The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised

Jackson County 1931

NO. 4

    At 7 p.m. we came to Grants Pass, on the Rogue River, Oregon, and got into the best cabins yet seen on the way. First, we go downtown to get supper, and also to the Chamber of Commerce headquarters to register, as is required of all tourists. Our friends had to go through the ceremony of enrolling, according to law, but I, not yet having the white slip from Sacramento, was excused, and was told to go on my way rejoicing.
    I sometimes think this registering business is a huge joke. Somebody wants to find out how many cars enter into a state, and of course that makes a job for somebody; which of course is well, considering how painless the gas tax is collected. California has it and Oregon and some other states. Washington did have it but saw how much of a nuisance it was so repealed the law.
    Anyhow I was told later that 35,000 tourists had entered Oregon from California alone during this summer, and that a total of 56,000 had come in from all states up to and including August 25, which was but 1,000 less than the year before.
    Here at Grants Pass I went to bed promptly at 8 p.m. If there ever was "the sleep of the blessed" I possessed it that night. I did not wake up till dawn was well advanced. Then, looking out my window, I saw a red flare in the east. I thought it was a fire, and I jumped out of bed. It was but the sun, however, just peeping over a mountain peak. "Night's candles are burned out and jocund day tiptoes o'er the misty mountain top," was the first thought that came to my mind, a quotation from the Bard of Avon.
    After I had dressed and gone to the other cabin to call our companions in this bivouac of the road, I looked toward the rising sun, only to be shocked more than ever at the blasted hills, where once a great forest grew but was no more. After man had exercised his full powers to destroy he wielded the firebrand to complete the ruin of those once beautiful hills.
    Grants Pass was named for General Grant, who once passed that way, as a captain in the army, battling with the Indians nearby, and giving his name to a certain mountain pass, and then later to this town of 7,000 people. [Grant never set foot in Josephine County. The post office was so named to celebrate Grant's victory at Vicksburg.] Mines, mills, farms, and the growing of bulbous plants commercially contribute to the support of the community. Yes, and Tokay grapes, the pride of the Livingston district, grow here. I did not see any such vineyards, but the grapes are advertised as of prime quality.
    It is a wild, mountainous, lovely country immediately surrounding Grants Pass. I should liked to have lingered longer, but I, with the others, had to hasten on, else we would never get to our journey's end.
    At Grants Pass the Redwood [Highway], which we had followed all the way from Santa Rosa, merges into the Pacific Highway, which is known mostly by the mystic No. 99. To the traveler it is symbolical of the road, in any direction, north or south, and whosoever journeys from it comes back again with a sigh of relief that here at last is the way that leads to home, and perhaps to the better country, according as one thinketh.
    This highway runs from El Centro, California, to Vancouver, B.C., a distance of over two thousand miles, being paved all the way. It is the longest stretch of paved road in the United States.
    In the states of Oregon and Washington the people take pride in the name of this road--"The Pacific Highway." They speak of it lovingly as the road beautiful, over which man may come and go with the least of trouble, and as the one leading asset in their system of being hostess to those who come within their doors.
    But down here in California the communities have chopped it up into divisions so much that the traveling public never knows where it begins or ends within our borders. While it still retains the U.S.-designated No. 99, the romantic name of "Pacific Highway" has entirely lost its identity. Entering the state from the north, the maps refer to it as "Pacific Highway," and again they also give it that name down at the southern end. But right here in the middle, where it should as well prevail, selfish interests have cut out a section and renamed it something else not half as legendary or interesting. Those coming from other states wonder why this is so, and they continue to call it "Pacific" throughout its entire course.
    "Pacific" means peace, quiet, mild, not war-like, so give it back to us in this valley.
    On this, the morning of the 8th, we got away at 6:30, a little later than usual, by reason of a desire on my part to get a cup of coffee and a bacon sandwich as a bracer, before starting on the long run across the state of Oregon. From the city the road tends northward through some of the most desolate landscape possible to find anywhere in the West.
    For a distance of almost ten miles the log hog has been at work with a fine-tooth comb. He has skinned the land of every available piece of timber that would make lumber. What he could not use he burned most ruthlessly, leaving naught but a charred waste. What he failed to comb out of the natural state, he touched with the torch of flame, as if to be avenged that no more could be had, like the robber who beats the victim over the head because the victim had too little to give. That is the living truth. This land, from Grants Pass to Sexton Mountain, is so poor, so sterile, so poverty stricken, that it is not worth one cent an acre. Naturally poor, man has made it a hundred times worse.
    The morning is fair, but smoky. By 7 o'clock we are ascending Sexton mountain, the first of a series of small ridges we have to cross before reaching the interior plain. Why the name Sexton my books do not reveal. It might be from that of some man well known at the time it was given but now forgotten; or it may be that where a sexton, once upon a time, when men traveled by foot, horse, or stage coach, had dug a grave, or graves, there in the pass to bury those who had perished in the rush northward or southward in the hunt for gold. Perhaps, one or the other. [It was named after nearby landowner David H. Sexton.]
    This mountain is only 2200 feet high where the road crosses it, but on topping it we enter a virgin forest, following the most lovely drive to be found anywhere. Descending through a magnificent stand of timber, not yet touched by the axman, the road crosses a little clearing, by a small stream, and as soon as we have traversed it we ascend another small mountain, not named, and then descend again through similar scenes till we come at last to the famous stage coach town called Wolf Creek, with the famous hostelry known as "Wolf Creek Inn," where we stop for breakfast.
    This ancient stopping place is fascinating indeed. There is at present a post office, and a store that boasts of having traded with the pioneers 70 years ago. Besides the inn these are all that are old in the place. The rest is made up of oil stations, new garages, and some other things that seem to be of questionable use in such a mountain dale.
    The inn is a magnificent structure, built in 1857, and is said to be the oldest hotel in continuous use on the Pacific Coast. It was pleasant and quite interesting to come from modern eating houses, along the way, and drop down here among the hills to find such a wonderful inn in which to eat and in such a beautiful setting. It is two story, the inn is, with about twenty rooms, painted white, and the grounds well kept. It was so orderly all about it with the park, the roses, the shrubs, the trees, and all, that one felt as if he would like to take rooms there just to rest for a spell.
    On the back of the bill of fare I read this slogan: "This is God's country; don't set it on fire and make it look like hell."
    While waiting for the fine breakfast soon to be served us, we read the printed leaflet that is part of the menu. This inn was on the main stage coach line from San Francisco to Portland, before Oregon was a state. The journey took 16 full days from city to city. This inn was considered the half way house. Here Grant and McClellan made their headquarters, while in the state. [The inn was built in 1883. Neither Grant nor McClellan visited.] Here Jack London came to complete his "Valley of the Moon." It was here also that President Hayes rested on his first journey to the West in 1887; here other famous men and women stopped in the days before the railway threaded these wilds to haul out the lumber and so create havoc in the forests. [The railroad arrived the year after its construction.]
    Indeed we were all quite willing to pay the slight extra fare for the meal we got here, because the setting was so romantic. Then we sallied on northward, over a road that never ends in the quality of its surface, the beauty of its surroundings, and the magnificence of the towering mountains, seen in the smoky distance.
(To Be Continued) 
Livingston Chronicle, Livingston, California, October 1, 1931, page 6

Last revised May 16, 2023