IN THE SISKIYOUS
By C. B. Watson
The Siskiyou Mountains cover a large area in southwestern Oregon and northwestern California, and constitute a part of a cluster of mountains, designated in the records as the "Klamath Group." This group is bounded on the south by the Sacramento Valley, and Coast Range of mountains, in California, on the west by the Pacific Ocean, on the north by the Coast Range and Rogue River Valley, in Oregon, and on the east by the Cascade Mountains, in Oregon, and Shasta Valley and the Shasta breaks, in California.
The group embraces the Wooly Bully and Scotts mountains, in northern California, and the Siskiyou Mountains, partly in Oregon, and partly in California. This group is designated as an "old Cretaceous island," having been an island when the waters of the ocean washed the foot of the Rocky Mountains. At this period the Cascade Mountains had not appeared above the surface and the ocean billows rolled undisturbed over the spot where Shasta now stands. At that period the Blue Mountains, now a part of northeastern Oregon, was also an island, and the present high Sierra was a contemporaneous island, or continent, and terminated at a point--at its northernmost end--between the Pit and Feather rivers.
It would be interesting, but not expedient at this time, to give all the facts upon which this assumption is based. Suffice it to say that the old shoreline is easily traced by the sandstone that was laid along it, and is rich in its fossil records. The ammonite, trilobite, trigonia and other shells belonging to that period, known as the Cretaceous, not only determines the age, but being marine fossils makes it unquestionable that at the time they were deposited the ocean covered the spots where they are found. Many of these shells are found embedded in sandstone near the point where the Southern Pacific railroad crosses the Siskiyou Mountains at an altitude of four thousand feet. All that portion of Rogue River Valley which borders upon the old island has the shoreline well marked with these fossiliferous sandstones.
The purpose of this article being to deal only with the Siskiyou Mountains and Rogue River Valley, I shall not treat of the geological records of other sections, only to say that the records and the history here will apply largely to those sections mentioned as being contemporaneous. The Siskiyous have a direction from east to west, the summit of the range marking the vicinity of the dividing line between California and Oregon, the line being sometimes north and in other places south of the summit of the range. Many of its peaks rise to an altitude of eight thousand feet and several above that. The formation is largely granite, and the great gold fields of the early mining days of southwestern Oregon and northwestern California were in the Siskiyous. Yreka, Cottonwood, Humbug, Klamath River, Jacksonville, Applegate, Willow Springs, Gold Hill, and many other names will sound familiar to the old miners as the mining camps of the days of the '50s. Millions of dollars have been taken from the rich placers of these mountains, and we are today in the era of the development of the many rich ore bodies that are discovered to have been the feeders of the placers of the earlier days.
The gold mines of the Siskiyous have already added much to the world's supply of the yellow metal, and the prospect promises that here will be opened up indefinite riches in gold and copper. Immense copper deposits are being developed at the Blue Lead, thirty miles south of Jacksonville, the county seat of Jackson County, and in the vicinity of Waldo, near the head of the Illinois River, in Josephine County, Oregon. These properties are in the hands of capitalists, who have already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in developing them and in constructing roads into these rugged mountain fastnesses. These copper deposits are found near the summit of the Siskiyou, partly in Oregon, and partly in California, but the outlets are in Oregon.
The scenic attractions of these mountains are great. Massive piles of granite rise into regions of perpetual snow, from which streams go plunging down the deep, dark cañons, and through magnificent forests of pine and fir, to make glad and rich some of the most beautiful valleys in the world.
The Rogue River Valley is one of the most beautiful and favored spots on the Pacific Coast. It is rich in soil, greatly diversified in its products, and blessed with a climate as equable as can be found anywhere, consistent with health, comfort and diversified productions. It is a choice spot among the many delightful locations to be found on the coast. The mean annual temperature, for twenty-four years, is fifty-two and one-hundredth degrees. The average rainfall for twenty-four years last past is nineteen and sixty-nine one-hundredths inches annually. These conditions and the character of the soil make the valley especially adapted to horticulture. Peaches, apples, pears, apricots, and a great variety of berries and grapes are produced in great abundance. A great variety of farm products are produced, which together with extensive mining, lumbering and stock raising give a variety of resources not excelled. Unlike Alaska, mining may be continued the year around, and abundant supplies may be had at any mine within one or two days' travel with wagon or pack animals.
The valley is a gem, as seen from the lofty mountains that surround it like a rich frame about a magnificent painting.
Coming into the valley by the Southern Pacific from California, a run of fifty minutes brings the traveler from the summit of the Siskiyous to the city of Ashland, known for the scenic beauty of its environment. The trip from the summit is one never to be forgotten. The construction of the road over this mountain is one of the wonders of the route. The views never fail to delight the traveler and astonish the stranger. The first view of the valley, as the train moves slowly down its zigzag course, is one not easily forgotten by anyone, world traveler though he may be.
Just before entering the tunnel, at its southern portal on the summit of the Siskiyous, you will have a wonderful view of Northern California, and your last view of grand old Shasta. Just to the east, one will see Pilot Rock about four miles away, and towering one thousand, five hundred feet higher than the roadbed at the tunnel. This massive pile of basalt has a historic interest. It is claimed that Fremont, in his early explorations, and while on his way from Oregon into California, had seen the Siskiyou Mountains from high points between the Umpqua and Rogue rivers. They appeared so massive and unbroken that he inquired of the Indians for a trail, or directions by which he might cross them. The Indians pointed to a prominent rock, perhaps a hundred miles away, standing just to the left of the Siskiyous and told him to keep just to the right of this and he would find "heap good trail." He kept this rock in view, crossed Rogue River Valley, and found the pass. He called the rock Pilot Rock, and it has held that name. Later the overland stage line, from Sacramento to Portland, crossed in the same pass, and when the railroad came to be built, no better pass could be found.
Ashland Butte, ten miles on a direct line south from Ashland, is one of the highest peaks of the Siskiyou Range. Snow usually lies upon this mountain the year around and furnishes Ashland its water. The quantity and quality of this water has been an important factor in making Ashland a famous little city of schools, churches and homes, of five thousand people. The butte is one of the objective points for summer pilgrimages. A wagon road for six miles, and a good trail the remainder of the way, takes one to the top. The first six miles is along Ashland Creek Cañon, a route romantic, scenic and delightful. The road to the summit leads to the heart of the mountains, eight thousand feet above the sea, the apex of an old island which once stood in volcanic glory, a beacon light to a shipless sea, when the leviathan, mammoth and hairy elephant were rivals for favored sports along its old shoreline.
Following Ashland Creek Cañon for a distance of four miles, we enter Ashland Park, a national reserve set apart by the government as a water and timber preserve. During the hot summer days a more delightful retreat cannot be found. This park abounds in cascades, waterfalls, beautiful groves and towering peaks, grass-covered glades and flower-bedecked nooks. The mountains are heavily timbered with pine, fir, hemlock and cedar, while the streams are bordered with a great variety of growths.
When we have reached the top of the range, a glorious view spreads out in every direction. Mountain billow upon mountain billow succeeds one another until the gaze is dimmed with the magnitude of the scene. Mount Shasta, fourteen thousand, four hundred and forty feet high, though sixty miles away, seems near, and with a good glass its glaciers can be plainly seen. To the south and stretching away to the west, Scotts Mountains rise grandly, serrated and snow-decked. Between Scotts Mountains and Shasta, the course of the Sacramento River is easily traced. Nearer at hand, Shasta Valley shines like a garden of beauty. To the west the rugged Siskiyous stretch away to the horizon. To the northwest the Coast Range, dark and somber in its forest garb, stretches away until it blends with the skyline. Everywhere are densely wooded mountains. To the northwest and near at hand, six thousand feet below us, lies Rogue River Valley, so close that barns, houses, orchards and fences can be seen, and more than half a dozen towns and villages enliven the picture. To the east and extending northerly in an unbroken line extends the Cascade Range, from Shasta to British Columbia. We can trace it for a hundred miles, and if the weather is very clear we can see the Three Sisters, more than one hundred and fifty miles away. Mount McLoughlin, Union Peak, the crags about Crater Lake, Mount Thielsen and the Three Sisters are among the snow peaks.
Twenty miles west of Ashland Butte are Squaw Lakes, two little lakes of great depth and romantic surroundings. Game is plentiful, and for a summer's outing no place more delightfully situated could be found. About fifty miles west of Ashland, still in the Siskiyous, are the great Josephine County caves that have been explored for a distance of two and a half miles, but the magnitude of which is beyond knowledge. These mountains also contain extensive bodies of marble in which are caverns of unknown extent. These marble deposits are found both in Jackson and Josephine counties, and suggest a still older geological history. Old as these mountains are, these marbles are older and were laid down in the ocean before this old island came to the surface. The bedding of this marble is slate that was deposited as a sedimentary slime on the ocean floor before the lime was deposited from which this marble resulted. In places this marble is two thousand feet thick and occupies the summits of high ridges. These bodies are but fragments of what once was a large and continuous area of marble. Erosion through eons of ages has cut great cañons through it and through the slate on which it rests, leaving the strata exposed along the sides of the remaining fragments.
The Applegate River rises in the heart of the Siskiyous and flows by a sinuous course northerly into Rogue River. This stream is one of great beauty, and the mines along it have been among the richest in all this region. The lower course of the stream is through a fertile valley having climate, soil and resources identical with Rogue River Valley, though in area it is smaller. Williams Creek Valley is one of the most beautiful in all the Siskiyou Mountains. Here, in addition to a great wealth of orchard, garden and dairy products, are extensive mining enterprises. The mountains everywhere send down copious supplies of pure mountain water, and trout fishing is the delight of the mountaineer and tourist. Everywhere visions of beauty--in the bright sunlight eight thousand feet above the sea, or groping with torch in hand through the eternal stillness of dark caverns, clambering among its rugged peaks above the clouds, or breathing in the fragrance and incense of mighty forests, these regions seem always enchanted and the hand of God ever present:
For the dark, resounding caverns,
Where Thy small still voice is heard;
For the strong pines of the forest
That by Thy breath is stirred;
For the storm on whose free pinions
Thy spirit walks abroad--
For the strength of the hills, we bless Thee,
Our God, our father's God!
Sunset magazine, April 1907, pages 566-571
C. C. Beekman, who has lived in Jacksonville 50 years, says saloons were never closed there Sunday till now.
"Oregon Sidelights," Oregon Journal, Portland, October 1, 1907, page 6
It has been three weeks since the Campbell and Nye families landed in Medford, and we are beginning to find that this job of moving is not what it is cracked up to be. Mr. Campbell's [railroad] car, with five head of horses and John Benson in charge, came through in good shape in about two weeks from the time of shipment. It took my car a week longer to get here. We are getting fairly well settled by this time, and from now on will have more time to look around and get acquainted with our new neighbors.
This country looks just as good to us now as it did when we were here in August, and the indications are that the longer we are here the better we are going to like it. We have done more or less visiting with the natives and have been rather expecting that sooner or later we would find someone who was inclined to knock the country or the people or conditions in general, but so far everyone we have met is boosting for the Rogue River Valley in general, and Medford in particular. * * * The first settlers came into this valley nearly sixty years ago. Gold was discovered here in  by men coming in from the north who had been attracted by the news of the discovery of gold in California, and mining has been carried on extensively and continuously in this vicinity ever since. It is claimed that $25,000,000 has been taken out of the gulch in which Jacksonville, the county seat, five miles away, is located. For many years it was practically all placer mining, but of late they are beginning to pay attention to the quartz mining and a good many mines of this character are in process of development. Thirty-five miles away, but tributary to this town, is what is known as the Blue [Ledge] mining district, an immense copper proposition, which mining men tell me is going to be a bigger producer of copper someday than Butte. The people here say the hills are full of gold and copper and that development along these lines has only commenced.
Five miles east of town a Los Angeles company is opening up a coal mine. Shafts several hundred feet in length have been driven into the side of the hill, and the company has a big drill at work demonstrating the extent of the field. There seems to be no question about the fact that they have a very considerable coal field here. It is a semi-bituminous. With coal on one side and copper and gold on the other, there are a good many people here who figure that Medford is going to be a big city one of these days.
A few miles further on, and still tributary to Medford, is one of the largest bodies of untouched sugar pine in the United States. Lack of railroad facilities is the reason the sawmill men have not got to work with the pine, but this will probably be remedied in the near future. A railroad has already been started in the direction of the forests. The right of way has been secured, and about fourteen miles of the line is now in operation. There has been some legal complications, and about $80,000 of the company's money is tied up in one of Portland's busted banks, but in all probability the line will be completed either next summer or the year following, and then there will be big lumbering operations.
There is more talk locally, however, about fruit growing and the orchard industry than about mining or coal or lumber. The town is surrounded with orchards, and several thousand acres of young orchard will be planted this winter.
Since our arrival the weather has been mostly clear, with slight frosts at night. For several days, however, it has been raining, and the natives say that for the coming two months there will be more or less rain. The farmers have been waiting for the rains in order to begin plowing. They will plow all winter between showers.
Stephen A. Nye, "Nye Writes Letter of Interest Locally," Evening Times, Grand Forks, North Dakota, December 6, 1907, page 6
Last revised August 27, 2018