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The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised


Jackson County 1854


For the Maine Farmer.
LETTER FROM OREGON, No. 2.
    Mr. Editor:--In my last letter I promised I would give you some account of Southern Oregon, and in doing this I must rely considerably upon other sources than my own observation. South of the Willamette Valley, and separated from it by the Calapooia Range of mountains, lies the Umpqua Valley. This valley embraces a tract of country lying between the Cascade and Coast ranges of mountains, extending a distance of about seventy miles north and south.
    The face of the country differs materially from that of the Willamette, being composed of clusters of small valleys, varying in size, and separated from each other by ranges of hills. In the immediate vicinity of the two principal branches of the river, the valleys are of greater extent, affording a large amount of arable land. The Umpqua is in general not as well timbered as the region both north and south of it, the timbers consisting principally of oak. On the borders of the ravines on the hillsides are groves of fir and pine, but these are comparatively scarce. This deficiency of timber has hitherto had a tendency to retard the settlement of the Umpqua Valley. The more gentle slopes of the hills have not as yet been tilled, but if any judgment may be formed from the luxuriant growth of grass which covers them, most abundant crops of grain may be grown on them. The soil on the hills is less deep than in similar situations in the Willamette; it is of reddish color, and so tenacious that on the steepest hills it washes but little, though subjected to powerful and long continued rains. No part of Oregon that has yet been settled affords a better or more extensive range for stock of all kinds than the Umpqua. The native grasses which cover the face of the country are of the most nutritious kinds, and cattle that have made the journey across the plains, and were reduced to the last stages of leanness, will become in the course of six or eight months, on grass alone, so fat as to render even moderate locomotion a positive annoyance. This may seem tough to the farmers at the East, who are obliged to pursue a long course of stall feeding to prepare their stock for market. But it is a fact well known to all who have spent a year in Oregon that in no place in the United States can beef be found as fat as that exhibited in the markets here, and yet people in Oregon never stall feed.
    Hogs in this country require but little feed, in fact few farmers feed hogs at all, from the earliest days of pighood to the time of slaughter. You have doubtless heard of the plant called by the Indians "camas," used by them for food, and found in great abundance in many parts of this country. It is a very nutritious plant, nearly resembling the onion in form and texture, having a sweetish and not unpalatable taste. These tubers are eagerly sought by swine, and during the winter and early part of the summer furnish them an abundant supply. In the fall the oaks furnish a supply of mast. The only drawback upon the raising of swine is a tolerably "smart sprinkle" of bears and wolves, who come in for a share of the pigs, and not unfrequently make a draft upon the more advanced grunters.
    There are two varieties of bears in this country, the black bear similar to that found in the East, and the grizzly, a much more formidable and dangerous animal, although much inferior in size to the grizzly bear of California. When wounded, or when the female is attended by her cubs, no animal is more ferocious.
    The average weight of the animal when grown is from eight hundred to a thousand pounds. Their great weight prevents them from climbing, and gives the hunter a chance to escape their fury. Deer are found in great abundance in the Umpqua Valley, and elk are occasionally seen. the Umpqua is a rapid stream navigable only for a short distance, and having a difficult entrance.
    Scottsburg is the only town of importance on the Umpqua. It is situated near the mouth of the river, and is the seat of considerable trade with the northern mines. There is much valuable land in this section of country yet unoccupied, and emigrants are beginning to appreciate the peculiar advantages which this portion presents to an enterprising farmer.
W.
    Willamette Forks, March 7, 1854.
Maine Farmer, Augusta, June 1, 1854, page 2


    FAT PASTURES.--The Oregon correspondent of the Maine Farmer remarks that the native grasses which cover the face of the country in Southern Oregon are of the most nutritious kinds, and cattle that have made the journey across the plains, and were reduced to the last stages of leanness, will become in the course of six or eight months, on grass alone, so fat as to render even moderate locomotion a positive annoyance. This may seem tough to the farmers of the East, who are obliged to pursue a long course of stall feeding to prepare their stock for market.
The Evening Star, Washington, D.C., June 7, 1854, page 1


Oregon City, O.T., July 14th, 1854.
    Before the signal gun had called our passengers on board from Crescent City, the fog had so lifted from the sea and land as to reveal the ship at her anchorage and the points and forest trees of the shore both north and south. A fine country appeared to open toward the mountains, while here and there the house of a farmer dotted the skirts of the forest along the beach to the south. To the north, one rock after another stood out to sea, both to warn and guide the mariner among the sunken reefs that lie in wait along that shore.
    Fortunately for us the fog remained lifted long enough to enable us to pass between one of those reefs and the shore, soon after rounding the point that shut the city from our view, thus saving a circumnavigation of several miles. But hardly had we made the last rock which served as a pilot through the reef, when the cloudy curtain dropped again around us, completely shutting out all view of the shore. In three hours, however, the curtain was again opened, and the first mountains and bluffs, receding vales and wooded ranges of Oregon burst upon our view.
    The sudden clearing of the sea and shore was soon accounted for by the northwest breeze that freshened rapidly into a gale of wind, driving fog banks far behind us. But the scenery along the shore relieved us of the sickness into which the plunging of our ship would have hurried us. Off Rouge [sic] River (improperly printed Rogue) we clearly discovered, near nightfall, the tents of miners encamped on the beach, the golden sands of which they are engaged in washing. The character of the people at the settlement, as we learned from a passenger, abundantly sustains the misnomer by which the river is commonly called. We wondered not, when we saw its isolated location, and knew that not a woman blessed the place with a home, nor a preacher with a Sabbath.
    About eleven p.m. we came to our anchor off Port Orford. The steamer had been expected, and a night fire that had been kept burning for her guidance into port was still burning near the beach. Our signal gun was answered from the shore by the bursting of
a pine log, the pioneer gun of Oregon! Soon a lighter from the beach was receiving freight from the steamer, while boatloads of shoremen boarded us with news from the mines! The town was deserted, and gold excitement at its height! The El Dorado had at last been found! We said nothing, but laughed in the dark as "Gold Bluff" loomed up in our memory, and Trinidad town lots, once sold at a premium, revived on the ear! [The writer in the previous installment had visited Trinidad, then a ghost town.]
    We awoke next morning in the fog again. Before noon, however, its gradual lifting revealed the shore, dim in the distance, and a sail to seaward, bound in to the Umpqua--a great relief to the tedium always experienced the day before a voyage ends. The shore, as we approached it during the afternoon, presented the same range of densely wooded hills, occasionally relieved by an opening of green, and occasionally by a deep winding valley that marked the course of a small mountain stream. Not a house, nor a fence, nor even a curl of wigwam smoke betrayed one dweller in the solitude. But the track of the red man could be traced in the vast leafless and almost limbless forests, scathed and destroyed all along the coast by his mountain fires. The track of a thousand storms, too, and the deep impressions on the tumultuous waves could be traced in the bold bluffs that lifted themselves up to their violence, and in the isolated or associated rocks, of every shape and size, that had been worn and ruptured from the shore.
T.D.H., "Letters from Oregon," The Pacific, San Francisco, August 11, 1854, page 2. The three-part letter began in the July 21 issue, and concludes on August 25.


(Correspondence of the Public Ledger.)
LETTER FROM OREGON.
Life in Oregon--Land Claims--Meeting--Indians, &c. &c.
Sterling City, Oregon Territory
    October 17, 1854
    Messrs. Editors:--As the tide of immigration is flowing towards this country, and many are leaving the good old Keystone to seek a home in the Far West, a voice from Oregon might not be uninteresting to your numerous readers--the world, I might say--for through your columns, correspondents are heard throughout the globe. This country has been misrepresented in many respects in the States, as all new countries ever will be; the bright side over displayed, the success of the few trumpeted forth in glowing colors; the toil, the hardships and sufferings that thousands daily endure, with the vain hope to amass a fortune, and after years of perseverance and suffering in body and mind are unable to save enough to carry them to their once-happy homes, is never spoken of. Yet this country is not all bad, but very different from what the mass that come here expect to find it. The greater part of the Territory is very mountainous, this part particularly, though the Rogue River Valley is but a few miles from this place. It is a beautiful valley, about twenty miles long, and from one to five wide, and good farming land, but suffers much for want of water. On one side of this valley is the much talked-of Table Rock, from which Indian Sam was heard the distance of six miles giving orders to his men last summer, during the war.
    The land claims in this valley are all taken up, as indeed are most of the farmable lands in Oregon. The Willamette and Umpqua, the principal valleys in Oregon, are much larger and yield large crops of grain. Though all those beautiful valleys are taken up, not more than one quarter of it is under cultivation, owing to the fact that, under the old law, settlers were allowed such large claims that now they have so much more land than they can use and will not let anyone else have it. Many will come to this country expecting to get good farms by settling on them, who will be sadly disappointed, and their only resort will be to the mines. There they will find that speculators hold all the claims and the only way to get into them will be to buy at an exorbitant price, and seldom take out more than the claim costs. A great deal of gold is found in this part of Oregon, but it is what the miners call "spotted," so that but few make their pile, whilst thousands make but little more than board, but work on them day to day, in the hope that they will yet make it "big." Provisions and everything for sale in the mines are high; common brown sugar sells for 37½ cents; coffee the same; bacon, 37½ to 40; tobacco, $1.17 per lb.; salt, $5 for 20-lb. sack, and all other goods in like proportion. In all mining districts there is a grocery for every twenty or thirty men, and every grocery has a bar attached, where the commonest kind of liquor is sold at 25 cents per glass. The gaming table found in all groceries is seldom unoccupied; in fact, it seems as though men in this country had lost all self-respect, have no ambition, and are perfectly reckless of what their future fate may be.
    No respect whatever is paid to the Sabbath--all stores are open and all gaming tables full, barkeepers busy at work--gambling and drinking going on as if God had no claim on the inhabitants of this country. Women are scarce here (in the mines). It may be that their gentle influence might have some effect in arresting vice, and restoring morality, if it could be felt among men who once regarded them as "God's best gift to man."
    This country, now, is quite thickly settled, and the immigration from the States seems to be on the increase. Some few have arrived from across the plains, and many more are on the way. This season great trouble is apprehended from the Indians, and several companies have gone out to meet the immigration from this and other parts of Oregon. Scarcely had they left when news came by express that eight men were killed and four women and children taken prisoners by the Snake Indians, about six hundred miles from this place, and the next express brought the news that they had also killed the women and children--the particulars of which you will no doubt have in the paper as soon as you will receive this. The Indians here are peaceable, now, towards the whites, though they frequently have disturbances among themselves, caused by killing one another, but they generally settle such difficulties by paying the friends of the Indian killed a horse or the gun or squaw, according to the value set upon the Indian killed. Such is the Indian idea of justice in this country. Well, I suppose there is many a white murderer gets off in the States with less cost. Some two months ago we had reason to prepare for war with them, caused by a white man, on Galice Creek, shooting an Indian who figured conspicuously last summer in the war. He was one of a party who killed eight white men whose hair can yet be seen amongst the brush on the banks of Galice Creek, at the sight of which every white man swears vengeance against every Indian accused of the murder. The same Indian who was killed helped to rob and then shot at a man from Philadelphia (since returned). The ball struck a tree but a few inches from his left breast.
    Few persons in the States, except returned Californians or Oregonians, can form any idea of a life in the mines in the summer season. The trading posts are the only houses, and some of them only tents. The miners cook for themselves (no women)--cooking utensils consist of camp kettle and frying pan, which together with pick, shovel and gold pan form a miner's outfit--sleep on the ground, with only a blanket for bed and bedding. In the rainy season they build up log houses to cook and sleep in, and work out in the rain and mud more than half the winter.
    The goods are packed to this place, about one hundred miles, on mules, about three hundred [pounds] to a mule, and from twenty to one hundred in a train, which are never tied up and fed, but turned loose at night to hunt their own food. The Indians here are very lazy, but few of them will work. They go from camp to camp with their children tied to a board and hung on the squaw's back, every day, begging for food. There are many different tribes in Oregon, and nearly all speak a different language. The Chinook jargon, a language said to be introduced amongst them by the Hudson Bay Company, is understood by most of them. The whites soon learn it, and so can readily converse with the natives, but few of them learn our language. They are now holding a council amongst themselves concerning one of their tribe, who has been killed by one of another tribe. An old Indian has been speaking nearly two hours, in sight of where I now write. His speech was one that might astonish some of our best orators. It was no studied speech for effect; there is no cultivation there, yet the argument was good and delivered with a feeling that could not be assumed; it was nature itself. He has just closed, and so must I. Perhaps I have already written more than will interest your numerous readers, if this should ever grace the pages of that sheet I once so loved to read, but now so seldom see.
Respectfully yours,            O. J. E. [Orange Jacobs Esquire?]
Public Ledger, Philadelphia, December 28, 1854, page 1


    In the autumn of 1854, while on a business trip to Southern Oregon, I was overtaken by ex-Judge Pratt, on his way to Jacksonville to get acquainted with the people, as he intended to become a candidate before the Democratic convention to be held in the following spring to nominate a delegate to Congress. As I was for Lane and knew pretty well how he stood in the estimation of the people in the southern counties, I ventured to suggest to him that he would encounter much opposition in that section. He, however, nothing daunted, believed that he could readily overcome it. He was a man of rare qualities, a good lawyer and a learned judge. He was very proud and dignified, a fine talker and a very entertaining man. He was readily the peer of the foremost men of the territory, and by many regarded the superior of all. We stopped at the Robinson House, kept at that time by its proprietor, Dr. Robinson, who was a Whig. He treated his guests with great courtesy and much consideration, as his name was well known and he had been much in evidence in the papers of that day.
    I left the judge with the host, with the request that he introduce him to persons who might come into the hotel, which he promised to do, and I went out to see some people on business. On returning to the hotel later, I found the judge busily engaged in "making his canvass." He stood before the bar, a thing he was never known to do before in Oregon. He was arrayed in a faultless suit, including a silk hat and a high shirt collar. In the parlance of the times, he wore a "stove-pipe hat" and a "biled shirt with a stake-and-ridered collar." His boon companions were miners in their rough garb, ranged along the bar on both sides of him. The judge was a good talker, and he was giving them the best he had for the occasion, and they were listening with apparent interest. As soon as they caught his drift, however, they looked at each other knowingly, as they were ardent admirers of General Lane, having met him during the Indian war of the year previous. One tall miner reached down to his boot, drew out a long knife and took the silk hat off the judge's head, saying, "This stove-pipe is too high by a j'int." Suiting the action to the word, he slashed it into two parts, and slapping the parts together, put it back on the judge's head. Pratt took this all in good part, and set up the drinks, which at this juncture was the only thing in order.
    Pratt had long, curly hair, black and glossy. The miner's next performance was to cut off a lock, saying as he did so that it was the "puttiest ha'r he had ever seed," that he must have just one lock for a keepsake, and that he hoped no offense to him, as he loved him. With that he threw his arms around the judge and gave him a good hug. With a wonderful exhibition of good nature and tact, Pratt took it all pleasantly. This somewhat nonplussed the miner, and if he had any further designs upon his victim he evidently abandoned them, as he remarked, on putting away his knife, that he would not take off the top rail of his "stake-and-ridered" collar.
    They bade each other good night and parted, apparently the best of friends. The next morning I complimented the judge upon his successful entrance upon his canvass, and he seemed to be very well satisfied with the outcome of it. He had seen much of the world, but this was the first time he had seen this corner of it. He went over to Sterling the next day and then returned to the Willamette Valley.
George E. Cole, Early Oregon: Jottings of Personal Recollections of a Pioneer of 1850, 1905, pages 66-68





Last revised October 1, 2017