PHYSICAL FEATURES OF SOUTHERN OREGON.A correspondent of the San Francisco Bulletin, writing from Cascade Mountains, Southern Oregon, under date of August 25th, gives the following description of that country:
The country lying between the summit of the Cascade Range, overlooking Rogue River Valley and Klamath Lake, and extending from Mount McLaughlin on the north to the California line, has been but little visited; and I think no description has been published of its physical character, condition and agricultural capabilities. To supply this want, I have prepared some notes of a Ggovernment survey and exploration undertaken in company with Deputy Surveyor S. T. Truax.
This survey gives opportunity for minute examination of townships in Ranges 37, 38 and 39 south, and 3, 4, 5 and 6 east; while the tour of observation extended over the most of the country indicated, embracing a range of about twenty-five townships, or nine hundred square miles. About one-halt of this is unfit for settlement, being too rugged for tillage, and too elevated for fruits or cereals; but the remainder embraces some of the finest country in the Pacific States, and is well worth the attention of those interested in developing their resources.
We made the ascent by the Soda Springs, leaving the Yreka road about two miles south of Judge Tolman's residence. These springs are worthy of notice. They are situated about five miles from the road in the foothills. The waters flow abundantly from the seams of the rock, and as they are in an attractive situation, and easy of access, they will be resorted to by persons suffering from weakness and indigestion, for which they are said to prove especially beneficial. No analysis has been made of them, but they bear a striking resemblance, in taste, to the Congress Spring at Saratoga, while the ferruginous deposit shows a larger proportion of iron, giving greater tonic effect.
The ascent of the mountains at this point is gradual and easy, though generally the western slope is rocky and precipitous. The general elevation is about two thousand feet above Rogue River Valley, or three thousand five hundred feet above the sea level. This is about the average elevation of the country examined, being about fifteen hundred feet lower than the plateau of the Sierra Nevada, the general aspect of which it very much resembles, although the prairies are not so broad, being more broken by peaks and ridges. The hills, also, are more thickly settled, and the timber is of a better description.
After crossing the summit there is a descent of a few hundred feet, which is so gradual as hardly to be perceptible, which brings you upon these elevated plains. On the other side of the plateau there is another ridge or sierra, extending south by southwest from the high table land lying east of Mount McLaughlin, known here as the Snowy Butte, and separating the waters of the Upper Klamath and Klamath Lake from those of Bear Creek, flowing southerly into the Lower Klamath, and Butte Creek flowing northwesterly into Rogue River. The small prairies scattered over this region are watered by these streams and their tributaries, which, although not carrying large quantities of water, are well distributed tor purposes of irrigation. In some localities, indeed, they fork past each other, flowing in opposite directions, where there is hardly a noticeable divide. These prairies are bounded and configured by small hills or buttes, from 1,000 to 2,000 feet in height, and by spurs of the mountains, which give them as many arms as Briarius. Frequently their glades intersect between the hills, so that, by a winding course, almost the whole district could be traversed without any hard travel, and level roads can be constructed in almost any direction.
The soil is generally a sandy or gravelly loam, and, where it is well watered, produced the natural grasses in great abundance. There are no swamps or tule lands, and no marshes except some of small extent, where the water finds no ready outlet; or else those indefatigable mechanics, the beavers, have overflowed the lands by means of their ingenious structures. The dry, sandy benches rising from the prairies and lying against the hills contain little organic matter, and so give birth to little vegetation besides timber, except service and whortleberry, and occasionally prickly oak and heather. But the timber is of the finest description, so that a fair proportion of this land is as important to the settler as that for crops and grazing.
The mountains furnish abundance of fir and cedar, together with some white oak and yew. But, for most building purposes, the pines which grow on these sandy benches are the most useful as well as the most convenient. There is a white pine which grows on moist land, and resembles the white pine of the East in texture; but it is much smaller, and differs in its botanical character. That to which I refer is a yellow pine of good size and height, is easily worked, and makes fine clear lumber. The redwood and cedar are of fine size, but are said to be inferior in strength and durability to those of the south. The fir is the most abundant of the mountain trees, and of this and the Douglas spruce there are specimens of immense size. I have measured some of the latter, perfectly sound and symmetrical, which were ten feet in diameter. This is not quite so large as the "Big Trees," but it is "big" enough. The only deciduous trees which grow on the low lands, large enough to be called trees, are the willows and silver leaf poplar, and these are hardly of sufficient size to serve any practical purpose.
The climate of this extensive district is dry and bracing. It is not too cold for wheat and some root crops down in the prairies; but in the open country, near the summit, water froze an eighth of an inch where we were camped the 13th and 14th of August last. Here, however, there is splendid grazing at the very season when it is most wanted. The climate is certainly salubrious, for we all slept on rock mattresses and gravel beds, upholstered with the stars and trees, and not one of the party ever suffered an ague chill or rheumatic twinge, or any of those throat roughnesses which come to dwellers in houses below the level of the pure mountain air. No white man has been here in the winter, but the indications are that the snows are heavy and the cold severe — more so than at higher elevations east of the Sierra Nevada. Mr. Grubb, who has improved a claim in T. 38, S., R. 3, E., near what is called Dead Indian Prairie, and the only person who has built a house in the district, says that he found ten inches of snow when he came in, the 1st of April, and that there were then drifts on level land two or three feet in depth; but it went off rapidly, and by the last of the month had entirely disappeared, except among the hills.
The spring rains continue through the month of May, after which there are only occasional showers, when the fall rains commence. They do not, however, suffer from drought, owing to the abundance of pure springs which aid the streams in carrying out the complete system of irrigation which nature has arranged here.
The natural grapes are abundant and of fine quality. They more closely resemble the cultivated grapes than any of the natural growth I have observed, either in the Western prairies or in the valleys of California or Utah. But the species are not so numerous as in the valleys east of the Sierra Nevada. I have found thirteen species of meadow grass, among which the most notable, perhaps, is a variety of timothy, which differs from the cultivated variety only in having the head thicker and shorter. I met also three species of clover, three species of peas and a species of beans. One of these, known as the "mountain bean," is a thrifty succulent vine and bears pretty abundantly a bean of good size. A man who had planted it told me that the size is much increased by cultivation. A proportion of the plants here which furnish food for stock are not among those classed as "forage plants," and to any having time and facilities it would be an interesting and useful investigation to determine them and test their relative value.
In the region of country of which this district forms a part, there is probably more game than anywhere on the continent. This is accounted for by the fact that on account of the distance from the center of their operations and the hostility of the Indians, the Hudson's Bay Company never hunted or trapped here, and the Indians themselves were not supplied with firearms; so that the game has not been frightened away, and of beaver especially there is probably more in Southern Oregon than in all the rest of the continent together. Grouse and pheasants constitute the chief of the feathered game, but the larger animals are actually the most numerous. Not a day passes without our meeting plenty of deer, and they have been hunted so little that they stand to be shot with revolvers. Elk are also very numerous. We have met them only in companies of ten or a dozen, but parties stopping here say it is no uncommon thing to see bands of two or three hundred; and I have seen the ground where they passed along torn up as much as a thousand acting ordinarily would have done.
We have seen several of the common black bear, though we came in actual conflict with but one, which we failed to bag. Considering, however, that we were without firearms and ammunition, I think he will have good cause to remember the day as one of blood and violence. Of the grizzly, we have seen only the "sign," and according to the freshness of his tracks ours might generally be seen diverging at an angle of greater or less radius. We did not come prepared to encounter the demons of the forest, as me result of our bear fight would indicate. It was not Gunter's chain the poet meant when he said, "The tiger's cub I'll bind with a chain;" and whatever assistance the tripod might render in a desperate extremity, the best service the magnetic needle could give would be to show us the way from the field of battle. But anyone, whether settler or adventurer, bringing his armament along, need not fear for an abundance of sport and tough "bar meat." Those, also, who love the sound of wolves' voices will be regaled nightly with delicious music.
The scenery does not present the features of grandeur and sublimity such as are furnished by the Alps and the Andes. The mind is not possessed by those sublime emotions which enchain it in the valley of Yo Semite, or when viewing Shasta Butte and those mighty monuments of creation in northern Oregon. But the lover of Nature will find that which constitutes the most essential element of picturesque beauty — variety. I have never passed through any country where the scenes succeeded each other with such rapidity — almost, it would seem, by magic power, and quite with magic effect. There is nowhere great breadth of view except from the summits overlooking the valleys which flank the Cascades on each side. But turn from these and descend among the hills to find the characteristic features of the place. You enter little prairies, surrounded by open woods, which extend themselves sometimes beyond the margin far into the unruffled surface, as if they deemed it was a lake in which they could view their graceful forms. The time has doubtless been when the speckled trout glanced here in the clear waters, and the swan "pruned his ruffled wing," but now that mirror is changed to a carpet of grass and flowers, whose beauty is enhanced by the presence of the forest which encircles and indents it.
Leaving the prairie, a few steps take you through the open forest, and you climb a steep and rocky hill, forcing your way through dense and almost impenetrable woods, where the gloomy beauty is forgotten in the labor of progress, and you are ready to sink in despair; but a ray of light appears, a few plunges are made, and you emerge upon a lawn which an English nobleman, with unbounded means at his command, with connoisseurs to suggest engineers to plan and gardeners to execute, might emulate in vain — for nowhere, under the guidance of art, have I seen nature luxuriate as she does in the nooks and glens of these mountains. Fir and spruces, seventy or eighty feet in height, rise singly, and in groups of three or four, from the plush-like lawn so densely covered with their evergreen foliage as wholly to veil the trunk from the far-reaching spire down to where the broad branches rest on the thick grass.
From these you can pass by grassy glades to other, and still other such, sylvan scenes, or plunge at once through the walls of verdure, where the yellow-leafed cedar is interwoven with the dark Douglas spruce and the silver fir, and again force your way up the steep ascent, through the thick trees and tangled shrubs, by the springs that trickle over the rocks— assured that very soon you will again emerge in open woods, or prairie, or glen, or lawn, or some scene that will give pleasure to the eye and excite emotions of love, to the Giver of all Beauty, in the heart. E.
Sacramento Daily Union, September 12, 1859, page 1 This article ran in the San Francisco Bulletin of September 8, 1859, page 3
Last revised November 2, 2016