HOME


The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised


Jackson County 1872


    A well-known, but not popular writer, as far as the will of Oregon goes, once wrote, when on the tour of the Pacific, that California ended and Oregon began where white sugar failed and a brown Kanaka article was substituted. This is, perhaps, fiction; but it is safe to say that even the Chinese wall does not divide two more distinct peoples than did the Siskiyou Mountains, until within a very few years. And, even now, after the infusion of the new life, the original Chinook or Cayuse Oregonian--a transplanted cross of Pike and Posey County--remains, as uninformed and unaffected as the Chinaman, after twenty years' contact with the Yankee.
    These people held, by donation of the government, all the best portions of the state; every head of a family holding 640 acres, as a rule. They put up log cabins, fenced in a calf pasture and a cabbage patch, turned their stock loose on the native meadows, and, living on the increase of the same, reared as idle and worthless a generation as ever the sun went down upon. The old men trapped, traded in stock, ate, smoked, and slept, were very hospitable in their way, and, no doubt, were happy. The young men wore long hair, rode spotted cayuse horses; in fact, lived mostly on horseback, and mixed largely with the Indians. True, there were many men of enterprise, education, and all that, in this country--skilled mechanics, fine farmers, good lawyers, and sound men generally, who held and still hold high places in the state; but, as a rule, the old Oregonian was and is a distinct and singular individual. This is the manner of man I found on the Willamette, twenty years ago.
    Twenty years ago, the old Oregonian, with his cattle on a hundred hills, had neither butter nor milk on his table, save that which he bought of his neighbor, the newly arrived immigrant. He is the same today--improvident and uncivilized. The first one you encounter is on the Oregon side of the Siskiyou Mountains. He stands in the door as the stage passes, with his hands in his pockets, patches on his knees, and with three or four blue-haired children clinging to his legs and staring at the great stagecoach. He wears a broad slouch hat, long hair, and looks as though he had just got out of bed, and is only half awake. But what will attract your attention at this first house in Oregon is the immense sign that stretches across the toll road. We pass under it as under a great gateway on entering an ancient city. The letters are so large and prominent that they suggest a popular text in holy writ:
    "T-O-L-E  ROAD."
    "What does that mean?" Charley Robinson, who held the lines at my elbow, again snapped the silk at his leaders, and, lifting his head to the great Rogue River Valley before us, said, "That means we are in Oregon."
    Oregon is an anomaly. With a population made up largely of such people, she has always had some man in Congress who was, in his day, a power in the land.
    Here you pass a house that stands in a little pen, mossy with age. In it a generation has been born and raised, yet it has never had a window. Get into the house, if you can for the dogs and deer skins under your feet, and there you find an order of things not much above the simple siwash. The next house you pass, perhaps, will be a model of architecture and rural ornamentation, with people polite and progressive. And so it goes. Oregon is wonderfully mixed. The best and the worst of men; the sunniest and wettest of weather, and the first and most worthless livestock in the world. Rogue River Valley, which mainly lies away from that stream to the south, on Bear River, is a staid, sweet place. Rains are less frequent here than farther on, and many accept it as a compromise between the droughts of California and the great rains of the Willamette, and are not to be allured away, although it is now the most isolated portion of the state.
Joaquin Miller, "A Ride Through Oregon," Overland Monthly, April 1872, page 303


CHAPTER XIX.
ROGUE RIVER VALLEY.
    Rogue River Valley, like the Umpqua, extends from the Cascade Range to the sea, embracing all the country drained by Rogue River and its tributaries. It has the Umpqua Mountains on the north, the Siskiyou Mountains on the south, and is the most southern division of Western Oregon. This valley, like the Umpqua, is an aggregation of smaller valleys, divided by rolling hills, and the whole encircled by elevated mountain ranges. The Rogue River is not navigable any great distance from its mouth, owing to the numerous rapids and falls with which it abounds, but for the same reason furnishes abundant water power. Ocean steamers can enter and carry freight as far up as Ellensburg. It is a stream of unsurpassed beauty, with water as blue as a clear sky, and banks overhung, in some places, with wild trees, shaggy cliffs, and in others by thickets of grape vines and blossoming shrubbery.
    About half a mile off the road to Jacksonville is a fall one hundred and fifty feet in height, down which the river plunges, between rocky cliffs, into a basin in the gorge below, and then rushes roaring over its rocky bed, for some distance, through a deep and narrow ravine--the whole forming one of the most beautiful of the many beautiful wild scenes in this altogether picturesque country.
    It is not claimed that there is as great an amount of rich alluvial soil in this section of Oregon as in the valleys north of it. It is rather more elevated, drier, and on the whole more adapted to grazing than to the growth of cereals. Still, there is enough of rich land to supply its own population, however dense, and for fruit-growing no better soil need be looked for. A sort of compromise between the dryness of California and the moisture of Northern Oregon and Washington--warmer than the latter, from its more southern latitude, yet not too warm by reason of its altitude--the climate of this valley renders it most desirable. Midway between San Francisco Bay and the Columbia River, what with its own fruitfulness, and the productions of the Willamette and Sacramento valleys on either hand, within a few hours by railway carriage--the markets of the Rogue River Valley can be freshly supplied with both temperate and semitropical luxuries.
    The grape, peach, apricot and nectarine, which are cultivated with difficulty in the Willamette Valley, thrive excellently in this more high and southern location. The creek bottoms produce Indian corn, tobacco, and vegetables equally well, and the more elevated plateaux produce wheat of excellent quality, and large quantity, where they have been cultivated; still, as before stated, this valley is commonly understood to be a stock-raising, fruit, and wool-growing country--perhaps because that kind of farming is at once easy and lucrative--and because so good a market for fruit, beef, mutton, bacon and dairy products has always existed in the mines of this valley and California.
    The placer mines of Rogue River Valley continued to yield gold in paying quantities to white men for about twelve years, since when the diggings have chiefly been abandoned to Chinamen, who are content with smaller profits. Quartz leads bearing gold, copper and silver mines are known to exist in this valley, as well as lead, iron and coal mines, but the limited capital of the inhabitants and the greater security of other means of living have caused them to remain undeveloped.
    Like every part of the Pacific Coast, this valley has its mineral springs, and like all the rest of Oregon, its trout streams, its fine forests, game, and abundance of good, soft water. No local causes for disease seem to exist here, and with care to avoid the miasma always arising from freshly broken ground, we cannot conceive of a country more naturally healthful, or in every way pleasant to live in.
    The Rogue River Valley is divided into three counties--Jackson, Josephine and Curry. Jackson County covers an area of 11,556 square miles and has a population of 4,759, about fifteen thousand acres of cultivated land, and assessable property to the amount of $1,500,000. The price of farming land is from five to ten dollars per acre.
    Jacksonville, the county seat of Jackson County, with a population of one thousand, is located at the head of a valley forty miles long by about twelve wide, near the foot of the Siskiyou Mountains, in a romantic and beautiful situation. It is a thriving business place, being the point of exchange between the mining and the agricultural population. Ashland, the second town in the county, sixteen miles southeast of Jacksonville, has a fine water power and a woolen mill erected upon it, which manufactures blankets, flannels and cassimeres. A flouring mill and two lumber mills, are also located here, besides a marble factory and machine shop--showing the manufacturing enterprise of a small community. The marble used here is taken from a quarry close by and is of a good quality. It is sparkling, white, hard and translucent looking like a conglomerate of large crystals. It is sawed by water power, the saw only penetrating about three inches per day.
    Josephine County embraces 2,500 square miles of the more mountainous middle division of the Rogue River Valley. Only about six thousand acres have been put under cultivation. Its population is disproportionately large when the amount of land cultivated is considered, which only proves that its principal wealth is presumed to consist in its mines of gold, silver and copper. Mining has been carried on with profit for about ten years and the enterprise of some companies in turning the water out of the beds of some of the streams has lately opened up rich placers of gold and given a new impetus to gold mining.
    Copper mining has not been so successful, chiefly on account of the purity of the metal, making it difficult to work. Another obstacle is want of transportation for the ore to any port or shipping point. This latter obstacle to mining operations is one that time and capital will remove. The chief mining localities are on Josephine, Althouse, Sucker and other tributary creeks flowing into the Illinois River, itself a tributary of Rogue River.
    Owing to the shifting nature of mining populations everywhere, Josephine County has less assessable property than other portions of the country. Yet it is one of the most delightful parts of Oregon, with grand mountains and quiet, fertile valleys lying between beautiful slopes, with oak groves looking like old orchards and open woods of the noble sugar pine, with abundant wild fruits and flowers, balmy airs and odors of sweet-scented violets. ''It is," a lady said to us, "a paradise of beauty, where, if one had one's friends, life would be as charming as could be desired."
    Kirbyville is the shire town of Josephine County, situated on the Illinois River, and doing the business of a flourishing country town. Several other places of minor importance are located on the different streams. Educational and religious privileges have not kept pace with other improvements in this part of the Rogue River Valley, for the same reason that renders all mining localities inattentive to such matters--the want of a permanent population. They wait for an influx of steady-going settlers with families, a great number of whom could find delightful homes in Josephine County, at government prices, or under the homestead law.
    Curry County differs from Josephine in being more heavily timbered, as the mountains nearest the coast are always found to be. In among the mountains are some small prairies, and others are found extending along the sea shore. The soil everywhere is highly productive, but owing to the great preponderance of lumbering and mineral interests, this county will not become notable for agriculture, though it might be esteemed an excellent fruit or dairy country. Its population is small, on account of its inaccessibility. The present population follow gold mining, chiefly on the ocean beach, where is an inexhaustible mine, which the winter winds and tides throw up each year for the work of the following summer. The gold which is everywhere found on the coast of Oregon, but more particularly this southern portion, conclusively proves that deposits of the precious metal exist in the Cascade or Coast mountains, or both. That which is found at the mouth of the Umpqua and Rogue rivers might have been washed from the Cascade Range, as those rivers rise there. But farther north, on the coast, where the streams all rise in the Coast Range, gold is also found, though it has not been mined, as in these localities it has. In fact, the ''color" may be "raised" in almost any stream in Oregon, and we have seen it taken out of the gravel in a well which was being dug in Portland.
    Curry County is well supplied with game and fish. Its splendid cedar forests are worth more than a gold mine to whoever will convert them into lumber. Cedar trees that have not a limb on them for a hundred feet, and from three to eight feet in diameter, are not uncommon. Port Orford, the only port of the Rogue River Valley, is in this county and also Cape Blanco, the westernmost point in Oregon. There is good harborage at Port Orford and water enough for such vessels as are used in the lumber trade. In fair weather, the ocean steamers sometimes call here. A road is built across the mountains from the port into the Umpqua Valley, so that, with some improvements, Curry County might be brought into note for its natural productions, instead of being considered too far out of the world to be habitable. Ellensburg is the county seat.
    Curry County shares, in common with all the coast country, a climate superior in some respects to the valleys. The changes in temperature are less than in the interior, being cooler in summer and warmer in winter. The sea fogs keep the vegetation forever green, and miasmatic diseases are unknown. These are certainly advantages not to be condemned. The settlers in the valleys would like to live on the coast, if it were not for the mountains between it and their fertile prairies. Yet, it is just by these mountains that the climate of each division is made what it is--partially confining the sea fogs and winds to the coast, by which one is made cool and moist, while the other is comparatively warm and dry.

Frances Fuller Victor, All Over Oregon and Washington, 1872 San Francisco, page 217


    After leaving behind Lower Klamath Lake, in a couple of days one sees rising in the blue air the singular form of Pilot Knob, an elevation of the Siskiyou Mountains which, becoming a landmark to immigrants journeying to Oregon, has attained its name. This rock is a great mass of black volcanic substance, which rises perpendicularly from the mountain-crest. The Siskiyou Range has here an elevation of twenty-five hundred feet, and the knob is about five hundred feet higher; but its singularity has led to great exaggeration, and many travelers have spoken of it as eighteen hundred feet high, and of the Siskiyou Mountains as next to Shasta in importance. This is simply ridiculous. The aspect of the pass is not very prepossessing. The volcanic origin of the mountains all through this region accounts for their singular lack of beauty. The angles are so sharp that the earth which covers their skeletons cannot adhere, and comes off in great landslides, leaving the mountainsides bare and exposed. But the trees which skirt the base of the hills are very beautiful. Every step toward Oregon from this point seems to increase the size of the forests. The trees grow thicker together, and the firs and pines are larger. There are also birches, balsams, ashes, spruces, and other trees of northern climates, and it must be noted that the number and size of the firs is continually increasing, until they predominate over the pines. There is no lack of oaks, too, through these valleys, and the wagon
trail often winds through groves that are parklike in the beauty of their natural arrangement; for there is this singularity about the oaks of this region, that they grow in groups or clumps, with just such distance between them as permits the fullest development of each individual, and yet preserves them in masses of the highest beauty. No landscape gardener has completed his education who has not studied the oaks of Northern California. The mistletoe is found here also in immense quantities, and one sees occasionally trees that have perished from its embrace. But this appears to be only when the tree from some other cause had received a shock to its vitality. Healthy trees do not suffer from the clasp of the parasite, and one observes continually oaks whose lower trunks are one mass of mistletoe, without any injury or loss of strength.
William Cullen Bryant, ed., Picturesque America, or, The Land We Live In, 1872, vol. 1, page 426

     

    Our ride today was a pleasant surprise; we had no rugged mountains to cross, and the coach was quite comfortable. Soon after leaving the Klamath we enter Oregon, and the impression given on this road is that the state is covered by one immense and gloomy forest. In places the very daylight seemed to vanish into a mild twilight, and, in the few "clearings" we passed through, the sunshine was novel and enjoyable. After noon the country began to show signs of improvement; settlers' cabins became numerous, and, after running down a narrow cañon, we come out into the beautiful valley of Rogue River. Here is said to be the finest climate in Oregon, and to wearied passengers just over the mountains the sight was like a revelation of beauty. Where we enter, the valley is no more than two miles wide, but, as we go down, it widens gradually to five, thirteen or twenty, while on every hand appear fine farms, thrifty orchards, great piles of red and yellow apples of wondrous size, barns full of wheat and fine stock, and we feel with delight that we are out of the mountains and "in the settlements." Though far retired from the road, the mountains still appear rugged and lofty, sending out a succession of lofty spurs--one every two or three miles--and between these, far back into the hills, extend most beautiful coves in long fan-like shapes. The air was mild, the roads firm and smooth, and the coach rolled along with just enough of motion to give variety--and appetite.
    Everybody and everything we saw had the unmistakable "Oregon look." We were among the "Webfeet" at last, and a comely race they are, if I may judge from the plump forms and fresh, clear complexions I saw on this part of the route. The climate had no suggestions of extra dampness, the sky was clear and the air cool and dry, with the general features of Indian summer in Ohio. Double plows were running in many of the fields, "breaking fallow for spring wheat," the natives said, and the apples, just gathered, were lying in heaps, to be stored away the last of the month, allowing that no freeze is to be apprehended before December. Though not extensive, this is one of the finest valleys in Oregon, and well settled. Land appears to be as high as in the rural districts of Indiana. All the farmers whom I questioned at the stations held theirs at fifty or sixty dollars per acre.
"The Way to Oregon," Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, December 5, 1872, page 2


Last revised April 18, 2015