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The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised


Jackson County 1874


Umpqua Valley circa 1910.
The Umpqua Valley circa 1910.
    We leave Portland in the morning and reach Roseburg at seven o'clock p.m., where, after a brief and exceptionally poor supper, we board the stagecoach and are off in the gloaming for the night ride. The gloaming soon fades into night. We greatly enjoy the first long hills, the moon flickering through the trees, and the silver gleam of the Umpqua below us. At first we are crossing smoothly rounded pasture hills with their beautiful oaks, but the hills soon change into mountains. The coach creaks and groans over the rough road and jolts all idea of sleep out of our minds. We do not mind this much as the novelty of our position and the beauty of the mountain pass would keep us awake without the jolting. But when in the small hours the moon hides behind clouds and the keen night air penetrates through our overcoats and chills us to the marrow; when we find that "all full inside" means that we cannot stretch out our cramped and benumbed legs; when the jolts coming upon us unawares bang our heads unmercifully against the sides of the coach; ah! then we think regretfully of the railroads! Exacting tyrants though they are, a stagecoach passenger over these mountains often longs to hug the chain of such a bondage.
    What a struggle nature keeps up to bring us to the needed rest of sleep, and how successfully the stagecoach combats and battles all such efforts. Just as this strife is rendering us quite desperate there is a rattle of wheels between buildings, the road for one instant seems smoother, and the coach strikes a livelier pace as it rounds to at the low porch of a wayside country tavern. And here, it seems, we are to breakfast.
    Breakfast in the darkness of night, and before we have enjoyed the first sweet nap, is mere irony and bitter mockery. The meal that is set before us too would be but mockery under the brightest of circumstances. Soggy are the biscuits; muddy is the coffee; most forbidding the pork swimming before us in a lake of its own fat; our breakfast room was but a few minutes before a bedroom, and the change is too recent to admit of any attempts at concealment or evasion of this unpleasant fact; the one lamp sputters odorously and sheds a dubious glow on the inexcusable foulness of the tablecloth; bah! let us out! Oh, incense-breathing morn, what a profanation of thy cheery meal is this! and why are we made to stand and deliver "six bits" in good solid coin for merely snuffing the combined odors of that banqueting hall?
    The stage is at the door with fresh horses and a fresh driver. We embark once more, now thoroughly awakened and indeed refreshed by the half hour's stretch of legs, if not by the breakfast. It is still black night, but we light cigars confidently and feel that we have begun a new day. The day is not long in reddening the eastern sky, and we watch joyfully the sunrise, from its first flush to full effulgence. And when by and by the warm glow cheers us into an appreciative sense of our surroundings, we find ourselves in a wild mountain region. Rugged and grand, fir-clad and rocky, they tower about us with no longer any semblance of sequence or continuous range. There are here and there farms and settlements along watercourses and in the small valleys--beautiful spots, too, looking rich in fruits and golden flowers. The stage road generally, however, led among the greater hills, under the lee of frowning rocks and through pine woods. It was certainly grand and beautiful, and with rather more of California than Oregon in its flora. The wayside was full of the orange-colored blossoms of the eschscholzia that so brilliantly gild all the green places of California, and the manzanita and madrona were becoming frequent. Both of these last-named are semi-tropical-looking shrubs or trees, the madrona having a bright-red trunk and limbs that contrast finely with its dark and glossy green foliage.
    When we next changed horses I got a chance to walk on ahead, and I could note the roadside flowers more pleasantly while resting from the weariness of sitting. And when the stage overtook me I climbed to the unoccupied seat beside the driver, and found it by far the most comfortable place on board. It was certainly exposed to the full fury of the summer sun, but then the breezes were fresher than on the inside, and the clouds of dust blew aft, or settled on the insiders; and I could see the road far ahead, and get glimpses down ravines, or of distant snow-peaks, hidden from my companions.
    I have heard it said that the roads on the Pacific Coast were generally good, where you might reasonably expect poor ones, and bad where they might easily be made good. This is certainly the case in the Oregon stage routes. On the plains, where nature has made things smooth, man has been neglectful, but when forced to cross mountain ranges he has done it excellently well. These roads wind from the low valley places to mountaintops, clinging to the sides of ravines, hanging over precipices, turning very short angles, but always built firmly and smoothly, and supported by log and rock walls. In some places you could almost reach from the stage to another and higher part of the same road, that it would take perhaps half an hour of travel to reach. Thus, winding and turning and climbing, looking off at the great ravines yawning below us, or up at the pines above us, or at the beautiful and sweetly odorous flowers of manzanita or azalea bushes, we climbed up to considerable heights. Then, with a loud crack of the driver's whip, we went whirling down the mountainsides at a furious rate. It seems to be customary here to drive horses at a gallop down the hills. On we go, clouds of dust rolling behind us, and the coach spinning over the smooth roadway. Where the road makes a complete double, we check speed a little at the angle and let the horses take breath, and also shout a warning to possible teams coming in the opposite direction. When we meet teams the difficulty of passing on the narrow road is considerable, though we can usually either see or hear far enough in advance to select the best ground. But the roads, good as they are, are very narrow.
    Now, as near noon, we find ourselves descending, I descry below us on the right a river--a river bright with foam and its crystal waters transparent and green. The driver says this is the "Rogue," so I know we have crossed the barrier and are now in the southern division of Oregon, viz, the Rogue River Valley. Pretty soon we are down on the river bank with the mountain wall crowding us close to the water. But soon the valley expands slightly, and a little town or group of houses stands at the head. Here we find a small neat tavern where we dine. There are no traces of French cookery about the dinner, but still the neatness and cleanness of the plain fare, after the breakfast failure, are very pleasant and dispose us to think well of the little village of Rocky Point.
    We cross the Rogue River on a bridge, and then our afternoon's drive is down the expanding and fertile valley. This Rogue Valley is narrow, but quite level and a prairie. It is but newly open to settlers, and by no means full yet, but it has been occupied long enough to manifest practically its excellence as a peach and grape district.
    Jacksonville, which we pass later, is a mining town, and nearby are the gravel heaps and dull yellow banks which indicate placer mining. These are generally deserted, though I saw one or two Chinamen, armed with the gold-digger's professional pan.
    Now Mount Pitt, magnificent and conical, its eternal snows dazzling with sunshine, looks down upon the valley, and seems hardly a dozen miles off. Yet at its feet lie Klamath Lake, and the Lava Beds of the gallant Captain Jack, eighty miles distant from Jacksonville. As the twilight approaches, we edge toward the right side of the valley, or climb the lesser foothills of the Siskiyou Mountains. A wayside supper, fresh horses, and a long, steep climb in the first darkness of the night, and we are fairly in for the night ride over the mountains. I climb to my outside perch, in spite of intense and persistent drowsiness. The great rocks and the pine trees grow spectral and dim; the creaking of the coach and the clash of waterfalls become first monotonous, then faint; the rising morn casts a ghastly light through the foliage, which flickers strangely. I fairly lose consciousness and show evident signs of lurching overboard, so that the driver stops for me to climb inside. My companions do not welcome me very  hospitably, as I oblige them to take a pile of assorted boots and shoes out of my seat and to curl up into narrower quarters. But why recount the tortures of the night? Rendered desperate for want of sleep we do doze at intervals, though every such respite is followed by the loss of one's seat or a bruised and battered head in contact with strap buckles or the iron curtain button. Still the aggregate of sleep is something no doubt, and when we stop at the little town of Yreka, for for the usual change of horses at 3:30 a.m., I find a wooden office chair, in the warm and comfortable hotel office, the softest, sweetest quietest resting place imaginable.
"From the Pacific Ocean," Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, Burlington, Iowa, February 26, 1874, page 6



Last revised December 31, 2013