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The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised


Mossbacks


    One month in the year is all that is required of labour, viz., for putting the wheat &c. &c. into the ground and, when it is ripe enough, reaping it. The harvest generally occurs in July and August; the rest of the year can be passed in comparative idleness. Their cattle need little or no attendance & thus their time is fully at their disposal. I cannot but view this as likely to become one of the great evils of the country, a man becoming as it were rich by comparative idelness--and it will always be an easy matter for the community to be led away.
Lt. Charles Wilkes, June 10, 1841, "Diary of Wilkes in the Northwest," Washington Historical Quarterly, January 1926, pages 56-57


    We have an agricultural country superior to any on the continent. It is worth more than all the gold mines in America. The farmer here is the most independent we have ever seen. Although he labors but little, he has the wherewith to obtain anything that he may desire. A farmer can make more money from one acre of land in Oregon, when wheat is worth only 50 cents per bushel, than he can in any of the States off the same quantity of land when wheat commands $1 per bushel. The yield per acre is not only double that of the States every year, but it is a never-failing crop. For the raising of wheat, rye, barley and oats, Oregon can challenge (we might almost say the world, but our knowledge is not sufficient to warrant the expression) to a competition the the agriculturalists of the entire continent.
"Oregon Gold and Farming," Oregon Spectator, Oregon City, November 7, 1850, page 2


For the Umpqua Gazette.
    On hearing Miss Susan Sniggs say she thought the bachelors of Oregon the best-natured, industrious and contented class of people she ever [did] see.
    Humph! I guess, Miss Susan, you don't know much about them. You haven't been here long, just come across the Plains. I thought so. By the time you have summered and wintered near them, had them for your nearest neighbors, you could find out the difference. Good-natured: You haven't seen them in the morning when they was building fire curse and swear, throw the wood helter skelter, because it was green and would not burn? You haven't seen them when a log fell and tipped over the coffee pot, kick the inoffensive coffee pot until it was more battered than a drunkard's hat? Or seen them wring the neck of a neighbor's pet chicken, because it hopped onto the table and broke a plate? Or seen them kick the dog until it became a cripple, because it stole a paltry piece of meat from the spider? Or seen them take the cat by the nape of the neck and sling her out of the window because she lapped their gravy? You haven't seen them, huh? Well, I have.
    Now what do you call industrious? Lying in bed until eleven o'clock a cold morning because it saves firewood? Or letting the weeds grow and choke the corn because it makes the back ache to weed it? Or refusing to plant a garden because it is some work to fence it? Do you call that industrious? Contented: Oh, Susan, if you had seen them after sauntering through the day, sitting at eve, hovering over a few dying embers, smoking a nasty black pipe, heaving sigh after sigh, enough to rend the heart of an oak, you would exclaim--"Contentment would ne'er dwell in a bachelor's hat."
    Now, Susan, you are young and pretty, with a heart as tender as a young chicken's; beware, never marry an Oregon bachelor; better take a widower with nine children. How would you like, after being married a month or so, if your bread was a little heavy, have your husband ask you, why you do not make as good bread as he used to, or have him
tell you your pots and kettles were not in good order. Or, after doing a hard day's work, you say you are tired, he says he would like to know what has tired you, for he used to do the work in the house and out of doors too. You would not like it, would you. Then be careful. For after they have had their liberty, or you may say run wild for a year or two, they are no more fit to become the partner of a loving and gentle woman than the Oregon panther.
TABITHA.
Umpqua Gazette, Scottsburg, May 19, 1855, page 3


OREGON INVITES IMMIGRANTS.
    Oregon wants population. An immigration of five thousand farmers with their families would be gladly received in Oregon every year for many years, and homes could be found them in this valley. At this time farms and lands can be purchased as low as at any time for ten years past. Not a thirtieth part of the fine lands of the Willamette Valley are in a state of cultivation. They are mostly claimed, but these claims can be purchased on very favorable terms--at from $4 to $10 an acre, depending upon location, improvements and adaptability of the land for farming purposes. Not long since we heard a man offer a section of land about twenty-five miles from this city for the cost of the fence that surrounded it.
    These facts may be easily explained to our eastern readers (and for whose benefit we indite this article). When the great immigrations of 1851-'52-'53 came into this valley they found it in virgin beauty. The valley, clothed with its rich native grasses, was a paradise for stock. The immigrants made their claims [and] some improvements, cultivated a few acres of land, but the raising of stock was their chief agricultural business. The discoveries of gold were made in California--many of the ardent left their farms to seek it--they returned with gold--gold came in from California for stock and produce, for which almost fabulous prices were paid. Labor was at [an] exorbitant price--money was abundant. Every man had gold who made the proper effort to obtain it. This state of things begat a system of carelessness, if not extravagance, in matters of home economy, which was sure to tell on the prosperity of the country in time. The Indian war then broke out, and on a single day the savages struck a blow upon our settlements in Southern Oregon Eastern Oregon and in Washington Territory, and even in all this valley there was a sense of danger from the rifle, knife and torch of the savages, who were all around and among us. Government troops and means were entirely inadequate to meet this state of things. Excited by the outrages of the savages and their known practice of continuing their barbarities until met and punished, the men of this valley seized their arms at the call of the authorities, left their farms and families to undergo the risk and toils of hunting and fighting these savages in their wilderness fastnesses. The government, entirely without means to purchase the necessary horses, forage, provisions and other necessary material, procured them on scrip, which immediately depreciated at a ruinous rate. The people of this territory, under these circumstances, parted with stock, provisions [and] goods cheerfully to meet the pressing wants of the troops and the demands of the authorities. This stock, provisions and goods were the means of the people of the territory and on which they had based their calculations to do business, to live and prosper in their different employments. Oregonians know the further history of this matter and which, whenever adverted to at Washington, should crimson the cheeks of our public men. Know then, ye who sit in high seats of power, ye have robbed the people here of the means to build up and make prosperous this distant portion of the republic, for which you claim to have a high regard. So far as in you lay, you have paralyzed and crushed the business and the hopes of this country. Twice six millions would not place this country in the condition it would have been had the government done its honest duty to our people.
    The Indian war closed, the country was comparatively poor. The agricultural resources of California were in a rapid condition of development. Many young men left for her inviting gold fields. Labor, and that not reliable, could only be had here at high prices. The result was [that] the attention of farmers was devoted to the raising of stock, which required little labor, and as the only branch of agriculture which would pay well. The wild herbage of this valley is rich in nutrition--it will fatten cattle so that they will compare with the best stall-fed beef of the States--but the wild herbage has become insufficient to feed the immense herds of this valley. The cultivated grasses would add ten times to its capability of sustaining stock--but to fence the pasture grounds, to plow them and to put in the grass seed in a manner to make it grow successfully is too much labor for a class of our farmers, and some have gone, and many will go when they can sell their farms, with their stock and families, to enjoy the illimitable range east of the Cascade Range in Oregon and Washington Territory.
    There is, too, an unsteady and unstable disposition, the result of circumstances by which we are surrounded, which prevents the exercise of that healthy and continued industry which makes the best citizens, pleasant homes, happy families, good schools and the getting up and sustaining [of] other institutions which are for the highest well being of society. If a report is sent into circulation that gold had been found on Goose Creek, it soon increases into particulars of astounding discoveries, the excitable become excited, ponies, pack saddles, flour, bacon, tin kettles and tin pans are in requisition, and the gold hunters are soon seen wending their way, day after day, to the wonderful banks of Goose Creek. Arrived there, they find that other geese have been there before them. They manage to dispose of their outfit, return no wiser than when they left, and are ready to listen to reports of silver mines at the headwaters of the Santiam, gold in the Blue Mountains, or gold quartz on Klamath Lake, and to go again as soon as they can make a raise. Was it ever known that such men ever did much in improving a country, or more than one case in a thousand in benefiting themselves?
    It will be constantly borne in mind, however, that there are farmers in this valley who have made money under all the circumstances of the times. They formed the purpose when they came here to make themselves homes and by a steady course of industry to secure a competence, and they have done the first and are in a fair way of accomplishing the last. These farmers will not tell you that "hogs eat their own heads off" when bacon is worth sixteen cents a pound, that "it won't pay to market eggs when they are only worth thirty cents a dozen," that "chickens can't be raised for forty cents each," that "it won't pay to milk cows in winter when butter is only worth seventy-five cents a pound" and that "wheat won't pay to raise at a dollar." The farmers we speak of don't talk in this way. They raise a variety of crops. They make a nice little sum from their poultry and dairy. Their barns are well supplied with food for animals, and they have stores of food for themselves. It rarely happens that they do not have something to sell that pays well, and they "go on their way rejoicing."
    The remarks we have now made will show why farmers have not uniformly succeeded here, and we shall present some facts in addition to those already given why lands and farms can be bought in this valley sufficient to furnish farms for a large increase to our farming population. The early settlers, who were heads of families, received donations of 640 acres of land. Subsequently the donations were reduced to 320 acres. Scarcely one case in a thousand can be found where a settler has improved all the lands donated to him. Settlers held onto the lands, expecting that they would rise in value and that they would make money by the sale of them. They find that the lands are not worth as much as they were years ago, that by refusing to sell they have kept out population, prevented improvements, made themselves poor, and with many of them now selling is not now a matter of choice but of necessity. We repeat that lands and farms can now be purchased in the Willamette Valley at fair prices.
    The Willamette Valley has a very diversified surface. In some portions there are extensive prairies, in others small prairies and groves of timber, and in others hills and small valleys--the hill rising, in some places, in a distance of a mile and a half to a height of 500 feet, with a fine soil to the very top. As a general fact, the soil of the Willamette Valley is not equal in fertility to that of the best prairies of the western states, but is a fair soil, and there is a great certainty in obtaining crops when they are well cultivated. Rarely is the wheat crop injured by winter, and never to any great extent. Other small grains do equally well. The northern varieties of corn have been known to yield fair crops. The vegetables common to these latitudes succeed well here. As a fruit country, we know of none to compare with it. We have good peaches--perhaps not the best, but our apples, pears, plums [and] cherries cannot be excelled. In bearing fruit, the trees have a wonderful precocity. The second year after transplanting we have known little apple trees so much loaded with fruit that they had to be supported by stakes on every side. In the garden attached to this office there is an apple tree which produced in the third year after being planted out eight bushels and seven pounds of apples.
    The climate is very favorable to the raising of stock. In early times the running stock was never fed. No prudent farmer will neglect to make provision for feeding them when it shall be necessary. Sheep do wonderfully well in this country. We learn that they are not subject to any disease. A farmer living some few miles west of this city told us a few days since that he had wintered sixty-five sheep the last winter at a cost of less than five dollars.
    We spent some little time the last winter with farmers in this state. They were originally from Ohio, New York, Indiana, Missouri and Illinois. They all professed to be satisfied with the country and had no desire to leave it for any they had seen. They liked its soil and climate and felt themselves at home. They desired to see more immigrants coming in and the country improving more rapidly. We advise no man to break up his thriving, comfortable, happy home in the East to come here. But there are men and families there, eking out an uncomfortable existence, who, living here, and practicing the same industry that they do there, could not fail of succeeding in gratifying their reasonable hopes. To all such we say--come. You will meet a people glad to welcome you.
    Oregon, for causes we have enumerated, has been under a cloud. We think we see signs of its passing away. There is an increasing energy and ambition applied to agriculture. It will tell on the prosperity of the county in a single year. Supplying all our demands for food, with much to spare, it will stop money from going out of this state and cause money to come in. Industry and Economy should be our motto. It will carry us through this great money crisis. Nature has destined this Willamette Valley to be filled with population. From its physical condition--a valley running for hundreds of miles parallel and at a little distance from the ocean--embracing all the country in Oregon that can sustain a dense population--with abundance of water, rich in timber and minerals, healthy to a proverb, and with a climate for much of the year unsurpassed in loveliness--we think we do not claim too much when we say that before many years will elapse it will be the acknowledged gem of the Pacific coast.
Weekly Oregonian, Portland, May 12, 1860, page 1


    Beef cattle were abundant, for the Oregonians had for some time turned their attention to the raising of cattle. The pasturage was then fine and extensive, and it was considered the most masterly process of making money without practicing economy or industry.
"Southern Oregon," 
Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, May 4, 1867, page 2


    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 that 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. [pages 303-304]
*  *  *
    We are now in the matchless and magnificent Willamette Valley, fifty miles wide, one hundred and fifty long, watered and timbered like a park, and capable of being turned into one unbroken field of grain. The cold, clear river, with its fringe of balsam and fir, winds directly through its length; while, on either hand, far back in the clouds, loom mountains, black in their forests of eternal green. Here, if a man sows, he shall surely reap, while many even reap who do not sow at all, for a succession of volunteer crops is no new thing. Here the seasons never fail. That reliable individual, known as the oldest inhabitant--who, I believe, makes his home in Oregon--fails to remember a time, in the last half century, when this prolific valley failed the husbandman. Here, on the river, at the head of navigation, is Eugene City--a dear, delightful town among the oaks, but slow and badly "hidebound." It needs a good shaking up, wants someone who has the courage, and is enough its friend, to tell it of its sins. Here are six great church buildings--never half filled--and hardly two decent school houses. Here is a great army of boys growing up, proficient chiefly in the mysteries of "kissing bees" and "country dances." No trades, no professions, no education to speak of, nothing but helpless dependence on the "old man." This is a representative interior town. After awhile, the keen, cultivated Yankee will come along and push these young men off the track, out of their homes, back into the mountains, and they will murmur some, and wonder how it is, but should not complain. [pages 305-306]
Joaquin Miller, "A Ride Through Oregon," Overland Monthly, April 1872


MOSSBACKISM.
    The following is from the Ashland Tidings:
    Probably no country on the face of the globe is more favorable to the development of the genuine mossback than is our fair share of Oregon. Throughout the Willamette Valley you find the species in its perfection--hard, tough moss on the back, living in moss-covered cabins, with cobwebs in the loft and cobwebs in the skull--utterly unable to comprehend how anything can change from the way it has always been in Oregon, or how any change can be of advantage.
    "The country has too many people now, and there ain't nothing for 'em to do, and they can't make a livin', and you can't sell nothin', and you couldn't raise it if you could sell it, and it don't pay nohow, and land ain't worth what it was, and Oregon ain't no good nohow." And the only comfort the creature has is in listening to the croaking of his own dismal voice and occasionally frightening a stranger away with an ominous sound.
    There are some pretty fair specimens of the croaking mossback in southern Oregon, and his croak is occasionally heard on the streets. He is the bane of enterprise and progress and the most provoking part of the heavy inertia that must be moved by the few people of genuine enterprise and life in every community. It is always a source of gratulation when he can be induced to take himself and his moss and croaks off to afflict some other place, and our own community has experienced such welcome relief in one or two instances recently. The vacancy left is always very small and easily filled with more valuable material.
    Somebody should invent some method of inducing mossback emigration from Oregon--it would be worth millions to the state. But probably the invention is not so badly needed after all, for the mossback will soon be crowded out anyhow. He has been pretty nearly exterminated in many portions of California, and the rush and swirl of enterprise is coming in over the borders of our state, too. This will soon kill the mossback. He can't endure activity.
Daily Morning Astorian, March 27, 1887, page 4


    There is in this portion of Oregon a disposition among the people, more especially the farmers, to adhere to old-fashioned methods and customs. Anything "newfangled" meets their utmost contempt. The farmers in many cases will not even enclose their lands with decent-looking fences, the old-time "stake and rider" fences prevailing. Then again, they persist in wheat-growing, taking their chances on being able to get rid of it all at anything like a fair price, when it has been thoroughly proven to them that they have one of the best countries in the land for growing apples, pears and prunes. These three fruits reach perfection here. It is true that several farmers in the Rogue River Valley are now engaged in fruit-growing, doubling their profits and relieving themselves from all worry and care, but in nine cases out of ten these very farmers are Eastern men who have only recently located in this section of the country. It did not take them long to find out where the immense resources of the country lie, and they quickly took advantage of their discovery. Of course the majority of the Oregonians, with their antiquated ways, laughed at first at these Easterners, and many of the more obstinate ones continue to do so yet. But it will be of short duration.
"Southern Oregon," San Francisco Bulletin, August 4, 1887, page 4


    The Medford Transcript says:
    "The Grants Pass Courier man gives the personified inertia of that town a regular shaking up nowadays. He takes the fossils by the bootstraps and just lifts them where they can see a little of the enterprise of the outside world."
    If the will was equivalent to the deed, our esteemed cotemporary would be nearly right, but unfortunately our mossbacks are so completely fossilized that it requires more than newspaper articles to stir them up. A few hundred pounds of dynamite might give them the necessary elevation, but even then they would require new eyes to see beyond their own noses. Our hope is in the enterprising men of the town. They may, by their example and precept, do what the newspaper aims at. If we can unite progressive men and keep them awake, all will be well in time.
Rogue River Courier, Grants Pass, August 26, 1887, page 2


THE MOSSBACK.
Some Original Remarks on His Characteristics and Tastes.

Oregonian.
    A mossback, my son, is the sleeping partner in our business relations with the Pacific Northwest. He is not indigenous to this corner of the firmament, but on his arrival he so thoroughly set his stakes down, and adopted the state with so much determination, that for all practical purposes he is a native.
    Yes, he is peculiar to Oregon, and would be anywhere, outside of a graveyard. But he is not peculiar to Oregonians. All mossbacks are Oregonians, but all Oregonians are not mossbacks.
    Webster says: "Moss is an acrogenous cryptogamous plant of cellular structure, with leaves and a distinct root."
    In our mossback the root is not distinct. It is embedded in his spinal column, but he has all the other symptoms.
    The word mossback as a term of reproach has as much earnestness of application as a porous plaster.
    When a man becomes a mossback he is of no use except to count one in the census. He still breathes, but his functions have lost all hope, all ambition and all nerve. They merely go about with the owner, and have feeling enough left to dread the day that will consign them to the grave with him alone to perform upon.
    In waiting for things to turn up, the mossback displays as much interest as a seven-year-old note. Yet if a thing turns down when he expects it to turn up he don't seem to care. It is his way. I once saw a mossback stand on a street corner, wait for a First Street car to turn up Stark Street, and when it didn't leave the track to do so, he showed no more concern than a one-cent stamp on a three-ounce letter.
    A mossback takes everything easy, including the market price, malaria, election returns, chills, cod liver oil and God's name in vain.
    He believes in patent medicines and the ten commandments. He likes to talk politics, and when he does he is generally down on corporations and the head of a nail keg.
    He is very reminiscent, and will go back eight miles for a lost linchpin when it is only a half mile to the next blacksmith shop.
    He never leads anything, unless it be that portion of this life not yet called in. He joins the procession at the tail end, long after the band has turned the bend in the road, and loses the step.
    He takes no interest in the human race, but hangs around the judge's stand and waits to see the others come in. He never bets because he can't afford to lose, and don't know enough to win.
    He has been introduced on several occasions, but never got on speaking terms with enterprise.
    When an opportunity comes along he goes into the house, shuts the door and looks out of the back window.
    When the mail came by stage he asked one of his neighbors every day to inquire for him; now that it comes by rail, he makes the request only once a week. He don't believe in railroads.
    He buys improved farm machinery, because he can get it on long credit. He leaves it out in the elements because he hasn't paid for it.
    He remembers that a rich man can no more enter the kingdom of heaven than a camel can vault through the eye of a needle. Therefore, he remains poor and thin, and will not hump himself, because that's what ailed the camel.
    The average mossback owns more ground than the whole group of Pilgrim Fathers landed upon. Yet he cultivates only half of it and summer fallows the balance for six years at a stretch and a dead loss.
    He often buys Iowa butter at the store, but makes his wife "exhibit" two rolls of her own at the county fair, while he drinks "soda" water and watches three large squashes of which Mr. Hubbard was the original author. He thinks there's money in pork, but continues to pay 14 cents a pound for bacon done up in a yellow ochre shroud. He believes in economy, and it makes him almost mad to realize that hens lay most when eggs are cheap. He won't waste a for sure egg under a hen, and uses an imitation decoy under protest. He forgets that occasionally a hen has chic, and does not like to assume a sitting posture without something to base her expectations upon.
    He never seeks to advance the interests of his state. He thinks the rates are too high already. But if he has any money to loan, he takes a large interest in anything worthy of note.
    He is slow to move. A mortgage on his movable goods and chattels is as safe as the Bull Run water bill.*
    He hates anything like a sudden responsibility, and knows no more what to do in an emergency than a woman does in the presence of an ambitious mouse.
    He never comes to the front. When he leaves the house he always goes out by the back door.
    He is not in the least conventional. He regulates his morals by a cheap watch on his daily behavior. His personal conduct is as little measured by the rules of society as the capacity of his stomach is by his personal tapeworm. His tastes are very simple. They are confined to bacon and dodgers and the last dose of quinine he took.
    Years ago he had some influence in his neighborhood, but now it is on the wane, and so scattered that a fine-tooth hay rake could not make it felt.
    At one time he had considerable curiosity, but he exercised it so much day and night that it died from overwork and not enough feed. Occasionally he thinks, but does not express himself; slow freight is fast enough for him.
    The mossback stays around until he accidentally meets death, or until some ailment that no one else will have anything to do with gets interested and absorbed in him. Then he goes off and we hear nothing more about him until the seed comes up and the mossy marbles rest on the lips that we have pressed in their bloom, and the names we loved to hear have been carved for many a year on the tomb.
*An unfortunate comparison, under the circumstances

Daily Morning Astorian, February 22, 1889, page 2


MOSSBACKS.
    A mossback takes everything easy, including the market price, malaria, election returns, chills, cod liver oil and God's name in vain.
    He believes in patent medicines and the ten commandments. He likes to talk politics, and when he does he is generally down on corporations and the head of a nail keg.
    He is very reminiscent and will go back eight miles to look for a linchpin, when it is only half a mile to the blacksmith shop.
    He never leads anything unless it is that position of his life not yet called in. He joins the procession at the tail and long after the band has turned the bend in the road, and he loses the step.
    He takes no interest in the human race, but hangs around the judge's stand and waits to see the others come in. He never bets because he can't afford to lose, and don't know enough to win.
    He has been introduced on several occasions, but never got on speaking terms with enterprise.
    When an opportunity comes along he goes in the house, shuts the door and looks out the back window.
    When the mail came by stage, he asked one of his neighbors every day to inquire for him; now that it comes by rail, he makes the request only once a week. He don't believe in railroads.
    He buys improved farm machinery because he can get it on credit. He leaves it out in the elements because he hasn't paid for it.
    He remembers that a rich man can no more enter the kingdom of heaven than a camel can vault through the eye of a needle. Therefore he remains poor and thin and will not hump himself, because that's what ailed the camel.
    The average mossback owns more ground than the whole group of Pilgrim Fathers landed upon. Yet he cultivates only half of it and summer fallows the balance for six years at a stretch and at a dead loss.
    He thinks there's money in hogs, but continues to pay 10 cents a pound for bacon done up in a yellow ochre shroud. He believes in economy, and it makes him almost mad to realize that hens lay most when eggs are cheap.
    The mossback stays around until he accidentally meets death or until some ailment that no one else will have anything to do with gets interested and absorbed in him. Then he goes off and we hear no more about him.
Democratic Times, Jacksonville, June 27, 1890, page 4


    After carefully examining the various mining properties there, I have come to the conclusion that mining is only in its infancy in that section of the state. In formation and climate it is an ideal mining country, and the cheapness of labor and provisions and the railroad facilities make it possible to operate mines with a comparatively small outlay of capital. But it has been held back, and still is to a great extent, by reason of a hostile feeling on the part of the oldtimers--properly called "mossbacks"--against quartz mining. There was no quartz mining carried on in early days, and they do not believe in it. Then, too, there has been a great deal of mineral land fraudulently taken up under the timber and stone act, and they do not want it exposed. The country from Roseburg to Ashland was not originally settled by mining men but by "camp followers," who, delighted with the climate, soil and the possibility of making a good living with little labor, squatted in the valleys and raised cattle and fruit sufficient for their own use, and were satisfied.
J. M. Hagerty, "Rich Gold Fields,"
Democratic Times, Jacksonville, July 14, 1893, page 3


    A great deal has been said concerning the game law in Oregon; that is, when deer, elk, quails, pheasants, grouse, ducks, etc. can be killed, and when trout and salmon can be caught. An exchange publishes the following "take-off" on the law, and suggests that the law be promptly be enforced: "Book agents may be killed from August 1 to October 1; scandal-mongers from December 1 to January 1 exclusively; umbrella borrowers from February 1 to May 1. Open season all the year on insurance agents, picture peddlers and mossbacks."

"Here and There," Democratic Times, Jacksonville, August 4, 1893, page 3


THE UNHAPPY MOSSBACKS.
    The Oregonian prints today a pastoral epistle from Millard O. Lownsdale, Apostle to the Mossbacks, giving ghostly counsel to his woebegone flock. The counsel is excellent. It ought to stir the souls of these children of wrath into repentance for their many sins and set the ax to work in every old orchard from Roseburg to Portland. But we fear it will not. Jordan is a hard road to travel. Broad is the way that leads to codlin moths, and many there be that find it. Once a mossback, always a mossback is a maxim which experience compels one to accept, however sorrowfully. It is easier to keep ninety and nine sensible orchardists in the path of righteousness than to retrieve one case-hardened mossback from his wicked ways. As a rule argument is wasted upon him. It is not enough for him to be "hair hung and breeze shaken over hell," as good old Lorenzo Dow used to put it. He must actually be dropped down into the brimstone.
    It is remembered that when Mr. Stewart first set out his now-famous orchard near Medford he was abhorred by his neighbors as a public enemy. They had been raising apples for many years, and they knew all about it. They knew, for one thing, that no such apples could ever be raised in Southern Oregon as they used to pick in Daddy's old orchard back in Missouri. After setting their trees out these devout pioneers had, with a beautiful and childlike faith, left the Lord to take care of them. The results rather tended to show that the Lord had not made a specialty of horticulture. And now here came this self-confident and intrusive Scotchman with a lot of newfangled and foolish ideas. They could have forgiven him for being foolish. What could not be forgiven was the sad fact that his ideas would compel people to go to work. They were an impious assault upon the sacred belief that in Oregon work was a sin.
    One fancies that here, perhaps, lies the secret of the reluctance of the mossback to accept the plain truth. So long as he can shun it or argue it away he can continue in his old, shiftless, lazy courses with a good conscience. Hence he conjures up reasons to show that it is wrong to cut back the horrible old orchards. Pruning trees is a good deal like work, while to let them alone is no work at all. With these two alternatives clearly before him, which would you naturally expect a mossback to choose? He began life with the fundamental belief that work is wicked, and the government encouraged his faith by giving him for nothing more land than any man could cultivate. A premium was thus set upon thriftlessness and selfish exclusiveness, two characteristics which have persisted down to the present time and seem likely to survive for a goodly season yet to come.
    While we admire, therefore, Mr. Lownsdale's enthusiastic missionary work among the mossbacks, and laud and magnify his energetic spirit, we cannot conscientiously say that we have much hope of his success. The most effectual remedy for the mossback is time, which ultimately seizes him with a grasp he cannot shirk, and lays him away where he will cease forever to impede the progress of the world. In our candid opinion, when the mossback was shipped to this world a mistake was made by the clerk of the universe. He was created for some other sphere, where work is not necessary. Here he finds himself entirely out of place, and the striving of his neighbor is a continual grief to him. We do not, of course, recommend to the mossback that he should take it into his own hands to remedy the mistake that was made in sending him to the earth to live, but if it should be a chance occur to him to do so there are several very effectual and not unpleasant devices for the purpose which one could gladly suggest to help him avoid failure.
Sunday Oregonian, Portland, March 22, 1908, page 30


    . . . they say that in the olden times the settlers go up early, at dawn, to have a long day to rest.
Walter V. Woehlke, "Transplanting the Garden of Eden," Sunset magazine, June 1911, page 590


    The Rogue River Valley does not need irrigation because it rains. Therefore it does not need a lumber mill because most of the stoves burn coal; it does not need new railways; the Southern Pacific has been on the job for forty years; it does not need a beet sugar factory because sugar can be shipped in.

"The Smudging Pot," Medford Sun, June 17, 1915, page 4



THE KNELL OF THE MOSSBACK.
By Leonard Hinton
    I might have headed this "Attention, Mossbacks," but had I done so, I should never have reached my audience. For the mossback knows not that name. To himself he is a conservative, though the only conservation he believes in is the conservation of the dollar already in the bank, and the conservation of ideas and traditions already in the discard. If he is a thoroughbred mossback he does not believe in banks, but keeps the aforesaid dollar in a fruit jar in the cellar, or under a loose brick in the fireplace.
    Such as he is, and was, we hasten to toll his knell.
    Perhaps there are some who will censure us, albeit unwillingly, for being a trifle premature. The mossback, they will tell us, is not yet gone from our midst. Lo, he is still with us, and doing business after the manner of his kinsman, the busy flea, crawling upon the back of enterprise, stinging with the sharp sting of envy and malice the flesh of enthusiasm, and droning pessimistic lies in the ear of the booster. Let us reply that we know he is still here, but we are conscious of the fact that he is in a decline, and that in the very near future we shall be so busy with our booster's column that we shall have not space for a recital or obituary for the gentleman in question. So we are taking time by the forelock.
    Behold the works of the mossback. Once, a very far away once, it is true, he was young, with hopes and aspirations and possibilities. But when he looked upon himself he found much to censure, for the mossbacks of his generation pointed out his heresies. For was he not young, when youth was a crime, and high treason to property and tradition all the works thereof? So the mossback of our story stifled all thoughts of youth, and with them all hopes and aspirations and all originality, and sought to emulate the ponderosity and the skepticism of those about him, and he became as one of the mossbacks.
    Now there came a new business to the town, and new people, and the mossback frowned thereon, for it was a new business, and the like of it had never been in the town in the memory of the oldest mossback. And the business flourished for a time, for there was youth and high hope behind it, but in the end it dwindled and perished, for the mind of the town was against it. And many businesses came and went, and many people, but always they took with them the story of the mossback, and the town got unto itself a black eye.
    Now there came a stranger into the town, and found waters of great virtue, and drank of them, and was made whole of his sickness. And he cried the matter from the housetops, for he was exceeding glad. Indeed, there were those of the town who held with him, and proposed to give the healing waters to all mankind, and for a time their way flourished, for there was truth and enthusiasm with them. But there came a day when the matter languished, for the mossbacks met in the alleys and the byways, and said among themselves:
    "What is this new thing that is going on among us, and why is it tolerated? It is not the work of youth, and the booster."
    And they resolved to have none of it, and they sniffed when the stranger praised the waters, and raised eyebrows thereat, and some there were who told lies. So that there were many who began to doubt, and there were many tales abroad.
    But now there are coming together in the town the men of vision, and the young men of the city, and those who have sought to make known the worth of the waters, proclaiming the crime of the mossback, saying:
    "Behold, he giveth not of his time, or of his moneys, or of his goodwill, to the upbuilding of the city, but sendeth his shekels to the mail order house, and dwelleth behind shutters lest he partake of the climate, and setteth his mind against progress."
    So they are crying in the streets of the city, and in a few days, or weeks, or months, they will rise and fall upon the mossback, and his yammerings will be heard no more in the land. But when that happens we shall be too busy building the future to notice.
Ashland Tidings, March 23, 1916, page 2




Last revised May 22, 2017