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The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised


Jackson County 1878


Letter from Oregon.
    As we have many readers in the eastern states to whom the following graphic letter, clipped from the Mills County (Iowa) Journal, will no doubt be interesting, we will reproduce it in the columns of the Tidings. Mr. Sherman is now a resident of Phoenix, in this county.
    Hon. S. Sherman, late of Dakota, and a brother of the senior of the Journal, is now a resident of southwestern Oregon, whither he drove overland last year, arriving there last September. A private letter from him presents some matters of such general interest that we venture to print a part of it, descriptive in character, as follows:
    "This is a very romantic region of the country. The surface is varied with beautiful valleys--basins of very rich, loamy, sandy land, having a clayey, gravel subsoil, which valleys occupy and compose about one-third of the country. Then the small hills, ridges and foothills occupy one-third; then the divides--mountain ranges--snow-capped peaks, called buttes, rise thousands of feet, seen in all directions, near and far. Among the latter, Anderson's Butte is 8,000 ft. high, and five miles west to the base; Wagner Butte, eight miles south, 10,000 feet high, and numerous minor buttes without specific names. From five miles on the road to Jacksonville can be seen to the east, 60 miles off, the famous Mt. Pitt (now Mt. McLoughlin), 13,000 feet high, whose peak is covered with perpetual snow. Likewise Mt. Shasta, in California, and 75 miles southwest of here, can be seen from the peaks of the buttes first named, but the Siskiyou Range lies between here and there.
    "I am now approaching a point of business. There are heavily timbered valleys, ravines and gulches yet unclaimed and subject to be pre-empted, homesteaded, or entered at $1.25 per acre. These are rare opportunities for a citizen--the head of a family--to speculate. I have bought a man's improvements, which, you are to understand, means his claim to the mouth--which is the only entrance, passway, or outlet--for several hundred acres of the best timber in the known world, and the prospects are now that the link, yet unfinished, of the California and Oregon Railroad will be completed within two years as the charter expires at that time, and it cannot miss my ranch more than four miles, as that is the width of Bear Creek Valley at that point, and a regular inclining grade at the rate of about 200 feet to the mile. Heretofore, the citizens have taken timber what and when they wanted, not thinking [it] worthwhile to purchase the land, consequently there was no market for timber. I calculate there are, at the lowest estimate, 1,000 ties on my ranch to the acre, and as the incline is so gradual down to the open valley, one span of horses, mules or oxen might haul 50 green or 100 seasoned ties at a load, and a man might make from two to four loads per day, and I believe that all I would get over five cents apiece would be clear profit. The timber is fir, spruce, pine pitch or yellow pine, red cedar, yew, alder, willow, laurel and dogwood--decreasing to about a twofold ratio in quantity as the names or varieties succeed one another. There are firs in my gulch that will measure three feet in diameter, 200 feet from the ground, others about big enough to square the size of a railroad tie and make twelve ties without a limb, and six more after the brush is knocked off, and in places they stand in groups so close together a man cannot swing an axe among them only on the outside of the grove. This fir timber, for a great many practical purposes, is not surpassed by any other variety, ash not excepted. It makes durable posts, and solid and smooth enough for all kinds of woodwork. I believe it is tougher than ash or hickory, and much more durable; also lighter. Then, next in quantity and valuation is cedar. It works very easy and smoothly, and makes the best of furniture and finishing lumber. It is also valuable for posts and rails, shingles and clapboards. Next in order is pitch and yellow pine. It is valuable for rough lumber, such as house and barn sheathing, fencing boards, etc. Next, and perhaps rarest, is yew, as hard as, and similar to, lignum vitae. It is principally valuable for fence posts. They are of remarkably slow growth, one tree seldom making more than two posts in length, and it is hard to chop and almost an impossibility to split it. The alder is a small tree, but unlike the yew it is a soft and very white wood, similar to old Ohio basswood, and good for about the same purposes."
Ashland Tidings, October 11, 1878, page 1


    We reached the Rogue River Valley early in the evening, and by nine o'clock were in Jacksonville, the largest and most important town in Southern Oregon. This place has a population of about 1,000, and being in the center of a large mining and agricultural community, is enterprising and prosperous. It was the first place north of California in which gold was discovered, and this incident made it for a time the metropolis of the state; but since the decadence of the placer mines it has retired into a steady-going town which pays much attention to religion, education, politics and quiet amusements. The region of which it is the capital has an area of 1,800 square miles, and is the equal in beauty, fertility of soil, and geniality of climate of any portion of Northwestern America. Its physical conformation is a rolling plain, interspersed with low, oak-covered hills, which make excellent pasturage or vineyards, as they have a gradual slope, a granitic soil, and are well drained. The experiments made with the grape have proved that it will thrive there as well as in California, and, having a large amount of saccharine matter, it makes good wine.
    For fruit cultivation in general the region can scarcely be ex
celled, as it produces figs and peaches of fine flavor, and the cherry, plum, crabapple, and all the smaller berries grow wild there. Its climate is much warmer than that of the more northerly sections, the average temperature in summer being 85°, and in winter 48°. A few days in July may reach 102° in the shade, and in January go down to 26°, but these are said to be exceptional cases. The summers are so long that two crops of figs are said to be gathered, and the winters so mild that they do not injure even the delicate magnolias. The winter may be said to be confined to December and January, when the nights are frosty, and a little snow falls at rare intervals, but it is never cold enough to cause any cessation of outdoor labor; and the hottest days are rarely oppressive, owing to the cold breezes which blow from the snowy crest of the Cascade Range, seventy miles distant.
    There are more foliaceous trees in this valley than in any other portion of the state, owing to its southern latitude, and the abundance of the laurel, ceanothus, arbutus, chaparral and manzanita give it a semi-tropical appearance. One of the handsomest trees in the state is the madrona (Arbutus Menziesii) which is a peculiarity of the flora of the Pacific. It attains a height of from 20 to 30 feet, and a diameter of 14 inches, and has an exfoliating bark, which is green in summer, but reddish in winter. The leaves, being large, thick and glistening, cause it to resemble the Magnolia grandiflora of the Southern states. The wood being hard and smooth, it could be used for the manufacture of domestic articles, but were it even useless for that purpose it should form part of the arborescence of every well-kept garden, as it is both handsome and ornamental. The
California laurel is also a fine tree, and the equal of the noble laurel of Europe in beauty. It attains a height of 30 feet, a diameter of 7 inches, has a lustrous, evergreen foliage, numerous involucred flowers, and its leaves, when rubbed, emit an aromatic odor. The manzanita is much sought by the grizzly bear, its berries, the well-known uva ursi, being one of its favorite foods; hence, where it is plentiful, the monarch of the western wilds may be expected also.
    The mineral wealth of this valley is deemed to be very great, as gold, lignite, quicksilver, magnetite, chromic iron, galena, graphite, gypsum, carbonate of lime, steatite, dolomite and kindred minerals have been discovered in many localities. The placer gold mines, which cover an area of 100 square miles, have yielded 16,000,000 dollars since they were first worked in 1849, but they are now largely in the hands of the Chinese, who are content with from 2 to 5 dollars per day for their labor. Quartz ledges, which "prospect" well, have been found in several places, but the want of capital prevents the development of their treasure. The region is peculiarly rich in soda, salt and sulfur springs, both cold and thermal, and others which yield boracite and magnesia. Their steam ascending into the air on a frosty morning throws a heavy vapor over the tract adjoining them and gives it a rather misty aspect, while the odor they exhale has a most significant suggestion of subterranean abodes.
    The great obstruction to the progress of this section is the want of means of communication with the outer world, they being at present confined to a steep mountain road leading to California, and another to the town of Roseburg, 100 miles to the north. On the completion of the Oregon and California Railroad, however, it will have ample facilities for the transportation of its products to a market, and one may then expect it to become all that its fertility of soil and geniality of climate could make it.
    It should become a great resort for invalids, tourists and the lovers of field sports, as it abounds with medicinal springs, boasts some of the strangest and grandest scenery on the continent, and its forests teem with deer, grouse, pigeons and quail, and its streams and lakes with several species of the delicious mountain trout. The bear, panther, wolf, wildcat, and other animals which stand high in the estimation of the hunter, are found there as numerously as the people care for, and he who wishes to measure himself against them need not have far to go to fulfill his desires to the utmost. One pleasant fact about these woods and prairies is that there are few venomous reptiles in them, and the same may be said of the whole of Western Oregon; at least, I never heard of such a thing as a person being stung by a rattlesnake or any of its congeners. The only members of the Ophidian family that I saw there were the garter snake, greenracer, and bull snake, and they are perfectly harmless to human beings. Even flies--mosquitoes excepted--injurious to man or beast are, I believe, unknown, except in one section near the Lava Beds, where a horsefly is so numerous and persistent in attack that it will seriously injure a horse left uncovered. The Batrachians even are few and of little importance, there being only three or four species of the Anoura, of which the most abundant is the Oregon wood frog (Hyla regilla), found in the timbered regions. The Uradela has one representative in the warty salamander (Taricha torosa), a very slow and stupid creature. The Saurian family is also small, and confined to two species of the 
Eleyaria, a couple of fence lizards, and a horned toad (Tapaya Douglasii), found on the dry plains of Eastern Oregon. It would, therefore, seem as if some Indian Saint Patrick had banished the venomous reptiles from the country soon after it emerged from its icy coating. The cause of its immunity from these creatures is of course due to the humid climate, for it is a well-known fact that all snakes, except those attached to water, prefer a high, dry, sunny habitat to the rains and fogs of heavily wooded regions.
    During my sojourn in Jacksonville a party of gentlemen planned an excursion to the Rogue River Falls and Crater Lake, two scenes well worthy of a visit from those who appreciate the beauties and wonders of nature, and at their invitation I accompanied them. Starting out early in the morning, we looked, as we emerged on the plains, like a body of guerrillas going on a raid, as our raiment was composed of many textures and colors, and we were armed with rifles, shotguns, revolvers, and bowie knives, while our mustangs ranged in hues from black to piebald and white. Our motley appearance produced many witty comments from members of the cavalcade, but one was so carried away with its imposing mien that he compared it to the march of a body of knights going on a chivalric mission to break lances with their foes. A practical individual destroyed the effect of this noble simile, however, by suggesting that we looked more like horse thieves, or outcasts from civilization, who were rushing all over the country in search of something to steal, and he strongly intimated that our presence in any hamlet would cause the people to lock up their houses, or to turn out and fight us. With such good-natured badinage as this the morning passed rapidly away, but finding that we should not reach our destination as soon as desirable by keeping at the pace we were then going, the leader gave the driver of the wagon containing our tents and provisions instructions where to meet us, then slyly hinted that we ought to gallop away from the wagon as rapidly as possible if we would not be suspected of being out on a poultry-stealing expedition. The hint was laughingly taken, and putting spurs to our mustangs, we were soon dashing over the prairie at a breakneck pace, and in a comparatively short time reached our first halting place, on the wooded banks of the Rogue River.
    I noticed here, as I had in the open spaces, the unusual abundance of liliaceous plants, and the gaudy colors of nearly all the flowers. This gave the region a most brilliant appearance, for red, yellow, crimson, purple, straw and light blue hues were the most prominent; modesty of floral attire was, in fact, conspicuous by its absence, and this I subsequently found to be the case throughout the whole of Northwestern America.
    Our first movement, after tethering the horses and turning them out to graze in a pasture so rich that the grass reached above their knees, was to make a pilgrimage to the Rogue River Falls, and drink in their beauty for an hour. These falls are formed by the river not far from where it breaks through the Coast Range on its way to the sea. The stream, being surrounded by magnificent firs, pines, cedars, and other trees throughout its entire course, it has the appearance, in perspective, of an undulating silvery thread stretched through an extensive field of foliage; and where it takes its abrupt leap the forest is so dense as to be almost impassable in summer, owing to the luxuriance of the shrubbery and undergrowth, and so dark and cool, even in the warmest weather, as to exhale a palpable humid coolness. Looking upward at the falls from their base, they are seen to emerge from a narrow opening between two huge masses of dark crags; but ere they reach the ground they seem divided into three sections of foamy spray, owing to the interruption of the line of sight by the dense and tangled foliage. Their actual height is estimated at 200 feet, and their width at 30, and their volume of water in early summer, during the spring freshets, at a depth of 8 feet. They are then in their finest condition, and the stream possesses such powerful velocity that it whirls large crags along its course as if they were pebbles. One of the most interesting features of the falls is the luxuriance of the mosses and lichens wherever the spray falls. Their base is surrounded by cedars, junipers, alders and willows, which are covered with moss to such an extent that their trunks and branches are almost concealed. This, of course, prevents much leafage, so that they present the appearance of a forest of gigantic mosses. Desiring to avoid the spray, I tore away some of the mossy covering from a tree, and found between it and the trunk a chamber, large enough to hold ten persons, and thoroughly waterproof. In this snug retreat I had a fine opportunity of studying the delightful scene before me, which in picturesqueness excelled any of a similar character I had seen before. The water in its fall threw copious showers upon the evergreens, and produced a permanent rainbow in the forest which extended from the highest tree to the lowest shrub. This was the first effect of its kind I had ever noticed, and most pleasing it seemed, as the line of foliage through which it passed was brilliantly illuminated with all the prismatic hues.
    Having feasted our eyes on this vista of wood and water, we returned to the upper world once more and made preparations for supper. As we had no fresh meat it was decided to kill some deer, while others went fishing; but who should hunt and who should fish was a difficult matter to decide, as all seemed to be aching to practice their rifles or shotguns on something, if it were only a squirrel. The dilemma was solved, however, by drawing lots as to who should be compelled to try and drown a worm for an hour or two; and as I was one of these, I cut a twig for a rod, tied my line to it, and soon had my legs dangling over a bank, trying to drown a very small angleworm. I was not long engaged in this arduous duty when my hook was seized with a vigor that seemed to bring my heart to my mouth, but I soon recovered myself, and fought as well as I could against a 6-lb. trout as to whether I should land him on the bank or he pull me into the water. Science triumphed and I was victor. The fish were so plentiful and voracious that it became a labor to haul them ashore; and thinking I had enough, after I caught two dozen splendid fellows, I returned to camp, and there found some of the expedition busily engaged in skinning two fine stags which they had slain within half an hour after starting on the hunt. The others were not so fortunate, but everyone brought in something--a hare, a wood duck, or a grouse; and one individual who could find nothing else, and was resolved not to return empty-handed, brought in a long-tailed wood rat--the greatest thief on earth--which he found trying to steal an old boot heel, hoary with age and hard work. When he threw his treasure on the ground, a cry was raised immediately to hang him as a "heathen Chinee" sailing under false colors; but the sentence, after much argument, was changed into making him bring all the water needed for supper, and this he promised to do. That al fresco meal was a joyous one, for wit and humorous story enlivened it. When it was finished, and pipes or cigars were lighted, the "yarners" commenced their work and kept it going until near midnight, when the laughter-satiated expedition retired to rest. We were astir early the next morning, and after breakfast moved for the Cascade Range, about eighty miles distant, to visit Crater Lake. Our route led over some of the finest views to be found on the continent, for on one side were the cumulus-covered snow peaks, and on the others, heavily timbered mountains 4,000 feet high, while between, like a sea of verdure, rolled the undulating valley. We camped out the first night without any other covering than our blankets, and by noon of the next day reached the object of our journey, high up amidst the forests of the Cascade Range.
    I had heard much of this lake, and expected much, as a matter of course, but I must say that it went far beyond my most sanguine expectations. When we first reached its summit the mountain was covered with an almost impenetrable mist that concealed all objects; but that soon cleared away, and we had a fine opportunity of gazing down into the cavernous depths of the rock-bound tarn. From measurements made by a party of engineers, the lake was found to be the most deeply buried body of water of its size known, the altitude of its walls being placed at 2,500 feet, and its superficial area at thirty-six square miles. It is said that a ball fired from a rifle cannot be seen to strike the water, a statement very natural to believe, inasmuch as it is nearly half a mile from the top to the surface of the lake. Several of our party tried it, but in no instance could the bullet be seen to strike, nor did I expect it at that distance. We reached the water by following a steep trail formed by the large wild animals which frequent it to allay their thirst, and considered ourselves quite fortunate in doing so without suffering any greater injury than a few gashes from jagged stones. Once below, and we had a splendid view of the watery waste that stretched out before us like a lake of ink, and the towering walls that enveloped it in so close an embrace that no vestige of a shore line was visible. The water had a dark-blue look, exactly like ink, and this blackish effect was increased by the sooty crags and the somber conifers that grew on their summits. The picture it presented had no expression of brightness or gentleness in its composition; all was savage wildness, rude grandeur and cold desolation, for look were one would and nothing greeted the vision but black waves, bare crags and gloomy trees. The silence was so oppressive as to seem droning, and the absence of all life gave it an air of weird solitude that appeared unnatural. It is a perfect tarn of death, for not a fish lives in its inky waters, nor a fly in the air, and no songbird ever enlivens its brooding stillness with a merry warble. After gazing upon it for awhile it seems exceedingly unearthly, and arouses a feeling of strangeness akin to awe, which is difficult to shake off.
    Our party went on a tour of exploration over it, having found an old skiff, which had been built by earlier visitors, near the shore. Our first halt was at a rocky islet which rises up in its center to a height of 1,200 feet. This has a crater in the top which is 100 feet deep, and whose mouth is one mass of scoriaceous lava. A long line told us that the water at the base of the island was over 500 feet deep, so that the lake from the top of the walls to the bottom is over half a mile in depth. It is certainly a wonderful spot, and one well worth visiting, if only for its unique character.
John Mortimer Murphy, Rambles in North-Western America, London 1879, page 78


Last revised June 22, 2015