William Orval Sannar


This story I’m about to share with you is about a great-great uncle of mine, William Orval Sannar, better known as Orval.  It was published in a book titled “Children’s Stories” written by Rick Steber in Volume 6 of his true stories titled “Tales of the Wild West”. I had picked up several of these books and would read one of the short stories to my kids every night when they were younger, along with whatever bedtime story we were reading at the time. Imagine my surprise when I found a relative in one of the true stories, and more intriguing was the fact that I had never heard the story before.  Actually, I was reading along and the last name is misspelled in the book.  Finally, my daughter, Brittany, who was about 12 at the time, stopped me and said, “Mom, isn’t Promise where your family is from?  Don’t you just think that they spelled the name wrong?” By golly, she was right!  You can find William Orval Sannar’s story in that book, the story titled The Fish.   Orval’s actual obituary gives us more details, so that is what I’m going to share with you here today.


From the Enterprise Record Chieftain Newspaper, Enterprise, Oregon, dated Thursday September 4, 1913

“Drowned To Death By Large Fish”

“Orval Sannar of Promise Drowns in Grande Ronde in Strange Manner”

A remarkable drowning tragedy took place in the Grande Ronde River a mile above the home of F.G. Potter, not far from Promise, last Thursday.  Orval Sannar, the 20 year-old son of Postmaster Sannar of Promise, was jerked under water by a 17-inch “squaw” fish he had hooked, and lost his life.  His body was recovered 50 yards down stream.  His pole, with the fish still fast to the hook, was dragged from the bottom of the river where it had caught.

The young man was a member of a Promise fishing party, which included his sister Lulu Sannar, Marshall Fleshman and daughter Delia, John C. Phillips and daughters Nellie and Jessie.  They fished for a time on the south bank of the river, then Orval concluded he would cross and try his luck on the north bank. The stream is deep but at this place is comparatively still.  When he reached the deep water, Mr. Sannar took his fish pole in his mouth and started swimming.

When part way across, his head was suddenly drawn under the water.  He came up twice, waving his arms the last time.  Mr. Phillips who was some distance down the river ran to the bank opposite, but the body had gone down for the third time before he got near, and there was no telling where the current had carried the victim.

Jessie Phillips took the sad news out of the canyon and soon a large crowd gathered at the river to search for the body.  It was not found, however, until 9 o’clock, Friday morning.  It had moved only a short distance, and was lying on the bottom of the river.  A few feet from the body the fish pole was dragged from the river, with the “squaw” fish firmly hooked.

The supposition is that the fish took the hook as Mr. Sannar was swimming in midstream.  Having the fish pole in his mouth he could not close his lips.  Breathing heavily with the exertion of swimming, he probably was inhaling at the instant the fish seized the hook and dashed into the depth of the stream.  This pulled the swimmer’s head under the surface, and he sucked his lungs full of water almost instantly.  The fact that the body went to the bottom at once proves that water had displaced the air that should have been in his lungs.

The body was taken to the Sannar home in Promise just after noon on Friday, where it remained until Saturday at 4 o’clock, when it was removed to the cemetery where it was laid to rest.  Those left to mourn are the aged father and mother, four sisters and four brothers, besides many relatives and friends.

William Orval Sannar was born in Fayette County, West Virginia, Oct. 22, 1892.  He came with his parents to Promise when he was five years old and had lived there until his death.  He died August 28, 1913, aged 20 years, 10 months and 6 days.

The touching poem of J.L. McCreery comes to the minds of the afflicted family, the first stanza being:  “There is no death, the stars go down. To rise upon some other shore, and bright in heaven’s jeweled crown.  They shine forever more.”




Orval is buried in the Promise Cemetery, deep in the Blue Mountains of Oregon.

(Orval is my 2nd great-uncle.  He is the son of William Isaac and Eliza Ann (Carper) Sannar.)


8 thoughts on “William Orval Sannar

  1. Pingback: James Franklin Sannar | Finding Promise

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