Robert Stockton Williamson's record of his trek to find a route from Port Orford to the Siskiyou Trail in 1852.
June 20, 1852.
This morning at 8 o'clock Lieut. Stanton started with about 40 dragoons and 40 days provisions to endeavor to penetrate into the interior as far as the Oregon & California trail. I accompany him with one man in charge of instruments. We found Elk River (distant 4½ miles from Port Orford) fordable, but Sixes River (4½ miles farther on) [Williamson spells the river's and chief's names both as "Shix"] was too deep to pass without wetting the packs, though the mules did not swim. Six, with some of his Indians, passed our baggage over in canoes, and shortly after 2 p.m. we were saddled and pushing forward on our old trail. We made about 6 miles more passing through the 1st strip of mountains, encamping in the middle of the prairie beyond which we rode, to call the rancheria prairie as there is an Indian hut a few yards after entering the timber at the northern extremity. In the strip of timber before reaching the prairie we cross a
Monday, June 21.
Started before 6 o'clock this morning with a pioneer party to make a bridge at the crossing near the hut. Made a very good one, which was nearly finished when the command came up, and shortly after 7 was on the trail again for the next bad place. This bridge will be swept away when the stream rises next winter, as the banks are low and to make a permanent bridge one would have to be constructed at some other point & would probably be from 25 to 30 feet in length. The bushes in many places are exceedingly thick and astonishingly so when we consider they are of this year's growth. The trail however is generally plain. After leaving the bridge the road shortly emerges in a little prairie (the breakfast prairie) and is another strip of timber, in which there is steep descent to another brook, so steep that we found before [us] much difficulty & delay in getting the animals up it. A better crossing will have to be found, if the trail is to be a permanent one. From this stream we pass through a series of prairies separated by narrow strips of timber and cross one small stream more, when we arrive at Floras Creek, distant from camp about six miles. This we found fordable, though the bottom was a little miry. From here we pass into a large prairie with fine grass, where we fed for an hour, then entered the hills which detained [us] some time in making a bridge over a miry place and finally were glad at four o'clock to find a spring near the top of the bald mtn. just before entering the timber, at which we encamped. Dist. made 16 miles.
Thursday, June 22, 1852.
Left camp at 5.15 a.m. Shortly after resuming our old trail on the summit of the hill entered the timber. The general character of the country passed over today is barren hills, bound with open timber, and often thick underbrush, with here and there a grassy spot destitute of trees. Much of the timber is dead & the main impediment to rapid progress is the fallen trees. As the trail had been opened last winter, we found it now pretty well defined and but four trees had fallen upon it.
After two hours march & having made about 4 miles, we entered a large grassy spot on the mountain, where we stopped to allow the animals to graze. We had camped here last year, and had found a small stream some 200 yds. down the ravine, but which as far as we could ascertain is now dry. This with the exception of one small spot of grass intermediate between it and the bald mtn. is the only camping ground for a party with animals
Wednesday, June 23, 1852
Last night some of the men found a running stream on the east side of the prairie on which our animals were picketed, supposed from its appearance to be constant.
This morning upon leaving camp ascended to the summit of the ridge, which we follow through woods to its highest point when we descended for a couple of miles, and came to a fine prairie when we stopped to graze for an hour, and following through a succession of prairies to timber till 11:30 a.m.
1½ miles from camp, and on the ridge we formerly found a little lake, but its bed is now dry. 3 miles from camp we came to a knoll which is the highest point of the ridge (or nearly so). On the left is a very deep ravine,
Thursday, June 24.
Left camp early this morning and marched through a succession of prairies, separated by strips of timber, and finally after making 8½ miles camped on the bank of the South Fork of the Coquille.
The trail passed through the whole length of the Rock Prairie, a distance of nearly a mile, when it entered the timber. Two miles from camp crossed a brook & immediately after enter a fine prairie. This was separated only by a narrow strip of timber from another prairie, in which we took bar. obs. and this again by another narrow strip from one in which we took bearings of prominent points ahead. Another strip of timber being passed, we entered Observation Prairie, distant from camp 6 miles. Here more bearings. From this prairie there is a commanding view. It is a mile & a half long and separated by timber ½ mile wide from the bottom of the Coquille, having entered which we encamped
In none of the prairies that we passed through today did we see water, but doubtless it could be found near all of them in their adjoining ravines.
The Coquille is low, average depth knee deep to the horses.
In the afternoon cut a trail in the riverbank at the place we proposed crossing, which was at a point very near the timber.
Crossed everything this morning without difficulty, and at 7.10 a.m. started on an Indian trail up the river. This trail we found broad, distinct & apparently much traveled. It passed through a heavily timbered bottom for 3½ miles when we came to a small prairie, where we stopped to graze. The river here is about 200 yds. distant & the grass good. From here we traveled over a succession of wooded & prairie land, sometimes being close to the river, sometimes on the hills for 3 miles more when we camped on a small branch near its junction with the Coquille. Water & camping ground abundant.
This evening several Indians came into camp and, as far as we can comprehend them, they say it is two sleeps to the Oregon trail.
Saturday, June 26, 1852.
Left camp this morning a little before 6 and crossing the prairie (¼ mile broad) on a well-beaten Indian trail entered the timber. Here the trail grew more & more indistinct till after passing three or four hundred yds. we found the river on our right, a high bluff on our left and serious obstacles in the way of advancing in the narrow space between. After examining the bluff to find if we could ascend it, we returned to the prairie, hoping we had [not] taken the wrong trail, but after careful examination we could find no other. We then re-entered the wood and followed up in the bed of the stream till we had passed the bluff & then returned to land. But our famous trail, upon which we had founded so many hopes, was gone. (Alas!!!) We found the bushes very thick, the bottom bad & much cutting was required. After taking a long time to proceed a short distance we were again stopped by a steep bluff. After much examination we determined again to take to the river, and having after passing
This morning inspected some cuttings on the hill to the northward thinking to find a trail, but were unsuccessful. A well-beaten trail in timber near camp, & which crossed
June 28, 1852. Monday.
Left camp this morning at 5.30 a.m. and, following the ridge, had a splendid road, gradually and continually descending for 5 miles. The descent then became more steep, and in two miles more we reached the bank of a creek which, rather to our surprise, ran towards the eastward. This creek we reached at 9 a.m. We had before us a ridge which was apparently very steep, but our Indians showed us their trail & in an hour we were on the backbone, which we followed for about 3 miles & then descended by a very steep hillside to another creek, also running to eastward. The distance from creek to creek was 5 miles & owing to delays occasioned by cutting, stoppages &c. we did not reach the 2nd one till after 3 p.m. The bed of the second creek was a pile of huge rocks, the banks steep & rocky & it required an hour's labor to prepare a bad crossing place. The company being finally crossed we again ascended a steep hillside and having reached the summit descended to a place where we found grass & water & here the company encamped about 6 p.m. Pack train came in between 7 & 8 p.m. There is no grass on the trail from camp to camp. Water abundant. Peavine is found occasionally in patches sufficient for forage for ¼ doz. or [a] dozen animals.
Just below us is the Rogue River, and about 5 miles distant is a smoke--which the Indians tell us comes from a white man's house.
June 29, 1852
Left camp at 5.30 a.m. and passing a tortuous course down the hillside reached the banks of Rogue River at 8 o'clock. River apparently not fordable. Stopped to graze. A plain, well-traveled trail running up the river near bank. Indians decline proceeding farther. Discover two mules are missing. Move on a mile with company & wait till 4 p.m. Then move company ½ miles farther & camp. One mule found only. Camp about 100 feet above river. Lost my notebook containing barometric obs.
June 30th 1852 Wednesday.
4½ a.m. Bar. 73.76. Ther. 58. Left camp at 5.30 a.m. and after traveling in the trail near the river for a couple of miles found it became very rocky & difficult & we ascended the bluff. Soon, however, came to the jumping off place & had to turn back & make the best of our way along the riverbank, sometimes very near the water's edge, sometimes on the line of the bluff & sometimes crossing a hill jutting down too close to the river to allow us to pass around. Finally at 3 p.m. and having made about 5 miles we found we could advance no longer among the rocks at the water's edge, but must again take to the hills. We therefore camped with a disagreeable journey before us for tomorrow. Stanton is disgruntled.
Camp 20 feet above river 7 p.m. Bar. 74.09. Ther. 75.
July 1st Thursday--
4½ a.m. Bar. 74.92. Ther. 58.
Left camp about 6 a.m. to return on our trail, it being impracticable to advance along the river. A detail was made to return to the Indian rancheria and endeavor to obtain a guide. We returned to a brook a half mile lower down the river than our camp of yesterday morning & here we remained the rest of the day. Obsd. in the morning for time & at noon for latitude. Found the latter to be 42°38'21.7". The men who went after the guide returned bringing two. They say there are white men a short distance down the river, and that it will take 4 days to go over the hills to a trail. 7½ p.m. Bar. 75.02. Ther. 62 (cloudy).
July 2nd 1852. Friday.
4½ a.m. Ther. 60. Bar. 75.02. Left camp at 6.30 and went down the river 1½ miles. Here we met Indians & Stanton determined to go with 10 men down the river in search of white men, while I with the remainder of the company am to remain in camp till his return. He took mules, only leaving his horses to rest. He left about 9.30 a.m.
Stanton returned about 5 having been 7 miles down the river. Here he came to a large Indian village, but could see no signs of whites. Road so far as he went pretty good, but as he followed near the bank of the river, he could gain no information as to the nature of the country beyond.
July 3rd 1852. Saturday.
The two Indians who went with Stanton yesterday appeared willing to go with us tomorrow to show the way to the Oregon trail. At 5.20 we were ready to start, but met with delay in getting the Indians & finally after going with us half a mile they jumped into the river & swam home, so we had to proceed on our own hook. We attempted a ridge from our camp of the night before last but soon found it was taking us northward & placing huge hills to our east.
Returned to the trail, and followed it to near the rocky camp on bank of river. Here we tried the ridge again, but finding the travel very difficult sent a party to examine the riverbank. They returned & reported favorably and returning again to the trail we ascended the river about 4 miles & camped, near the bank of [a] conical peak which bore 30 from where we first struck the river.
7 p.m. Bar. 75.22. Ther. 66. Light showers during the day.
Sunday, July 4th 1852.
4½ a.m. Bar. 75.25. Ther. 57.
The point of the conical peak making down abruptly to the river, we were obliged to pass to the left of it. Trail in ascending steep but good, but the descent was so abrupt that it was difficult to descend on foot. By making a new trail around the steepest parts we finally succeeded in getting again on the riverbank. We soon, however, had to make another ascent, the descent from which was nearly as bad as the first. However, about ½ mile along the river we came to a rocky point around which it was impossible to pass, and the first examination seemed to indicate that it was equally impossible to turn it. Camped in a small bottom & sent out prospecting parties. Finally a route was found which may be passable, and this we are to try in the morning. The river after passing the rocky point comes from west of north. The cañon is less than a mile long, but it will probably take 5 miles of travel to turn it. Beyond the cañon is said to be a bottom 4 miles long and the hills beyond are said to be lower & rounded. Mist & fine rain during the morning. 7 p.m. Bar. 75.15. Ther. 64. Dist. made 4 miles.
Monday July 5th 1852
4½ a.m. Bar. 75.11. Ther. 56.
Started at 5.30 and followed along the westerly slope of the hill, ascending continually, till after an almost interminable climb we reached the summit of the ridge. The ascent in many places was steep, but as a whole it was undoubtedly a "practicable mule trail." From the top we descended on a pretty steep side ridge to the bottom of the river. Dist. traveled estimated at 3 miles, time 3 hours. From here we traveled on the trail without much difficulty for 5 or 7 miles, when we stopped to graze. Much to my sorrow, my beloved companion John Mule, instead of coming down the ridge with the other quadrupeds, left for parts unknown and all efforts to discover his whereabouts proved fruitless. When Williams reached the command, bearing the sad tidings that his search for John had been without any good result. The order was given to bridle up & mournfully the command moved forward a couple of miles farther to a fine bottom of grass, the best camp we have had since we left Port Orford. To show the sad state of the party, hardly had the command started when 4 horses rushed madly over frightful precipices, seeming determined to put an end to their now miserable existence rather than proceed without their much-cherished John.
7½ p.m. Bar. 74.35. Ther. 67. Light clouds during the [day].
P.S. John probably got drunk celebrating the day [the Fourth of July] and rolled over a precipice.
Dist. made 10 or 12 miles.
One of the horses cut an artery near his hoof.
Tuesday July 6th 1852
4½ a.m. Bar. 74.65. Ther. 51.
Started about 6 and traveled 1½ miles on a good trail when we came to a point making onto the river. Found the riverbank very difficult, & Stanton & myself ascended a ridge to see if we could turn the point. Between this ridge & the high ridge around which the river turned we found a deep ravine in which apparently is a large tributary of Rogue River. Had we descended to the branch we would have had to ascend it for an indefinite distance till we could turn the high rocky ridge on the eastern bank, which ridge was very rocky and appeared as probably a razor would when placed on its back and viewed through Sir John Ross' [sic] telescope. We therefore returned & tried the riverbank, but we soon came to where it was impossible to advance by crawling & we were obliged to give it up. It is almost determined to go back to the Coquille. We returned to our camp of last night, where we are to lay for the day, on account of the wounded horse & absent mule. Arrived at camp in time to take a meridian obs. Lat. 42°40'30.7." This is probably the northernmost point of the big bend of the river. Cannot understand how we have made so little northing, for my impression was that for the last 20 miles we had traveled nearly N.E. Found the thermometer cracked today.
7½ p.m. Bar. 75.71. Ther. 66.
Wednesday July 7, 1852
4½ a.m. Bar. 74.75. Ther. 58.
Left camp at 6 a.m. and took the back trail, crossed the ridge
7½ p.m. Bar. 74.83. Ther. 70.
Thursday July 8th 1852
5 a.m. Bar. 74.75. Ther. 56. Followed the back trail as far as the bottom where we first struck the river. Here we heard of the revolver & musketoon but nothing of the mule. The Indians say both were found on the trail. It is possible John may have in rolling thrown the pistol from the holster. In consequence of the information & hoping to get more we camped. Dist. 10 miles as follows. From camp to bottom of conical peak 2½ miles, one-half of which was in going over the hill. From there to Rocky Camp 2 miles. From Rocky Camp 5½ miles.
7½ p.m. Bar. 74.88. Ther. 72. The thermometer has been up to 90 today in the shade--the warmest day we have had.
Friday July 9, 1852
4½ a.m. Bar. 75.03. Ther. 55.
Remained in camp till 1.30 p.m. when, hearing nothing of John, and having no hopes of getting back the pistol & musketoon without going down the river after them, we moved camp to near where we camped the night before we struck the river. Distance made 3 miles. Observed for latitude & made it 42°38'05.8". The point of observation was about 2 miles below the point of first observation on the river.
7½ p.m. Bar. 72.95. Ther. 62.
Saturday July 10th 1852
5 a.m. Bar. 72.81. Ther. 60.
Last night about 10 o'clock two horses were heard neighing in the woods & were followed for some distance, but could not be found. This morning fresh Indian tracks were observed upon the trail of the horses & it seemed pretty certain that they had been stolen. A sergeant & two men were sent after them & found them across the river at the Indian rancheria. They were recovered after some little difficulty. Upon the return of the horses the company was marched to opposite the rancheria; two men swam over after a canoe. A part of the company crossed & burned everything of value to the Indians. Another canoe was captured, and both placed in a little creek, a sentinel being posted to prevent their being carried off, and then we encamped on nearly the same ground as that of July 2nd. In the afternoon the fish dam 1½ miles up the river was destroyed and afterwards the canoes broken up. The Indians fired arrows at the men, which were returned by balls. One Indian was seen to drop & supposed to be wounded.
The thermometer being cracked and some little of the mercury having escaped, it stands now lower than it otherwise would. I shall hereafter record its reading, as it is, and when I can compare it with another & can correct the reading so as to get the temperature approximately. [The temperatures in the diary were not corrected.]
7½ p.m. Bar. 74.65. Ther. 57.
Sunday July 11, 1852
5 a.m. Bar. 74.92. Ther. 33+.
Took the back trail this morning, starting late (6.30) & made the distance to our old camp 4 miles and from there to the first creek 3 more. Distance between two creeks 6¼ miles. From the last week we found the steeper part of the hill about two miles long & traveling 2½ miles farther encamped in good grass, water being found ¼ mile to the left, or on the east slope of the ridge. Total dist. 17¾ miles. Reached camp at 6 p.m. Stoppages 3¼ hours.
7½ p.m. Bar. 68.70. Ther. 36+.
Monday July 12, 1852
5 a.m. Bar. 69.03. Ther. 34+.
Left camp at 6.30 and in 3 hours were at the base of the hill, and in 10 minutes were at the little prairie. Here we stopped to graze till the packs came up. Distance from camp of last night to prairie about 8 miles. Our former mountain camp was 1 mile this side of the one of last night. From the prairie we crossed the Coquille & came into the prairie where we encamped before, dist. 1½ m. From here, instead of following our old trail in the river bottom & bed took to the ridge, endeavoring to reach the bald hills in sight down the river. Cut a trail through (about 1½ miles) and camped at 2.30 when we entered the prairie. Think a better trail could be made by keeping lower down the hill. Stanton has determined to stay here & prospect [for a better route], while I go on to Port Orford for provisions &c. Observed for lat. in prairie after crossing Coquille--Lat. 42°53'03.5".
7½ p.m. Bar. 74.48. Ther. 38+.
Tuesday July 13th 1852
5 a.m. Bar. 74.48. Ther. 39+.
Left camp at 7.45 to return to Port Orford with 1 sergeant, 1 corporal, 18 privates, 28 horses & 26 mules. Reached prairie where we grazed before at 9, distance about 3 miles, and crossed the Coquille at 10.20, distance 3½ more. Waited for the trail & to graze till 11.15 & reached prairie east of Rock Prairie at 2.45, having stopped on the way about half an hour. This is the prairie in which we camped last fall on our return, a small brook running across it & emptying into the stream. We cross almost immediately after entering the timber. This brook was dry at the crossing, and all the good grass is east of it. So I feared I should have to send from ¼ to ½ a mile for water, but I was agreeably surprised to find holes of cold water below the crossing. Saw a bear & cubs. It is cold.
There were several small prairies on today's march not noticed in journal when we before passed over this part of the trail.
Wednesday, July 14th 1852
Started this morning at 6.30 and took 2½ hours fast traveling to reach west edge of scaffold prairie, during which time we must have gone 6½ miles, which is longer by 1½ than we made it before. From the scaffold prairie we were 2½ hours more to the place we last camped on the hill near the forks of Floras Creek. Distance about 5½ m. Total 12 m.
I think from the scaffold prairie I viewed the country more understandingly than I ever did before. Our course to where we struck the Coquille is nearly the same as that to Berry Patch Hill. The ridge we followed going south was plainly distinguished.
Thursday July 15 1852
Left camp at 6.45. Distance to forks of Floras Creek 1¾ miles. From forks to blazed tree 1¾ miles. From tree to big prairie, west end, 2¾ miles. From prairie to south end of B. Mtn. 3¼. East end to west end 2½. West end to crossing F.C. 3½. From here went on to the next creek but found no grass near it & was obliged to push on.
The Rancheria Prairie 6 miles from Floras Creek where I encamped at 4.50, having made 21 miles. Stoppages amounted to about 1 hour.
After crossing Floras Creek, and having entered the 1st prairie on this side, I had sufficient curiosity to go where we found water last winter & there I found the same pool, as large as it was in the winter. Grass rather poor, fern very high. This then is one of the permanent camping places on the trail. Grass in rancheria prairie very
Friday July 16, 1852
Left camp this morning before 6 and arrived at Port Orford before 12. Found no difficulty in the places formerly bad. Crossed Sixes River in a canoe, but found Elk R. fordable.
Thursday July 22nd
Left Port Orford at 8 this morning with 10 men, 26 mules & 7 horses. Have 30 days provisions for the whole command besides enough for the detachment to take with Stanton. Camped before 3 in the prairie from which we enter bottom of Floras Creek. Forded both rivers at their mouths.
Friday, July 23rd 1852.
Left camp at 6.45. From the miry place on the ascent of the Bald Mtn. pretty miry but crossed without difficulty. From here we traveled slowly & without incident till we camped on the hill near forks of Floras Creek at about 3 p.m. Water here does not seem to have diminished since we camped here last.
Saturday, July 24 1852
Marched today to the Coquille crossing, where we camped at 3.30 p.m. At the scaffold prairie sent the sergeant to the river on right to look for water. Found a little, but not enough for camp.
Sunday July 25, 1852.
Crossed the Coquille & rejoined Stanton near where I left him before 10 a.m. Favorable prospect ahead.
Monday July 25 1852
Tuesday, July 27, 1852
Left camp at 7.30 with 10 days provisions, myself & eight men, and traveled till 5 p.m. Up & down hills & steep ones at that. Crossed several little streams running to southward. No grass till camp (where we found a small patch on banks of a creek nearly as big as Coquille & running N.W. This creek was at camp of tomorrow.) Course made nearly east, distance in right line 10 miles distance traveled 15. So many interruptions, distances are all guesswork.
Wednesday, July 28 1852
Traveled today till 3 p.m., making very little distance, but chopping much. Road bad. No grass between camp & camp.
Thursday July 29, 1852
Left camp before 6 a.m. and traveled till 4.50 p.m. Road brushy & hilly but not very steep. Followed for some distance the bed of the creek of last camp, which soon made a bend & ran S.E. and afterwards N.E. We camped upon it going east. What can it be?
Friday July 30th
Traveled today over hills & through brush without making much progress. Crossed over stream large enough to mention, emptying into the creek we have traveled along & coming from N.E. It is not large enough to answer the description of Elk Cr., the first one crossed by the trail south of cañon. Passed a little grass on the crossing, but had to camp at 7 on same creek as before with grass. Saw smoke to N.E.
Saturday July 31st 1852
Started on a broad trail, on which were Indian cuttings & which ascended a ridge near top of which came to a prairie where we stopped to graze 1 hour. In this prairie found picket pins & evident signs of an old camp of whites. Also old blazes. A break in the mountains led us to hope our creek turned to southward and that a branch came in from east. Followed the ridge eastward, found much brush & finally descended a steep slope to the creek which much to our disgust found to be same one, now running north of east. Steep banks on each side, very difficult travel along. No grass. Returned to prairie & camped at 6 p.m. Near 1 hr. 50 m. in ascending from creek to prairie.
Sunday, Aug. 1, 1852
Lay by today in prairie. Sent Cor. Abbott to endeavor to follow the blazes & also 2 men to descend to the creek, ascend it to next point, ascertain its course & if any branch comes in from east. Observed for time & latitude. No means of calculating till we return to depot camp. Corporal returned. Had followed the blazes to southward across the creek and nearly to top of west ridge. Men returned & had found two miners three miles below on the creek. Report that it is 12 or 15 miles of good travel from there to Oregon trail at northern mouth of cañon. the creek is Cow Creek, & Elk Creek joins where miners are.
Monday Aug. 2, 1852
Started this morning to return to depot camp. Having descended the hill we determined to follow the Indian trail along the creek instead of crossing the opposite ridge. Found it a much better way. Camped at same grassy spot where we camped on evening of 30th, distance about 9 miles.
Tuesday Aug. 3, 1852.
Attempted to follow along the creek again today to turn the point of hill opposite. Found much brush & did not get to our old trail till 12 m., thus taking 6 hours for what we expected to do in one. Trail today follows creek closely, passing over but two or three low points. Camp in small prairie, our 2nd camping place from depot, distance about 6 miles.
Friday Aug. 4th 1852
Came today to 1st camp from depot. Trail brushy & hilly. One very steep
Saturday Aug. 5, 1852
Left camp this morning at 6 and arrived at depot camp at 2.30 p.m. Trail for first half of distance good, except brush occasionally. Latter half steep hills. Descent from ridge long & steep. No hills to ascend of any consequence coming this way. Distance about 15 miles.
Cloudy today & could not move.
[Second Lieutenant George W.] Stoneman started this morning with 7 men to go southeast.
Aug. 20th Friday
Stoneman has not returned, although this is his 13th day out, and he had but 10 days provisions. We can imagine no plausible reason for his absence & are of course anxious. Stanton left this morning with 4 men to meet him with provisions and carried 60 rations with him & is to return here on the 25th. We have about 160 rations in camp besides, & 20 men. Ten go with me tomorrow to Port Orford with all the animals except 2 mules, leaving 10 men in camp with 11 days provisions. I shall start back with 20 days provisions. In case Stoneman does not return, we will then be able to go in force to hunt for him. It has rained for three days, & at times quite hard. The river has risen 13 inches. Today has been clear & it has commenced to fall. Wind is from east or S.E. when it rains, prevailing wind from contrary direction.
Saturday Aug. 21st
Left this morning at 6.40 for Port Orford with 10 men, 12 horses & 15 mules. At 5.40 p.m. camped at hill camp near forks of Floras Creek, having stopped ¾ hour to noon. Found distances pretty much as before, total distance being 24 or 25 miles, which (as above) was traveled in 10¼ hours. Rate 2.4 miles per hour.
Sunday Aug. 22
Left camp at 7 a.m. & camped at 3.40 three miles south of Floras Creek. Found in the grassy bottom of the creek the dragoon horses & 10 men. Ordered them in to Port Orford.
Monday Aug. 23.
Arrived at Port Orford and prepared to leave tomorrow.
Tuesday Aug. 24.
Left with 25 men & 20 days provisions, the Dr. accompanying me. Camped in bottom of Floras Creek.
Wednesday Aug. 25.
Reached the camp beyond crossing at forks of Floras Creek. Stanton, Stoneman & the rest of command came in this afternoon. Stoneman had lost his mules by cold & sore feet, became entangled in the mountains, and finally came into depot camp 5 days after his time. We start back for Port Orford tomorrow.
Head Quarters Fort OrfordCaptain:
August 29th 1852
Having returned to this post day before yesterday with my command, I have now the honor to forward agreeable to my instructions the following report of the expedition.
I left this post, accompanied by Lieut. Williamson, T.E., on the 20th June, with forty men of my company, taking forty days' provisions, which I at that time thought would be amply sufficient to carry us through to the Oregon Trail and back to this place. I followed the trail I had made last fall and on the fifth day encamped on the Coquille at the place we had turned back from last November. We here crossed the river without difficulty and, striking an Indian trail on the opposite side, followed it up the stream, the only difficulty we found in getting along arising from the fallen timber. During the latter part of the day's march, the trail ran through a succession of grassy slopes, on one of which we encamped. The next day we continued to follow up the river, losing the trail however on which we had been traveling, and after a good deal of trouble in cutting through brush and fallen timber, and having to cross the river twice to avoid high bluffs, we reached a small prairie situated like the others we had passed through, on the slope of the mountain, and here encamped. This spot I afterwards ascertained to be not more than three miles from my last camp, and easily reached by leaving the river and crossing a ridge. The next day we continued our course up the river intending to follow it if possible and ascertain if it was not one of the streams crossing the Oregon Trail between the Umpqua Cañon and Rogue River ferry. After having proceeded about a mile we were overtaken by a party of Indians who gave us to understand by signs that we would not be able to follow the course we were going, on account of high bluffs, but that we ought to go the route they were going to Rogue River, and that there we would find white men. Thinking if I should find any white men they would prove to be miners who had come down from Rogue River ferry, and would therefore be able to give me information as to the practicability of proceeding up that river, I decided to accompany the Indians. Under their guidance we crossed the Coquille again, and traveling south and southwest on a high ridge along a well-defined trail, we encamped for the night at a spring on its summit. The next day we succeeded in getting to within three miles of Rogue River, being detained a great deal on account of having to cut in many places through heavy brush and having to make too steep descents and ascents, to cross two streams which we found running to the eastward. The next morning about 8 o'clock we reached Rogue River, which we found to be a very deep and rapid stream, although not very wide. The last part of the descent to the river was through open oak timber, and at the foot of the slope an open grassy bottom extended about a mile along the river and stretched back from a half to three quarters of a mile to the base of the mountains. Here our Indians refused to go with us any farther, as they had come over for the purpose of catching salmon, but they gave me to understand that I should find white men both up [and] down the river. Finding a well-beaten trail running up along the river bank I moved on, but encamped after proceeding about half a mile in consequence of being obliged to send back to look for some mules that had been lost in descending through the brush. The next morning we continued to follow the trail but soon got among rocks, the trail winding along between, and sometimes going over them, but it being impossible to take animals along it we moved up to a plateau on the side of the mountain, but this soon terminating in precipitous cliffs, we retraced our steps and after some delay succeeded in making a way for our animals between the rocks and the foot of the cliffs. After this proceeded on about a mile when we were again stopped by the rocks, and to avoid them crossed a spur of the mountain that put down in front of us, and striking the river again, encamped without grass, and with the trail in advance still obstructed by rocks. The next day I returned down the river to obtain grass for the animals, and to procure if possible some Indians as guides, who might be able to show me a more practicable trail than that immediately along the river. The party I sent for this purpose to an Indian rancheria returned with two Indians, who by their signs were understood to say that the route up the river to the white men was very bad, and that it would take four days to reach them, but that there were white men in one day's journey down the river. To ascertain the truth of this statement I went down the river the next day with ten men, taking an Indian as guide. After proceeding about seven miles we arrived opposite a large Indian village, where our guide informed us the white men were. As soon as we were perceived, a number of Indians came across and among them was one who understood a little of the Chinook language; one of my men also speaking it, I was able to ascertain that there had been white men here, but that they had left the place some time back. This village is probably a permanent settlement, containing a good many huts, and having extensive fishing dams in its vicinity. It contains probably several hundred Indians. On returning to camp I determined to force my way up the river, hoping that the trail might improve as we proceeded, or, at any rate, by reaching a mining settlement I would be able to obtain some information with regard to the position and distance of the Oregon Trail. During the next three days, we succeeded in getting about eighteen miles up the river, but on the following day on moving about two miles we were stopped by [a spur] of the mountain jutting down, forming precipitous cliffs to the river. A stream running through a deep cañon from the north emptying just above these cliffs prevented our turning them except by heading the cañon at the same time.
Having now been out fourteen days, and my animals having become extremely tenderfooted from being obliged to travel among the rocks and over hard ground without shoes, I concluded to leave Rogue River and return to the Coquille and there form a camp from which I could examine the country with small parties. I would also at that place have the advantages of plenty of grass for the animals, and being within four days' march of Fort Orford, would be able to obtain from there any additional supplies I might require. We accordingly commenced our return, and reached the Coquille on the 7th July, having been detained two days on Rogue River in consequence of the Indians stealing two of my horses. The theft was discovered immediately after it had been committed, but owing to the darkness of the night it was impossible to follow the depredators at the time. The next morning we started in pursuit and traced the animals to a rancheria on the opposite side of the river, and there found them tied. To punish the Indians I burned the ranch, broke up the fishing dams, and destroyed the canoes at that place. On the morning of the 8th July, I dispatched Lieut. Williamson with the pack train and twenty men to Fort Orford, to bring out an additional supply of provisions for thirty days. My horses, with the exception of six, I also sent in at the time, to be left at Fort Orford, as they were mostly becoming disabled from the want of shoes. Whilst awaiting the return of the pack train, I was unable to obtain some information with regard to the country in the vicinity, and had a trail opened for about three miles directly to the eastward. On the 20th July, Lt. Williamson with the train, accompanied by Lt. Stoneman, joined me. On the 27th, with Lt. Williamson and seven men, I left camp, taking provisions for the party for ten days, with the intention of pushing through if possible directly eastward to the trail. On the second day we encamped on a considerable stream running to the north, but turning the point of a mountain, we found it to bear generally to the east and accordingly followed it for two days. On the fifth day in going over a ridge we found a series of blazes, evidently made by white men, and, as they were running in the direction we wished to go, we followed them for a little distance, when they suddenly terminated. We continued to move on, however, in a general direction to the eastward for some distance farther, when we returned to where we had first seen the blazes, and encamped on some good grass. The next day we remained where we were to enable Lt. Williamson to take some observations, to give our animals some food and rest, and to endeavor to find out something about the blazes we have met with. During the day a party that I had sent down a stream near us returned and reported that about three miles down they had found a party of miners, who informed them that a stream which came in just below was "Elk" Creek, which is the first stream we crossed on going south from the Umpqua Cañon, that from where they were then was a good trail to a new Oregon Trail, that had been made to avoid the Cañon, and that the distance was about eight miles, and from the point of junction to where the new Oregon Trail intersected the old, north of the Cañon, it was about four miles. As I did not consider that it would be desirable to have the proposed trail come out north of the Cañon, and as the route I had followed would require a good deal of work in clearing off brush and fallen timber, and making or finding a good ascent and discount to a ridge I had traveled on, I determined before putting any work on the road to have the country examined farther to the south and find if possible a divide between the stream I found running to the east, and the waters of the Coquille and Rogue rivers. On my return to camp I sent Lt. Stoneman for this purpose, with seven men and rations for ten days. After leaving camp he proceeded along the top of a ridge, heading all the waters running to his right and emptying into that river. On the third day, having been obliged to bear to the northward, he struck my trail and at once bore off to the southeast, and heading the Coquille altogether struck the divide to the north of the waters of Rogue River, and kept on it until he reached the Oregon Trail on the eighth day. On his return Lt. Stoneman followed the divide back for several days, but on the fifth day he moved down a long, gradual, grassy descent covered with open oak timber, and reached the banks of Rogue River, where he struck my trail. He endeavored to regain the dividing ridge by following up an adjoining spur of he mountain, but met with a good deal of difficulty from rocks and brush; however, he finally succeeded in reaching his trail, and then pushed on to the camp, which he reached on the 23rd August, having been absent sixteen days. The animals of Lt. Stoneman's party when they reached the Oregon Trail had mostly given out, their feet having become very tender, their hoofs being broken and cracked, and in several cases worn to the quick and bleeding; great difficulty and delay was experienced in trying to bring them back, and finally they had to be abandoned from their absolute in capacity to walk. In consequence of this delay arising from the desire to save the animals if possible, the provisions of the party were exhausted before their return, and for several days they had to depend for their food on what game they might chance to kill during the day's march. The report of Lieut. Stoneman with respect to the route is extremely favorable. He was able to travel on a high ridge covered with open pine timber, with grass and water to be found along the route; in places indeed the brush obstructed the way, but this he thinks can be easily removed. From the Oregon Trail to when he came down to Rogue River, he is of opinion that a good wagon road can be made; in fact, it would be practicable for wagons now if not for the brush. The nature of the descent from the ridge to Rogue River will do away I think with the necessity for going on to the Coquille at all in making the proposed trail, and as the bottom where I first struck the Rogue River is probably not over twenty miles to the eastward of this place, and a pretty good knowledge has been obtained of the nature of the country, I have no doubt that a route can be easily found to connect Port Orford directly with Rogue River, striking it at or near this bottom. Should this be effected the Oregon trail can be reached in five days, making the route much shorter and far better than that by way of the Coquille, for that bears too far to the north and at the present time is far from being good on account of the fallen timber. About two miles below the point at which Lt. Stoneman struck the trail, there is a trading post established and kept by two men, one of whom informed him that they saw nothing of Indians in their vicinity, and had not been troubled by them; that at Rogue River ferry there were now about twenty families settled, who felt no apprehensions with respect to Indians, and considered that they were able to protect themselves if necessary. The miners, some forty or fifty miles down [sic] Rogue River, had had some difficulty with the Indians, but had defeated them, and they had mostly moved down the river towards its mouth.
To give an account of the distance and direction of each day's march, or a description of the country passed over, that would be at all accurate would be an extremely difficult matter. The routes traveled will be found indicated in a very general manner on the rough map drawn by Lt. Stoneman, which accompanies this report; almost everything had to be guessed at, however, from the impossibility of obtaining a view of the surrounding country, occasioned by the heavy pine timber with which the ridges are clothed. Occasionally indeed open spots are reached, which being most always on the slope of the mountain, the view is limited to a particular direction, and may be still more circumscribed by high ridges in the vicinity. The whole country is a series of mountainous ridges, the general direction of the principal ones being north and south, but an infinite number of spurs are running off in all directions, forming deep ravines through which the principal streams and their tributaries wind, their waters flowing during their course to most every point of the compass. The open grassy prairies that are met with are invariably situated on the eastern or southern slopes of the mountains, but on the top of the ridges, grass in small quantities is frequently to be found in the open pine timber. The tops of the highest ridges are the most available for travel, the timber being open, and but little fallen timber to be met with, although the brush sometimes proves an obstacle for some little distance. The sides and bottoms of the ravines are most always much obstructed by fallen logs, and having also the additional disadvantage of a good deal of brush.
Lt. Stoneman states that when he struck the trail, which is near where a stream called "Goose Creek" crosses it, he found the spurs of the mountains that slope down to be mostly covered with open oak timber, and that there was a good [deal] of grass in the immediate vicinity, but that it was mostly covered by private claims.
I have have lost during this expedition twelve mules and two horses. Ten of the mules that accompanied Lieut. Stoneman's party had to be abandoned, as I have mentioned, some having died however before they were left. One mule died in my camp from disease and one was lost while marching on Rogue River, and was doubtless caught while astray by the Indians. One of the horses mentioned broke down completely on our way from Rogue River, and it being impossible to get him any farther he was abandoned. Another fell while going up a steep ascent and injuring his loins so severely as not to be able to move, was shot by my order.
These losses leave me now with but thirty-seven in the "troop," all of them being much out of order. With the exception of our six-mule team left for the service of the post, all the mules were taken with the command when it left in June last, and twelve having been sent but twenty-two were brought back; these are leg-weary and footsore, much reduced in flesh and with their backs and bellies very sore from carrying heavy packs over such a rough country; several will perhaps never be fit for packing again, but the greater number will probably in course of time recover and be again serviceable.
In obedience to your instructions to give the distances on the route, I would state that we made the following estimates:
From Fort Orford to the "Depot Camp" on the Coquille, about sixty miles.
From "Depot Camp" to the "Big Bend of Rogue River," thirty miles.
From "Depot Camp" to the "Oregon Trail," by the route taken by Lieut. Stoneman in going out, sixty to sixty-five miles, and between the same points by his return trail, seventy to seventy-five miles.
From "Depot Camp" to the Oregon Trail striking it north of the Cañon, from fifty to sixty miles.
From the Oregon Trail to where Lieut. Stoneman struck Rogue River on his return, from forty to forty-five miles.
At the point where Lt. Stoneman intersected the Oregon Trail I have mentioned the general appearance of the mountain slopes and also that the grass immediately on the trail is mostly covered by private claims; back some few miles, however, there is a good deal of grass and wood and water to be found in abundance. And there are doubtless many spots that would be suitable for building purposes as the slopes are not very steep and there are also some level bottoms on the watercourses.
On the return of Lt. Stoneman, having but five or six days' rations on hand, I returned with the command to this post, which I reached on the 27th August.
It is my intention to send a small party to examine the country from this place to the "Big Bend of Rogue River," and should they find a good trail, which I have no doubt they will be able to do, the best route to the Oregon Trail will then have been discovered.
Another great advantage, which will be gained by connecting Fort Orford with Rogue River at the point I have mentioned, will be the control the military at this post can exercise over the Indians on that river. A short march will bring us to the river above most of the villages below the ferry, and then by marching or dropping down the river in canoes, their villages and fisheries are at our mercy; upon reaching the mouth, a march of eighteen or twenty miles along the coast will bring us back to this port.
Accompanying this will be found a series of meteorological and astronomical observations made by Lieut. Williamson.
I do not think any route from here to the Oregon Trail, more particularly that by the way of the Coquille, can be traveled after the rainy season sets in; the tops of the highest ridges will then probably be covered with snow, and any streams that it will be necessary to cross will become so swollen in a short time as to become impassable.
I am, Captain,Capt. E. D. Townsend
Your obt. servt.
H. W. Stanton
1st. Lt. of Dragoons
Asst. Adjt. General
National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C.
Not long ago I talked with one of the very earliest settlers in Coos County, and he told me how [Floras Creek] and the lake received their names. My informant was William H. Packwood, now a resident at Baker, in eastern Oregon. He was a delegate to the state constitutional convention at Salem in the summer of 1857, representing Curry County. He is the last surviving delegate of that historic convention. In speaking of his early experiences in Curry County, he said:
"We started from San Francisco for Port Orford in December, 1851. We were aboard the schooner Captain Lincoln. On January 3 we were wrecked two miles north of what the Indians called Kowes or Cowes bay, now known as Coos Bay. Improvising tents from the sails of the wreck, we spent four months there.
"In May, 1852, we marched to Port Orford. We had been sent there to guard that newly established town from the Indians. We reached Port Orford, and after a brief stay we were ordered to find a feasible route from Port Orford to connect with the main-traveled Oregon and California trail, so that Captain Tichenor's new town of Port Orford could become a port of entry and outfitting point for the Oregon miners.
"George W. Stoneman, second lieutenant of our company, Company C, had come to join us from San Francisco. By June 18 we were ready to go. We started on June 19 and made our first night's camp on a mountain up on Floras Creek.
"We had a civilian with us named Fred Flora, who on one of our trips to Camp Castaway fell into this creek. Our men then called it Flora's Creek, and it has since been called Floras Creek.
"On the morning of June 20, 1852, we were on a bald mountain on Floras Creek. The sun shone brightly and we had a grand view of the ocean. Lieutenant H. W. Stanton was in command, Second Lieutenant George W. Stoneman, Lieutenant Williamson of the topographical corps and about 35 soldiers of Company C, First United States Dragoons constituting the command. The country was largely covered with burns and down timber and was overgrown with underbrush and berry vines so thick as to make traveling difficult.
"We had a force of axmen ahead, cutting trail. We followed the divide between Sixes River and Floras Creek to where the summit of the mountain is reached and the waters run into the Coquille River. We then cut across the south fork of the Coquille and made camp on what is now called Rowland's Prairie. Our trail was blazed with three hacks with an ax on each side of trees, so that our blazes could be easily found. The blazes were generally made by a man on horseback.
"From Rowland's Prairie we went up the south fork of the Coquille to what later was Woodward's ranch. From there we struck an Indian trail leading up a trail between Coquille waters and Sixes River. We followed this divide and went down on the south end and crossed a creek afterward known as Johnson Creek, and then crossed over the divide to Rogue River at Big Bend.
"We went up Rogue River, making and cutting a trail and blazing it all the way. It was a tough route.
"We found some letters cut in the bark of soft maple trees, well grown over, showing white men had been in the country years before--trappers, probably, as there had been no prospecting for gold on the river at that time.
"We followed the river to where we could see what is now known as Big Meadows. We were making our way through thick brush high on the mountainside. A number of the company had been detailed as axmen to cut trail for the party.
"While we were waiting for a particularly heavy place to be cleared by the trailmakers, Lieutenant Williamson dismounted from his mule, whose name was John, and let him graze. When we were ordered to continue our march the mule had disappeared. We scattered in all directions in search of the mule, but he was not to be found, so we named the stream that rose near where we had lost the mule John Mule Creek, and the mountain Mule Hill--names they bear to this day, though probably there are but one or two men now alive who know how they received their names.
"Five years later, at the Siletz Reservation, I ran across this mule in the possession of the Indians. We went no farther than Big Meadows, for Lieutenant Stanton decided that the country was so rough and difficult that a road connecting Port Orford with the Willamette Valley trail to California was impracticable, so we returned to Port Orford."
Fred Lockley, "Names of Streams and Hill Result in Early Day Oddities," Oregon Journal, Portland, July 23, 1916, page 12
Last revised May 11, 2018