The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised

True Tales of Pioneers

Jacksonville, Oregon
    September 12, 1908
Mr. Geo. H. Parker
    Grants Pass, Josephine Co., Oregon
Dear Sir:
    Replying to yours of yesterday relative to the origin of the name Josephine for your county, I can't state positively that I know. I was at Yreka, California at the time the gold diggings were found there. Myself and two brothers by name of Garfield from Mass. concluded that we would go overland to Scottsburg and load our animals with provisions for the miners at Yreka. We started on that journey the 1st day of April, 1851. We crossed the Siskiyou Mountains on the anniversary of my birthday April 3rd. I was 25 years old that day. To show you how we traveled, on that day and the day following we made the distance from Cole's on the south side of the Siskiyou Mountains and landed at what is now Canyonville in Douglas County in two days' and one night's travel. We were not hunting for Indians either. We passed the Grave Creek location about 2 or 3 o'clock of the second day. We had been told about an emigrant girl dying and was buried; as near as I could guess now, she had been buried at the root or near it of a white oak tree about ⅓ of the distance from the Twogood and Harkness house to where the stage stable for the overland train stood when we traveled by stage. Afterwards, sometime in June of that year, there was great excitement about rich gold diggings being found on Canyon Creek, a tributary of Illinois River. That news spread through the camp at Yreka like wildfire. Every man in the camp owned at least one horse. These animals were kept in charge of herders during the day and corralled at night. Nearly every man in Yreka went on that expedition. I was one of the lot, and when we got near to where Kerbyville now is, at the crossing of the Illinois River close to where Hon. John Seyferth afterwards built a flouring mill, there was camped [at] that ford a man who was reported to be a widower. He had a daughter. I judged her to be about 15 or 16 years of age, and her name was Josephine, and we were informed that she was the first white woman that ever came to Josephine County. As to whether those parties' names were Rollins I am not able to say, but I saw the girl and the father near that ford of the Illinois River. Like other wild goose chases, the larger portion of our gang started back to Yreka, and when we got to where Medford is now located we came upon Major Kearny with about 40 dragoons. He was on his way to Benicia in California carrying dispatches of some kind from Vancouver to Brigadier General Riley, who was the military governor of California at that time. They did not go through Cow Creek Canyon but went up the south fork of the Umpqua River and came across the divide between Umpqua and Rogue River, and the command got into a skirmish with the Indians, and in that fight Captain Stuart was killed. When we struck Major Kearny's camp he said he wanted volunteers. He wanted to give those Indians a thrashing; there was quite a number of our men, as many as 50, all mounted and well armed, and the expedition cleaned out about all the males that were in sight. They were 2 or 3 weeks doing the job up, but it was a good job done. Those 40 dragoons took each of them a squaw upon his horse and came through Yreka in the night and went down to Strawberry Valley and struck camp there. Gen. Joseph Lane at that time was mining on a bar of Scott River, had a lot of Klickitat Indians, peaceable fellows, in his employ. Major Kearny sent a messenger with an extra horse and a guide to Gen. Lane's camp, and Gen. Lane went to Major Kearny's camp. They had a hyas close wawa about the propriety of taking those Indian squaws down to Benicia in California, and Gen. Lane counseled that the squaws be taken back to Rogue River, and as Gen. Lane started for his home in Douglas County with his Klickitat braves with him, he took charge of those squaws and brought them to the T'Vault ranch, known as such after the settlement of the country, just opposite where Gold Hill is now. I have been working, writing hard all day, and it is getting dark. I will have to stop now. I have stated what I know to be facts, and that I suppose is all you wanted to know.
Respectfully yours,
    Silas J. Day.
George Riddle Papers, Oregon Historical Society Research Library MS 1388. Transcribed from typescript.

Early History of Silas J. Day,
One of the First-Comers to Southern Oregon.
The Trip West via the Isthmus of Panama in the '50s
Had its Hardships As Well As the Overland Route.

    There were few in the ranks of the pioneers of Southern Oregon more public-spirited and far-seeing than the late Silas J. Day, who for many years played an active part in state and county affairs. He was responsible for many permanent improvements during his official career and transacted the public business entrusted to him in a manner that won the confidence and lasting esteem of the early settlers in this part of the state.
    Mr. Day was born in Ann Arundel County, Maryland, April 3rd, 1826. He arrived at San Francisco, Calif. in the month of April 1849, and in 1851 made his first trip into Oregon, returning to California the same year. A couple of years later he decided to make his home in Oregon, and on July 13, 1853 located a Donation Land Claim on Little Butte Creek. Mr. Day was residing on his claim when the Indian war of 1855 broke out. He immediately enlisted and was elected orderly sergeant in Captain Miles F. Alcorn's Company G, Ninth Regiment, Oregon Militia, organized "to serve against the Yakima and other Indians," and, upon the resignation of Lieut. James H. Matney in 1856, was promoted to a lieutenancy in the company. He, together with the rest of the company, was mustered out of service on June 13, 1856.
    Silas J. Day and Mary E. McGhee, a native of Boone County, Missouri, whose family is also numbered among the pioneers of Oregon, were married at Portland, Oregon, on May 22, 1871, and four children were born to them, Mary L., Elsie C., Silas E. and Edward M. Day.
    By an act of the Legislative Assembly of the State of Oregon, approved October 23, 1872, a Board of Commissioners was appointed to lay out and construct a wagon road through Jackson, Grant and Baker counties. It was known as the Southern Oregon Wagon Road and was 313½ miles in length. At the organization of this board Mr. Day was elected chairman and continued in office until July 1874 when, its labors being completed, the board was dissolved.
    He was elected county clerk of Jackson County at the June election of 1874 and in 1876 was elected county judge, holding the latter office continuously for a period of eight years. It was during his administration as county judge that the present Jackson County courthouse was erected.
    After the expiration of his term as county judge, Mr. Day opened a real estate and insurance office in this city. He was also an abstractor of land titles and notary public and maintained an office here until the time of his death some few years ago.
    Mr. Day was a prominent member of the I.O.O.F. In 1868 he was elected Grand Master of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows of Oregon, and in the following year was Grand Representative to the Sovereign Grand Lodge of the order in the United States.
    Mrs. Day arrived in Oregon in 1854, coming by way of the Isthmus of Panama and, though but a child, retains a vivid recollection of the hardships connected with the trip. The party of emigrants with whom Mrs. Day crossed the isthmus was compelled to voyage up the Chagres River in open boats for a day and a night with absolutely no shelter from the driving rain, which fell continuously. The remainder of the distance was made on muleback. As a result of this exposure Mrs. Day's mother died and was buried at sea on the voyage between the isthmus and San Francisco. During this voyage the ship's supply of drinking water turned bad, and for three days the emigrants suffered severely from thirst.
    Mrs. Day's father, J. W. McGhee, first preceded his family to the western El Dorado, crossing the plains in 1851. He was a minister of the Gospel and conducted the first religious services held in Yreka, California. In 1852 he came to Oregon and located a Donation Land Claim near where Bybee Bridge now stands. He was known to the Indians as a "Bible man," and as such held in great respect by them. Before the Indian outbreak of the '50s, Old Sam and Old Joe, chiefs of the Rogue River Indians, warned Mr. McGhee that trouble was brewing and advised him to leave the country for a time. Mr. McGhee followed this advice and returned after the uprising was quelled, only to find that his claim had been "jumped," whereupon he moved to the Willamette Valley, where his family made their home.
    In 1855-56 Mrs. Day attended the Tualatin Academy at Forest Grove, of which institution Dr. Marsh was president. Among her schoolmates were a number of Walker, Owens and Spaulding children, survivors of the Marcus Whitman party massacred by the Cayuse Indians at Waiilatpu in 1847. Two of Dr. J. W. Robinson's sisters, Jane and Ellen Robinson, attended the same academy.
    Since 1871, the date of her marriage, Mrs. Day has resided in Jacksonville. She shows few traces of the hardships she was called upon to endure and possesses a wealth of reminiscences of early days in Southern Oregon, when flour was sometimes an almost unknown quantity and an ounce of salt was placed in the scales and traded for an equal quantity of gold dust.
Jacksonville Post, June 19, 1920, page 1

Last revised April 21, 2018