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Who donated the statue of Lincoln in Ashland's Lithia Park?

As a 5-year-old boy in 1859, Gwin S. Butler lost his father to suicide.

Four years later, Jacob Thompson, one of Jackson County's early pioneers, married Gwin's mother, America Butler, and took her son under his wing.

Gwin Butler's gratitude to Thompson endured until the end of his life and inspired him to dedicate a statue of President Abraham Lincoln in his stepfather's memory in 1916.

The statue stands watch in Ashland's Lithia Park at the foot of the stairs leading to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

"What Jacob must have been was a rock-solid father figure," said Jan Wright, executive director of the Talent Historical Society. "There must be something about him that made Gwin admire his stepfather."

Ashum Butler committed suicide about seven years after he and America immigrated to the West Coast from Illinois.

The reason for the suicide is unknown.

Moses Williams, a Jackson County circuit minister, wrote in his diary that shortly before the suicide he visited Ashum, who seemed miserable. A few days later, Williams saw in the newspaper that Ashum had died.

America Butler married Thompson in 1863.

Thompson was born in 1827 in Indiana, according to pioneer records. After his mother died when he was a child, he lived with his uncle in Iowa and then in Illinois.

"He must have had some empathy for Gwin, having lost his mother as a child," Wright said.

Thompson immigrated to Oregon in 1847 with his brother, Amos. The brothers traveled the Oregon Trail to Oregon City. Jacob Thompson lived in the Willamette River Valley until 1849, when he tried his luck mining for gold in Baker County, Calif.

Five years later, he settled on Wagner Creek in Talent.

After marrying America Butler, he and the rest of the family lived in Medford and later in Ashland, where their two-story white house still stands at 41 Granite St.

The choice of Abraham Lincoln to memorialize Butler's stepfather was probably a political one, Wright said.

"Gwin was pretty young when the Civil War broke out, but he and Jacob were definitely Union men," she said. "Lincoln was the icon for that decade and for a few decades after that.

"The statue was a symbol of some of the most engaging times they went through, even though we didn't have a huge battle in Southern Oregon."

Butler went on to make a fortune in insurance and real estate, Wright said.

He purchased the Lincoln statue for $2,500 at the Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in 1915, said Bob Rasmussen, an Ashland resident who researched the statue's origins about four years ago.

The statue was crafted at the studio of Antonio Frilli in Florence, Italy. Frilli's name is inscribed on the bottom of the statue. But it is unclear whether Frilli actually carved it, as the artist died around 1895, Rasmussen said. The art studio is still in operation, but most of its records were destroyed during a flood in 1966, Rasmussen said.

Dates of its creation differ. Some accounts indicate the statue was carved in 1912. But a 1951 book, "He Belongs to the Ages: The Statues of Abraham Lincoln," by Donald Charles Durman, states that the statue was chiseled in 1905.

"Perhaps Frilli himself designed the Lincoln statue, and I suppose it is also possible that it was made 20 years before the San Francisco exhibition and executed by him," Rasmussen said.

Butler died in 1947 of an unspecified illness following an injury, according to an obituary in the Ashland Daily Tidings.

The obituary stated, "Through the years, Jacob Thompson, his stepfather, treated him as his own son."

Reach reporter Paris Achen by calling 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.

Who donated the statue of Lincoln in Ashland's Lithia Park?