The Phipps-Howard War

In a 1913 interview
, James Sullivan Howard reminisced about "starting" Medford. This didn't set too well with D. Edward Phipps, who had the distinct impression that his father, Iradell Judson Phipps had something to do with Medford's beginnings. After all, it was I. J. Phipps' land. (And C. W. Broback's.)

An exchange of letters ensued:

"It's Never Too Late to Begin"
Declares Founder of Medford
     "It is never too late to begin," quoted J. S. Howard, the "father of Medford," while in a reminiscent mood today. "My own experience teaches me this, for it was just 30 years ago, when at 51 years of age, I burned out at Jacksonville, and moved to Medford--it wasn't Medford then--and began life over again without a penny. I am not exactly rich now, but I have a place to sleep and three square meals a day laid up for the remainder of my life.
     "Yes," continued Mr. Howard, "it was just 30 years ago that I erected the first building in Medford and started the town. How Jacksonville laughed at me, and called the place 'Mudville,' 'Rabbitville,' and 'Chaparral.' But he laughs best who laughs last.
     "Well I remember that morning 30 years ago when fire destroyed my store at Jacksonville. The ladies of the town wanted to have a benefit for me, saying I was an 'old' man. Well I was, I guess, as I was 51. But I refused their offers and started Medford.
     "The first frame building in Medford still stands on Front Street. I hauled the lumber in and erected a store. First I had to grub out the chaparral and stumps, but I figured on building a town here. The road from Jacksonville ran north nearly two miles before crossing the valley and then up Bear Creek. Soon after I got my store running I started to get a direct road to Jacksonville. 'You'll never put a road through that sticky,' they told me, but I did.
     "When the railroad came along I got in right with the officials. I had them donate land for a church, a park, and then had C. C. Beekman donate the site for the Washington School [current site of the Jackson County Courthouse]. In the meantime other people were busy and soon we had quite a town. I secured the express agency and the post office. [Howard was the second Wells Fargo agent for Medford; A. L. Johnson was the first.] For 10 years I never missed a train and they came through at night.
     "Yes, I could tell you lots regarding Medford and its history. The town was started by a broken-down old man without a penny and aged 51. It's never too late to begin."
Medford Mail Tribune, May 9, 1913, page 1

Early History of Medford
     I notice that J. S. Howard made a statement in the Mail Tribune to the effect that he was the founder of Medford thirty years ago.
     He says "I burned out at Jacksonville and moved to Medford--it wasn't Medford then."
     I would like to ask what it was then if it wasn't Medford; if it hadn't been platted and the owners were able to sell him a lot on coming here?
     He says, "When the railroad came along I got in right with the officials."
     This would lead one to believe Medford was some town before the railroad came through. I suppose his getting in right with the railroad officials was satisfactory as he was their land agent, selling and surveying land, a large portion of which my father, [Iradell Judson] Phipps, had donated to the Oregon-California Railroad that Medford might be built. As to the founding of Medford the public will have to look to Mr. Broback and I. J. Phipps as the founders of our city, for without their consent J. S. Howard would not have been able to [have] obtained a lot here.
     Mr. Howard did good work in the early days of Medford, as did D. H. Miller, Chas. Strang, Wm. Angle, Isaac Woolf and numerous others that have passed over the divide. Mr. Broback and I. J. Phipps transacted the business with the railroad officials necessary to the platting of the town. Mr. Beekman took but little part in forming the new town.
     The writer was present at several of these conferences with the railroad officials, especially the naming of Medford.
     After a few years Mr. Broback moved to [Ukiah,] California. I. J. Phipps still lives here. During his younger days he was very active in the public affairs, giving liberally of his time and money.
     The oldest house in Medford is east of the high school [site of the Commons] in the same block. It was built and formerly owned by I. J. Phipps. J. S. Howard, D. H. Miller and Isaac Wolf built in the order as I have named them.
      Anyone living here now who was living here at the beginning of Medford, cannot help considering it a joke, when J. S. Howard poses as the founder of our fair city.
     This I am certain of: There would not have been any Medford had not Mr. Broback and Father given the railroad the inducements they did. Central Point might have had the benefits if the land owners had given the railroad company the inducements they gave here.
Medford Mail Tribune, May 13, 1913, page 3

Father of Medford Defends His Title
To the Editor:
     Because I have made statements from time to time to enquiries from your reporter regarding the early history of Medford and the part which I took in developing the town, Mr. D. E. Phipps in a spirit of petty jealousy, published in your issue of yesterday a communication denying the truth of some incidents which from time to time I have given to your valuable paper; and if it was not of verifying the statements made from time to time by your paper, I would pass by his communication with the contempt which it deserves. His whole statement is a tissue of falsehoods. The fact is that I. J. Phipps never donated any thing to the Oregon-California Railroad or any other enterprise as far as I know--he wasn't built on the donation plan, no, never.
Facts in the Case.
     The facts of the case are these: Mr. I. J. Phipps sold and deeded to Judge P. P. Prim in trust for the Oregon & Transcontinental Company the portion of his land embraced in the survey of the original townsite of Medford, reserving about four acres where his dwelling house was from said deed, and survey and was [sic] outside of Medford townsite. So Mr. I. J. Phipps was not even a resident of the town until some two years after the town was surveyed when the town was incorporated, and then corporate boundaries were made to include all of the Phipps property west of  the east side of Bear Creek.
     The consideration which the Oregon & Transcontinental was to give Mr. Phipps was that they were to establish a depot and railroad station on the land and to lay out the same into lots, blocks, streets and alleys to dedicate the same and deed Mr. Phipps every other block, in other words they took a piece of desert land worth $10.00 per acre, platted it, gave Mr. Phipps half the block which brought him one thousand dollars per acre, so if you call that a donation I should like to donate all my property tomorrow on the same terms.
Not a House Here.
     When I came to Medford in 1883 there was not a house or a load of lumber anywhere in Medford townsite. I had my store building on Front Street up and enclosed before any other building was started. [It's possible that this is accurate, but it went unrecorded in the three valley newspapers of the day. The Democratic Times of Dec. 7, 1883 says that Howard "will . . . start" a branch of his store in Medford; the Oregon Sentinel of Dec. 8 repeats the wording, and that he was then busy surveying the site of Gold Hill. Emil Peil advertised for business in Medford in the Democratic Times of December 14, 1883.]
     As I had been in the employ of the railroad company more or less for several years and had run the preliminary lines for the railroad through Jackson County I was personally acquainted with Mr. [Richard Koehler], manager of the lines in Oregon and the other officials of the company, so much so, that we were personal friends. I had their confidence and Mr. [Koehler] often asked my advice on local matters connected with the company's business here; that being the case I was in much better position to seek favors for the town than anyone else, so when I asked Mr. [Koehler] to donate the park block to the town he did so readily. When at Mr. Phipps' request I asked Mr. [Koehler] to donate a lot for the Methodist Church [on the southeast corner of 4th and Bartlett] he did so, although Mr. Phipps out of his several hundred lots did not have generosity enough to donate one. I asked Mr. C. C. Beekman to donate the lot of ground for the Washington School and he did so readily in contrast to Mr. Phipps charging the Medford School District $7000 for a smaller tract of ground for the high school.
Getting a Road.
     When Mr. [Conrad] Mingus and Mr. Harvey refused to give 30 feet of their south line for a direct road to Jacksonville I went to Andy Davidson who owned the land on the south and persuaded him to give the entire sixty feet for the road extending for ¾ of a mile west from the then town limits and thus made it possible for the direct road to Jacksonville as now traveled.
     My long residence and wide acquaintance made it possible to get many concessions for the town and I never let slip an opportunity to do what I could to advance the interest of the town; as to Mr. I. J. Phipps, if he ever gave a dollar or a foot square of land for the benefit of the town, I never heard of it. When a few years ago the town had to provide on short notice for the disposal of sewage, he charged the town $500 for less than an 1/8 of an acre to build the septic tank, that tract of land was not worth $5.00.
     I regret being forced into this controversy and I beg to say that Mr. Phipps' two youngest children who reside here, viz: Dr. Ira and Miss May, I esteem highly and they are a credit to themselves and the community in which they live.
     As to the cognomen "Father of Medford" which the papers and my friends have kindly given me and which is an honor I never anticipated I highly appreciate the same. My country guaranteed me the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. My fellow citizens have given me the title of "Father of Medford," and by the Eternal I will defend my right to both.
Burned Out at 51.
     Yes, it is true that a fire in Jacksonville in one short hour swept away the earnings of a lifetime and at the age of 51 years I came to retrieve my fortune. [Howard's store and stock burned, but he had other significant assets, including his real estate holdings and his home.] I was not a broken down old man, but a young man of 51 years, full of confidence and ginger. Forgetting the misfortunes of the past I put my whole soul into the success of the future and it was so that having confidence in the future of Medford and having the confidence of my friends in Jackson County I erected the first building in the town and started the first store. The merchants in San Francisco and Portland with whom I had formerly dealt have kindly extended me credit.
     With the advent of the railroad in the spring of 1884 the government established a post office and I was appointed postmaster. Through the influence of C. C. Beekman Wells Fargo & Co. established an express office and I was appointed agent, which position I held for 10 years without bonds being required, although the money order business some months amounted to over $5000. I was the railroad company's agent for the sale of their lots. I was county surveyor and notary public and through the assistance of my wife and two daughters carried out all of the above most successfully.
Wrote First Charter.
     I wrote the first charter of Medford and my friend Hon. Tod Cameron got the incorporation act through the legislature. I was named as president of the organization board to hurry into effect the incorporation of the town. I was elected president of the first town council. I wrote out all the first ordinances, all without charge. I realized that my success depended upon the success of the town and beat all my energies to that end, while my respected friend I. J. Phipps simply sat down and received his unearned increment, and he kept it, too.
Medford Mail Tribune, May 14, 1913, page 2

Mr. Phipps to Mr. Howard
To the Editor:
     I feel it my duty to my father and others, who took part in the founding of our city, to answer Mr. Howard's statements.
     I am surprised, as well as many of the older citizens, that he should claim to be the founder of Medford. It must be of recent date as he didn't claim it until the last few years.
     If it is an honor to be the founder of Medford it is due a number of men, it shows a selfish disposition for one man to claim the honor due several.
     Mr. Howard says, "The fact is that I. J. Phipps never donated anything to the Oregon-California Railroad or any other enterprise, as far as I know he wasn't built on the donation plan."
     Now following this he contradicts himself by admitting that I. J. Phipps deeded to Judge P. P. Prim (the railroad attorney) a part of the townsite of Medford.
     I thank Mr. Howard for this statement for it shows very conclusively that I. J. Phipps did donate a part of the original townsite to the railroad.
     As to the donation plan, were you built that way Mr. Howard, and if so what have you ever donated to our city? According to your statements your long suit was to get the other fellow to do the donating.
     Mr. Howard says, "They took a piece of desert land worth $10 per acre," I beg to differ with him, the Medford townsite was never a desert, the oaks and pine trees grew too large, as we all know. He says again "which brought $1000 an acre," this figure I think (a little) too high, but still Mr. Howard does not say how long it had to be held with taxes accumulating from year to year. Any way I know Father sold many lots for $25 apiece.
     Howard says, "Beekman donated the lot for the Washington School," this was over twenty-five years ago and as Mr. Howard says land was worth $10 per acre then.
     He should remember the high school lot was purchased only a few years ago, at about the time W. H. Brown purchased the land where the Natatorium now stands [site of the Red Lion] for $15,000. The two parcels of land were nearly equal in value. Mr. Howard should have noticed this donation, for there was a difference made in the price of the high school lot as a donation, from my father.
     Mr. Howard wouldn't be expected to know all about my father's private affairs as Mr. Broback and Father kept him pretty busy surveying for them and he would naturally miss some happenings.
     It is easy to forget sometimes as Mr. Howard never heard of Father giving a square foot of land or a dollar to any enterprise.
     In regard to the 1/8 of an acre where the septic tank was built, it was located just below Vincent's barn and but a few hundred feet from the resident section, and as to the $500 the town never paid it or any part of it.
     Furthermore Mr. Howard says, "I regret very much being forced into this controversy."
     No one forced you into any controversy, as for the statements I gave in my previous article. I can verify them all, as well as get plenty of outside proof from the citizens, who know Medford's early history as well if not better perhaps than I do.
     Now as to this being "a tissue of falsehoods," I leave that to my friends.
     In your concluding article Mr. Howard, a person would naturally think you was the only person who did any work or made an effort toward Medford's success, as everything mentioned is headed with I. And as to my father sitting down and receive what you call "unearned increment," you know that to be untrue.
Medford Mail Tribune, May 17, 1913, page 4

Last revised September 20, 2009