The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised

Alexander Martin

By Fred Lockley
        While in Klamath Falls a week or so ago, I met Alexander Martin. As we sat in his office in the bank, he told me of the early days of Linkville, as Klamath Falls was originally called. "I was born in Illinois on St. Patrick's Day in 1835," said Mr. Martin. "I was apprenticed to a blacksmith and learned that trade. In 1853, three other young men and myself pooled our savings, bought a wagon, four yokes of oxen and an outfit and started for Oregon. We came by the Applegate cutoff, as the Southern Route was then called. We went down the Humboldt River and by the Black Rock Springs trail. We passed through what is now Lakeview, went along the southern shore of Goose Lake and on into California by the Fandango route, and thence northward into Oregon by way of the Rogue River Valley. I wintered at Jacksonville, at that time the largest and most important city in Southern Oregon. The hills and gulches were being prospected and worked by hundreds of miners. Among the creeks that were considered the best producing were Jackson Creek, Sterling, Jackass, Grave, Poorman, Coyote, Jump-off Joe, Louse, Foot's, Evans, Wagner and Sardine creeks. Some of the quartz mines had yielded large returns, so money was abundant.
    "Among the men I met that winter were Peter Britt, a Swiss, who was running a daguerreotype gallery. His son Emil was born in Jacksonville in the fifties and still lives there. Then there was M. Hanley, a farmer and stockman. His son "Bill" Hanley of Eastern Oregon was born at Jacksonville. J. N. T. Miller was one of the men who started the grape industry at Jacksonville. His son, Colonel Robert A. Miller, now a lawyer, painter and Democratic warhorse at Portland, was born in Jacksonville. C. C. Beekman was running an express company. Later he was the Wells-Fargo express agent for many years and for 50 years or more he ran a private bank there. Then there was Isaac Constant, John B. Wrisley, John E. Ross, P. P. Prim, M. P. Deady. Rev. J. S. Smith, T. F. Royal and many others. The leading stores were Birdseye and Etlinger, Maury & Davis, Appler & Kenney, S. Gildstein, Fowler & Davis, Wells & Friedlander, Little and Westgate, J. Anderson, J. Brunner and Joseph Holman. Joe Davis had a livery stable, Dr. Jesse Robinson ran the hotel, Dr. McCully had a bakery, and by the way, their baby was the first white child born in Jacksonville. There were several blacksmith shops. Captain Jesse Walker was fitting up a train to go to the relief of the belated emigrants who were coming by the southern route and I landed a job as soon as I got to town shoeing horses and mules for the volunteers who were going with him on this expedition.
    "I worked at my trade until the summer of 1854 when John and Wesley George and myself went to Yreka. I went to work for James Clarkson in Yreka sharpening picks and shoeing horses. We charged $5 for shoeing a horse, so there was good money in blacksmithing. That fall I went to Sacramento, where I worked at my trade all winter.
    "In the spring of 1855 I saddled my horse and struck northward for the Rogue River Valley. Returning to Jacksonville, I went into partnership with L. H. Zigler in the blacksmithing business. I boarded at Mrs. Goss' boarding house. Her daughter, Elvira, waited on the table. You know how it is when a man is young and a girl is attractive. I got to thinking how nice it would be to see Elvira sitting across the table from me in our own house. I kept one of the best teams in the whole Rogue River Valley. I have always loved good horses and prided myself on keeping just a little better and faster team than anyone else. Elvira's mother's maiden name was Myer and her folks, W. C. and B. F. Myer, lived near what is now Ashland. On Sundays I used to hitch up my team and take Elvira to visit the Myer families. We would usually come back by moonlight or by starlight. Take a good team that wouldn't take dust from anybody, a moonlight night, the smell and feel of spring and growing things in the warm night air, and maybe you can understand how Elvira was won over to my way of thinking and decided to start a boarding house for one with me as the star boarder. We were married in 1856.
    "I must tell you a little incident that happened while I was courting Elvira. A Jew named Ellinger had a good team. He didn't think there was a better team in the valley. Elvira and I passed him on the road and his team was doing its best. I just spoke to my team and they forged ahead. He didn't like the idea of taking my dust. The next time we happened to be out driving we saw him in the road ahead but he wouldn't give us any of the road to get by. I waited until we came to where the road was wide enough and spoke to my horses. In a moment they were abreast of his. He leaned over and slashed savagely at my team with his whip. My horses were young, free and full of life and I had never whipped them. They went right up in the air, and Ellinger swept on with a nasty laugh. We took his dust until we came to where we could turn into another road. The next time I saw Ellinger drive out of town I harnessed my team and put them to a low-wheeled heavy rig in place of my light buggy. I soon caught up with Ellinger. I spoke to my team and they settled into their stride. I ran my front wheel under the hind wheel of Ellinger's buggy. Over went his buggy and on I went. He went up in the air as high as his buggy went over and I could see his greasy face gray with fright as he fell in the field beyond the fence. No, he never slashed my team again, and I never had to take his dust after that."
Oregon Journal, Portland, August 9, 1915, page 4

By Fred Lockley
    Alexander Martin of Klamath Falls is 80 years old, but you can find him any day at his bank between 9 and 5 doing a full day's work. Sixty years ago you could have found him any day between 7 and 6 at his forge in his blacksmith shop at Jacksonville. He hammered out the foundation of his fortune on his anvil, sharpening picks and shoeing pack horses.
    In 1851 Todd & Co. began operating the first express route in Oregon. They were succeeded in 1852 by Newell & Co. Dugan & Co. started the same year but were succeeded the following year by Adams Express Co. In 1852 W. G. T'Vault started the Oregon and Shasta Express which plied between Jacksonville and California points. Soon Wells, Fargo & Co. entered the field. In 1857 the first regular stage company began operations in Oregon, running between Portland and Salem. Two years later a mail stage was put on between Salem and Eugene. Soon it was running between Salem and Jacksonville. In June, 1860, a stage was put on the route between Red Bluffs in California and Oakland in Southern Oregon. At Oakland the California stages made connections with Chase & Co.'s stage which ran from Oakland to Corvallis, where it connected with the Oregon Stage Co.'s stage to Portland. Mr. Martin was made superintendent of mail service, his district being from Sacramento to Portland.
    "Many a time I have ridden right through from Sacramento to Portland, traveling night and day and making the trip in six days," said Mr. Martin. As the distance by stage road was 650 miles, you will see we averaged more than a hundred miles a day. At first the fare was $600 for the trip, but later the fare was reduced. We came through Oroville and Chico and on through Red Bluffs, Shasta and Yreka to Jacksonville and by way of the Rogue River Valley, Umpqua Valley and the Willamette Valley to Portland. During the Salmon River gold excitement we put on eight stages and they were loaded to the guards on every trip. We received $180,000 a year for carrying the mail, so that it was important to see that it reached its destination safely and speedily.
    "We also carried the Wells Fargo treasure chest, and as Jacksonville alone shipped between $25,000,000 and $30,000,000 in gold dust up to the time the stage line was discontinued, you will see there was a rich harvest for highwaymen and road agents. It was my job to see that the mail and treasure should not be taken. There had been a good many holdups when I took hold and I was anxious to put a stop to the holdup industry. Usually two road agents operated together. One held his gun on the express guard and driver while the other secured the treasure box and the registered mail sack. One of my drivers called 'Rattling Jack' made the suggestion that broke up the business. He said to me: 'I have been held up a time or two and I notice the road agents always get the drop on the express guard who is riding on top. Why not let the guard ride on the back seat inside like a passenger and have a dummy guard ride in his place? The robbers will not expect trouble from inside the coach.'
    "I instructed the guard to ride on the back seat and I told Rattling Jack if he was told to halt and stop, and holding the reins with one hand, to use the other hand to put the treasure box on the edge of the boot so the robber could reach up and get it. I told him as soon as he had placed the Wells Fargo box where the robber could get it to at once hold up his hands so as to avert all suspicion of resistance. Rattling Jack was held up shortly afterwards. He stopped at the command 'Halt!' and when told to throw out the treasure box he set it up on edge on the boot and said, 'There it is, help yourself.' The robber stepped over to the side of the stage and reached up to get it when the guard, who was inside on the back seat, let him have it with both barrels from his sawed-off shotgun. It blew a hole clear through the robber. The guard then jumped out on the opposite side and with his six-shooter shot the road agent who was standing at the horses' heads covering the driver and the dummy guard. Shortly afterwards in the same way the guard killed a holdup man near Redding and later got another on Scotts Mountain near Yreka. That put a stop for some time to holding up the stage.
•    •    •
    "In the summer of 1865 Schuyler Colfax, Governor Bross of Illinois and a distinguished part of newspaper men made a trip across the continent. A good-hearted but very profane Irishman named Carney kept the Mountain House at the foot of the Siskiyous, just south of Ashland. I was particularly anxious to impress our distinguished guests, so I went ahead notifying all our men to be on their best behavior. Shortly afterwards I accompanied the party on their way northward from Sacramento to Portland. We stopped at the Mountain House for dinner and were served a fine spread. I was pleased that Carney had done so well so I asked Speaker Colfax, Governor Bross and others to shake hands with their host. Carney was delighted to meet the party and wringing Schuyler Colfax's hand, said: 'So your name is Colfax. Why, you son of a she coyote, you don't know how glad I am to meet you. Put her there, old socks. Why, d--- your ornery soul, it's an honor to have you put your hind legs under my table.' There was a moment of shocked silence and then the whole party rocked with laughter."
Oregon Journal, Portland, August 10, 1915, page 6

By Fred Lockley
    Alexander Martin has lived on borrowed time for the past ten years if three score years and ten is our allotted span. He is four score years and is still active and able to do a man's work. He came to Southern Oregon in 1853 and to Klamath Falls, then called Linkville, in 1880 when there were less than 100 people in the village. "My wife died in 1878," said Mr. Martin. "I took my five motherless children from Jacksonville to Oakland, California, to my wife's mother's home. Four years later I married my wife's sister. My oldest child, Mrs. Ida Aiken, lives in Fresno. She has three grandsons, which makes me a great-grandfather. Alexander, my oldest boy, lives in Eugene. My youngest daughter, Elvira, lives at Oakland, California, while my youngest boy lives in Berlin, Germany. He is a dentist. I get letters from him each week. His sympathy is all with Germany. I'll confess mine is not. He says Germany will fight till she has shed her last drop of blood and spent her last pfennig because she knows she is right and is fighting for her national existence.  One of my grandsons is in the diplomatic service. He is with the American embassy at Berlin.
    "I have been in Klamath Falls since 1880. At that time there were less than 100 people here and the town was known as Linkville. The town was started by George Nurse, who was born in New York state in 1820 and came to California in 1855. In 1863 he had the contract to furnish the government troops at Fort Klamath with wild hay. The year following he ran the sutler's store. While sutler he put in a ferry across Link River. He hauled lumber from Fort Klamath to the lake and rafted it down to the ferry. He put up a store and a house. He called the little settlement Linkville. In 1867 he bought from the government the land on which the present city of Klamath Falls is located. When the post office was started, he became our first postmaster. In 1870 President Grant appointed him register of the land office. In 1883 he moved to Yreka.
    "George Baldwin was another of our pioneers. In 1881 he, with J. T. Forbes, started a hardware business here.
    "Another pioneer of Linkville is W. S. Moore. His son, C. S. Moore, ex-state treasurer, died a week or so ago. W. S. Moore came to Oregon in 1848 when he was 19 years old. He was a millwright and carpenter. During the Civil War he lived at Salem, Oregon, and in the late sixties was county treasurer of Marion County. In 1873 he came to Fort Klamath to build a flour mill on the Indian reservation. He moved here in 1877. He was later appointed postmaster and was the first county judge of Klamath County, having been appointed by Governor Moody. He built the first mill here. His son, C. S. Moore, was associated with me in the general merchandise business here in the early eighties. We changed the firm name from Reames, Martin & Co. to Martin, Moore & Co. Charley Moore was born near Salem some years before the Civil War. He came to this county in 1874 and went to work in Beach's store at the agency. In 1876 he helped his father, who was associated with George Nurse, build a sawmill on Link River. In 1879 he went to work for Thatcher & Worden and when we bought out that firm he continued to work for us. In 1886 he bought Mr. Reames out and he was associated with me for years.
    "I could tell you about Evan R. Reames and many others of the pioneers of Linkville but you can go and see Mr. Reames and the others and let them tell you their own stories. One thing though I must tell you. Linkville used to be an exceedingly lively town in early days. Forbes and Hatton had a saloon which did a land office business. When it was decided to build a church here, the Presbyterian board promised to put up dollar for dollar for what we raised here. The committee wanted someone to head the subscription list and, as Forbes was making more money than anyone else, they went to him to head the list. He refused to subscribe. Finally as the committee left, he said, 'I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll give as much as anyone else.' The committee came to me and told me what he had promised. He thought the largest sum anyone would subscribe would be about $25. I knew Forbes was very fond of money, so I thought I'll just make him sweat blood for once, so I headed the list with a subscription of $125. The committee went to him with the paper. He wanted to back out, but he stood pat through shame and put up a similar amount. If he had raised me I guess I would have shoved in another stack of blues, for I wouldn't let a saloon man bluff me out at my own game.
    "I have seen the village of Linkville grow into the city of Klamath Falls. We have the soil, the climate, the timber and the geography to make a large city here, and when the 65-mile gap is closed in the Klamath-Natron Cutoff, you will see here an important and substantial city."
Oregon Journal, Portland, August 11, 1915, page 4

Last revised November 20, 2023