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The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised


Jackson County 1926


Mrs. Floyd Cook's Article on Removal of County Seat
By HELEN COLVIG COOK
    As an aged mother mourns the departure of her best loved child, so mourns the old town of Jacksonville today over the loss of her court house and the distinction of being the county seat of Jackson County.
    The recent election held in the county gave a majority of over 900 for the removal of the court house from Jacksonville to Medford.
    The entire state of Oregon, which meeds [sic] a reverence for this pioneer town, and the entire county of Jackson, which saw fit to vote for the removal of its county seat, and triumphant Medford as well, proud victor in the recent fight for removal, sympathizes with the little town in its loss and admires the valiant fight which its few hundred citizens put up to retain its one remaining glory.
Colonel Sargent Champions
    Four years ago the same measure came up before the voters of Jackson County. At that time Jacksonville had as its able champion Colonel H. H. Sargent, personal friend of President Roosevelt, and a retired army officer, who had been prominent in the reconstruction of Havana and Manila after the Spanish war. When Colonel Sargent retired from army life he selected the beautiful, peaceful little town of Jacksonville in Southern Oregon as his home, for no other place which he had seen in all his world wandering had appealed to him as this quaint, picturesque town did.
    Here he bought a home on the hillside and devoted himself to literary pursuits. In a short time he grew to love the old town and took as much interest in it as if he had been a native son. When the proposed removal of its cherished court house was put on the ballot Colonel Sargent came forth from his retirement, and with all of his old fighting spirit entered the conflict; thanks to him, the result at that time was a loss of the measure by 90 votes.
Town's Victory Celebrated
    Never since those early days of wild mining excitement had the little town been the scene of such revelry as it was on the night it gave a celebration in honor of its victory. The entire countryside was invited to share its joy over the defeat of the measure. Every public building in the town was open to the public. A musical program was given in the Masonic hall, at which Colonel Sargent was tendered an enthusiastic ovation.
    A banquet, such as no other town but Jacksonville, long famous for its hospitality and excellent housewives, could serve was attended by hundreds of people. People came not only from all over the county and state but from other states as well. Toasts were responded to by native sons and daughters who had gone forth from this, their home town, and had attained distinction and prominence in the outside world.
    The court house town hall, various lodge rooms and streets swarmed with people as it had not done since the early days of mining excitement. A big dance, which young and old joined, lasted till daylight, when another banquet was spread. Jacksonville was jubilant, and even those who had opposed her in the past campaign caught the contagion of happiness and were glad for the old town's victory. The spirit of the celebration obviously was not one of arrogant triumph, but one of joy and thankfulness for having retained its own rights.
Triumph Short-Lived
    But today it is different. Colonel Sargent is dead; but had he lived he could not have kept sentiment from being pushed aside in the path of progress. It was inevitable that the county seat would eventually be taken from the little town, which is tucked off in a far corner of this large county, and is also five miles from the railroad, and be placed in a more central and populous district.
    But it is tragic--it is heartbreaking to Jacksonville, which now has only its memories of past grandeur to live on.
    But such memories.
    No other town in the state has had such a colorful and romantic past. Jacksonville was not built up slowly and arduously by weary men and women, worn out after a long journey across the plains, as the northern part of Oregon was; in fact, this rich domain was shunned by the first pioneers on account of its surroundings; impassable mountains and its treacherous, cruel and warlike Indian tribes. It was known as "the Indian country," and the few daring white people who tried to pass through it prior to 1850 were killed by the Indians or barely escaped with their lives. [Those who took adequate precautions passed without incident.] In 1851, however, two men, more foolhardy and daring than most, were passing through and discovered gold in the locality where Jacksonville stands today.
Gold Seekers Swarm In
    Those who seek gold forget all hardships and danger, and as soon as a report of this first gold strike was circulated, men swarmed into the vicinity from all directions, and suddenly a town of thousands of people sprung up where formerly only the Indian held undisputed sway. [Farmers preceded the discovery of gold.]
    Tents, cabins, shacks grew up overnight among the creek banks. Adventurers, courtesans, miners, gamblers and pioneers came in over the hills with pack trains following close behind. What is now only a town of less than 500 people at one time boasted of 5,000 or 10,000 population. [The population probably never reached 5,000 during the gold rush.]
    Millions of dollars were taken from the creek beds and quartz hills nearby. Soon roads were cut through the stubborn mountains and the stage coach rumbled and jangled through the streets, bringing news and people from the outside world. Saloons, gambling halls and dance halls flourished. A substantial trading post was established and gold dust and nuggets were used in exchange instead of coin.
    All was excitement, rush, gaiety and splendid adventure, instead of the usual worry and sordid struggle of building up a civilization in the wilderness. There was, of course, the oft-recurring troubles with the Indians and at one time a terrible and devastating scourge of smallpox, but these calamities were overshadowed by the lure and excitement of gold.
    When the first rush was over, Jacksonville began to assume the semblance of a town instead of a camp, and began to build, not as mining towns usually do--flimsily, for the present only--but solidly and substantially for the future. Respectable families began to come into the town, and homes were built which are occupied today by descendants of those early pioneers. Furniture was brought "around the Horn" and packed in from the nearest seaport, giving a social prominence to those possessing such things. Brick business buildings were erected, which are as solid today as they were when they were built, even though all the granite steps in front of them are worn to half-moon circles by the many feet that have ascended them through the years. [The steps are sandstone.]
    Flagstone sidewalks took the place of paths and a church was built, being one of the first Protestant churches west of the Rocky Mountains. The first money donated toward the building of this little church, in which services are still held, was won over the faro table by a famous gambler. In fact, if it had not been for the generosity of those early-day gamblers there would not have been a church built until a later date. [Thomas Fletcher Royal's records of donations for the church survive. "An exact copy of all subscriptions, headings, names, amounts, and for what purposes" (Royal's words) is transcribed here. One of the gamblers usually cited in this myth is listed as having donated $5; others are not mentioned.]
Peter Britt First Photographer
    Jacksonville also had the first photograph gallery established in Oregon. The photographer was Peter Britt, who used to bluntly tell the ladies, when they were displeased with their likeness and prone to lay the fault onto the photographer, "If you want a pretty picture, you must bring a pretty face." This interesting old gallery is kept just as it was in the early '50s when the dance hall girls and bearded miners preened and posed for their daguerreotypes.
    Then there was the U.S. Hotel, another brick building, at which the tired travelers rested after their rough stage trip into the valley, and in which President Hayes once slept. It is used as a pioneer museum now. The express office, combined with Beekman's banking house, which
was one of the first banks in the state, is also unchanged by time, and one feels as he enters its doors today as if he had stepped back over half a century. In it are the gold scales used in those early days, and notices on the walls, dimmed by time, still read, "Gold dust shipped to the Atlantic states" "Gold dust exchanged for United States gold coin."
    And there is an advertisement for the Oregon and California stage coach with a picture of that ancient vehicle proudly exhibiting the comforts and safety of travel behind its six prancing horses, with an armed express messenger on the box beside the driver.
    The counter, worn by time and use, where miners used to empty their buckskin pokes of nuggets, still holds, as if ready for instant use, tin candlesticks with half-burnt tallow candles in them. About the rusty box stove, still arranged in a companionable circle, are the crude chairs and rough-hewn benches where the leading men of the community once sat and discussed momentous affairs. There may be more imposing banks in the state of Oregon than this little one, but few--if any--through which so much wealth has passed.
    All of these things and places, which are only landmarks and objects of curious interest today, at that time were important factors in the new country. And as the town began to grow and a definite form of society crystallized, it became necessary to establish some kind of law and order.
Swift Justice Dispatched
    Oregon was a territory and Jackson County an empire in itself, comprising within its boundaries at that time what has since been subdivided into Josephine, Lake, Klamath and Curry counties. The few territorial laws that had been compiled hastily for the state related mostly to property rights and did not suffice for the dispensation of justice in a thickly populated--and sometimes lawless--community, such as Jacksonville had suddenly become.
    In 1852 the necessity of mutual protection caused a "people's court" or a sort of vigilantes committee, to grow up. The decrees of the court were inflexible and punishment was swift and certain. When a man was condemned for murder he was taken out and hanged as soon as sentence was pronounced. [This "people's court" was only convened once, to try Robert S. Maynard for murder. Accounts report he was hanged the next day, or after a week or ten days.] In 1853, on account of increasing crime and property disputes, it became necessary to do away with such informal proceedings and establish a judicial court. A mass meeting was held on Jackson Creek by the citizens and miners, who, by general consent, appointed a man as "alcalde," investing him with unlimited jurisdiction. But it soon developed that the man chosen was unworthy of public confidence and a "superior alcalde" was appointed over him. [The alcalde was a feature only of the ad hoc government of the valley prior to Jackson County's organization under the laws of Oregon Territory in 1853. There was no "mass meeting" until it became necessary to override an alcalde's decision.]
Judge Deady Opens Court
    In September, 1853, this court held the last session, for Matthew P. Deady, who had been appointed United States district judge of the Territory of Oregon, held the first regular court in Jacksonville, in a building next to the "New State Saloon." [Jackson County was organized on March 4, 1853, initiating a conventional county structure on that date.] The bench was a dry goods box, covered with a blue blanket, and, as one history says: "Probably the uncomfortable seat occupied by the judge was so irksome that it had something to do with his rapid dispensation of justice."
    Eventually a wooden structure was built for the court house, and in 1883, against bitter opposition from all over the county, the present two-story brick building was erected. Jacksonville was stronger than her county in those days.
    A history of Oregon, written at that time, in summing up Jacksonville's merits and acquisitions, says: "But the crowning glory of Jacksonville is its magnificent court house, built in 1883, at a cost of $32,000 and after a strenuous opposition from rival points and citizens. It is the cheapest public building of its kind ever erected in Oregon, and the bill of costs never exceeded a single dollar from the amount stipulated in the contract, which disappointed the must bitter opponents, who predicted the building would ultimately foot up $100,000."
Contractor Loses Money
    The historian fails to add that Mr. Byers, the contractor, was either that rare thing--a conscientious contractor--or else very deficient in calculation, and he lost $1500 on his contract. This was made up to him, however, by the ladies of Jacksonville, who gave a grand ball in the edifice when it was completed, and turned the proceeds over to the honest and deserving Mr. Byers. [Byers & Guerin were the subcontractors for the brickwork and plastering. The ball was to honor the contractor, L. S. P. Marsh.]
    Since that day, when the court house was deemed a magnificent and awe-inspiring structure, Jackson County has increased to a population of 20,000 people. An accumulation of important records during the 43 years has outgrown the capacity of the old building. Valuable records have been relegated to storerooms outside the court house and some have became so stained that they are illegible and useless. It was impossible to remodel the old building for the present or future needs, and so the tragedy of losing the chief prize came to Jacksonville.
    The new generation sees nothing amazing or imposing in the stately, solid, old brick building, whose small offices are Dickensesque in their quaintness, each boasting paneled wainscoting and a fireplace. The old court room, saturated with years of strong cigars, has in its center also a huge, big stove, which somehow mars the dignity of what is otherwise an unusually imposing court room. Magnificent it may have seemed at the time it was built to those men who had attended court when his honor sat on a packing box, but it fails to impress the present generation and is inadequate for the growing needs of the thriving county.
Court Room Social Center
    Not only as a hall of justice has the court room served, for being the most imposing and important structure in Southern Oregon, it was used in the past for all the large social and civic gatherings which the town and county had. It has been the scene of famous Fourth of July celebrations and those wonderful pioneer reunions, community Christmas trees, grand balls and even formal weddings.
    Its old walls have resounded with the eloquence of some of the ablest jurists on the coast, and many a sensational trial has been conducted there. Murderers have listened to their doom and innocent people have been freed within its portals. But no more will the life and stir of intense interest animate its old frame. Its doom is sealed, and it, too, passes into the limbo of Jacksonville's memories.
    Many of us who knew it when it was young and proud--and we were young, too--knew that it was not only a "court house" in one sense of the word, but in another sense as well. For, having no other park in the town, its large yard, shaded by splendid maples, served as a meeting and a trysting place for the young people of the community. Many who spent their early life in Jacksonville and who are fathers and mothers--even some who are grandfathers and grandmothers now--treasure, I know, as their fondest memory those wide granite steps and the shaded court house yard splashed with moonlight.
Happy Hours Recalled
    They remember as if yesterday the fragrance of rain-washed lilacs and the cloying sweetness of locust blossoms blended with the perfume of high lush grass sprinkled with buttercups that made youth and love most glorious things in those spring evenings of long ago. The unfolding quiet of the village evening, broken only by the rustle of leaves above them and the trickling of the creek that flowed nearby, was like a benediction which has attended them through all the years.
    Jacksonville will come into her own some day. Like children, seeking adventure, who have strayed from their mother's knee, people will gratefully and happily return to bless her in her old age. Situated as the town is in the sheltering arms of pine- and laurel-clad hills, commanding a view of the rolling valley before it, with a background of towering and snow-capped mountains in the distance, it has the most beautiful location in the Rogue River Valley. Already homes are building rapidly toward it along the highway, and the time is not far distant when it will be the exclusive residence district of Southern Oregon.
Dignity Guards Borders
    Towns, like people, have a distinct personality, and Jacksonville attracts with its dignity, its peacefulness and contentment. Out of its hectic early life it has sifted the useless and only retained the things that endure. Things that make life worthwhile, after all. And these it will hand on as a heritage to those who live within its boundaries.
    First, Jacksonville was robbed of her gold and deserted by those who ravished her; later the railroad snubbed her and cut her off from the main thoroughfare of progress. She has seen her younger generations depart, seeking success in faraway places, and finally in her old age the upstart town of Medford, like an ungrateful stepchild, has stolen her court house from her.
    But there are some things that are all her own. Some things which nothing ever can take from her, and these are her memories and traditions.
    The love, gratitude and reverence which are her due will grow stronger as the country grows older and will be handed down through the generations by those who know that the very name of Jacksonville is synonymous of all that is brave, strong and courageous. The whole state is proud of that indomitable pioneer spirit concentrated in Jacksonville, which mothered our civilization, which fought for right and justice in days of hazard and strife and still fought--and went down fighting an outnumbering and overpowering foe.--Oregonian.
Medford Mail Tribune, November 28, 1926, page B2



Last revised July 24, 2022