The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised

The Bonus Myth

There's a popular myth that if Jacksonville had merely paid a bribe in 1883 the California & Oregon Railroad would have surveyed their line through downtown Jacksonville, Medford would never have existed, the flowers would bloom, children would play, the birds would sing, and peace and happiness would reign in the land.

January 9th 1883
Friend Chadwick
    I have delayed writing you for the reason that when I wrote I wanted to send you the amount of your bill on Davison, Tice & Co., who have promised to pay it from time to time, but up to this writing have failed to do as they agreed. They have exhausted my patience so today I gave the account to Judge Prim with instructions to collect at once by action at law if necessary. He (Prim) tells me he will go after them in earnest.
    I have no news worth mentioning. We jog along here in about the same old way and all no doubt continues to do so till the railroad reaches us. Every once in a while we have a discussion as to what part of the valley the road will run. Of course we all here want it to go as near Jacksonville as possible. You say in yours of 4th ultimo that the route will be decided on soon and you will learn the fact when the decision is made. Post me if you can; the information will be considered strictly confidential. Hoping this will find you and yours in good health, I will close by wishing you the compliments of the season.
Yours truly
    C. C. Beekman
C. C. Beekman Papers Mss 916 Box K, Letterpress Book 1 1882-1884, Oregon Historical Society Research Library

Jacksonville March 19--83
Hon. R. Koehler
    Manager O&CRR
        Dear Sir
Your communication addressed to C. C. Beekman and other citizens of Jacksonville, relative to the route of your "extension" through the valley, is respectfully acknowledged. It is a matter of serious regret that your judgment prompts you to adopt the line most remote from Jacksonville and that the superior character of the ground to the westward should be overbalanced by other engineering advantages in your reaching a conclusion we have neither the right nor disposition to question. Touching your proposition to divert the line to the south [sic] side of Hanley's Butte in consideration of a subsidy of $25,000, right of way and depot grounds, we may as well be frank and say at once that it is simply impossible to raise the cash subsidy. There was no surplus raised last season in the county, owing to the uncertainty of a market, and the past winter has been a complete failure among the miners owing to lack of rain--these combined circumstances produce a financial strain on this community that places the raising of a subsidy out of the question. At best we could only promise you a free right of way from your point of divergence to that point where your line was regained and a deed to sufficient depot grounds for the accommodation of Jacksonville where you may select.
    This we are willing to guarantee, and the guarantee would be secured to you by a sufficient bond as evidence of our good faith. We can offer no additional arguments to those contained in the communication to Mr. Villard and only again call your attention to the advantage to you of the minimum of taxation which we assure you the citizens of Jacksonville have the power to and will control in your interest and hope that it may enter as a factor into your calculations before you arrive at a final conclusion. We would not have you understand that in the event our prayer is not granted we would use our influence to oppose the company.
    This communication will be handed to you by General Reames, one of the gentlemen who had the honor of an interview with you on this subject in May 1882, and who is authorized to represent us and make any arrangement his judgment suggests.
    Thanking you for the proffered courtesy of the road we herewith return the "passes" unused as General Reames is already in your city on his way to San Francisco and it was thought unnecessary to send another representative.
We are respectfully
    Your obedient servants
        [unsigned--this is a draft copy]
    On the other hand, if our prayer is granted request is favorably considered, we should certainly rest under obligations to forward your interests the interests of your company by your voice and influence in county or state legislature whenever it became necessary.
C. C. Beekman Papers Mss 916, Box 12 Miscellaneous Papers, Oregon Historical Society  A letter to Koehler on the same topic dated March 20, 1883 is copied on page 194 of Letterpress Book 1 1882-1884, Box K, but is not legible.

your letter relating to the location of the road [through] this valley is at hand. We have little to add in addition to what has already been said.
    Your demands, though perhaps reasonable, as the additional cost would warrant, are entirely beyond our reach. We are unable for many reasons to meet them. This season is specially unfavorable for any additional outlay. Crops have been materially injured by the late severe winter, and in consequence there is a general depression in business.
    The utmost that we should feel justified in engaging to do directly would be to guarantee the right of way for the additional distance and the donation of the necessary depot grounds--indirectly we might be enabled to do much more.
    Jacksonville is no less the political than the commercial center of this county, and through our individual and collective influence the cost of right of way would doubtless be very materially lessened. We pledge you our united influence to that end, and should it be the co.'s pleasure to thus favor us we should feel under obligations to further such friendly legislation touching the co.'s interests as seemed not palpably detrimental to the general public.
Undated draft fragment, C. C. Beekman Papers Mss 916, Box 12 Miscellaneous Papers, Oregon Historical Society

Portland, Or., April 1883
Hon. Silas J. Day
Jacksonville, Oregon
Dear Sir
    Your letter of the 13th inst. was duly handed to me by Mr. Thompson.
    I have given the most careful consideration to the subject of your communication. I regret to say that I am forced to the conclusion that the company would not be justified in adopting the line nearest to Jacksonville, unless it is relieved from the additional expense involved in its construction. Much as I would like to oblige the people of Jacksonville in this respect, my duty to the stockholders of the O.&C.R.R. Co. will not permit me to arrive at any other decision. As you will know, this railroad enterprise has been an unfortunate one from its inception to the present day. One large sacrifice after another had to be made by its owners in order to keep it alive. They have now assumed an enormous additional burden by consenting to the creation of a large mortgage indebtedness, taking absolute precedence of their rights as stockholders in order to render the completion of the line to the California boundary practicable. Moreover, the cost of the southern extension is proving much larger than was anticipated.
    Under the circumstances it is absolutely impossible for me to put the additional charge upon the owners that the compliance with your suggestions would entail.
Very respectfully yours
    H. Villard
C. C. Beekman Papers Mss 916, Box 19 Miscellaneous Papers, Oregon Historical Society

    The railroad line, as located by Dolson's party, crosses Rogue River at Chavner's Bridge, thence goes up the river on the south side, between Gold Hill and the river, and at last report the surveyors were working toward the mouth of Bear Creek, at which point the road will leave the river and strike off through the valley. The Jacksonville people have not much hope now that the road will run between their town and the Hanley Butte. Important consultations have been held by citizens there, however, with Mr. Loring, right of way agent, and Mr. Dolson, engineer of the locating survey corps. It is reported that the R.R. officials have offered to swerve the line toward Jacksonville provided the people will raise $25,000, but we haven't learned from "Chawles" [Nickell] whether this is true or not.
"Railroad News," Ashland Tidings, April 27, 1883, page 3

    Nothing new has been developed, but it seems as if the railroad authorities are not disposed to recede from their proposition to run the road this side of Hanley's butte for $25,000 and the right of way, and from present indications it looks like there is either not public spiritedness or money enough in Jacksonville to raise the required amount.
"Railroad Notes," Democratic Times, Jacksonville, May 4, 1883, page 2

KNOW ALL MEN BY THESE PRESENTS that we, the undersigned citizens of Jacksonville, Jackson County, Oregon, protest and aver that we will not pay the sums set opposite our names on a paper which was circulated by Henry Klippel, Esq. during the month of April of this year, said paper purporting to be a subscription list in favor of the O.&C.R.R. Co., of which Mr. Villard is the head and Mr. Koehler the acting manager. We aver that our signatures were obtained upon that paper for a purpose which has been fulfilled and came to naught. We have never received any consideration or benefit for and therefore will not pay (upon any pretenses whatever) the sums set opposite our names or any part thereof.
    P.S.--The paper or subscription list above named I have attempted several times to find, but without success. On the first occasion Mr. Beekman told me that Mr. Klippel had it, and on going to Mr. Klippel he asserted that Mr. Beekman had it, and going to Mr. Beekman twice afterwards he declared that "some of the boys" had it. Having thus failed to obtain possession of the paper in order to erase my name, I take this method of rendering my signature NULL and VOID.
Democratic Times, Jacksonville, June 21, 1883, page 2

Portland, Or., July 5th, 1883
Messrs. C. C. Beekman, Wm. Turner and Genl. Reames
Jacksonville, Oregon
    At the time I had the pleasure of a call at my office of the delegation of your town I stated, in discussing the subject of location of our line in the vicinity of Jacksonville, that we could not accept the modified terms proposed in lieu of our original proposition. The subject requiring then no immediate decision it was agreed that Genl. Reames, who was then on his way to San Francisco, should call again at my office on his return from said city. Owing however to his returning overland, I understand he could not keep this appointment.
    Subsequently I received a letter from Mr. Wm. Turner which stated that the people of Jacksonville contemplated making another offer by which they were merely to secure the right of way upon that portion of the route deflecting from the straight course, and I was asked to send a map showing the deflecting line.
    In my reply to this letter I pointed out that such a proposition was not acceptable, and as I then had no map accurate enough for the purpose intended, I stated that I should like to defer sending one until a later period. No further communication having been received by me, I was forced to the conclusion that the project [sic--prospect?] of a subsidy had been entirely abandoned.
    At the time of Mr. Villard's presence in Oregon a letter was received by him written by Hon. Silas J. Day, to which Mr. Villard replied. As this reply may not have been communicated to you I beg leave to enclose herewith a copy [above] of the same.
    Under the circumstances, as above stated my duty compelled me to definitely locate the line running in a straight course from Fort Lane to a point near Phoenix and to begin the acquisition of right of way and to make all preparation for its early construction, of which action I beg to inform you.
I remain, gentlemen,
    Very respectfully yours,
        R. Koehler
C. C. Beekman Papers Mss 916, Box 19 Miscellaneous Papers, Oregon Historical Society

    Jacksonville, the county seat and the most important town of the county, unless, perhaps, it may now have a rival in Ashland, was left to one side by the railroad. It was passed, not from an arbitrary motive, but because it was not easy to build the road to it. The town was located as a mining camp and for the convenience of miners and quite without consideration of its possible future as a commercial town.
A.H., "Jackson County," Oregonian, Portland, April 25, 1885, page 4

The first attempt to debunk the myth--in 1885.  It didn't take.
Why Was the Railroad Not Built Nearer Jacksonville?
    This is a difficult question to answer. But, as we have often been unjustly censured by the public and by transient persons passing through this country because we did not put forth the necessary effort to secure the building of the road through, or near this place, we will submit such observations to demand and allow our censors to draw their own conclusions.
    Taking into consideration the geographical lay of the valley and the general direction to be pursued by the road to reach a given point on the Siskiyous we had a right to believe and did believe that the location of Jacksonville was such that an honest survey of the several routes from Rock Point would prove the Blackwell, or Willow Springs to be the shortest and cheapest and therefore the best for the company; and either of these routes would have brought the road sufficiently near us for all practical purposes.
    It was believed, at that time, that no minor consideration, and certainly none of local prejudice, could operate as against us, or have any weight or influence with a company engaged in a public enterprise of such magnitude; and that the best and shortest line, regardless of personal consideration, or pecuniary interest to the managers would be adopted. It has been all along asserted and by common consent admitted that in the beginning the company had at their disposal a large amount of money; indeed nothing short of a fabulous sum would be sufficient to complete the vast and complicated system its projectors had mapped out; and it is perhaps not too much to say that at no point in this great undertaking were the funds of the company poured out with such reckless and inexcusable prodigality as between Rock Point and Wagner Creek. That more was expended than was necessary for the line of road adopted we shall not pretend to say.
    It was understood by all that the company had fixed a maximum grade of something over 52 feet to the mile and that the engineer in charge of this section reported that a grade within this limit could not be had except upon the Gold Hill route. It was confidently believed then, and now almost certainly known from later developments, that the engineer, for some reason, misrepresented the facts in the case, and that this misrepresentation cost the company a large amount of money. Whether true or not it was rumored here that the company were advised of these facts after it was too late and discharged the engineer for being unfaithful. A company charged with such responsibility ought not to suffer itself to be imposed upon nor do we believe it was. The managers knew or ought to have known the true facts in the case and if they did not they were not qualified for the responsible stations they were called to fill. We had a right, however, to suppose that in a public work of this character, the officers in charge would be actuated solely by unselfish motives, and that the road would be located where it would best the serve the public and best promote the interests of the company. But the route around Gold Hill which was finally adopted is considerably longer than the Blackwell or Willow Springs, and it is safe to affirm that it cost the company not less than one hundred thousand dollars more to construct it upon this than upon either of the others named; and, as it is conceded to be longer, it cannot be pretended that its operation is more economical for the company or that it is in any sense more advantageous to the people.
    It is difficult to say by what motives the locators of this road were governed. It will be remembered that when it became a fixed fact that the road would be built nearly all those holding lands near any of the surveyed lines were in the highest state of expectancy, and depots were talked of with such fluent certainty as to leave no doubt of the fevered anxiety of almost everybody to have a depot on his place. It is now more than surmised that bids for the location of depots ran high and nowhere nearly so high as upon the line finally adopted. Can it be that the interests of this great company, who were spending millions of money to build up and perfect a north Pacific R.R. system, were deliberately sacrificed for a miserable penny speculation in depots through this valley? If not, can anyone, even at this day, give a good and valid reason why the road was not located on what was conceded to be the shortest and cheapest route? Why unnecessarily lengthen the road by a circuitous route around Gold Hill and make an expensive rock cut, which, it has been alleged, cost not less than $175,000 when only a light and inexpensive dirt cut through Blackwell or Willow Springs would have materially lessened the distance, diminished the cost and given a better line of road? As Jacksonville was the center of trade and business for the valley and to all appearances likely to remain such was it feared that the location of a depot near it would have so absorbed public interest and attention as to forbid all idea of speculative hope at other points along the line? In a word, why was not the road located in accordance with the natural lay of the country and where it ought, obviously, in the interest of the company, to have been located? If the people of Jacksonville or any of them ever gave cause of offense to the managers or anyone in connection with the company they are not aware of it; but, on the contrary, everyone having authority was treated with the utmost courtesy and every effort made consistent with our means to secure the location of the road where it ought to have been, but every overture was met with a proposition we were unable to reach. That we might be rightly understood, and fairly judged by those in authority, as having a proper appreciation of the situation, we sent two different delegations to Portland to confer with the managers, and also appealed to Mr. Villard himself, but no agreement could be had which would come within our means and we were thus compelled, unwilling, to forgo what would certainly have made this the most booming little town in Oregon; and yet the town will live and grow despite this misfortune and in the face of any and all efforts to disparage or force it down.
Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, August 15, 1885, page 2

    Although only three years old, Medford now boasts of nearly a thousand inhabitants. Jacksonville, on the contrary, is an old established town about twice the size of Medford, and was an old town long before the railroad was thought of. Why the railroad did not come through Jacksonville is a conundrum which few of its residents can intelligently answer.
"Southern Oregon," San Francisco Bulletin, August 4, 1887, page 4

    Speaking of the coming of the railroad to the valley, Miss Hanley told the local story current, relative to a valley town.
    It seems an overcharge for bacon, a jump from 12 to 26 cents, was so prejudicial to the claims of this town that they lost the road.
"Pioneer Days Vividly Related by Alice Hanley," Medford Mail Tribune, October 6, 1923, page 3
This myth is not known to appear anywhere else in print.

    As to the death knell of Jacksonville being sounded when the people of the town turned down the offer of the railroad about 1883: Now the truth is that no official offer to bring the O.&C. railroad to this town was ever made. The facts, as given by B. B. Beekman, now of Portland and widely and favorably known through the state and who was raised here, are simply these: A survey for the location of the railroad was made through the valley about two and a quarter miles east of Jacksonville, but when this survey was continued to Ashland, where a division point was planned, it was found that the line was far above any suitable grounds for shops or tracks. Another survey was made by Mr. Howard, the engineer in charge of location, leaving the Rogue River canyon near Rock Point and running in an almost straight line to within a few miles of Ashland. This being much the best route for the road, [it] was therefore adopted. The reason and the only reason Jacksonville was left off the line was a topographical one. Just the same reason that Yreka was left to one side.
"Communication," Medford Mail Tribune, December 2, 1926, page 4

Last revised October 22, 2022