The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised

Early Days in Medford

The pioneers reminisce.

My Impressions of Medford's New Street Car Line
(By J. S. Howard)
    "The world do move." The truth of this saying was most favorably presented to my mind when I took my first ride on the modern street car of Medford.
    As we rode east on Main Street on the up-to-date splendid car across Medford's $40,000 concrete bridge over Bear Creek, where over a half century ago we crossed on a 20-foot log and entered an almost "terra incognito" region on the east side of Bear Creek. The only immediate settlement east of Bear Creek in the vicinity of what is now East Main Street was that splendid pioneer family, the Barneburgs, and for many years after Medford's first settlement, Fred Barneburg, the father of the present generation, was a familiar object on our streets, and the crowd that used to gather around him never tired of hearing him relate stories of pioneer days, and no one doubted the accuracy of his interesting stories.
    But to get back to earth again, when Medford was laid out 30 years ago, the only road connected with the town was what is now Riverside Avenue. As stores were opened, the people living in the country east and north of town demanded a road from their section to the city, and upon petition the county court ordered a road laid out from the east end of Main Street, which was then at Riverside Avenue, across Bear Creek, thence east along the present Main Street to Roosevelt Avenue [today's Crater Lake Avenue], then north on what is now Roosevelt Avenue to the county road at McAndrews.
    What is now the street car line on East Main Street was a high rail fence with willows 15 feet high in the corners.
    Well, after a while this fence was removed and the road opened for travel; the creek was forded in the summertime but in the winter impassable, so we passed around the hat and got money enough to buy timber for a footbridge, and the men's Greater Medford Club (unorganized), got together and built a good footbridge which stood for three winters, and the farmers on the east side of the valley would hitch their teams on the east side and walk across the footbridge and do their trading.
    After that a wooden bridge was constructed that was after three or four years carried away by a flood [in 1890], after which the steel bridge was built which was thought to be sufficient for all time.
    But as the city improved that was found inadequate, and the rest was that it was moved to Jackson Street and the present steel and concrete bridge [today's bridge] was built which is the pride of Medford and an object of envy to other parts of the county.
    All these things and many others were brought to mind as I took my first ride over what used to be an old pioneer trail, now a splendid paved street with shade trees, splendid residences and cozy homes on either side.
    If Rip Van Winkle had just awakened from a 30-years' sleep he would never know by a 1000 miles where he was. Even I, who have been here and awake all the time, have to rub my eyes to be sure that I am not asleep and dreaming what the next 30 years will bring forth in our city.
    To realize how [much] time it is since we were removed from the primitive, I will mention that about 15 years ago a bear came across the creek about midday and walked up Main Street, across the park and out across Oakdale Avenue and on to the foothills, with most all the men, boys and dogs in town in pursuit, but they never touched him, and he got away unharmed.
J. S. HOWARD.           
Medford, March 23, 1914.
Medford Sun, March 25, 1914, page 4

    It was just 30 years ago last Tuesday night that [N. S. Bennett] and Mrs. Bennett arrived in Medford from their old home near Keokuk, Iowa, with the intention of staying here a year if they liked it. They have been here ever since. Medford was a small village then, and the site of the Farmers & Fruitgrowers Bank was out in the suburbs, covered with scrub oak and chaparral. There was then three inches of snow on the ground, and then the developments of the next few days and month the newly arrived Iowans did not fall in love with Medford.
    The following Saturday it began to snow, and before it let up there was 17¼ inches of snow on the ground. The weather was not so cold at that time as during the recent big snowfall, which amounted to a foot, and if Mr. Bennett's memory serves him right the thermometer stood about 8 degrees above zero, whereas during the recent snowfall it was about 10 degrees below.
    The majority of this great depth of snow, although it thawed a little and snowed a little several times, remained on the ground about a month, and then when it did go away rather suddenly caused big flood conditions, and the Bear Creek bridge was washed away by the raging torrent.
    The business part of Medford was on this side of the creek, and to enable the farmers living in the territory across the stream to come across a cable was rigged up over the torrent. The farmers drove to the other side in their stick carts, consisting of rear wheels of a wagon attached to a wagon pole, and then were pulled across in a big basket attached to the cable.
    Due to the flood conditions in Oregon and California at that time Mr. Bennett says the train service was demoralized in both directions, and because of washouts on Cow Creek Cañon and the Sacramento Valley there was no through train service from January 26 to February 26, and no mail was received from the east and west during that time.
    In relating the above Mr. Bennett recalled that the previous year had been a very dry one and hence food, grain and other prices were very high, but that about that time he purchased a dressed hog for six cents a pound and wheat at about [60] cents a bushel.
Excerpt, Medford Mail Tribune, January 9, 1920, page 6

Less Than 100 Persons at Exercises in City 44 Years Ago
Early Days in Railroad Camp Are Described by Pioneers
    The first Christmas in Medford was very simple and unpretentious, according to Charles Strang, Joe Thomas and others, who were in Medford or vicinity at that time.
    Medford's first Christmas occurred something like 44 years ago in a picturesque setting of muddy streets and chaparral. There were no twinkling red and green street lights, nor was there an attractively decorated community tree with candles and oranges for the children of Medford. In truth, there were but few children here, and the total population of Medford that first Christmas numbered less than a hundred persons, according to Charles Strang, local druggist.
Was Timekeeper
    "The first year that Medford sprang into a tiny town, I was timekeeper for the railroad company," Charles Strang said yesterday. "The company laid out the townsite, after an agreement with the property owners, who were at that time C. C. Beekman, William [sic] Broback and Phipps, who held old donation claims."
    The railroad company platted out the town, drove stakes at every corner, and deeded back to the owners every other block, according to agreement. This was during the winter of 1883-4, Mr. Strang said, adding that the streets were so muddy that travel was difficult.
Named by Road
    "The railroad company gave Medford its name, but whether it was because one of the officials was from Medford, Mass., and homesick for his home town, I don't know," smiled Mr. Strang.
    That first winter. Mr. Strang and another Medford man went around soliciting donations to hire a man with a team and chains to pull out the chaparral, so that the residents might be able to find the town."
Tells of Town
    Another Medford resident, Joe Thomas of the Thomas Realty Company, lived as a boy on a ranch a couple of miles west of the city on the Jacksonville road at the time that Medford was the newest town on the railroad then in the process of construction through the Rogue River Valley.
    "Construction on the railroad through Medford began in the spring of [1884]," said Mr. Thomas. "It was probably April, and I remember that my father and I were setting out prune streets when the construction train was laying rails out where the Owen mill now stands."
    Of the first Christmas in Medford, Mr. Thomas remembers little. "Medford wasn't much of a place and mostly mud," he stated.
Ran Town
    The first store in Medford was a settlers' [sic--sutler's?] shop, run by an old man named Hadley, who had obtained a concession from the railroad company. Hadley was an itinerant who followed the railroad constructionists.
    Medford's first store was built by J. S. Howard on Front Street, who ran it for many years. Most of the stores and business houses were built on Front and Fir streets parallel to the railroad, and the block between Main Street and Eighth was very popular with the merchants, according to Mr. Thomas.
    The first drug store in Medford was run by Charles Strang, who opened his store in March 1884 on the corner of Front and Eighth streets. Mr. Strang sold drugs and hardware, while his partner was the village postmaster. [David H. Miller served as postmaster Aug. 25, 1885 through Sept. 25, 1889.]
The First Saloon
    The first saloon was located on the corner of Main Street and Front, and owned by Nolan and Ulrich, pioneer residents of Medford.
    The first brick building was erected on the corner of South Riverside and Ninth streets, and is still standing, according to Mr. Thomas. [C. W. Broback's was the first brick residence in Medford, but not the first brick building. It was razed in March 1929.]
    Before attending school in Medford, Mr. Thomas stated that he was a pupil in the old [Heber] Grove school south of the present Oak Grove district, with the building located on the north end of the old Polk Hull place. The father of Wilbur Jones bought the school house subsequently and remade it into a dwelling on Ross Lane.
    It is a fact that one of Medford's school buildings was purchased by N. L. Narregan, a school principal of Medford in the early days, who rebuilt it into an attractive residence on West Tenth Street, later selling it to A. A. Davis, a prominent citizen of the city at that time, according to Mr. Thomas.
First Death
    "The first death occurring in Medford [the first deaths reported were the children of a Mr. Raynes, reported February 8, 1884] was the murder [sic] of William Caldwell, the noted desperado of Southern Oregon, and the terror of the country," said Mr. Thomas.
    "It seems that Caldwell had been making the rounds of the saloons, was drunk, and pretty quarrelsome. It was his habit to walk into a saloon, smack his gun on the counter with a loud whack and remark to the trembling bartender, 'Set 'em up!' and his orders were always respectfully obeyed, as Caldwell had the reputation of being quick with the trigger.
Shot to Death
    "Caldwell slapped the young son of  [Charles] Broback during the course of a card game, and Broback in great anger shot him. Lots of people around town said it was a good thing that Caldwell's gun stuck, due to the smackings it had received on the various bars of the city saloons, or [Charles] Broback would certainly have been out of luck," Mr. Thomas continued.
    The murder occurred in 1884, and Broback was never even arrested. The coroner's jury exonerated him, figuring the country was well rid of the desperado.
    "Lots of people kidded Broback--told him they guessed he was trying to start Medford's first graveyard," said Mr. Thomas.

Medford Daily News, December 25, 1927, page 1

Two 'R's' in Valley Then Were Rain and Rum, Say Pioneers
Saloons Plentiful When Town Was Spot on Valley Floor
    The first New Year's Day in Medford's history was "all wet," both as regards rain and rum, the two R's known to the early pioneers, if one is to believe the stories of Medfordites who grew up with the city.
    As for the rain, there was more of it, or it seemed wetter, according to Fort Hubbard of this city yesterday.
Lots of Rain
    "No fooling, the winters seemed rainier, and often we had as much as 26 inches of rain," Mr. Hubbard said. "Of course, the absolute lack of concrete sidewalks, paving and graveled roads, and the fact that Medford was dotted over that first year or so with potholes and chaparral that averaged ten feet in height, would make the winters appear worse."
    There was a large pothole where Fay Diamond's jewelry store now is [at 115 East Main], and a particularly bad one on Main Street in front of the saloon that stood on the corner of Main and Front streets. Many a drunk stumbled out of the saloon, only to take a tumble in this big pool of water.
Lots of It
    As for rum, it was plentiful with the 17 or more saloons in Jacksonville, and every other of the probable half-dozen public buildings in Medford saloons, too.
    The first store in Medford was run by an itinerant, Sam Hadley, who followed the railroad constructionists with his concessions. His store, which consisted of board sidings with a tent top, was located where the Brophy jewelry store now stands, and the versatile Sam sold whisky, overalls, groceries and other supplies.
Were Pioneers
    F. Hubbard Sr., assisted by his sons, Fort and O. A. Hubbard, ran the first implement shop in Medford, coming to the city in 1883. The shop was on the corner of what is now Main and Riverside where the Associated Oil Station stands.
    Across the street was the Torrey Hotel on the opposite corner, and up the street a small distance was the first butcher shop of Medford, the proprietor of which was Stephen A. Douglas Higgins, known to his friends as Sad Higgins, because his first three initials spelled "Sad."
    The first blacksmith shop of Medford was sheltered under a tremendous oak tree standing just off South Riverside near Ninth and Bartlett streets. It is said that George Crystal, the blacksmith, tethered the horses he was shoeing to this old oak. The beautiful tree was cut to the ground in 1911 when one of the first garages in Medford was erected by Charles W. Davis.
Livery Stable
    On the corner at Russell's Inc. stood a large livery stable owned by Egan and McMahon, and the Cunningham Hotel occupied the corner of Main and Central where the Jackson County Bank now is, according to O. A. Hubbard of this city.
    In place of the present Nash Hotel, there was a so-called city hall which housed a saloon and a public hall in which meetings, traveling shows and dances were held. Church services were held on Sundays.
Private School
    The very first school in Medford was in the nature of a private one, maintained by an old schoolmaster named Williamson. The building was on South Central Avenue in the immediate vicinity of the Elwood residence. It lasted about two years, according to Hubbard, when a frame school building was erected on the present site of the Washington School.
    At this time there was no bridge across Bear Creek, not even a footbridge, according to Mr. Hubbard. The view of West Medford across the railroad tracks, he said, could best be described by four words, "Chaparral, and more chaparral."
    "It is a fact that until May 1884 the train service extended only as far south as Phoenix, and it was just before the Fourth of July 1884 that the first passenger train rumbled into Ashland," Mr. Hubbard stated.
Raised Money
    In the early days in Medford, all improvements were made by means of private subscriptions, and it was no uncommon thing for the small towns of the valley, all of whom peered at baby Medford, to solicit what was called a bonus to help improve the roads, according to Charles Strang, veteran druggist of Medford.
    "At that time there were few roads, and the two most important ones--to Medford, at least--were the Jacksonville road and what is now the Pacific Highway," said Mr. Strang.
    Mr. Strang tells the following anecdote about a public meeting held in the Table Rock district about 45 years ago:
Noisy Meet
    A very noisy meeting was in progress, with men representing the various districts of the county present, including one man from Medford. All were clamoring to be recognized by the chairman to tell their ideas about how improvements should be conducted.
    Finally a resourceful citizen climbed on a chair and shouted above the din, "Mr. Chairman, I see that a Medford man is trying to get the floor. Let him talk--he may have a bonus to offer."

Medford Daily News, January 1, 1928, page 1
Main and Central, Medford, Oregon, 1888

When Men Played Marbles

in Medford's Main Street
    To the average citizen of Medford, the idea of three grown men playing marbles in the middle of Medford's main street, and at the corner of Main and Central at that, is somewhat shocking, but if you don't believe it has been done, take a look at the picture above.
    What's more, D. T. Lawton, the young man sitting in the Newton wagon, was watching the game, and was showing the picture to his friends early this week. Mr. Lawton still lives in Medford, at 321 Apple Street, and vouches for the fact that the above picture was taken in Medford, and also that it was taken in 1888.
    Medford's First Hotel
    The Empire House, one of Medford's only hotels at that time, was built on the location now occupied by the Jackson County Bank building. The Jackson County Bank was organized later in the same year.
    The Newton wagon upon which Lawton is sitting was purchased from F. Hubbard, who was then a blacksmith. Hubbard later established his implement store, which has been one of Medford's leading institutions ever since, and is now operated by his son, Axel. [Hubbard built his Medford implement store in February 1884.]
    "There wasn't much to Medford when this picture was taken," Lawton said, holding it up for friends in the Roxy Ann confectionery to see. "Across the street from the Empire Hotel was a vacant lot," he continued. "That's where the Medford National Bank is now. Then next to it is the building John Barneburg built. That's the building Toggery Bill has his store in now. They were just building it when this picture was taken. See the window frames sticking up in the air?
    Marble Game Good
    "There where the men are playing marbles," he went on, "you can see a sort of blur, like a man's feet. Well, that's what they are. Whoever it was playing, I don't remember who it was, had just made a good shot. He jumped up in the air and turned around, just as the camera clicked."
Judge Walton Watched
    "No," he said, "I don't remember many of the people in the picture. That's old Judge Walton, who used to be justice of the peace, standing close to the porch watching the game. He has on that high hat and white shirt, and the watch chain. He's standing right in front of that 1888 sign.
    "Next to the Empire House is our real estate office. That's about where Brophy's jewelry is now. Then the little building back of Judge Walton is where Dr. E. B. Pickel had his first office in Medford. He was a young fellow then. Then the next is a grocery store and confectionery. I don't know who owned it, but the next one is the George Lindley building, where Hutchison and Lumsden's store is now.
Ike Webb Remembered
    "Oh, yes," he said, "I remember this one playing marbles. That's Ike Webb standing up looking at the camera."
    It was along about this time, Mr. Lawton said, digging back into the recesses of his memory for facts long unused, that the merchants from Jacksonville started moving to Medford. They had just decided that since the railroad had gone through Medford (in 1883), the thing to do was to move over.
Strang and Miller Move
    Charles Strang, druggist, and Dave Miller, hardware merchant, moved to Medford about the time this picture was taken. [Vrooman and Miller was established in early 1884.] Jacksonville, then, was a much larger city than Medford. George Haskins, father of Leon, also established a drug store here soon after this picture was taken. [Haskins opened his store in the summer of 1884.]
    "Before the railroad came through Medford," Lawton said, "the railroad had quite a time with Jacksonville. They'd have built through Jacksonville if the Jacksonville boys had given them a good enough deal, but Jacksonville thought the railroad would have to go through there anyway, so they didn't want to compromise." [This is a common story, but it isn't quite true.]
Medford Gets Railroad
    "So it turned out that Beekman, the Jacksonville banker, who owned the land that is now West Medford, a man named Broback, who owned what is now South Medford, and Ide Phipps, father of Dr. I. D. Phipps, who owned East Medford [He owned the northern part of the townsite. He owned land in East Medford also, but it wasn't part of the original townsite], donated their farms to the railroad if the railroad would build through Medford. [Actually, the donation was to establish a townsite, not to divert the railroad's survey line.] Then the railroads, after the road was built, deeded every other block back to the original owners. They sure put one over on Jacksonville," Lawton said, laughing.
Bank Started in 1888
    W. I. Vawter started the first bank in Medford, Lawton said, in 1888. Lawton had been here three years then, as he came here from Portland in 1885. For 12 years prior to coming to Medford he steamboated on the Columbia River, and during that time saw floods on the Columbia which he says were much worse than the one recently experienced.
    "I remember once we ran our steamboat out over the land where the city of Longview now stands, and picked up cattle and horses from the little mounds and hills. The water was several feet deep," he said.
Main Street Muddy
    But getting back to Medford, in the years following 1888, Lawton told many other interesting things. Their first efforts to improve Main Street were futile, he said. They hauled in a lot of gravel, which helped for awhile, but it soon sank below the muddy surface and in another year they had to do it all over again.
    William Vawter dropped into the confectionery in time to hear most of Lawton's story. In speaking of the streets being muddy, Bill spoke up.
Horses Get Stuck
    "I can remember when Central here got so muddy horses and wagons would get stuck, and we had boards put across the street at the corners of the blocks. I was born in a house that stood on the corner of Sixth and Central, where the Medford Center building is now, and Seely Hall, son of Court Hall, lived right beside us. That wasn't so very long ago."
    Lawton could also remember many of the Rogue River Valley's earlier pioneers. He knew the Rosses, the Bealls, and the Whetstones, who had large homestead farms in the Jacksonville district, on the finest land in Oregon. He knew John Griffin, who still farms out on Griffin Creek, and he knew many others, still living here.
Bridge Washed Out
    "People forget things," Lawton said, "but I remember when the Bear Creek bridge washed out and you could swim a horse clear to the Hospital hill. I remember, too, when water would come down from Griffin Creek and Jacksonville and flood the west end of Medford. They used to have to dismiss school at the old Washington School, where the courthouse is now, because of the water."
Medford News, January 5, 1934, page 1

Longtime Resident Recalls 1881 Arrival in County,
Other Events of Early Days
    My mother, two sisters and I left Pennsylvania on the 28th of October, 1881, and arrived at Redding, California, which was the end of the railroad, at 8 p.m. on the evening of the 8th day of November, 1881.
    We got on the California-Oregon stagecoach at nine o'clock on the night of the 8th. We rode on that stagecoach all the night of the 8th, and we rode on that stagecoach all the day of the 9th, and we were all the next day on that stagecoach, and at nine o'clock the next day we rode past the Presbyterian Church, in Jacksonville, which had just been built the year previous.
    In the latter forties or the early fifties, my mother's three brothers came to Oregon. Two of these brothers, George and Mathias Yadus [often spelled "Yaudes"], were still alive in 1881 and living in Jacksonville. My mother's brothers were the owners of the Sterling mine, and we went there to live for a few years, and then we moved to Jacksonville, where I lived during my boyhood days.
    I married a granddaughter of Huldah Colver and was married in the big Colver house. We lived there with Mrs. Colver for a year. Then I built a house in the north end of Phoenix, and moved there. The Presbyterian Church was right in front of the cemetery, and we lived right across the street. The house still stands. I lived there for about four years.
    I was 15 years old when I took my teacher's examination and got a second grade teacher's certificate and taught at Forest Creek. I taught there five months and then took another teacher's examination and got a first grade certificate and taught at Lake Creek for another five months. The school money always seemed to run out after the five summer months.
    Then I got a job teaching school at Jacksonville. I taught the second department in Jacksonville. Before I went into that department those boys just ran that school. They started to do that with me. We had recitation benches then, with a blackboard around the wall. There were three boys who were particular roughnecks, about 14 or 15 years old.
    I had called an arithmetic class and I'd assigned work at the blackboard and one of the boys was still at the recitation bench and I hadn't assigned any work to him yet. I told one boy to work out a problem on the board, and the boy said, "By God, I won't do it!"
    In that department they'd already run out three of the teachers, so I climbed over the recitation bench and got him by the nape of the neck and the seat of the pants and took him over to the teacher's desk and threw him down on the floor with his feet pointing toward the wall. When I stood up, the second boy threw an eraser. I wore a pompadour then--the eraser went right through the pompadour and flew out the window.
    I looked up to see who had thrown the eraser and saw the second boy going toward the door. I beat him to the door. I took him over to the teacher's desk and placed him beside the first boy. Then came an inkwell. It went over my head and out the window. I looked up to see where that came from, and I beat the third boy to the door. I placed that boy at the teacher's desk with his feet to the wall. That was the first time a teacher had ever stood up to the boys.
    A janitor for the school, John Jeffrey, and I had a pair of boxing gloves, and we got so good that none of the boys could ever hit us, and pretty soon they didn't even try.
    I can remember strong feeling over the Civil War many years after it was over. In the valley were several families of Kentuckians who were willing to fight it out all over again, anytime.
    J. H. Stewart, who owned the Voorhies place, shipped his first carload of pears in 1890. The second big orchard was where the Bear Creek Orchard is now. It was planted by Weeks and Orr. [A. J. Weeks planted his orchard in 1883, two years before J. H. Stewart.]
    While I lived in Phoenix I was school superintendent.
Medford Mail Tribune, June 20, 1954, page B6

Last revised July 30, 2011