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.

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