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 actually 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.)


Eliza Ann Carper Sannar


Eliza Ann “Julie” (Carper) Sannar, taken April 15th, 1944 on her 90th birthday.

Eliza was born April 15th, 1854 in Raleigh, West Virginia to George and Delilah Carper.  On January 21st, 1872, when she was 17 years old,  she married Willaim Isaac Sannar right there in her hometown of Raleigh.  In the next 25 years, they had 13 children.  In 1886, they lost one little girl, Rose Lee, when she was just an infant, and then a son, George Washington, in 1892 when he was only 2 years old. In 1896, their 7 year old daughter, Bertha Elizabeth passed away.  What a lot of heartbreak this woman endured.   By 1898, the family had headed west and settled in Promise, Oregon in the Wallowa Mountains.  In 1913, the Sannar’s lost another son, William Orval, at the age of 20 years.  Orval drowned in the Grande Ronde River but that is a story for another day.


This family photo was taken about 1930 in Promise, Oregon.  There are Sannars, Carpers, and Lively’s in this one.

The United States entered WWI when Eliza was 62, and women got the right to vote when she was 65!


Eliza became a widow in 1930 when Isaac passed away at the age of 78.  They had been married for 58 years.  Eliza lived until the day before her 96th birthday and passed away in April of 1950.


William Isaac and Eliza Jane Sannar headstone – Promise, Oregon Cemetery

The following is from her obituary in the Elgin Recorder:

Eliza Ann “Julia” (Carper) Sannar Obituary
The Elgin Recorder Newspaper
Elgin, Union County, Oregon
Thursday, April 20, 1950
(from the Wallowa Record)
Funeral services were held Sunday morning at 11:30 at the Wallowa Christian Church for Eliza Ann Sannar, 96-year-old great grandmother who remembered the Civil War and President Lincoln very well. Death came to Mrs. Sannar at a hospital in La Grande April 14, one day before her 96th birthday.
The Rev. O.W. Jones of the Wallowa Christian church conducted the services. A quartet composed of Mrs. Vera Mason, Mrs. Oscar Maxwell, Bill Dougherty and Crawford Oveson, sang “Beyond the Sunset” and “In the Land Where You Never Grow Old’. The second selection had been a request of Mrs. Sannar. They were accompanied on the piano by Mrs. Warren Berry. Pallbearers were Arthur Miller, Burton Miller, Joe Rounsavell, Spencer Trump, Roy Carper and Frank Lindsey. Mrs. Sannar was buried in the family plot in the Promise cemetery. A church filled with flowers showed the esteem in which she was held b members of the community.
Eliza Ann Sannar was born in Raleigh County, West Virginia, near Beckley, known as Raleigh County Court House, on April 15, 1854. She was born the daughter of George Washington and Delilah Carper, the third of 13 children. She lived to be the sole survivor of the family.
Her father was a soldier in the Union army, and suffered wounds on the battle field. Her mother and older sisters helped in a field hospital near Raleigh County Court House. She herself carried water to wounded soldiers on the battlefield.
In 1873 the family came west to Oregon, settling in the Promise neighborhood. The years since were spent in this community, in Wallowa county and Union county.
She was a devoted Christian, her membership being with the old Church of Christ or Christian church of Promise. A great service was rendered by Mrs. Sannar, affectionatelhy known as Aunt Juie, in the various sickness that befell freinds in the old neighborhood. She was a competent mid-wife and officiated at many births in the Promise area. Whether it was a feverish child, an injured limb or an expectant mother, Aunt Julie was there, nursing the sick one back to health.
Her life touched a period that was perhaps the time of greatest developments in science, art and industry that the world has ever known. It was her pleasure to remember having seen President Lincoln many times.
She is survived by three daughters, Mrs. E.W (Pearl) Lively, Mrs. Boyd (Letha) Carper of Wallowa and Mrs. Fred (Lula) Trump of La Grande; and two sons Charles C. Sannar of Gridley, Calif., and Frank Sannar of Milton. Thirty-seven grandchildren, 96 great-grandchildren, one for every year of her life, and 18 great great-grandchildren also survive.
Mr. Sannar preceded his wife in death in 1930 as did seven of her children: Bertha (died at the age of 7 in West Virginia), George Orville, John, Joe, and Sally Lyons. One daughter (Rosie Lee) died in infancy in West Virginia.
Those coming from out of town for the service were Mrs. Oakey Trump and Mr. and Mrs. Everett Trump, Mr. and Mrs. Elvis Trump, Mr. and Mrs. Ray Trump and Lacey Trump, all of Elgin. Mr. and Mrs. Fred Trump, Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Riggle, Mr. and Mrs. Orval Trump, Mr and Mrs. Oliver Fleshman, Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Carper, Mr. and Mrs. Eugene (illegible), and Bob Lively, all of La Grande; Mr. and Mrs. Albert (illegible) and Mrs. Eva Whitmore of Milton; Mr. and Mrs. Alvin Sannar of Mt. Emily; Jack Lively of Springfield, Mr. and Mrs. (illegible from this point to end.)

She sounds like an amazing lady and I would have loved to have known her.  Does anyone remember “Aunt Julie”?  Can you share any personal stories?


“My dad told me that when great-grandma died, they put her coffin in a wagon and the whole town of Promise walked behind the wagon from the family home to the cemetery.  He said it was quite the sight.”  ~ Kathleen Sannar Tannahill


(Eliza is my 2nd great-grandmother.  She is the mother of James Franklin Sannar.)


A Legacy of Strength – Shirley Marcilee (Kennison) Sannar


Grandma may be gone here on earth but when I think about her she is still on the Alaskan waters, in the galley of a small troller, The smell of coffee, the sound of rubber on the bottom of the cups and her laugh.
These words were “borrowed” from my cousin, Rodney. I will always remember Grandma in the kitchen making hot cocoa for us little ones and will forever hear her voice singing hymns at church on Sunday mornings.  Shirley Marcilee Kennison Sannar passed away March 3rd, 2011 leaving all who loved her with many happy memories.

Grandma was born July 4th of 1923 in the Wallowa Valley of northeastern Oregon.  She was the oldest of three children and had to grow up fast when her dad passed away when Grandma was only eleven.  After being the one sent, in the middle of the night, to fetch the doctor, Grandma spent the next years helping her Mom raise her younger brother and sister.

My grandparents met at a dance where Grandpa was to shy to approach the pretty girl, but instead asked a friend to ask her out for him.  Six months later, Toot and Shirley drove to Walla Walla, Washington to be married.  Grandpa says it was the hottest day of the year and his wedding outfit was a $5.00 wool suit that he had saved up to buy.   Back in Wallowa County, the happy couple moved in with Grandma’s mom for a few months.  Their first house together was a wall tent with a wooden floor.  Can you imagine?  A wall tent?  And in the bitter cold winters of Wallowa County?  My grandparents were strong, stubborn people their entire lives.

For the next few years, Grandma and Grandpa started a family, welcoming my Dad and Aunt Judy.   Work was scarce during the war and Grandpa worked all kinds of odd jobs.  Towards the end of the war he was drafted and served as a soldier oversea’s.  Once back in the states, Grandma and Grandpa moved to the logging camp of Starkey where Grandpa worked as a mechanic and my Aunt Kathleen joined the family.

Early in their marriage, my Grandma had told Grandpa that her job was to be his wife and the mother of his children.  That wherever he went, she would go.  So when Grandpa’s brother-in-law called from Alaska, telling him mechanics were needed, off they went.  Grandma made her new home in Ketchikan without a backwards glance.  Even though she was deathly afraid of the water, when Grandpa decided to buy a commercial fishing boat and make a living from the sea, Grandma tugged on her boots, pulled on her rain slicker and became the Skipper of that fishing boat.  For years, they trolled the Alaskan waters, making a good living and storing away many memories and stories to share with friends and family.


When retirement time rolled around, Grandma and Grandpa moved back to Oregon but still craved adventure, so they packed up their motor home and headed to the desert every winter until just the last two when Grandma was having blood pressure issue’s and problems with her hip.  Even then, they kept the motor home and refused to park it at families, instead enjoying their time in an RV park with other year round residents.  Strong and stubborn.


Grandma was a wonder in the kitchen.  I can still taste her delicious mincemeat pies from my childhood.  She loved to quilt and made beautiful handstitched quilts for each and everyone of us grandkids and even a few of the great-grands.  Grandma and Grandpa had a large garden every year, growing and canning their produce right up into their late 70’s.  We celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary with a camping trip and family picnic in the Blue Mountains of Oregon.

My family is full of strong women and Grandma was always right at the head of that line.  Such a wonderful legacy of strength and love she has left for her family.

Pictured:  Front row – Shirley Sannar, Charles “Al” or “Toot” Sannar  – Back row – Paula Sannar Niziolek, Brittany Niziolek Sumpter, Noah Sumpter, Tom Sannar

(Shirley is my paternal grandmother. She is the mother of Thomas Alvin Sannar.)

“A favorite memory of my Grandma Sannar takes place in her kitchen.  Grandma is standing at her stove.  She has a wooden spoon in her hand and is using it to stir a steaming stainless steel pot full of hot cocoa.  My siblings, cousins and I are sitting around the table, expectantly waiting for Grandma to place those warm mugs of cocoa in front of us.  There is some chatter going on around me, but I’m a little tyke, only about four years of age and it has been a long day.  My family and I have just arrived in Alaska this evening after a long drive from Oregon through Canada and then a ferry ride from Prince Rupert to Ketchikan.  Even in memory I can still feel the foggy tiredness that is making my eyes droop and my families voices seem a bit far away. Grandma sets my brown cup in front of me and I take a sip.  Heavenly chocolate sweetness fills my mouth and the warmness seeps into my soul.  As I am tucked into my bed and snuggle down with my favorite blanket and soft pink cat, I know beyond any doubt that I am loved.  Sometimes hot cocoa can do that.” ~ Paula Sannar Niziolek
“I remember as a young girl riding to Ketchikan with my Grandma Sannar in her Volkswagen Bug. I gazed out the window seeing the rocks, trees & vegetation of a beautiful rain forest as her little car sped along. It was a rare sunny day. Up ahead we could glimpse the sparkling blue ocean peaking through majestic cedar trees.
Parking along Main Street we walked up the gray concrete sidewalk into Rex-Drug store filled with bright, colorful treasures. Each of us children got to choose chocolate or vanilla for our ice-cream cone. So sweet & delicious was this tasty treat!” ~ Stacey Sannar Roth