The earliest mention of Buncom, Oregon I've found in print is from February 7, 1855.  A reminiscence recalls that the town was named when a "Chinaman" mispronounced a miner's name.

My contention is that the miner could have been named nothing other than Pinkham, and there happened to be two Pinkhams in the immediate area at the time, Joseph and Ebenezer.

Buncom/Buncombe in the 1850s was then a new slang word, which has come down to us as "bunk." The Pinkham/Buncombe anecdote would have been ripe to occasion the naming of a town, in the '49er tradition of other jocular place names of the Gold Rush--like Steamboat, Humbug, Poormans Creek, Tombstone, Eight Dollar Mountain and Six Bit House.

February 7, 1855
Cloudy & a few drops of rain
Down Sterling Creek to its mouth called Bunkumville, 5 mi.
James Mason Hutchings diary

    June 1st [1855]--Jacksonville is in the southwest corner of the valley. There is Sterlingville nine miles south Jacksonville. In the fall and winter of 1855 there were over six hundred miners in Sterlingville. One day I went over to Sterlingville to see the mines and as I was looking around I came on to F. F. Curran. He was mining down the Creek four miles from Sterlingville at a little Town called Bunkumville. I stayed all night with him then went back to Jacksonville. I mined here with my uncle H. K. Wasson till the first of June. The water run down in the ditches that we could not work for the lack of water. Up to this time I had cleared two hundred and fifty dollars so I had three hundred and fifty dollars clear of expenses.
John Murray Mickey diary  Note that the "ville" suffix is almost always appended to a person's name--Huntsville, Jacksonville, Martinsville, McMinnville, Pottsville, Wilsonville. Summerville, Oregon was reportedly named after an Alexander Summerville.

    Bunkum district, on the other hand, a southern extension of Sterlingville district, has an abundant supply of water during most of the year, brought in three ditches from the North Fork of Applegate Creek.

Statistics of Mines and Mining in the States and Territories West of the Rocky Mountains,
1870, page 214

    MURDERED.--At Buncom, on Little Applegate, on Monday evening, April 10th, about 4 o'clock p.m., a Chinaman was found dead in the public highway, with the teeth of his upper jaw stove in. From what we can gather of the affair, three Chinamen had been to the store of Messrs. Hayden & Cameron, in Uniontown, and had indulged quite freely of the overjoyful, and were returning to their mining claims 3 or 4 miles above that place. The deceased (Chinaman), having imbibed a little more freely than the others, fell behind and was found by some Indians, as reported above. The murderers, whether Indians or Chinamen, is a (quien sabe) question; no doubt one or other other parties done the deed. The inquest of Coroner Ganung elicited no further information upon the cause of his death.
Democratic Times, Jacksonville, April 15, 1871, page 3  Details of the victim's autopsy here.

"Pidgeon [pidgin] English . . . is said to be a corruption of 'business English,' the word 'pigeon' being the nearest approach that a Chinaman can make to the pronunciation of the English word 'business.'"
"Some Popular Phrases," Oregonian, Portland, May 17, 1887, page 2

    The smart alecks of the West who have been in the habit of giving uncouth and, in some cases, obscene names to new settlements, are to be summarily sat down on by the post office authorities. Whenever one of the settlements with outlandish names applies for the establishment of a post office, the application is granted only on condition that the name is changed to something decent and respectable. The department proposes to stop cowboys naming towns as they have been in the habit of naming their bulls.
Medford Mail, February 23, 1894, page 3

    Canada has furnished to the United States many bright, enterprising young men who have left the Dominion to enter the business circles of this country with its more progressive methods, livelier competition and advancement more quickly secured. Among this number is Mr. Pinkham. He has somewhat of the strong, rugged and persevering characteristics developed by his earlier environments, which, coupled with the livelier impulses of the New England blood of his ancestors, made him at an early day seek wider fields in which to give full scope to his ambition and industry--his dominant qualities. He found the opportunity he sought in the freedom and appreciation of the growing western portion of the country. Though born across the border, he is thoroughly American in thought and feeling, and is patriotic and sincere in his love for the stars and stripes. His career is identified with the history of Idaho, where he has acquired a competence and where he is an honored and respected citizen. Thrice has he served as United States marshal of Idaho, and is accounted one of her bravest pioneers.
    Mr. Pinkham was born in Canada, on the 15th of December, 1833, and is a representative of an old New England family who were early settlers of Maine. The first of the name to come to America was Thomas Pinkham, a native of Wales, who established his home in the Pine Tree state. Henson Pinkham, father of our subject, was born, reared and married in Maine, and a short time prior to the birth of his son, Joseph, removed to Canada. The latter was reared upon a farm near New London, and acquired his education in the public schools of the neighborhood.
    In 1850, when seventeen years of age, he sailed from New York around Cape Horn for San Francisco, and was eight months making the trip, and after a short period spent in the latter city went to Shasta City, California, where he secured a situation as clerk in a store. Soon afterward, however, he went to Pit River, where he engaged in placer mining, and next went on horseback to Jacksonville, Oregon, where he engaged in mining and farming, meeting with fair success.
    On the 3rd of August, 1853, he went to the Rogue River Valley. The same day the Rogue River Indian war broke out, being precipitated by the killing of a white man near Table Rock. The war continued for a year and peace was procured by General Joseph Lane. In the fall of 1855, however, trouble broke out anew, and Mr. Pinkham aided in its suppression. He was in the quartermaster's department and participated in the battle of Hungry Hill. He remained in Oregon until 1862, devoting his energies to mining and farming, and then removed to Umatilla, on the Columbia River, where he engaged in clerking in the store of Z. F. Moody, who was afterward governor of Oregon. In 1864, in connection with Ish and Hailey, he conducted a saddle train between the Columbia River and Boise. He was engaged in purchasing supplies and forwarding the trains until 1866, when he assisted in the purchase of stage stock for the Meacham route to the Boise country, and also had charge of the road from Umatilla across the Blue Mountains until 1868. In that year he removed to Idaho City, Idaho, and purchased the stage route across Boise Basin to Placerville, Pioneer and Quartzburg; and in 1870 he bought the stage line from Idaho City to Boise, conducting the two lines until 1872, when he sold to the Greathouse brothers.
    In 1870 Mr. Pinkham was appointed United States marshal for the territory of Idaho by President Grant, and on the completion of his first term was again appointed by the same executive. He filled the office in a manner indeed creditable to himself and satisfactory to the government. He entered upon the duties of his position at a time when the region was largely infested with a lawless element and when crime held sway in many districts. He was ever fearless in the discharge of his duty, and to his efforts is largely due the rapid transformation of the state to its present condition of advanced civilization. A brave officer, carrying out the laws of the land, is a bulwark of defense to the better class of citizens and a continual menace to the worst element. In 1890 President Harrison appointed Mr. Pinkham for a third term in the office of United States marshal, and he therefore carried forward the work which he had so splendidly begun, the work of ridding the state of all criminal characters, so that it might become the abiding place of a prosperous and happy people. He had several narrow escapes while discharging his duties, but his bravery was ever above question, and his reputation for fearlessness and loyalty to duty soon spread among those who were amenable to law.
    On one occasion he started in pursuit of a criminal. He was riding on the front seat of the stage with the driver, when, as they were passing through a narrow defile in the mountains, they were waylaid by two men. From the brush at his side a rifle was pointed at Mr. Pinkham, so near that he could almost reach it as he sat leaning back with his arm across the seat. The ball from the gun passed just in front of him and lodged in the driver. At the same instant a man fired from the other side, using a gun loaded with nine buckshot. Every shot struck the beam of the coach just behind the driver, passed through the coach over the heads of the passengers and lodged on the beam in the opposite side. The driver, Charles Phelps, exclaimed: "I am shot." Mr. Pinkham then attempted to take the lines and whip, but could not wrench them from the grasp of the dying man; so, sitting in his lap, he swung the whip and urged the horses into a run toward Pocatello, a distance of two or three miles. There the driver was taken down and a doctor who was in the coach examined him, but said that the wound would prove fatal. So they put him in the coach, while Mr. Pinkham supported his head and another man drove to the Black Rock stage station, where, soon after their arrival, the driver died. At this place the Montana stage came down, loaded with bullion and accompanied by four well armed Wells, Fargo messengers. Mr. Pinkham proceeded on his way and arrested the man he was after and returned safely with him to the seat of justice.
    On another occasion, in 1878, a man was killed at Ross' Fork by an Indian, whom the military followed up Snake River and arrested. Mr. Pinkham then went after the offender and took him to Malad City, where he was tried, the sentence being that he should be hung at Boise. Mr. Pinkham then started with him in an open rig, putting him beside the driver, while he and his deputy sat behind. They learned that a large number of Indians were going to attempt his rescue, and accordingly they took another route. Mr. Pinkham instructed the deputy that if they were attacked to kill their prisoner and then fight for their own lives, but the new route selected prevented them from having an encounter with the red men. At length they arrived safely in Boise, where the Indian was hung.
    In 1892, the time of the miners' strike and riots at Coeur d'Alene, the members of the Miners' Union were enjoined from interrupting the peaceable working of other miners. It was Mr. Pinkham's duty to serve the papers in these cases, which he served on about five hundred men in Shoshone County, where he and his deputies arrested two hundred and fifty-seven of them for violating the injunction, holding them in Wallace under military guard. It was a time of great excitement and the miners were very desperate. Those arrested had a hearing before the United States commissioner, and all were discharged except about thirty of the leaders, one of whom was the notorious Ed Boice. At a special term of court held by Judge Beatty they were sentenced to six months' imprisonment in the Boise jail. During the strike there were fifteen non-union men working in a mine near Burke. They were surrounded by union men, who threatened to capture the mine and kill the miners. Mr. Pinkham was ordered to take the men away from the mine. He knew it to be a very difficult and dangerous duty, owing to the desperate character of the union men, and for a time he hardly knew how to accomplish the task, for the headquarters of the union men were at that place and serious trouble was expected. Studying over the matter during the night, in the morning he had reached the determination to go unarmed, and, instructing his deputy to go likewise, they took a coach and engine to bring the men away. At Wallace, about three miles from Burke, they telephoned for the guards to bring the men from the mine to the foot of the hill, about one hundred feet from where the cars would stop. From his station on the train he could see the men come down the hill. The yard was packed with union men. Mr. Pinkham and his deputy got out and walked through the crowd of desperate and angry men, all armed, reached the miners, and then our subject, starting toward the train, ordered the men to follow, the deputy bringing up in the rear. In this way they marched to the car, boarded it and pulled out in the midst of the most horrible abuse ever heaped upon any individuals, but the daring feat was safely accomplished and the lives of the miners were saved through the skill and courage of Mr. Pinkham.
    It was also during his service as United States marshal that the American Railway Union strike occurred, and he also handled the Coxey movement successfully without the loss of life or the destruction of property.
    It was said of him by the United States attorney general that he had been more successful than any other marshal in the entire service of the United States. With a keen appreciation of the great responsibility that rested upon him, with a full understanding of his duty, and without fear, he met every call without shrinking and made for himself a most creditable record. His name has thus become inseparably associated with the early history of the state, and Idaho owes not a little to him for the advancement which she has been enabled to make.
    In politics Mr. Pinkham has always been a stalwart Republican, has taken an active interest in the work of the party, and has been chairman of the Republican state central committee. He served in that capacity for three years, and by his capable organization and wise management brought success to the party. His business interests connect him with a number of good mines in the state. He buys and sells mining property on an extensive scale and is a mining expert, being rarely if ever mistaken as to the value of ores.
    In 1857 Mr. Pinkham was united in marriage to Miss Mary E. Gray, a native of Missouri. She is the daughter of the Rev. Mr. Gray, a Methodist minister, and in that church she is a valued member. Socially Mr. Pinkham is a Mason, having taken the three preliminary degrees in Umatilla lodge, of Oregon, in 1864. He is now a Royal Arch Mason and a Knight Templar, is past master of the blue lodge, past grand secretary and treasurer and past deputy grand master of the grand lodge of Idaho. He is also a member of the Order of Elks.
    Such in brief is the life history of Joseph Pinkham. In whatever relation of life we find him--in the government service, in political circles, in business or in social relations--he is always the same honorable and honored gentleman, whose worth well merits the high regard which is uniformly given him.
An Illustrated History of the State of Idaho, Lewis Publishing Co., Chicago, 1899, pages 282-285

    A post office on Little Applegate River twelve miles south of Jacksonville, the express, banking and shipping point. Mail semi-weekly. W. R. Garrett, postmaster.
Polk's Jackson, Josephine and Douglas County Directory 1910

    A post office on the Little Applegate River, 12 miles south of Jacksonville, the telegraph, express, banking and shipping point. Stage and mail to Jacksonville semi-weekly.
GARRETT W R, Postmaster
Pursell Charles C, saw mill
Polk's Jackson, Josephine and Douglas County Directory 1912

    A post office on the Little Applegate River, 12 miles south of Jacksonville, the telegraph, express, banking and shipping point. Stage and mail to Jacksonville semi-weekly.
GARRETT W R, Postmaster and Grocer
Pursell Charles C, saw mill
Polk's Jackson, Josephine and Douglas County Directory 1914

    A post office on the Little Applegate Creek, 12 miles south of Jacksonville, the banking and shipping point. Stage and mail from Jacksonville semi-weekly. For list of names refer to star route from Jacksonville-Buncom-Watkins.
Jackson County Directory 1916, Rothermel and Fee, pub.

    Miss Mabel Henson of Climax came out and went to Buncom to teach school.
A. C. Howlett, "Eagle Point Eaglets," Medford Mail Tribune, September 4, 1916, page 4

    APPLEGATE, Oct. 26.--From all accounts, it appears that the vicinity of the Little Applegate River is going to emerge from its many years of repose into a worthy object of desire in the minds of mining men for the first time since Chinamen were prominent in the country.
    Recent prospecting has revealed the fact that the adjacent land contains a sufficient amount of gold to permit engaging in extensive mining operations in the very near future. Preparations are now under way to commence what will probably develop into a large mining concern of modern facilities, under the ownership of the Federal Mining Company, of which A. E. Kirkland, prominent mining man from Cottage Grove, is director.
    The operations will be centered in and around the Heckman place, known to pioneers of the valley as the Frank Smith ranch, which has recently been purchased by the mining company. The Buncom place, at the mouth of Sterling Creek, formerly known as the Sam Phillips place, together with the old Sterling mine, have been bonded for mining purposes.
    A large group of laborers, under the directorship of J. A. S. Kleinhammer, is now employed in cleaning and rebuilding a ditch which was used years ago by a company of Chinese miners, known as the Gin Lin Co. It is anticipated that 1500 or 2000 inches of water will be put into the ditch, providing there is an adequate supply in the creek during the winter season. A number of pieces of hydraulic pipe are being hauled from the Sterling mine to be used in connection with the ditch line, which runs back of the Heckman place at a height which will permit hydraulic pressure.
    For the present the men employed are finding board and lodging at private homes, although with the progress of the work and with an addition of workers, Mr. Kirkland anticipates providing means whereby the employees can be housed near the working center. The company has purchased a share in the Little Applegate telephone line and will be listed in the telephone directory under the company name.
    The preparations for the opening of the mine are welcomed by all the residents of the Applegate Valley as an addition toward commercial advancement in the community. A large number of local men are finding employment in the enterprise who, otherwise, would be obliged to seek work elsewhere. Everybody hopes to see the mine progress and attain the highest degree of success possible.
Medford Mail Tribune, October 27, 1926, page B1

Seattle and Alaska Men Install Hydraulics in Buncom District--
Work 24-Hour Shifts.

    Preparations for a mining development, one of the largest in Southern Oregon, are nearing completion in the Buncom district where the Applegate Mines, Inc., composed of Seattle and Alaska mining men, will operate a hydraulic gold mine, opening up new ground. The mine is practically ready to begin operations, governed by the supply of water.
    In the neighborhood of 15 men will be employed, making their headquarters at Buncom Corners, near the meadows where three hydraulics will be operated on 24-hour shifts. Water will be taken from the Little Applegate River.
    The reconditioning of the old China or Gin Lin ditch, used by a Chinaman 60 years ago to mine a short distance below the meadows, has been completed. He is credited with taking out two million dollars and employed a large number of Chinese.
    The ditch is eight miles long and averages four feet deep. Pipe of 30 inches diameter leads from the ditch to the scene of operations, a dropoff of 220 feet in 2,000 feet. The nozzle is 11 inches, sending forth a stream of water at high pressure.
Make Own "Juice."
    An electric plant is to be constructed, furnishing electricity to illuminate the scene of operations at night and also the bunk-houses and cook-house, the construction of which has been completed. More buildings to house mine laborers are to be constructed in a short time.
    The mine and scene of contemplated operations were shown by Floyd T. Steele, vice-president and manager, to Ed White and Joe Brown of Medford, and a representative of the Mail Tribune a few
days ago. Mr. Steele has had 30 years of experience in the Alaska gold fields and surveyed the local possibilities carefully before making plans for development in the Buncom district. The property adjoins the Federal mine.
    Other officers of the corporation are F. M. Lewis, Seattle, president, and James E. Bradford, secretary and treasurer.
    This development adds materially to mining activity in the county and is expected to lead to more. Mr. Steele has just purchased the Kleinhammer ranch for mining purposes.
Medford Mail Tribune, January 2, 1931, page 5

Last revised March 19, 2024