The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised



By Alice Applegate Sargent
    Lying between the Cascade Mountains on the east, and the Coast Range on the west, and tempered by the warm oceanic current from Japan, the Rogue River Valley has a climate unsurpassed except perhaps by the coast valleys of Greece.
    About the year 1834 we find the Rogue River Valley a wilderness inhabited by a tribe of Indians. These Indians were a branch of the tribe living in northern California whom we now know as the Shastas. But the original name was not Shasta but Chesta. They were the Chesta Scotons [Shasta Scotans], and the Indians living in the Rogue River Valley were Chesta Scotons.
    The first white men to set foot in the valley of whom we have any authentic record were some French Canadian trappers who were trapping for furs for that great British monopoly the Hudson's Bay Company. These men made their way into the valley and set their traps along the river, but the Indians stole the traps, and the trappers always spoke of them as the rogues; the river was the river of the rogues and the valley the valley of the rogues. Old pioneers have assured me that this is the way by which the river, the valley and the Indians came by the name.
    Another story as to the origin of the name is this: That the river was called Rouge or Red River by some French voyageurs on account of the cliffs at the mouth of the river being of red color. By an act of the legislature in 1853-4 Rogue River was to be Gold River, but it has never been so called.
    In the year 1846 fifteen pioneers from the Willamette Valley came into the Rogue River Valley, seeking a route by which immigrants could reach the Willamette Valley without having to travel the long northern route across the Blue Mountains and down the Columbia River as they had to come. Their names were: Jesse Applegate, Lindsay Applegate, Levi Scott, John Scott, Henry Boygus, Benjamin Burch, John Owens, John Jones, Robert Smith, Samuel Goodhue, Moses Harris, David Goff, Benit Osborne, William Sportsman and William Parker.
    Lindsay Applegate was my father, Jesse Applegate my uncle.
    Each man was equipped with a saddle horse and a pack horse. As they made their way through the Rogue River Valley they were constantly followed by the Indians and had to be on guard day and night. When they had to pass through heavy timber and brush they dismounted and led their horses, carrying their guns across their arms ready to fire. The Indians were armed with bows and poisoned arrows, the pioneers with the old-time muzzle loading rifles. They made their way through the valley, crossed the Cascade Mountains into the Klamath country and thence east to the Humboldt River. Here they met a train of immigrants. They brought back with them one hundred and fifty people, the pioneers traveling ahead and making a road over which the wagons could pass. This train was taken through to the Willamette Valley. Now that we have our splendid Pacific Highway, built at enormous cost with all the modern implements, rock crushers, steam rollers and plows, and by the labor of hundreds of men, it is well for us to remember that the first road in southern Oregon and through the Rogue River Valley was built by the labor of fifteen men with nothing but axes in their bare hands, and amidst perils and hardships that would strike terror to any but the stoutest hearts. It was free to all, a work of humanity; the only recompense to the builders was a consciousness of duty nobly done.
    In 1848 a party of pioneers from the Willamette Valley came into the Rogue River Valley on their way to the gold mines in California. They prospected for gold on Rogue River and on the stream we now know as the Applegate and then pushed on to California. My father was with this party also and the stream and valley were named for him.
    In 1850 two men, Clugage and Poole by name, equipped a pack train at the mining town of Yreka, California, and carried supplies between Yreka and towns in the Willamette Valley. They followed a narrow trail across the Siskiyou Mountains and along the bank of Bear Creek. It was their custom when they reached this valley, to stop to rest and recuperate their animals. The wild grass grew so high in the valley that the man who herded the mules had to stand on the back of his horse in order to locate the rest of the herd.
    Clugage had worked at mining, and one day, while they were in camp in the valley, went up into the hills where Jacksonville now is. Following up a gulch or ravine, he came to a place where the heavy rains had washed the soil entirely away, leaving a ledge of rock exposed. Taking his bowie knife from his belt he dug around in the rocks and sand and found nuggets of gold. He returned to camp and reported his discovery to Poole. Together they went back to the spot and staked out their mining claims.
    Returning to Yreka they bought a camp outfit and mining tools and returned to work their claims. They had kept quiet in regard to their discovery, but in some way it became known, and in two months from the time Clugage found the nuggets of gold a thousand men were on the spot. Claims were staked out and every man went to work to dig out the gold. No time was spent in building cabins; a man would throw his saddle blanket over a manzanita bush and put his bed under it. Some built shelters of bark and brush while others put up tents. Fortunes were taken out that winter, and many who had families in the east and elsewhere went back in the spring and summer and brought them to the Rogue River Valley. This was the beginning of the settlement. Some took up land in the valley while others settled in Jacksonville and Ashland. The county of Jackson was organized by an act of the legislature on the 12th of January, 1852. Until 1853 there were but four white women in Jacksonville, namely, Mrs. McCully, Mrs. Evans, Mrs. Lawless and Mrs. Gore.
    The winter of 1852 was an exceptionally hard one. Snow fell until all trails were completely blocked. Flour rose to one dollar a pound, and salt was priceless. Some adventurous men went to California on snowshoes to buy salt. Provisions gave out, and towards spring the people had to live on wild game, meat cooked without salt. The summer of 1852 was very dry, about such a summer as the one just past, and the wheat and potato crop were not a great success, but the following season was more favorable.
    Ashland was founded in 1852 by Abel D. Helman and Robert Hargadine. A sawmill was built on Mill Creek, and in 1854 a big flouring mill was built there, the first in the Rogue River Valley. Ashland was named from Ashland, Ohio, Mr. Helman's native town, and called Ashland Mills on account of the saw and flouring mills. The town was known as Ashland Mills for many years.
    The first school in the Rogue River Valley was taught by Mrs. McCully in Jacksonville, and was a subscription school.
    The first white child born in the Rogue River Valley was Walter Gore, son of a pioneer of 1852, born on December 3rd, 1852.
    In 1853 the Indians began war on the white settlers, but were soon subdued and a treaty made with them at Table Rock. Stockades were built at different places in the valley, for the protection of the settlers. Fort Lane was built in 1853-4 on a hill facing Table Rock and occupied by regular troops for three years. The old site is on a hill west of some old buildings at Tolo and south of Gold Ray Dam.
    In 1853 many immigrants came into the valley; many buildings were erected, but as all supplies had to be brought from Crescent City by pack animals, not a pane of glass could be had that year for window lights; cotton cloth stretched over the openings was used instead.
    During the spring steps were taken to found a Methodist church in Jacksonville. The pastor was Rev. Joseph S. Smith. The church was built and used jointly by Methodists and Presbyterians for many years.
    The town of Phoenix was founded in 1854, the land being donated by Samuel Colver, whose old dwelling still stands by the roadside. The town was named originally Gasburg.
    The first newspaper printed in southern Oregon was called The Table Rock Sentinel, printed in 1855. The editor was W. G. T'Vault.
    Jackson County in 1855 was the richest and most populous county in Oregon. But in that year the Indians again began war. The 9th of October has been called the most eventful day in the history of southern Oregon, for on that day nearly twenty people were murdered by the Indians and their homes burned. The settlers were totally unprepared and taken by surprise. A Mrs. Haines was taken prisoner, and her fate is still wrapped in mystery, although the Indians claimed she died a week later; her husband and two children were killed. Mr. and Mrs. Jones were killed. The next family in their path was the Wagoner's. A woman [Sarah Pellet] had made her way to the Wagoner home who wished to go to Jacksonville. She spent the night at the Wagoner home and next morning Mr. Wagoner agreed to take her to Jacksonville, as he had a span of horses and a wagon. [Wagoner took her to Vannoy's Ferry.] On his return two or three days later nothing was found of his home but a heap of ashes. [He returned the next day.] Long afterwards, when the war was over and the Indians had become friendly towards the whites, some members of this war party told of Mrs. Wagoner's fate. When they surrounded the house she barricaded as best she could. The Indians wanted to get possession of her and tried to induce her to come out of the house, fearing to try to enter as they knew she was armed. Finally they set fire to the house hoping to drive her out and then capture her. While the house was burning she stood where they could see her. Taking down her long hair, she combed it out before a mirror and then sat calmly in a chair until the flames closed around her. Her little girl had been captured and died soon after, so the Indians claimed. At the Harris' home were Mr. and Mrs. Harris, their two children, a boy aged ten and a girl twelve, and a man who was employed about the place. This man was in a field and was killed. Mr. Harris was shot while on the porch near the door. Mrs. Harris dragged him into the house, bolted the door and collecting a number of firearms prepared for defense. The daughter was shot in the arm and disabled and Mr. Harris died in about an hour. Mrs. Harris continued to fire at the Indians through the crevices between the logs. After a time an Indian messenger arrived with some message to the Indians, who all immediately ran towards the river. As soon as they had disappeared Mrs. Harris and her daughter fled from the house, knowing the Indians would set fire to it on their return. They hid in a thicket of willows until they were rescued by a company of troops the following day and taken to Jacksonville. When Mrs. Harris ran to meet the soldiers, carrying her little girl in her arms, covered with blood and blackened by powder, Major Fitzgerald, the officer in command cried out, "Good God! are you a white woman?" while tears ran down the cheeks of the bronzed and bearded men.
    The little son of Mrs. Harris had disappeared. Every ravine and thicket for miles around was carefully searched by men aided by the soldiers, but not a trace of the missing child was ever found. What pen could picture the grief of the sorrowing mother as the long years rolled by bringing no solution of the awful mystery. I have not the time to go farther into details.
    The war was brought to a close in 1856 and the Indians taken to the reservation in the Willamette country.
    During the Indian wars there was quite a body of troops in the Rogue River Valley. Two companies of volunteers from California, six companies, which were organized here in the valley, and one from Douglas County, besides the regular troops stationed at Fort Lane.
    The toll road was built across the Siskiyou Mountains in 1857-8 under authorization of the Oregon Legislature. The Oregon and California Stage Company was organized in 1860 to carry mail between Sacramento and Portland. A wagon road was built between Jacksonville and Crescent City this same year and a stage line established.
    A company of volunteers was organized in Jacksonville in 1861 called the "Baker Guard." In 1863 a company of state troops was organized in Ashland. It was Company A 1st Regiment, 1st Brigade of Oregon Militia and was called the "Mountain Rangers."
    A telegraph line was established in 1866 and the little valley of the Rogue was put into communication with the outside world.
    A woolen mill was built in Ashland in 1867-8 at a cost of $32,000. This mill was destroyed by fire some years ago.
    When I was a child there were eight large flouring mills in the valley, and hundreds of pounds of flour were carried out of the valley by pack animals and wagons, besides what was consumed in the valley. From the old Barron farm at the foot of the Siskiyous to Rogue River the valley was golden with grain, and the yield was from thirty to fifty bushels of wheat to the acre. Almost every farmer in the valley had planted an orchard, many of them very large. I have never seen finer fruit, for in those days the fruit was perfectly free from disease—a wormy apple was unheard of. Spraying was not necessary, and smudging was never resorted to, as there was always an abundance of fruit. When the orchards came into bearing the country east of the Cascades and the mining towns in California were supplied with fruit from the Rogue River Valley. The first apples raised in the valley were Gloria Mundis, raised on the Skinner place on Bear Creek and sold to a wealthy miner from Gold Hill for two dollars and fifty cents each. [The Gold Hill discovery was made in 1859.]
    Jacksonville, besides being the first town founded in the Rogue River Valley, was at one time the richest and most flourishing. It had been settled by people of education and culture who were wide awake and progressive. I marvel now that people so isolated could have kept so abreast of the times.
    When this valley was dotted with beautiful farms and Ashland called Ashland Mills, Phoenix known as Gasburg, and Jacksonville was the hub of the universe (so to speak), my father moved his family from Douglas County where I was born, to southern Oregon, and we lived for two years at the toll house on the Siskiyous.
    Looking back to that time, I realize that it was a wonderful experience for a child. Every day the road was thronged; there were immense freight wagons drawn by six and eight yoke of oxen, towering Marietta wagons drawn by six span of horses; these we called the "bell teams." The leading span had, fastened to the collars, bows of iron which were hung with little bells. These bells were worn to warn other teams, as there were only occasional places on the narrow mountain grade where these teams could pass one another. When the driver of a team came to one of these places he would stop and listen. If he heard the faintest sound of bells there was nothing to do but wait until the other team passed. Then there were the long trains of fifty, sixty, and eighty pack mules all following the bell mare in single file.
    Twice daily the great red and yellow stage coaches went swinging by, drawn by six splendid horses. Unless a horse weighed so many hundred pounds and was so many hands high, the Oregon and California Stage Company would not so much as look at him. They were all matched horses and I recall especially the sorrels and the grays. There were long trains of travel-stained immigrants with their weary ox teams. Think what the feelings of these people must have been when they crossed the Siskiyou Mountains and beheld far below them the promised land, the Rogue River Valley, lying like a beautiful garden between the mountain ranges.
    I must not forget the wagons loaded with apples on their way to the mining towns in California. The wagon boxes were lined with straw and the apples piled into them. These apple peddlers advertised their fruit in a unique way by having a pointed stick fastened to a corner of the wagon bed on which was stuck an apple.
    When winter came and the snow fell deep on the Siskiyous, as it sometimes does, father used several yoke of oxen and a big bobsled to keep the road open to travel. Sometimes the snow would fall steadily, filling the road behind them, and all day long the weary oxen would have to travel back and forth over the long mountain grade. The forests were swarming with wild animals, panther, wildcats, black, cinnamon and grizzly bear, and great gray timber wolves which would howl in a blood-curdling way in the forest at dusk.
    Immigrants were pouring into Oregon over the old road laid out by the fifteen pioneers in 1846. The Modoc and Piute Indians made travel unsafe even at that late date. A report came to my father that a train of immigrants coming over that route was in great peril. Father called for volunteers and in a very short time forty-one men were equipped and ready to go to the help of the immigrants. They rode rapidly for several days before they met the train. I have no recollection of my father's or brother's return, but I distinctly recall the story that father told of the rescue. When the party finally discovered the immigrants they had corralled their wagons and prepared to defend themselves as best they could against the Indians. The rescuing party prepared a flag of truce by fastening a white cloth to a long pole, to show that they were friends, and then rode slowly forward. They had ridden almost up to the wagons before they saw any signs of life, then a wagon cover was thrown up and an aged woman with snow white hair called out to them "Glory be to God, we are saved." They brought this train in safety to the Rogue River Valley and we, no doubt, have some of these same people living in Medford today.
    The next great event in the history of the valley was the coming of the railroad which was built into Ashland from the north. The first train of cars ran into Ashland on May 4th, 1884, an event celebrated in an imposing way. Ashland was the terminus until 1887 when the railroad was completed and the Rogue River Valley was linked by bands of steel with the outside world. [In 1887 the railroad over the Siskiyous was completed. The valley was linked by rail with the outside world in 1884.]
    Medford, the little city of which we all feel proud, was founded in December, 1883, by J. S. Howard. [Howard's credit as town founder is disputed.] It was not incorporated until a year later. [Medford was incorporated in 1885.] Bear Creek, which runs through the city, was named originally Stuart River for Captain Stuart, an army officer who was killed in a fight with the Indians on the banks of the stream on the 17th of June, 1851.
    And now, as the years roll on, let us not forget the brave and self-reliant men and women who brought civilization into the wilderness and made it possible for us to have peaceful homes in the Rogue River Valley.
*Read before the Greater Medford Club in the spring of 1915.
Oregon Historical Quarterly, March 1921, pages 1-11

Last revised June 14, 2015