A Governor of Our Own
Zenas Ferry Moody was the first governor—and one of the few—to hail from Eastern Oregon
By Rodger Nichols
Of the 39 governors Oregon has had since statehood, only 6 of have come from Eastern Oregon. Tom McCall, of Prineville, was the most recent—a half-century ago.
But the first—and the only one from The Dalles—was Zenas Ferry Moody. He and his family were a force in Oregon and national politics in the 19th century.
Zenas was born in 1832 in Granby, Massachusetts. His unusual name is a reference to the only lawyer spoken of favorably in the Bible. In Titus 3:13, the Apostle Paul writes, “Bring Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their journey diligently, that nothing be wanting unto them.” The name itself is a shortened form of “Zenodoros,” meaning “the gift of Zeus.” No matter how his gifts were derived, Gov. Zenas seemed to make good use of them. His family was well-off and well- placed in society. His cousin, Thomas W. Ferry, served in both houses of Congress and was president pro tempore of the Senate when Vice President Henry Wilson died November 22, 1875. As the next in the line of presidential succession, he was referred to as the acting vice president.
Little has been written about Zenas’ early days, but it is known that in 1851, at age 19, he boarded a ship for Panama. He crossed the Isthmus on muleback, caught a ship on the Pacific side and arrived in Astoria with no money left.
He borrowed $20 to make his way to Oregon City, walking 14 miles of the journey. For the next 2 years, Zenas worked in a federal surveying crew.
Having made such a long journey at such a young age may have influenced his desire to see new territory, as he would move several times during his life.
In 1853, Zenas married Mary Stephenson and moved to Brownsville, where he opened a general store. 3 years later, he was appointed inspector of government surveys in California.
After completing his duties there, he went to Illinois for 4 years and served as the surveyor of Morgan County.
Zenas happened to be on his way to Washington, D.C., in 1861 when Fort Sumter was fired upon. When the 7th Massachusetts was attacked in the streets of Baltimore, he enrolled as one of the company formed to protect the city until the arrival of the regular troops.
In 1862, Zenas came to The Dalles and opened a store at Second and Washington streets.
A year later, though he remained living in The Dalles, Zenas moved his business to Umatilla to take advantage of increased mining in the area. He sold that business in 1865, and began a number of other projects, including the Oregon and Montana Transportation Co., which built steamboats to navigate Lake Pend d’Oreille and Clark’s Fork of the Columbia River.
Zenas moved to Boise in 1867 to open another store, only to sell it 2 years later and return to The Dalles to take charge of the extensive business of Wells Fargo and Co.
He resigned that position in 1873, and shortly thereafter was awarded the contract to carry the U.S. mail between Portland and The Dalles, and built several steamships. He also returned to surveying and won three more contracts, including the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
Zenas’ first brush with politics came in 1872, when he was nominated by Wasco County Republicans for state senator. According to most accounts, he won the election. His opponent, however, contested the results, and the Democrat majority in the state senate awarded his rival the seat.
8 years later, Republicans nominated Zenas for state representative, and this time he won. At the session of the legislature immediately following that election, he was chosen speaker of the House of Representatives.
That was Zenas’ sole term as a legislator, as he was elected Oregon’s seventh governor in 1882.
As governor, he was said to have the longest beard in Salem and to have served the longest single term. During his time in office, the legislature changed its meeting time from September to January, giving him an extra four months in office.
Zenas was generally a popular governor. His issues included promoting a separate institution to care for juvenile lawbreakers instead of housing them with hardened criminals, a registration law to “safeguard the ballot box” and adequate regulation of corporations.
During his term, the tax rate was reduced from 5 mills on the dollar to one and 19/20 mills.
That single term, though, was enough for him, and Zenas chose not to run again.
He then became president of The Dalles National Bank.
There were plenty of other business interests to attract his attention. The Republican League Register reported Zenas had the largest wool warehouse on the Pacific Coast and handled more wool direct from the producers than any other man in the world.
In 1888 alone, that amounted to more than 3 million pounds of the 5 million pounds of wool shipped from The Dalles that year.
His businesses continued to prosper, and Zenas lived to 85. He died March 14, 1917.
Zenas’ political legacy passed to his sons. Ralph Moody became the second generation of the family to serve in the Oregon House of Representatives and was an assistant attorney general for Oregon. Ralph’s older brother, Malcolm, was elected first to The Dalles City Council, then as mayor. He served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.
There are a few local traces of the family. The warehouse next to the Sunshine Mill once belonged to Zenas. The gravel Old Moody Road from Fairbanks to the mouth of the Deschutes has been a favorite of bikers. Those who visit the antique vehicle collection at the Fort Dalles Museum will find a surrey once owned by the only Oregon governor to hail from The Dalles.