The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised

The Bonus Myth

There's a popular myth that if Jacksonville had merely paid a bribe in 1883 the California & Oregon Railroad would have surveyed their line through downtown Jacksonville, Medford would never have existed, the flowers would bloom, the birds would sing, and peace and happiness would reign in the land.

The source of the myth:

    The railroad line, as located by Dolson's party, crosses Rogue River at Chavner's Bridge, thence goes up the river on the south side, between Gold Hill and the river, and at last report the surveyors were working toward the mouth of Bear Creek, at which point the road will leave the river and strike off through the valley. The Jacksonville people have not much hope now that the road will run between their town and the Hanley Butte. Important consultations have been held by citizens there, however, with Mr. Loring, right of way agent, and Mr. Dolson, engineer of the locating survey corps. It is reported that the R.R. officials have offered to swerve the line toward Jacksonville provided the people will raise $25,000, but we haven't learned from "Chawles" [Nickell] whether this is true or not.
"Railroad News," Ashland Tidings, April 27, 1883, page 3

    Nothing new has been developed, but it seems as if the railroad authorities are not disposed to recede from their proposition to run the road this side of Hanley's butte for $25,000 and the right of way, and from present indications it looks like there is either not public spiritedness or money enough in Jacksonville to raise the required amount.
"Railroad Notes," Democratic Times, Jacksonville, May 4, 1883, page 2

Note that it doesn't say anything about running tracks "through Jacksonville."

The first attempt to debunk the myth--in 1885. It didn't take.

Why Was the Railroad Not Built Nearer Jacksonville?
    This is a difficult question to answer. But, as we have often been unjustly censured by the public and by transient persons passing through this country because we did not put forth the necessary effort to secure the building of the road through, or near this place, we will submit such observations to demand and allow our censors to draw their own conclusions.
    Taking into consideration the geographical lay of the valley and the general direction to be pursued by the road to reach a given point on the Siskiyous we had a right to believe and did believe that the location of Jacksonville was such that an honest survey of the several routes from Rock Point would prove the Blackwell, or Willow Springs to be the shortest and cheapest and therefore the best for the company; and either of these routes would have brought the road sufficiently near us for all practical purposes.
    It was believed, at that time, that no minor consideration, and certainly none of local prejudice, could operate as against us, or have any weight or influence with a company engaged in a public enterprise of such magnitude; and that the best and shortest line, regardless of personal consideration, or pecuniary interest to the managers would be adopted. It has been all along asserted and by common consent admitted that in the beginning the company had at their disposal a large amount of money; indeed nothing short of a fabulous sum would be sufficient to complete the vast and complicated system its projectors had mapped out; and it is perhaps not too much to say that at no point in this great undertaking were the funds of the company poured out with such reckless and inexcusable prodigality as between Rock Point and Wagner Creek. That more was expended than was necessary for the line of road adopted we shall not pretend to say.
    It was understood by all that the company had fixed a maximum grade of something over 52 feet to the mile and that the engineer in charge of this section reported that a grade within this limit could not be had except upon the Gold Hill route. It was confidently believed then, and now almost certainly known from later developments, that the engineer, for some reason, misrepresented the facts in the case, and that this misrepresentation cost the company a large amount of money. Whether true or not it was rumored here that the company were advised of these facts after it was too late and discharged the engineer for being unfaithful. A company charged with such responsibility ought not to suffer itself to be imposed upon nor do we believe it was. The managers knew or ought to have known the true facts in the case and if they did not they were not qualified for the responsible stations they were called to fill. We had a right, however, to suppose that in a public work of this character, the officers in charge would be actuated solely by unselfish motives, and that the road would be located where it would best the serve the public and best promote the interests of the company. But the route around Gold Hill which was finally adopted is considerably longer than the Blackwell or Willow Springs, and it is safe to affirm that it cost the company not less than one hundred thousand dollars more to construct it upon this than upon either of the others named; and, as it is conceded to be longer, it cannot be pretended that its operation is more economical for the company or that it is in any sense more advantageous to the people.
    It is difficult to say by what motives the locators of this road were governed. It will be remembered that when it became a fixed fact that the road would be built nearly all those holding lands near any of the surveyed lines were in the highest state of expectancy, and depots were talked of with such fluent certainty as to leave no doubt of the fevered anxiety of almost everybody to have a depot on his place. It is now more than surmised that bids for the location of depots ran high and nowhere nearly so high as upon the line finally adopted. Can it be that the interests of this great company, who were spending millions of money to build up and perfect a north Pacific R.R. system, were deliberately sacrificed for a miserable penny speculation in depots through this valley? If not, can anyone, even at this day, give a good and valid reason why the road was not located on what was conceded to be the shortest and cheapest route? Why unnecessarily lengthen the road by a circuitous route around Gold Hill and make an expensive rock cut, which, it has been alleged, cost not less than $175,000 when only a light and inexpensive dirt cut through Blackwell or Willow Springs would have materially lessened the distance, diminished the cost and given a better line of road? As Jacksonville was the center of trade and business for the valley and to all appearances likely to remain such was it feared that the location of a depot near it would have so absorbed public interest and attention as to forbid all idea of speculative hope at other points along the line? In a word, why was not the road located in accordance with the natural lay of the country and where it ought, obviously, in the interest of the company, to have been located? If the people of Jacksonville or any of them ever gave cause of offense to the managers or anyone in connection with the company they are not aware of it; but, on the contrary, everyone having authority was treated with the utmost courtesy and every effort made consistent with our means to secure the location of the road where it ought to have been, but every overture was met with a proposition we were unable to reach. That we might be rightly understood, and fairly judged by those in authority, as having a proper appreciation of the situation, we sent two different delegations to Portland to confer with the managers, and also appealed to Mr. Villard himself, but no agreement could be had which would come within our means and we were thus compelled, unwilling, to forgo what would certainly have made this the most booming little town in Oregon; and yet the town will live and grow despite this misfortune and in the face of any and all efforts to disparage or force it down.
Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, August 15, 1885, page 2

    Although only three years old, Medford now boasts of nearly a thousand inhabitants. Jacksonville, on the contrary, is an old established town about twice the size of Medford, and was an old town long before the railroad was thought of. Why the railroad did not come through Jacksonville is a conundrum which few of its residents can intelligently answer.
"Southern Oregon," San Francisco Bulletin, August 4, 1887, page 4

Last revised June 5, 2014