The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised

Sticky Stories

    . . . the road is very heavy and clayey mud. The horse's feet when drawn out go off like corks from large bottles, such is the suction of the mud. At other times the water from an old hoof hole would squirt 6 or 8 feet above one's head when on horseback. Plug! Plug! Plug! would be the music.
Journal, 1855, entry for February 4, James Mason Hutchings papers, Library of Congress MMC-1892

Muddy Road
A country road in an unidentified state.

    All that part of the valley lying east of Rogue River and north of Bear Creek may be included in division 1st. This division presents a peculiarity of soil not found anywhere else in the valley. Here we find the noted "big sticky," a tough, gluey and tenacious kind of clay and loam mixed. The nature of this soil is such as to adhere with incorrigible obstinacy to everything brought within its reach, and won't let go worth a c-c-cent. Almost every foot of the upland of this division, in times past--and not very remote either--was a barren desert incapable of producing the lightest vegetation. Its reclamation is of comparatively recent date, and may be attributed solely to the wash of the hills that bound it on the east. This supposition approaches certainty, and may be satisfactorily proven. 1st--by a comparison of the valley soil with that of the hills. Second--by the fact that a large area lying along Rogue River and reaching towards the hills is yet totally desert, the wash not having yet reached it. Third--the unusual susceptibility of the soil to the motion of water. The whole region from Reese Creek to the Siskiyous is more or less cut up with drains or niches; and in some places these washes are so numerous and deep that stock hunters, unacquainted with the passes, experience great difficulty, and not infrequently delay, in finding a practical crossing.
"Jackson County--Its Agricultural and Mineral Resources," Democratic Times, Jacksonville, April 8, 1871, page 2

    This is a very nice valley to look at, but the land is very spotted. Sand and gravel, black loam and granite and sticky, as it is called here. Black loam produces wheat and some corn, also alfalfa. I haven't seen any clover, timothy or bluegrass here. Granite produces some grain, fruit, etc. Sand and gravel produces cheatgrass, good for pasture a short time in the spring. Sticky produces more swearing than anything else. They tell me it pulls the soles off their boots and the tires off the wagon wheels.
"Coming Back to Iowa," Saturday Evening Messenger, Fort Dodge, Iowa, January 22, 1887, page 5

A Needed Improvement.
    A prominent citizen of the country north of the river, writing to one of our county exchanges a short time since, called attention to the crying demand for the expenditure of some county funds in getting a passably good road around the upper grade of the Table Rocks. Ever since the first settlement of the county, owing to a failure of the viewers of the Bybee's ferry and Fort Klamath wagon road to locate the route clear of adobe or "sticky" soil, the road has been well nigh impassable in the winter season to even the lightest kind of vehicles. For the short stretch of two miles hundreds of travelers have been compelled to spend the better part of a day in urging their weary horses through by short pulls and constant cleaning of the wheels. As the soil is full of wash boulders, making an insecure foundation for any sort of a road, it has been impossible heretofore to make a passable winter road with the available labor which could be applied upon it. As the Times believes in the intelligent expenditure of county funds in the bettering of our road system, and knowing that the work can only be done at certain seasons of the year, and believing that the many residents of the country north of the river have endured the petty tyranny of this short stretch of road long enough, we would venture to suggest to our honorable county court the propriety of engaging some experienced road builder to at once construct, at as little expense as may be consistent with doing thorough work, on a good gravel road along that stretch of mountainside. It is much too important a highway to be longer neglected by the county court, and the only wonder is that the residents of that section have not made this matter an issue in local politics long ago. Let the work be executed while it can be done the best and the most economically, and the whole north side of the county will be vastly benefited by it.
Democratic Times, Jacksonville, March 4, 1892, page 3

    There is more truth than poetry in the word "sticky." Oh! sticky, sticky loosen thy iron grasp from our heels and wheels and allow us to finish putting in our crops.
"Sticky Sticklets," Medford Mail, April 21, 1893 supplement, page 2

    The day was hot, the shade was tempting. Frank Lewis lay down to rest, a four-bit piece rolled out of his pocket and fell down a crack in "sticky." Frank had to get a pick, grubbing hoe and shovel and work his way down three feet before he recovered the silver.
"Eagle Point Eaglets," Medford Mail, August 25, 1893, supplement page 1

    The True-Bashford thresher that got stuck on "sticky" will commence work next week if good weather still continues.

"Griffin Creek Gatherings," Medford Mail, September 22, 1893 supplement, page 1

    It has been said that corn does not do well on sticky soil. C. C. Taylor disproves this assertion by showing up at this office [with] as fine a sample of that sort of cereal as one would wish to see.

"All the Local News," Medford Mail, November 10, 1893, page 3

    There has been a real estate sale made of the Hammond land to Bert Whitman and Henry Hanson. Bert holds a position to know where the best fruit comes from. Sticky loses its sting when people learn that Roxy Ann contains some as choice fruit locations as are found in this Italy of Oregon. The parties named here have commenced with a force of hands and will soon convert their possessions into a model fruit garden.

"Roxy Ann Rockets," Medford Mail, January 5, 1894, page 2

    Rev. A. C. Howlett.--"Roads, well, there would be roads if one could find the bottom, but they are better than they were a few weeks ago. There could be a road made which would greatly improve matters for us Eagle Point people, and by opening it up we would be relieved of the necessity of wallowing through several miles of sticky every time we came to your city. If a road could be opened from a point near the corner of Mr. Hogle's place to run in a southerly direction through the Hamrick place, then across the Ish pasture field and intersect the main Eagle Point road near S. Murray's place, the sticky land would be left entirely out, and we would have fairly good traveling through the entire year. There are two and a half miles of sticky that is positively impassable in the wet season. There are a great many people who want to trade in your city but who cannot because of this piece of road."
"All the Local News," Medford Mail, March 2, 1894, page 3

Why Did Mr. Merritt Do It?
    EDITOR MEDFORD MAIL: --During the past week I had business along the road leading from the Central Point cemetery to Big Sticky and I saw a notice posted on a gate post notifying the traveling public not to travel through that place, signed "By order of J. W. Merritt," and the query arose in my mind: Can it be possible that Mr. Merritt will try to force all the travel from Butte Creek and surroundings to go through the Ish lane, two and a half miles through sticky mud, to get to Medford, or is it a plan to force us to go to Central Point to do our trading when we can save at least twenty percent by going to Medford?
BUTTE CREEKER.           
Butte Creek, March 29.
Medford Mail, March 30, 1894, page 2

    The chronic rain growler has ceased his growling, and the sticky is adhering to his boots with tenacity--and he is rejoicing that his feet are no larger.
"Lake Creek Creeklets," Medford Mail, June 1, 1894, page 4

    'Tis but a step from the sublime to the ridiculous. As we watched the panorama of the sunset heavens, we came upon a piece of road that lay through the black mud--the "big sticky" that Jackson and Umpqua have in common, especially Umpqua. It was night now, the gleaming sunset was only a memory, but the black sticky was a fact. My companion explained that they have three kinds of sticky. First is the ordinary "sticky," then "black sticky," lastly there was "sticky be damned." Wait until you try it before you pronounce the last definition to be profane. It is said the "oldest inhabitant" claims that as he tried to pass through the valley, late in the fall, the rains set in and he got stuck and could go no further, so had to winter here. When spring came, and the weather cleared off, he concluded to stay stuck. I give this as one of the legends current.
S. A. Clarke, "Unwritten History," Oregonian, Portland, November 30, 1894, page 9

    S. B. Holmes circulated a subscription paper last week soliciting for volunteer work on the county road between the west edge of the desert and Bear Creek. He met with fairly good success, and work will soon commence. The supervisor proposes to make a rock road over the worst of it.
A. C. Howlett, "Eagle Point Eaglets," Medford Mail, May 10, 1901, page 5

    The necessity of permanent repairs on the piece of sticky road running from Thos. McAndrew's place to the desert is becoming more apparent each year. This is unquestionably one of the worst pieces of roads in all of Southern Oregon, and it is a road over which there would be a great amount of travel during the winter months if it were made passable at that season of the year. A move is now under way to put a good substantial filling of rock the entire distance. About one mile of this rock road has been previously built but was not used during the past winter because of the fact that it had not been graveled. It is proposed to gravel this piece of the road the coming summer and as well put rock on as much more of the remaining two miles as is possible with the means at hand, and it is further stated by the supervisor of that district, Mr. H. C. Turpin, that the amount of work done will depend upon the subscriptions received from the patrons of the road and the business men of Medford, all of whom are interested in the betterment of highways leading this way. Mr. Turpin will circulate a subscription paper in Medford soon for this purpose, and it is to be hoped that our people will see it to their financial interests to give all the assistance possible to the project. The county commissioners, we understand, have agreed to make a contribution of $300, and it is thought that in the vicinity of Brownsboro alone $100 can be raised in work.

"City Happenings," Medford Mail, April 26, 1901, page 7

Swamped with Four Horses on Jackson County Roads.
    A hearse with four heavy horses attached to it was the sight seen on the streets of Medford last Saturday morning, as it was on the way to carry the body of a farmer from his late home down near Central Point to the cemetery, says the Medford Success. It was not for pompous effect that the driver had four horses to his hearse, but it was the fear that he would get stuck in the mud and that the country road instead of the cemetery would be the last resting place of the unfortunate farmer, whose life had been made miserable by the mudholes that now threatened to be his tomb. The driver's fears were not without foundation, for he did get stuck, and it took an hour's time and all the able-bodied men in the funeral procession to rescue the hearse and its burden from the bottomless depths of a Jackson County road mudhole.
Rogue River Courier, Grants Pass, February 19, 1903, page 1

    George Lynch, of Trail, went to Medford last week and enjoyed not the sticky. He won't go again soon and has warned all his neighbors to stay at home.

"Rogue River News,"
Medford Mail, February 10, 1905, page 3

    Ex-Commissioner Riley:--"We Big Sticky people can come to town now any time we want to, on account of the way the county constructed the road last year through one of the worst stretches of ground in Southern Oregon. Formerly it was an absolute impossibility to pull through that sticky lane at certain seasons of the year, and there have been more wagons and good resolutions broken along that line of road than anywhere in Southern Oregon. Now, however, after Roadmaster True and his men have made a roadbed of crushed rock and packed it solid with that big fifty-ton roller it's a pleasure to drive over the road, especially to some of us oldtimers, who can point out places wherein former days we got "stuck" and were either compelled to unload or abandon our vehicles entirely. There's nothing like good roads, and the people are getting educated up to the idea. Within five years Jackson County will have some of the best roads in the state if the present policy is kept up. The court was criticized somewhat when it purchased the road machinery, but you hear very little of that now."
"Street Echoes," Medford Mail, February 21, 1906, page 1

    Ed. Andrews left Thursday for the East, to be gone six weeks or two months, during which time he will do missionary work for Southern Oregon.
    He took with him several hundred pounds of the products of Southern Oregon, including wheat, corn in stalk and other grains, fruit, minerals and wood, and last, but not least, samples of the famous black sticky soil, which he opines is the best on earth.
    "I am taking this exhibit along," said Mr. Andrews, "in order to show those people what can be produced here. There is a pretty strong impression in some parts of the country that the soil here is principally gravel. I will tell them to moisten a portion of that sticky and rub it between their fingers, and see whether there is any gravel about it or not."
"Going to Bring Settlers," Medford Mail, February 23, 1906, page 1

    The material for making good roads is right at hand, it only wants to be intelligently and practically applied. For years the Big Sticky land was synonymous with broken wagons, balked horses and profanity, now it's one of the best roads connecting Medford with the country districts, and this result was accomplished by labor and material intelligently applied.
"City Happenings," Medford Mail, March 2, 1906, page 5

    G. W. Stevens was circulating a good roads subscription paper in Medford Wednesday, and within a very short time over $100 was subscribed. The road improvements asked for are to be placed between Thos. Riley's place and the Bradshaw ranch, a distance of about three and a half miles. Before coming to Medford he secured subscriptions to the amount of $345 among the farmers living in the neighborhood of the proposed improvements. The roads are sticky, and they want them covered with crushed rock. It is expected that the county will help materially in this work.
"Additional Local," Medford Mail, March 30, 1906, page 8

    D. H. Stevens, living south of Medford, had quite an experience last Friday and Saturday. He arrived at the Sunny Side [Hotel, Eagle Point] all O.K. Thursday evening and stayed overnight, with his two teams, one two-horse and one four-horse team, on his way to Olsen's sawmill, and on Friday morning started, but when he reached the mill found that he was unable to procure the lumber he wanted so they--he was accompanied by a young man by the name of Smith--began to retrace their steps and go for the Round Top mill. So after coming back about six miles they climbed Rocky Hill, took a circuitous route around by the Obenchain school house to the mill, where they found almost everything they wanted, but the trials and tribulations had but just begun. It had rained the night before, and the road on the north side of Round Top is not the best when wet. The horses were either sore-footed or smooth-shod, and the sticky in short patches was well worked up. It was his first experience in sticky and it stuck, the wagons slipped and to make a long story short they were five hours getting the wagons up the hill, a distance of two miles, but on they came, undaunted, and reached the Sunny Side Hotel at ten o'clock p.m., hungry and tired; but they were soon served with something to satisfy the craving appetite and went to Daley's hall and enjoyed the social dance for awhile, but it will be some time before they forget their, or rather Mr. Stevens', first experience in Round Top sticky.
A. C. Howlett, "Eagle Point Eaglets," Medford Mail, November 2, 1906, page 8

    Dave Pence--"Coming down from home Saturday I had my first real experience with sticky, although I have lived with it, you might say all my life, but had always missed getting into it. That one experience was enough, however, to satisfy whatever curiosity I might have had about it. I was an hour going half a mile and, as I hadn't prepared for sticky I had to claw it off [the wheels] with my hands. No, I didn't say anything. What was the use? I just whistled and pretended I was enjoying myself."
"Things Told on the Street," Medford Mail, August 16, 1907, page 1

    The Medford people, also the people living east of Medford, have for years dodged what was known as the "sticky lane" in winter, when going to and from this city, but this year, no matter what the amount of moisture at all there need be no doubt in the minds of travelers toward Medford but that they will be able to reach their destination. The road from the McAndrew place across the black lands has been graded up, covered with crushed rock and is now being treated with a coat of sand, which will ultimately make it one of the best winter roads in this part of the state. The foundation for this was laid several years ago when part of the road was covered with rough rock. There wasn't money available to continue the work projected, and the "grading of the sticky lane" was regarded as a "joke." However, the foundation for a real road was laid there and now the road has been built on top of it, so that no fear of the "sticky lane" need deter anyone from taking the straight road to Medford.
"City Happenings," Medford Mail, October 25, 1907, page 5

    W. J. D. Anderson--"The much-dreaded Big Sticky lane is now practically a thing of the past, thanks to the intelligent road-building that has been going on in that section. Time was, and not such a long time ago either, that anyone starting through that lane in wet weather, be he afoot, horseback or in a wagon, had no assurance that he would be able to traverse that stretch of road. Now he need have no misgiving about getting through. The road isn't as smooth as a floor by any means, but it is solid as a rule, especially where the crushed rock has been used as a covering to larger rock beneath. In these portions the road is perfectly solid and smooth, the crushed rock seeming to form a firm cement-like surface impervious to moisture above or below. Those portions which have been treated with river gravel are not so good, the gravel not packing so closely and the road being more or less muddy and rough, but even it is a great improvement over what it was a few years ago."
"City Happenings," Medford Mail, December 27, 1907, page 5

A Splendid Road.
    The road built from Medford to the desert across "Big Sticky" last year is a piece of work that should make the present county court famous and is a monument to their ability as road builders. This fertile region has been isolated heretofore on account of the impassable condition of the roads in winter. There was no demand for real property abutting it. This condition has now changed, and property values are much higher and in great demand along the entire stretch of road. Medford has received a great deal of trade that formerly went to Central Point because it could not get to Medford in bad weather.
Medford Mail, May 29, 1908, page 3

    It is to the venturesome spirit of Dr. E. B. Pickel, a well-known physician of Southern Oregon, that the people of the Rogue River Valley owe the opening up to the planting of orchards of the large tract of land known as Big Sticky, however, better known among those familiar with the locality by several unmentionable aliases.
    In winter the roads through this district are impassable to a wagon. Even in a light buggy a driver must get out every few rods and knock the mud off the wheels with a club. To work this land as an orchard needs to be worked was considered impossible, and there was little belief that the land would ever grow trees. In fact grave doubts were expressed as to Dr. Pickel's mental arrangement when he, in the season of 1905, set out 8,000 trees, covering 140 acres. But when he followed this up by planting 4,000 more trees the next year it was freely predicted that Dr. Pickel was heading for the wall. Little did anyone, even the doctor, think that three years after the first planting the orchard would be sold at a profit of nearly $100,000.
    The story of Dr. Pickel's buy on Big Sticky reads like a fairy tale. It appears that the doctor and his wife had nearly completed plans for a trip abroad, but through the influence of Dr. Van Dyke, of Grants Pass, they became interested in orchard land and decided that if a suitable buy offered itself they would take it and postpone the trip abroad. One day Dr. Pickel was called on a case over into the Big Sticky district and his driver, who was familiar with the country, pointed out the Bush ranch of 161 acres which was about to be foreclosed by the state for the interest on money borrowed from the school land fund. Next to it was the Smith ranch of 240 acres which the driver said could be bought for $4000. Right then and there, Dr. Pickel forgot all his desires to see the cathedrals and art galleries of the old world. Instead he bought both farms, paying $6500 for the 401 acres.
    The trees set out on the 401 Ranch, as the orchard was called, grew fine, despite the dismal predictions. The soil was even found workable if handled at the right time and in the right way. The second year Dr. Pickel bought 160 more acres, but the farm was still known as the 401 Ranch. Last spring, feeling that the undertaking was too great for a single man to handle, the doctor sold out to a stock company for $110,000. The land, the trees, the improvements and the labor expended cost Dr. Pickel $35,000, leaving the difference as a handsome profit on a three-years' investment. The doctor has since then bought another place which he is developing. Now, nearly the whole of Big Sticky is being set out or has been set out to orchard.
Arthur M. Geary, "Enormous Wealth of Rogue River Orchards," Morning Oregonian, Portland, September 5, 1909, page F2

Blacksmiths Buy Land at $20 an Acre and Now Are Offered $750.
    Some seven years ago J. W. Mitchell, a blacksmith, and E. C. Boeck, a wagonmaker, were induced to purchase eighty acres of land over in the section of the country then known as the "sticky" section. The section did not belie the name, nor does it yet; but at that time those who were buying land there and planting it to orchard were regarded as easy marks. "Why, they can't even raise their feet when the stick is right," was the common opinion.
    A change has come over the spirit of their dreams of late, however. Big crops have been harvested from the black soil and the fruit sold for big prices.
    But to come back to the blacksmith and the wagonmaker. They paid $1,600 of hard-earned cash--earned by pounding iron and building wheels--for the eighty acres. They spent some more setting out the trees. They harvested a crop or two, and then a man came along and purchased 22½ acres of the 80 for $17,000.
    "They couldn't raise their feet" on that land, but in a few years they raised its value from $20 to over $750 an acre.
Medford Mail Tribune, December 28, 1909, page 2

    The greatest "bugbear" to the county road builders in the past has been the "Big Sticky" locality. This section lies east of Medford, passing through the richest orchard land, out over the reclaimed desert. The notorious "Big Sticky" gets its name from the peculiar lava ash formation of the soil, which becomes so muddy in the winter that many a wagon has had to be abandoned in its resisting grasp until spring.
Helen C. Gale, "Jackson County Leads in Race for Improvement of Highways," Sunday Oregonian, Portland, October 22, 1911, page 18

By United Press
    MEDFORD, Ore., March 19.--Employment, with big feet as the prime requisite for crashing onto the payroll, is offered in the fruit orchards surrounding this Southern Oregon city.
    The flat-shaped foot qualification is necessary because of continued seasonal wet weather, which has caused orchard soil to become so soft that unless you wear a size 9 brogan, or better, you are useless.
    Most any man who has a foundation the size of a couple of satchels can walk right out into an orchard and land a job as a pruner.
    The employing orchardist will select a few sample wet spots for the applicant to step on. If you don't sink in the mire above your shoe tops you'll swim right into a job.
Berkeley Daily Gazette, March 19, 1927, page 13

    At the old Barber Field at the fairgrounds, it had been a common occurrence for ships [airplanes] to become mired in the mud, and because of that, one passenger line began to make its landings in northern California, but [with completion of the new airport] it expected to resume its schedule here in a short time.
"Medford's Airport Is Completed," Medford Mail Tribune, December 31, 1929, page 8

    What is now called Agate Desert was known only by me as "Big Sticky." The great number of agates on the desert, however, make the name Agate Desert more appropriate classically if not topographically.
Eph L. Musick, "The Old 'Big Sticky,'" Oakland Tribune, December 27, 1942, page 29

Last revised October 5, 2015