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The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised


Before the Railroad

Looking back on the land that would become Medford. Note that no one mentions Middleford.

Chaparral in the Medford area, 1913
Chaparral in the Medford area, 1913

    Where four years ago was a bare spot in Rogue River Valley now stands the town of Medford with 1200 inhabitants. . . .
"The Immigration Board," Oregonian, Portland, October 5, 1889, page 7

Oregon Railroad History.
    Last Wednesday was the fifteenth anniversary of the driving of the last spike on the railroad connecting Portland and San Francisco. On the 17th day of December, 1887, the result for which people of Southern Oregon and Northern California had been hoping and praying for over twenty years had been accomplished, and the principal cities of both states were at last linked together by bands of steel. Many were the vicissitudes attending the building of this road. In the latter part of the '60s Ben Holladay--the man who started the first stage line from St. Joe, Mo., across the plains and who originated the famous "Pony Express" [Holladay acquired the Pony Express after its demise, but didn't found it]--commenced the construction of the Oregon & California R'y. from Portland south toward the California line. About the same time the California & Oregon R.R. commenced building northward through California. The country was new, its resources undeveloped and after various trials the roads stopped--the Oregon road at Roseburg and the California end at Redding. Until 1881 the situation remained in status quo, and the old Concord coach, drawn by its team of six fine horses, rocked on the brink of precipices, slowly climbed the steep mountainside or dashed madly down toward the valleys along the 320 miles of rough and dangerous road between Roseburg and Redding. In 1881 work was commenced on the extension of the O.&C. road from Roseburg south and finally came to a halt against the rugged sides of the Siskiyou Mountains above Ashland, when Henry Villard, who had built the Northern Pacific and was back of the O.&C. extension, lost his fortune in the whirl of Wall Street. Again there was a long period of inaction. The O. and C. road became in railroad parlance nothing but "two streaks of rust and the right of way." Finally the Southern Pacific Co. acquired title to the Oregon road under a ninety-nine years' lease, and immediately the extension of the California end of the road was commenced. The Siskiyous, against whose rockbound sides the Villard millions had been hurled in vain, were pierced with tunnels, ravines were bridged, outstanding points cut in two, and finally on that memorable day in December, fifteen years ago, the dream of Ben Holladay, when he set his first stagecoach on its long journey across the plains, was realized, and from Maine to Florida, from Florida to the Columbia River stretched continuous bands of shining steel, bearing the commerce and progress of the world ever westward as the star of empire leads the way. Fifteen years ago Dan Cawley drove the last coach of the overland stage line across the Siskiyous and as he rolled up his whip and tossed the reins to the hostler at the end of that drive a new era commenced and an old one passed away. The old landmarks--here where Black Bart, the poet highwayman, held up his last stage; there where a stageload of theatrical folks went off the grade; yonder where a wheel ran off and precipitated a load of passengers over a bluff--are hardly decipherable any more and, in many cases, are forgotten; but here and there throughout Southern Oregon live white-haired old men, who in years gone by held with firm hands the reins over those six bounding steeds and guided the rocking coach around the perilous curves and along the frowning precipices which lined the route of the overland stage line.
    Thus forever ended in Southern Oregon the
"Days of the trail and the tooting,
        And the daring pony express;
When the antlered pride of the forest
        Yielded his skirt for a dress;
When blankets were used for leggings,
        And tied with a buckskin thong;
And over the mantel the rifle
        Hung from an antler's prong."
Medford Mail Tribune, December 19, 1902, page 2


    From a chaparral patch, where in early days the aboriginal residents hunted the succulent jackrabbit or the wary quail, has been evolved the city of Medford.
"Progress of Half a Century," Medford Mail, August 11, 1905, page 1


    Major Cardwell:--"Do I see any changes in the valley since I left? A few, yes, quite a few. For instance twenty-five years ago, when I departed from Jacksonville, nobody had any idea that there would ever be any other town in the valley except Jacksonville. The site upon which Medford is built was known to we youngsters as "jackrabbit flat" on account of the number of the long-eared animals that lived among the chaparral patches. I come back now and find a flourishing city on that same flat. I see orchards growing on land which in early days we didn't think amounted to much. Even old  Jacksonville has changed, not only in age, but in appearance. Those magnificent trees on the streets of the old town were mere switches when I left; new buildings have been erected and old landmarks have been swept away. There are also vacancies in the ranks of the pioneers. Many of them whom I remember have crossed to the other side. Still there are a good many of them left--a little more aged than when I left here perhaps, but still the same in spirit; jovial, hospitable and generous."
Except, "Street Echoes," Medford Mail, November 3, 1905, page 1


    I didn't realize what I had, though, until I came back here last week and took a look over the valley. Many a place where I traveled through muddy fields and thickets of chaparral answering professional calls in those days are now covered with thrifty orchards.
Dr. E. P. Geary, "Street Echoes," Medford Mail, June 29, 1906, page 1


    So soon as [J. S. Howard's store] was enclosed and the floor laid Mr. Howard's friends, residing in the nearby settlements, decided to dedicate with an impromptu dance the first building in the embryo town of Medford, then merely surveyor's stakes set on a broad expanse of sandy bottom that gently sloped toward Bear Creek and was covered with a scattering growth of oak and pine interspersed with thickets of chaparral and manzanita.
Rogue River Fruit Grower, January 1909


    The vacant space for so many years occupied by the depot has a queer look without it. It makes the oldtimers rub their eyes and talk of the time when the townsite was only chaparral and a camping ground, with ducks swimming around where now the finest business blocks and residences are piercing the skies.
Medford Sun, December 21, 1910, page 2



    While looking about me with the untold changes and development of the old Rogue River Valley, I at once called to memory my first ride through this section in the fall of '76. Things moved pretty slowly and quietly in those pioneer, mossback days, with Jacksonville and Ashland as the only two trading points. Their supplies were furnished from [the terminus of the railroad at] Roseburg, consuming about two weeks' time by freight teams, with amusing scenes of balky horses, breakdowns and cuss words through Cow Creek Canyon.
    At that time old Rogue River Valley cultivated about one-quarter of its choice land. The balance was pastured, as stock raising was the principal industry. One wagon road then split the valley north and south, marked with stage stations and a cloud of dust from the overland stage coaches. One bridge, and it toll, spanned the Rogue at Rock Point. The courthouse, church and residences of Jacksonville and Ashland were principally wooden structures of the pioneer pattern, and the log residences and schoolhouses dotted the country districts with the old worn rail fences. No party politics in those days. Every man who had any respect for his country or his yellow dog voted the straight Democratic ticket. Wheat was 40 cents a bushel, flour 50 and 75 cents a sack at the Phoenix and Eagle Point flouring mills, then run by water; hogs, cattle and sheep were a drug on the market. Ducks, quail and jackrabbits were as numerous as the stars and about as gentle as the barnyard chick. The circuit rider minister earned his salary of spuds, sorghum, flour and an occasional crazy quilt, donated by some good Christian sister, for preaching the good old-time religion. But those were the good, old, happy, independent days when a man could kill his deer, catch his fish and dam the Rogue with salmon and fatten his hogs all without a license; also pay his 50 or 75 cents for the privilege of being put across Rogue River on Captain Bybee's ferry boat.
J. G. Martin, "Transformation of this Valley of Wonders," Medford Sun, May 12, 1911, page 5


    John Collins and his family arrived from San Diego, Cal., during the week and have located in Medford for the present. Mr. Collins is a pioneer of Rogue River Valley, as also is his brother, Thomas Collins. Fifty-three years ago they camped on the land where the Natatorium now stands, which was then covered with grass and brush. Jacksonville was the only town of importance in southern Oregon in those days.
"Local and Personal," Medford Mail Tribune, July 30, 1913, page 2



    On arriving here [in 1866, Jesse Richardson] first rented ground on the present site of Medford and followed agricultural pursuits there for two years, and then purchased 320 acres of land three miles east of Medford and later removed to another place in the same vicinity, where he resided until 1896, when he purchased a farm at the head of Sams Valley, later retiring to Medford, where he resided at the time of his death, being at 145 South Grape Street.
"Farmed on Site of Medford in 1886," Medford Sun, October 14, 1916, page 5


    Fifty years ago jackrabbits and coyotes held high carnival and sole possession where Medford now stands. At that time there were not more than two houses (farm houses) within what is now the corporate limits of the present metropolis of southern Oregon.
C. B. Watson, "Jacksonville, 50 Years Ago," Medford Mail Tribune, September 6, 1920, page 4


    "I lived in Jacksonville 37 years, and as a young lad hunted quail over the lands now occupied by Medford."
Robert A. Miller, quoted by Eunice Davis, "Gold Rush Days Related by Col. Robert Miller; Indians Are Remembered," Medford Daily News, July 8, 1927, page 1


    Judge Colvig . . . rejoices to see the city today where once he gazed on nothing but weeds and scrub oak trees.
"Grand Old Pioneer of Jackson County Enjoys Self on 83rd Birthday," Medford Daily News, September 3, 1927, page 1



    Jacksonville was still at the zenith of her glory when the spot where Medford now stands was a waste of oak and chaparral, interlaced with winding stock trails. There are several residents of Medford today who recall riding through the thickets of what are now Main Street and Central Avenue.
"Lodge Was Organized Here 1886," Medford Mail Tribune, May 19, 1929, page 4


    "I used to talk to the Indians back here in the '50s and '60s down on Bear Creek." He pointed toward the quiet stream that still wends its way through Medford.
"William Hamlin, Pioneer of Valley, Recalls Days When Redskins Troubled," Medford Mail Tribune, September 26, 1930, page B3


    The first time I went through here Medford was all manzanita and chaparral. I helped build the Southern Pacific line through here. I did all the plowing from Beall Lane to Talent.
John Edsall, in Eva Nealon, "Pioneer of Central Point Drove Oxen Across Plains and 'He's a Good Man Yet'," Medford Mail Tribune, December 5, 1930, page 9



Last revised August 31, 2014