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The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised


Jackson County 1853


    RESOURCES OF THE NORTH.--There is not, probably, a country on the face of the earth more fully blessed with resources for the production of affluence than the one in which we live. Northern California and Southern Oregon abound in one succession of mountains and valleys, the former producing auriferous deposits unsurpassed at this time including a vast extent of country north of the Sacramento Valley three hundred miles and west from the Sierra Nevada to the Pacific. The valleys abound in rich pastures whose adaptation to grazing and farming are second to none. To enumerate the different placer and other diggings in the above named district, which have long been worked by miners to handsome profits, or to portray the supreme agricultural resources of the numerous beautiful valleys which are now being so speedily settled, will be a task we will defer for the future.
Sacramento Daily Union,
June 15, 1853, page 2


    Many towns, Oregon City, Portland, Salem, Marysville, Scottsburg, [Port] Orford and Crescent City, some with their hundreds and others with their thousands of inhabitants, with all kinds of goods that can be found in the States, and nearly everything as cheap as at the East (because of the great competition) except for the productions here. Flour is 10 to $18 per cwt., beef 15 to 25 cts. per lb., pork 20 to 30
cts. per lb., potatoes 1.00 to 3.00 per bus., onions 3.00 to 5.00 per bus., oats 2.00 to 4.00 per bus., butter .50 to 1.00 per lb., eggs and chickens same as butter. Oxen $200 per yoke, cows $100 per head, good American horses or mares $100. Indian ponies $25 to $75. The nearer the mines the higher the prices.
    In the Umpqua Valley, where I am, while onions are worth $5.00, molasses is only 75 cts. per gal. A pound of butter is worth more than a gallon of molasses. One lb. butter will buy eleven lbs. sugar. One lb. butter will buy a dress. One day's work $2.00 to $3.00 will buy a pr. pants. You may now understand what to bring with you if you ever conclude to come to Oregon, just nothing at all only what is necessary on the way, except stock.
Calvin B. West, Yoncalla, September 6, 1853, in Reginald R. Stuart and Grace D. Stuart Calvin B. West of the Umpqua, California History Foundation, 1961, page 46


Jacksonville, Oregon, Dec. 17, '53.               
    Mr. Editor--We arrived here in the Rogue River Valley Oct. 26th, just five, instead of four, months out from Kanesville, in company with a train of 87 persons, 23 wagons, 334 head of cattle, 1700 sheep and 29 horses and mules--all right save the "ordinary wear and tear" of wagons and teams, and some wear and tear of heart, especially for going hungry now and then, and eating poor dry beef for a fortnight on the road.--We were so foolish as to join company with this great multitude at Green River, 60 miles this side of the South Pass, and to come through with them, and dearly we paid for our folly. Our teams were broken down and we were delayed three weeks and over beyond the time we might have made.--There was a great deal of suffering in the train in consequence of the delay--suffering providentially arrested by relief of flour from the valley, meeting us ten days out, near the Sierra Nevadas [i.e., the Cascade Range]. We cannot express our obligations to this people for their generosity. It is the noblest community I ever saw. Many had consumed their whole summer in a most sanguinary war of defense with the bloodiest horde of Indians on the continent; all the grain that could be destroyed by fire had been consumed, and many of the dwellings of the settlers burned down; business of all kinds was totally prostrated, and the famine of the past year threatened a continuance for a year to come; but as news reached the valley that emigrants were suffering on the road, a force of fifty rangers immediately volunteered for their defense against the Indians, and under their protection a train of mules with three tons of flour, $1,000 worth--was sent to their relief. The whole road to the Sierra Nevadas, and indeed for a hundred miles beyond, was thus effectually occupied and aid supplied as far as any necessity could be anticipated. Wherever the presence of Indians was suspected, there an efficient detachment of troops was posted and the closest watchfulness maintained; whenever property was plundered from emigrants, the most vigorous efforts were made to recover it--and when families were found destitute of bread, they were supplied at the lowest rates to those having money, and free to those having none. And twice after the first, during the emigrating season, provision trains under escort were sent out that there might be no possible failure of the abundance of their liberality. On account of the great disproportion of prices of labor and food, emigrants experience very great difficulty in getting through the first eight months of their residence here; and no one can realize the intense interest felt in their condition by the citizens of the valley. Every facility within reach of the people is afforded them to obtain food and to find employment. There is a great deal of industry in the valley, and the strangest mixture of economy and liberality I ever saw. With the evidences of friendliness, frankness and generosity a man everywhere meets, he can hardly believe the community to be composed of people from every part of the Union, a year ago all strangers to one another.--Land here is good--but not as good as that of Wisconsin generally. It is too gravelly. Much of it, especially that most affected by drowth, is quite naked. Generally it is about half covered with a short thick growth of very rich bunch grass that seems to spread some by grazing and may in places eventually form a close turf. A very little of the land on the streams has grass that may be mown--but the best of it is not what your farmers would call tolerable wild meadow--On the southern slopes of the mountains grass, much of it clover, takes the place of timber, while the northern slopes are covered with pine (mainly pitch pine), fir and yellow cedar--the latter differing a little from your white cedar, and approaching the famous redwood, palo colorado, of Oregon and California. Much of the southern slopes is grown up to a short stunted wild sage--Fremont's artemisia--a form of which covers "the plains" from Scott's Bluffs, below Laramie, to the Sierra Nevadas--fit for neither fuel nor food for man or beast. There is soil everywhere. The rock is very seldom exposed. Now and then you see a wall of sandstone or hornblende running along the mountainside, but you see too that time is fast employed whittling them to earth.
    The periodical drowth produces a necessity for irrigation on almost all soils, for the coarser products. Wheat, oats and barley--all cereal grains--do well. They mature before they suffer. Flax is indigenous on all good soils from the Bear River [a tributary of Great Salt Lake] to the Pacific. There is no three months of dog days to make corn. The summer nights are too cool for it and the drowth a little too early. The early kinds are grown but with no great success. With wheat we can beat the world--and perhaps with oats. With coarse vegetables the country does well. In fat cattle, it can't be beat. Now, at midwinter, there are hundreds of cattle, as fat as your best stall fed, on the commons--propagating, growing, fattening, with as little human care as the deer on the mountains. The animal grows through all the seasons, and at one year old is as heavy as in your country at two. An ox here is expected to weigh eight to eleven hundred, of course, and you see one yoke performing a labor that two of ours can hardly do. The wheat crop for the next harvest is yet, Dec. 17, but little of it in. They sow till March. The plowing of the season is now from a third to a half done. It commences with the rains late in Nov. and continues to the middle of Feb. or first of March. It requires four or five yoke of oxen to break with a plow cutting 14 inches. We have had now four freezing nights, all in succession. It is called remarkably cold. Men complain of the cold as they do in your country when the mercury is 20 degrees below zero. Their houses are very open--about open enough for comfortable summer houses--and they expect to keep warm in them. The commerce of the country is carried on upon pack mules, and so mild are the winters that the "packers" expect to sleep and live in the open air in all seasons, even without tents. The highest point to which the mercury rose last summer was 112 degrees--but the heat was not oppressive as it is in Wisconsin. The air is balmy from the effect of the sea, and one feels free about the chest in the highest heat of summer. In winter the temperature ranges in the neighborhood of zero to 14 degrees below--seldom, perhaps never, freezing in the daytime, and only now and then nights. Nobody thinks of such a thing as feeding cattle in the winter. You sometimes see a little stack of hay designed for a working team in time of emergency--but this is not common. It is expected that teams will go right along through the winter, plowing and keeping fat on the new growth of grass which is now green and fine. The old Spanish trail and the present inland commercial route is through this valley, from California to Oregon. Thousands of mules are employed on it. Trains are constantly passing. And this multitude, winter and summer, subsist solely on grass. Potatoes and other coarse products are secured when ripe without regard to seasons. The potatoes are not yet all dug--though they ought to be. These things are secured against frost, by putting them into houses about as close as a good log house. The mildness of the winter is a very great advantage to this country. The rains and fogs render it an unpleasant season, but far less than you in that country suppose. The rains came on this year about the middle of November. It rained more than half the time for ten or twelve days, since that, for eighteen days, we have had two storms, and enough to keep the ground very wet--that is all. This is the busy time of the year.--Last summer and fall they had rains out of their season, and many suppose they may be looked for henceforth--but I apprehend there is no good ground for such a hope. We met these rains on the road and they were called unprecedented. The wet weather is from the southwestward brought by a tropical sea wind, I take it to be a diverted western monsoon, ranging along the region of mountains forming the whole western coast country of the continent, and it comes warm like a summer shower. We have no cold rain storms.
    Hogs do but indifferently. If I were coming here again, I would bring two or three full-blood grass breed pigs. On the clover they would do as well as the bears and cattle--but those that subsist on roots and mast have a poor time of it. I should think the hogs of the valley were of Spanish stock--but mean and miserable as they are, a pig is worth an ounce of gold. With such as they are the country will soon be supplied and a better breed be called for. The breed of cattle cannot be improved. Everything of the kind becomes Durham in a year after it gets here. The Umpqua Valley, between here and the Willamette (pronounced Wil-lam-et) is said to be best for hogs. Hens may be obtained here for about $2.00 a pair. A family in our train took out a pair, with little trouble. I have seen no geese nor turkeys, and presume there are none in the valley. Surrounded by mountains as this valley is, it cannot, of course, be otherwise than well watered.
    I can only say of the Rogue River what I have heard, that it is so large as to require ferries. On either side, down valleys three or four miles wide flow little creeks--Bear, Butte, Evans, Antelope, &c--from the mountains to the river. There are many little brooks that reach the creeks, and there you see everywhere small spring runs that in a little way lose themselves in the soil--and by all of these is afforded an abundant means for irrigation. A few, very few, trout are in the creeks, and some salmon live to get up here from the sea, but so bruised and beaten about by the drift in the swift streams, that they are unfit to eat. Of game--on the wooden slopes the deer are really "too numerous to mention." Back a few miles in the mountains, the black, brown and grizzly bears are abundant. The grizzly is one of the noblest animals in the world--more powerful and more fearless than the tiger. There is a species of the American lion, and what is said to be a very fair representative of the hyena, in the mountains--though I doubt whether the latter is vouched for by any very good authority. Myriads of wild geese and sandhill cranes--but their place of resort, so far as we know anything about it, is several lakes in the interior, some of which we pass in coming over from the Humboldt, and of which I may write more fully at another time. The grizzly is an animal of incredible strength. I have seen a cub, five months old, break up a bullock's leg in the joint, stripping away the muscles from the bone with his claws. But they can neither climb a tree nor run along a steep hillside, and so they are not very dangerous. The fiercer animals have never been known to descend into the valley. Small game is scarce. Wild fruit, except the apple, is rather abundant. Of that, no form is found save the tree--a fine crab tree, but bearing only a very few small berries, half as large, perhaps, as a currant, and half as good.--The grapes of this valley are abundant and superior. The domestic apple does remarkably well. The native plum grows on a dwarf bush, perhaps 10 to 18 inches high, and has the flavor of the peach. Apple trees for setting [i.e., planting] are packed over from the Willamette and sold here for $1.00 each.
    This valley is about 75 miles long and perhaps 8 wide, beside the valleys of the creeks. The lower part of the valley, half of it, or thereabouts, is reserved for the present for the Indians. They attempted last summer to drive out the whites, and after a war of three months, during which about 40 white and 100 Indians were killed, peace was concluded by the surrender of the best half of the valley to the whites. These Indians are a wild fierce tribe, of kin to the Diggers on the Humboldt, and about the lakes this side of there, and the Snakes of Snake River.--They are degraded and cruel beyond measure. It is said that they murder for pastime. They will any of them shoot a man to get his hat. We saw the body of an emigrant that had been dragged from its grave, to be stripped, and left to the ravens. The whole country from the head of the Humboldt to this place, and indeed to the ocean, except the "desert," sixty miles, is infested by them to such an extent that no place is safe. I wrote you what we heard of the Humboldt Indians--the Diggers--of their extinction by the smallpox. We found it partially so--and no one comes over the plains without wishing it were so of all these tribes. At the western junction of the Bear River and Salt Lake roads, we heard of the war of the Utahs and Mormons, the particulars of which you probably had long ago. The opinion of the most intelligent men I saw who came that way, was, that the war was got up by the Mormons as a pretext for consolidating their military establishment and fortifying the passes to the city. Bad as the Utahs are, all who came that way agree that the Mormons are worse--that they are more adept at theft and more reckless at robbery. Much trouble is yet to be experienced with that community. The cattle trains that came by Salt Lake sustained more loss within striking distance of that city than those by the Bear River road on the whole trip.--The closest vigilance was insufficient to prevent the theft of cattle. The property of emigrants is probably no safer there than in the country of the Pawnee. I thought our road over the mountains by the Bear River was the worst possible, but I would advise those having any more than a small number of cattle, to come that way rather than run the hazards by Salt Lake. But I am digressing here. More of this anon.
    The wood of the valley is mainly pitch pine, fir, cedar and burr oak. This pine cannot be split at all, and is too heavy for convenience--heavier than water. It however makes our lumber, while a mammoth pine of the mountain summits, called the sugar pine, makes our shingles and the shakes with which frame houses are generally covered. Our rail timber is the cedar and fir. The oak is a short, tough, gnarled tree like your burr oak, used only for fuel. The poplar and poorer species of the elm flourish along the streams, and in many places everything is covered with the grape vine. The yew tree grows here and there on the mountains--and so does the laurel.--The alder grows to a tree 18 inches in diameter--but it is useless. There is a tree representing the butternut but it has no fruit save a seed like that of the maple, and one called the mansimeter [manzanita?], a more splendid tree than you ever saw; the "misseltoe bough" too, rendering the oak classic with its associations. The maple, linn [linden or basswood] and hickory are unknown here--though the hazel, a brittle thing in your country, by its singular toughness supplies the place of the latter for some purposes. The chaparral, the crookedest, ugliest and most obstinate bush you ever saw, forms the upland undergrowth.
    The best informed men put the population of the valley at three to four thousand--three to four hundred being in the village of Jacksonville--and among them our old friend, Dr. E. H. Cleveland, of Watertown. He is the only old acquaintance I have seen except Mr. Warren, of Hartland, whom I met on the plains and who called on you at your place. The Doctor is doing well--first rate--and sends his respects to all who remember him. He has actually driven out all competition and is now doing all the business of the valley in the line of his profession. The Dr. is now enjoying as much of wealth and the confidence of the people as any many in the valley. There are few--perhaps ten or twelve--families in the village. The first time I was here I saw but one woman, and she kept a bowling saloon and drunkery. Since that we have found a good society of families. The mass of the men "keep batch"--the merchants in their stores, and mechanics in their shops--even the Justice of the Peace, with several miners, cooks, eats and sleeps in "the office," a circular mosque-like building, made of "shakes," I believe without a board or pane of glass about it. The houses, except one, the Robinson House, are all made of these things, and are generally lighted by the crevices or windows of cotton cloth. The first successful schools in the valley are just started by persons of our company, are in Jacksonville to be the basis of an academy and one in the country. The first religious societies--three Methodist--are now being organized, with five clergymen, of the same denomination, all of our company, in the field. The most flourishing branches of business are those of the bowling saloon, the gambling den and the drunkery--and yet there is less of gambling and drinking in the place than you would expect to see. Merchants and mechanics are doing well. There is no cooper, gunsmith, carriage maker nor shoemaker doing business in the place--though by another year, they might all, save the latter succeed well. We have but one sawmill in the valley--though three more, at least, are commenced, and a grist mill is to be ready for the next harvest.
    We find it very difficult to become familiarized to the enormous prices in this country. Flour, this winter, ranges from 20¢ to 25¢ a pound, beef is 20¢ and 25¢, bacon, mess [bacon trimmings] 37¢, prime 45¢, potatoes 6¢, squashes &c, 4¢ a pound. Salt is 25¢ a pound, candles 75-100¢, coffee 37¢, sugar 33¢, butter $1.25, milk 100¢ a gallon. While domestic staple products, it will be seen, bear from five to ten prices, labor bears but two to four--as, per day, $2.00-$3.00; per month, $50.00-$75.00. This renders it extremely difficult for emigrants to subsist the first few months. Some of our folks say they never before found "existence so much a problem."--Some of them, men heretofore well to do in the world, have dug potatoes for every 30th bushel; some have worked for $2.00 a day, with board, and paid $4.80 a bushel for potatoes--the price when we came. I sold a good log chain for five squashes. A neighbor sold a good wagon for 100 hills of potatoes, and got the worth of the wagon, $80.00, and I sold one for 100 lbs. of flour and 750 lbs. or 12½ bushels potatoes. Oxen are worth, by the yoke, but $100 to $160 and cows from $75 to $100 each. The difficulty of obtaining food is increased 100 percent by the voracious wolfish appetites of all newcomers. People eat till they are themselves astonished, and oftener thus than till they are satisfied. I presume four-fifths of those who have been here but three months, experience great trouble in getting enough to eat. It is a hard thing to say of the country, but it is true; and tell your readers if they do not wish to realize it, to stay at home. When a man gets to raising and selling agricultural products, or becomes established in any other business the profits of which are three or four times the profits of labor, he can prosper--but not till then.--That is too true. And you can tell them that if people were not made over, or rather half unmade, by the dehumanizing processes through which they go from Kanesville here, they would never submit to the conditions of this country. They would never submit to living in such houses, with such an absence of the conveniences and comforts of eastern life, and such a destitution of intellectual and moral opportunities, if they had not already learned on the plains to submit to anything. You can tell them that too; and tell them they can never, in living here, get paid for coming over the plains. I am not homesick; I am not prejudiced; I only tell you facts. And it is in fulfillment of a pledge to many of your readers, to tell them facts, that I tell them much more than half of those, in this country of mild winters, of a fruitful soil and mines of gleaming gold, are dissatisfied and regret having come here. Of those who have come without their friends, I have heard not one express an intention to bring them here. The general expression of such is, "I am glad my family are not here;" while the mass of those who stay, stay for other reasons than because they like the country.--We are all told that by another year or so we shall prefer it to the East. I know not how that may be; but I know that a large portion of those who have been here eighteen months, the time of the settlement, intend to leave.
    Mining is being perhaps fairly paid now. Some are making fortunes and some making nothing, or less. There is room for many thousand miners in this valley. The gold, in some quantity, is exhaustless. And the farther explorations are carried in every direction from us, the more extensive the gold-bearing country is found. New diggings are discovered somewhere every day. There is gold enough--more than can be washed out. And yet mining is a very precarious business. I would advise no one to come here to mine, because he is very likely to expend years of labor without profits and very sure to get less gold than will repay him for what he undergoes in coming and living a miner's life. It is worth something to "see the elephant," and well enough, perhaps, at least for a young man, to waste two years in learning the lesson of a trip to, and a residence in this country; and it is "well enough" for them only, as young men are bound to fool away about so much time, and there is no school in which they can learn as fast, or by the discipline of which truths will be so indelibly impressed on their memories. I will write again soon.
    My respects to all--accept assurances &c.
        of Yours,                                            S. H. TAYLOR.
Watertown Chronicle, Wisconsin, March 29, 1854, page 1; transcribed in Oregon Historical Quarterly, June 1921, pages 149-159




Last revised June 21, 2016