first registered in 1867.

The first notation of Murray’s Magic Oil is this May 1867 advertisement for the product. It is not clear where he was living at this time – possibly in San Francisco, as noted on the bottle label, but soon to be living in Marysville, California. (Marysville Daily Appeal, 29 May 1867)

This 1869 advertisement helps clarify that Orlando Murray was operating from San Francisco during the late 1860’s. This information helps document the approximate age of the labeled bottle. It should be noted that, to my knowledge, no embossed specimens of the Lung Balsam have been documented.

After a residence of several years in Marysville, California, it appears he moved northward to Oregon. Murray staked a land claim on June 10, 1874, covering Twp 1s, Range 4e , of the N1/2 of the N1/2 of Section 26, Willamette Meridian, in Clackamas County, Oregon. This would normally be an area of 160 acres. This property was located East of the town of Pleasant Home, Oregon. By 1876 Orlando became the postmaster of Pleasant Home and advertised himself as a Doctor.

He married Nancy Anne Shawley, who was living in nearby Powell Valley, on July 10, 1881, and had seven children. He managed to secure his Civil War pension as early as 1872, which allowed him some financial stability. His life appears uneventful in his role as a physician, moving to Portland after his marriage. However, in the year 1906 his family became the focus of national attention when his son, Orlando, jr., killed on Lincoln C. Whitney, in a fit of rage. It seems that young Lincoln offered his hand in marriage to Mary, the daughter of Dr. Murray. He later reneged on his proposal and Orlando, jr., attempted to reason with Lincoln. He was rebuffed and in a moment of rage, shot and killed Lincoln. The case went to trial and Orlando, jr. was summarily acquitted by the jury. His lethal action was considered honorific in the protection of his sister’s rights. Only briefly mentioned in this incident is the apparent fact that Miss Mary Murray had been impregnated by Whitney.

The only likeness of Orlando Murray, Sr., that I located is foreshadowed by a drawing of his son, Orlando Murray, Jr., who shot and killed the former suitor of his sister, Miss Mary Murray. (Morning Oregonian, Portland, Oregon, December 11, 1906)

By the end of the 19th century Dr. Orlando Murray was beset with continuing health issues, mental and physical, which caused him to seek prolonged medical help at military hospitals.  He was admitted into the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, at Sawtelle, Los Angeles County, California, on May 28, 1901 and discharged on November 28, 1904. The 1910 census lists him at Port Orchard, Kitsap, Washington, at the Washington Veterans Home as a boarder.  He was admitted again at the Port Orchard facility on April 4, 1913 and left on July 3, 1913.

In the 1920 census he was living in Seattle with his family, wife Annie, and children Oscar, age 37, Sherman, age 35, Mary G. age 32, and Ester, age 23. He died November 5, 1922, at the National Home in Sawtelle, and is buried at the Washington Veterans Home Cemetery, at Retsil, Kitsap, Washington.

Research has clarified that Orlando was only acting as agent for the Magic Oil and his father, James Welch Murray, Sr., was the primary person behind the brand. Also calling himself a ‘doctor’, James Welch Murray, Sr., trademarked the brand under the newly established protections afforded by the State of Oregon, on January 29, 1867, as Trademark Number 5. He continued selling his patent medicines in Portland as late as 1888.

James W. Murray, Sr., was born in Pennsylvania in 1817. He is first noted in the 1850 U.S. census with his wife and family at Troy, Miami County, Ohio. His occupation is listed as a shoemaker. For unknown reasons he left Ohio in the late 1850’s and moved to Linneus, Linn County, Missouri, where he is noted in the census as a hotel keeper. In 1861 James  Murray enlisted in the war cause as a sergeant of the 1st Regiment, Missouri State Militia, Cavalry, Company K.

Shortly after the Civil War, James W. Murray had moved to Oregon and re-made is occupation as a doctor. It is not clear if all or most of his children moved with him but several made the trek fairly early as well. As noted above, James developed his medicinal brands and employed at least two of his sons as traveling agents in the sale of the products. This is the primary reason why Orlando Murray established himself in California during the late 1860’s and the first half of the 1870’s. Another son, James W. Murray, jr., also was employed as a traveling salesman for his father. Both sons used the ‘doctor’ prefix in their professional lives.

 While his son, Orlando S. Murray, was selling the Magic Oil, the name embossed on the bottle refers to his father, J.W. Murray. Orlando is noted as a traveling agent for J. W. Murray’s patent medicines until as late as 1884, as documented in the Portland directory for that year. Apparently, the fact that “S.F. Cal” was embossed on the bottles, even well after Orlando Murray had removed his agency from San Francisco about 1869 was of little concern.

J.W. Murray’s advertisement in the 1867 Pacific Coast Business Directory rather magnanimously states that 50,000 bottles of his Magic Oil had been sold in the last two years. Can a quack medicine doctor be trusted?

J.W. Murray, Sr., moved from Corvallis to Portland in the same year, where he maintained his patent medicine business until his death on January 14, 1888. This rather long sales run undoubtedly accounts for the reason why later variants of Magic Oil are found.

For a short time in 1870, J.W. Murray’s advertisements acknowledge the connection his sons played in the sale of his two medicinal products.

The grave stone of James Welch Murray, Sr., located at the Pleasant Home Cemetery, Gresham, Oregon. He died in Portland, Oregon, on January 14, 1888. (Photo from – memorial No. 90955737) Note that there is currently a discrepancy at (May 2020) as there are two grave memorials for James W. Murray which will need to be rectified by the site administrators. A duplicate memorial is noted as Findagrave Number 125280563, indicating his grave site at the River View Cemetery in Portland.

Following a pattern similar to his brother, James Welch Murray,Jr., frequented a number of veteran’s hospitals for failing mental and physical conditions throughout the early 20th century. He was born about 1845 in Troy, Ohio, and died Jan 2, 1928, in Portland, Oregon. Suffering from his Civil War injuries, he was blind in one eye and had paralysis on his right side. He was first noted in the 1870 San Francisco Great Register as a “pedlar”, and living at the What Cheer House, a noted San Francisco hotel. Listed in the 1898 Sacramento County Great Register as a “medicineman”, he was listed in the 1910 US census, Sacramento, as a “boarder” in the County jail, with an occupation as a farmer. He is listed in the 1920 census at Salem, Oregon, as an inmate in the Oregon State Insane Asylum.


A later example of Dr. Murray’s Magic Oil testifies to the relatively long manufacturing run of the bottles. The later ‘ball neck’ variant, not pictured here, is also an example of later manufacture.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Please note that the FOHBC board of directors is committed to rescheduling the show in Reno in 2022 at the same venue. Given a host of unknown conditions this goal may not be possible but it is our hope it will come to fruition. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Eastern Cider for the West

The early life of our subject has been very elusive. Donald Chester Mitchell was a native of Connecticut, born there about 1833. Until he is documented in Ottumwa, Iowa, in 1856, his early life could not be determined. He married Frances A. Davis on June 29, 1856, in the relatively new town of Ottumwa, Iowa, which had recently become the governmental seat for Wapello County. Her father, Edward Springer Davis, had moved there from Marietta, Ohio, with his wife and seven children, where he took up farming. Davis’ interest then turned to the potential of river transportation along the Des Moines River and he sold his farm in 1852, concentrating on moving goods on the river.
This endeavor began with the position of pilot aboard the steamer N.L. Milburn, which usually plied the Des Moines River between Keokuk to the south and as far upstream as Fort DesMoines, Iowa. She was eventually sunk while trying to cross the Gulf of Mexico (History of Steamboating on the Des Moines River, From 1837 to 1862. Tacitus Hussey. April 1900, pg. 355) Meanwhile, it appears Don C. Mitchell gained some knowledge as a municipal clerk and also worked as a real estate agent. He also became active in politics as he was a devoted Republican and donated considerable time to furthering its election efforts. He often served as the Republican Central Committee secretary for Wapello County.

Of his varied endeavors Mitchell served his father-in-law in one unusual capacity in 1857. Edward Davis had returned to Marietta to oversee the construction of a steamer to be used on the Des Moines River. One news article notes, . . . “The boat is to be very light draught, so as to run in very low water.  Our fellow citizen, Mr. D. C. Mitchell, leaves for Marietta in a few days, to fill the position of Clerk on the boat.  We wish all parties success in this enterprise.  We can say for Capt. Davis, that few men know the Demoines better than he does.  From present appearances, the river will be open and navigable, with any quantity of water, in a few days.” (Weekly Ottumwa Courier, February 19, 1857) Davis soon retired from the steamboat business and obtained a license to establish a ferry that crossed the Des Moines River at Ottumwa. (There being no bridge to cross the river Davis was in direct competition with the original ferry owner, John Prosser. The competition became quite heated and resulted in lawsuits. Davis eventually moved to Iola, Kansas, and died there on December 19, 1870, where he worked as a miller.

In 1858 Mitchell also opened a lumber yard in Ottumwa, at the corner of Second and Marion Streets, specializing in pine. The town was experiencing substantial growth during this period and he took advantage of the increased demand for building materials. (Weekly Ottumwa Courier, Apr 22, 1858) Mitchell’s time in Ottumwa was extremely active for sure, although he did turn down his nomination for the position of treasurer for the city of Ottumwa in 1858. (Weekly Ottumwa Courier, May 06, 1858)

In the first three months of 1860 Mitchell’s name occurs frequently in association with his occupation as deputy county clerk of Wapello County, as well as in June of that year relative to the business of the Republican convention of Wapello. He was also elected alderman of Ottumwa in 1860 but he resigned February 4, 1861. (History of Wapello County, Iowa, and Representative Citizens, by S. B. Evans. 1901, pg. 80)

Regarding the Wapello County Aldermen meeting of Feb 4, 1861.  (Note: From Weekly Ottumwa Courier, Feb 6, 1861, pg. 4) “The resignation of A. Lotspeich, Alderman from the 1st Ward, was received, and the resignation accepted.  The Council proceeded to ballot for an Alderman to fill the vacancy thus created….William Dagget was declared duly elected.” No mention of Mitchell resigning at that time but he did not attend any more meetings.

One interesting bottle, of decided western manufacture, but with a deceptively eastern name, is occasionally found on the West Coast. Not particularly rare but within a small category of amber soda water shaped bottles lightly scattered throughout the United States. Perhaps because of the color of the liquid product, cider was often bottled in bottles made of amber glass. 

Cider, and especially apple cider, has been a popular drink for many years, which was no exception in California. In the 1850’s Oregon cider was the closest source until adequate numbers of apple trees began producing in the Golden State. As if appellation was important, in those early years the eastern made product was still preferred. One news article notes that,  “where a good article of eastern cider could be found it commands a much higher price than the Oregon manufacture”. (Sacramento Daily Union, July 7, 1858)

In fact, as early as late 1875, the moniker of ‘Pure Eastern Cider” was being freely used in San Francisco, and it was likely the product of none other than Don C. Mitchell. One newspaper noted, “Such is the label we observe hung out attractively at the doors of some first-class groceries.  On ‘sampling’ some of it and inquiring if it was really and truly Eastern cider, we were told, confidentially, that it was nothing of the kind, but that it was still good cider; and so it was. Nor is it the first good California cider that we have tasted; the more the pity that it is necessary to attach an Eastern brand to it to make it popular”. (Pacific Rural Press, December 18, 1875)

Mitchell received California Trade Mark No. 553 on December 27, 1879, for the words, EASTERN CIDER. In his registration, partially noted above, he declared the use of the words for the previous four months, including blowing it into his bottles.

Real Eastern cider, actually made in the East, became virtually indistinguishable from Mitchell’s California grown version. Consistency of flavor is certainly a challenge for any maker, and while the Eastern Cider Co. held a decent market share up to the time of Mitchell’s death, another local brand soon became a serious competitor. As noted in the San Francisco Call on October 19, 1890,  . . “Among the notable exhibits at the recent State Fair was a display of Martinelli’s pure apple cider, made from Pajaro Vally apples by S. Martinelli, Watsonville.  In competition with the home product were two of the best brands of Eastern cider, and after a thorough test the judges emphasized the popular verdict regarding Mr. Martinelli’s beverage by awarding him the medal.  His cider is remarkable for its fine flavor, clear color, heavy body and perfect purity, no chemical of any kind being used in its manufacture.  Its superiority has been universally conceded since it was placed on the market some years ago, . . “ (San Francisco Call, October 19, 1890)

This advertisement for Eastern Cider implies that Mitchell also sold his product in barrels which was then bottled by second parties, in this case, W. E. Deamer. (Morning Union, Grass Valley, California, June 25, 1878)

Found in a number of color variations that range into green, from the standard amber, the bottles are not particularly rare but are popular with many collectors. They have been found throughout the Western states. A particularly large number were recovered from the coal mining areas near Mount Diablo in Contra Costa County, California.

By the numbers of bottles excavated throughout the West, business must have been good, but family troubles soon altered his life. In February 1880 his wife died of an unknown cause, leaving him with his two young daughters, Fannie, age 23, and Martha, age 15. But a mere month later, young Martha, likely depressed from the loss of her mother, chose to release her earthly bonds. The following tragic article is located in the Daily Alta California, 11 March 1880.


An extraordinary suicide, the victim being a young girl, occurred on Rincon Hill, yesterday afternoon  Martha Mitchell, aged fifteen years, a pupil of Rincon School, had remained at home, to aid her sister Fannie at some seamstress work, at the direction of her father, D.C. Mitchell, Superintendent of the Eastern Cider Company.


In the house, 118 Silver street, and quarreled, Martha refusing to work,  At 3 o’clock in the afternoon, Fannie left the house, telling Martha that she was going to her father to lodge a complaint against her.  Martha bade her good-bye, in an unusually despondent way.  Half an hour later, Fannie returned, and entering the bedroom where she had left her sister, found her


Blood was oozing from a pistol-shot wound in the region of the heart and near her lay a single barreled breach-loading pistol, discharged.  The pistol belonged to the father, and had been lying unloaded in a bureau drawer, a box of cartridges being with it.  Martha was generally of a very lively disposition, but for several days previous to her suicide had been in painfully 


And refused to state the cause of her trouble.  She had made several inquiries as to the region of the heart, but they were not particularly noticed at the time.  Evidently she premeditated suicide.  The quarrel with her sister angered her to firmer determination, and her sister’s absence afforded the opportunity.  In all its phases the suicide is peculiarly sad.

The following year Mitchell joined in partnership with the veteran soda water maker, James I. Bliven. He was one of he original trustees who formed the Bay City Soda Water Company in 1870. This partnership continued until 1886 whereby they were proprietors of the Pacific Congress Springs Depot in San Francisco and the Eastern Cider Company.

Mitchell then went to work for I.H. Morse & Company, commission merchants of San Francisco, for a few years. Upon parting with Bliven, Don C. Mitchell took his Eastern Cider brand with him, which was then incorporated into the Morse product line.

At some time in his past life, probably between 1861 and 1875, when Mitchell was first documented in San Francisco, his political activities brought him close to Benjamin Harrison, who was elected as the  23rd president of the United States. Mitchell’s obituary attests to that.

D.C. Mitchell, well known among business men in this city, accidentally shot and killed himself yesterday afternoon in the Burlington House on Market and Second streets.  He was in the office with the clerk cleaning his pistol. By some means the weapon was discharged. The bullet entered Mr. Mitchell’s stomach pit, passed through the liver and out of the body near the backbone.  In its course it fractured the backbone and cut the aorta, which caused him to bleed to death in a few minutes.  The accident happened at 3:15 o’clock, and at 3:25 he was dead.  Mr. Mitchell has for the past ten years been an agent for mineral waters, and doing business on New Montgomery street.  He has also taken a lively interest in politics and has frequently delivered addresses from the stump.  He was intimately acquainted with President Harrison, and a few weeks ago received a letter from him containing an offer of a position in the Internal Revenue Office.

Mr. Mitchell accepted and was going to Washington with his daughter, Fannie, in a few days. He was preparing for the trip yesterday, and a part of the preparation was cleaning and lading the weapon that caused his death.  Mr. Mitchell was a native of Connecticut, sixty-seven years of age.  He was a widower with an only daughter.
(Daily Alta California, 31 December 1889)

It is unclear how Mitchell had befriended President Benjamin Harrison. Had Mitchell not accidentally killed himself, his obituary may have had a much greater significance with regard to American history. Benjamin Harrison, the grandson of William Henry Harrison, the ninth president of the U.S. won his bid for the job of the 23rd president on November 6. 1888. Previously he had been elected to the U.S. Senate from 1881 to 1887. But, prior to his political career on the national stage, Harrison participated in the Civil War and was confirmed as a brevet brigadier general of volunteers in 1865. After being seated in office on March 4, 1889, President Harrison commenced with picking his new cabinet members. It is probable that due to a previous alliance with Don Mitchell, he was tapped for a lucrative position in the Internal Revenue Office.

I will leave it to others to determine how Don C. Mitchell befriended President Harrison. There is still a lot to learn about the man who we only know as the proprietor of the Eastern Cider Company.