The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised

True Tales of Pioneers

Jacksonville, Oregon
    September 12, 1908
Mr. Geo. H. Parker
    Grants Pass, Josephine Co., Oregon
Dear Sir:
    Replying to yours of yesterday relative to the origin of the name Josephine for your county, I can't state positively that I know. I was at Yreka, California at the time the gold diggings were found there. Myself and two brothers by name of Garfield from Mass. concluded that we would go overland to Scottsburg and load our animals with provisions for the miners at Yreka. We started on that journey the 1st day of April, 1851. We crossed the Siskiyou Mountains on the anniversary of my birthday April 3rd. I was 25 years old that day. To show you how we traveled, on that day and the day following we made the distance from Cole's on the south side of the Siskiyou Mountains and landed at what is now Canyonville in Douglas County in two days' and one night's travel. We were not hunting for Indians either. We passed the Grave Creek location about 2 or 3 o'clock of the second day. We had been told about an emigrant girl dying and was buried; as near as I could guess now, she had been buried at the root or near it of a white oak tree about ⅓ of the distance from the Twogood and Harkness house to where the stage stable for the overland train stood when we traveled by stage. Afterwards, sometime in June of that year, there was great excitement about rich gold diggings being found on Canyon Creek, a tributary of Illinois River. That news spread through the camp at Yreka like wildfire. Every man in the camp owned at least one horse. These animals were kept in charge of herders during the day and corralled at night. Nearly every man in Yreka went on that expedition. I was one of the lot, and when we got near to where Kerbyville now is, at the crossing of the Illinois River close to where Hon. John Seyferth afterwards built a flouring mill, there was camped [at] that ford a man who was reported to be a widower. He had a daughter. I judged her to be about 15 or 16 years of age, and her name was Josephine, and we were informed that she was the first white woman that ever came to Josephine County. As to whether those parties' names were Rollins I am not able to say, but I saw the girl and the father near that ford of the Illinois River. Like other wild goose chases, the larger portion of our gang started back to Yreka, and when we got to where Medford is now located we came upon Major Kearny with about 40 dragoons. He was on his way to Benicia in California carrying dispatches of some kind from Vancouver to Brigadier General Riley, who was the military governor of California at that time. They did not go through Cow Creek Canyon but went up the south fork of the Umpqua River and came across the divide between Umpqua and Rogue River, and the command got into a skirmish with the Indians, and in that fight Captain Stuart was killed. When we struck Major Kearny's camp he said he wanted volunteers. He wanted to give those Indians a thrashing; there was quite a number of our men, as many as 50, all mounted and well armed, and the expedition cleaned out about all the males that were in sight. They were 2 or 3 weeks doing the job up, but it was a good job done. Those 40 dragoons took each of them a squaw upon his horse and came through Yreka in the night and went down to Strawberry Valley and struck camp there. Gen. Joseph Lane at that time was mining on a bar of Scott River, had a lot of Klickitat Indians, peaceable fellows, in his employ. Major Kearny sent a messenger with an extra horse and a guide to Gen. Lane's camp, and Gen. Lane went to Major Kearny's camp. They had a hyas close wawa about the propriety of taking those Indian squaws down to Benicia in California, and Gen. Lane counseled that the squaws be taken back to Rogue River, and as Gen. Lane started for his home in Douglas County with his Klickitat braves with him, he took charge of those squaws and brought them to the T'Vault ranch, known as such after the settlement of the country, just opposite where Gold Hill is now. I have been working, writing hard all day, and it is getting dark. I will have to stop now. I have stated what I know to be facts, and that I suppose is all you wanted to know.
Respectfully yours,
    Silas J. Day.
George Riddle Papers, Oregon Historical Society Research Library MS 1388. Transcribed from typescript.

Early History of Silas J. Day,
One of the First-Comers to Southern Oregon.
The Trip West via the Isthmus of Panama in the '50s
Had its Hardships As Well As the Overland Route.

    There were few in the ranks of the pioneers of Southern Oregon more public-spirited and far-seeing than the late Silas J. Day, who for many years played an active part in state and county affairs. He was responsible for many permanent improvements during his official career and transacted the public business entrusted to him in a manner that won the confidence and lasting esteem of the early settlers in this part of the state.
    Mr. Day was born in Ann Arundel County, Maryland, April 3rd, 1826. He arrived at San Francisco, Calif. in the month of April 1849, and in 1851 made his first trip into Oregon, returning to California the same year. A couple of years later he decided to make his home in Oregon, and on July 13, 1853 located a Donation Land Claim on Little Butte Creek. Mr. Day was residing on his claim when the Indian war of 1855 broke out. He immediately enlisted and was elected orderly sergeant in Captain Miles F. Alcorn's Company G, Ninth Regiment, Oregon Militia, organized "to serve against the Yakima and other Indians," and, upon the resignation of Lieut. James H. Matney in 1856, was promoted to a lieutenancy in the company. He, together with the rest of the company, was mustered out of service on June 13, 1856.
    Silas J. Day and Mary E. McGhee, a native of Boone County, Missouri, whose family is also numbered among the pioneers of Oregon, were married at Portland, Oregon, on May 22, 1871, and four children were born to them, Mary L., Elsie C., Silas E. and Edward M. Day.
    By an act of the Legislative Assembly of the State of Oregon, approved October 23, 1872, a Board of Commissioners was appointed to lay out and construct a wagon road through Jackson, Grant and Baker counties. It was known as the Southern Oregon Wagon Road and was 313½ miles in length. At the organization of this board Mr. Day was elected chairman and continued in office until July 1874 when, its labors being completed, the board was dissolved.
    He was elected county clerk of Jackson County at the June election of 1874 and in 1876 was elected county judge, holding the latter office continuously for a period of eight years. It was during his administration as county judge that the present Jackson County courthouse was erected.
    After the expiration of his term as county judge, Mr. Day opened a real estate and insurance office in this city. He was also an abstractor of land titles and notary public and maintained an office here until the time of his death some few years ago.
    Mr. Day was a prominent member of the I.O.O.F. In 1868 he was elected Grand Master of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows of Oregon, and in the following year was Grand Representative to the Sovereign Grand Lodge of the order in the United States.
    Mrs. Day arrived in Oregon in 1854, coming by way of the Isthmus of Panama and, though but a child, retains a vivid recollection of the hardships connected with the trip. The party of emigrants with whom Mrs. Day crossed the isthmus was compelled to voyage up the Chagres River in open boats for a day and a night with absolutely no shelter from the driving rain, which fell continuously. The remainder of the distance was made on muleback. As a result of this exposure Mrs. Day's mother died and was buried at sea on the voyage between the isthmus and San Francisco. During this voyage the ship's supply of drinking water turned bad, and for three days the emigrants suffered severely from thirst.
    Mrs. Day's father, J. W. McGhee, first preceded his family to the western El Dorado, crossing the plains in 1851. He was a minister of the Gospel and conducted the first religious services held in Yreka, California. In 1852 he came to Oregon and located a Donation Land Claim near where Bybee Bridge now stands. He was known to the Indians as a "Bible man," and as such held in great respect by them. Before the Indian outbreak of the '50s, Old Sam and Old Joe, chiefs of the Rogue River Indians, warned Mr. McGhee that trouble was brewing and advised him to leave the country for a time. Mr. McGhee followed this advice and returned after the uprising was quelled, only to find that his claim had been "jumped," whereupon he moved to the Willamette Valley, where his family made their home.
    In 1855-56 Mrs. Day attended the Tualatin Academy at Forest Grove, of which institution Dr. Marsh was president. Among her schoolmates were a number of Walker, Owens and Spaulding children, survivors of the Marcus Whitman party massacred by the Cayuse Indians at Waiilatpu in 1847. Two of Dr. J. W. Robinson's sisters, Jane and Ellen Robinson, attended the same academy.
    Since 1871, the date of her marriage, Mrs. Day has resided in Jacksonville. She shows few traces of the hardships she was called upon to endure and possesses a wealth of reminiscences of early days in Southern Oregon, when flour was sometimes an almost unknown quantity and an ounce of salt was placed in the scales and traded for an equal quantity of gold dust.
Jacksonville Post, June 19, 1920, page 1

    Mr. Beeson continued at some length, upholding the action of Judge Day, who he said was an honest man, a faithful official, and a pioneer who came to the rescue of our young country when it was in peril. He said that, moreover, he had been elected six years ago with the express understanding that he was in favor of a new courthouse, but had yielded to his colleagues in office (who thought the old one could be repaired), and that he had repeatedly been censured for not carrying out the wishes of those who placed him in office. 
"The Mass Meeting," Democratic Times, Jacksonville, September 29, 1882, page 2

    S. E. Day, the 13-year-old son of ex-County Judge Silas J. Day of Jacksonville, committed suicide by blowing the top of his head off with an old musket at Jacksonville, Oregon, Friday morning.
"Pacific Coast Items," Woodland Daily Democrat, Woodland, California, October 1, 1892, page 3

Dies with Old Year
    MEDFORD, Dec. 31.--With the passing of the old year, Silas J. Day, the oldest pioneer of Jackson County, Oregon, passed out into the night. He died early this morning at his home in Jacksonville, Oregon, where he has resided since 1849 [sic], being one of the first to reach that place after the discovery of gold. Judge Day was perhaps the best known of the Southern Oregon pioneers. He was 84 years old.
Evening Statesman, Walla Walla, Washington, December 31, 1909, page 1

Courthouse Built by Him in 1863. Decedent Oddfellow for 47 Years.

    JACKSONVILLE, Or., Jan. 3.--(Special.)--Silas J. Day, 84 years old, died at his home in Jacksonville December 31. He was born in Maryland in 1826. He came to California in 1850, moving then to Oregon and Jackson County, where he lived until his death. Judge Day served Jackson County as County Clerk and as County Judge, building the present courthouse when magistrate in [1883].
    In 1862 Judge Day was initiated into the Independent Order of Oddfellows by Jacksonville Lodge, No. 10, and for 47 years was active in Oddfellowship, being treasurer of Lodge No. 10 at the time of his death. In 1868 Mr. Day was elected grand master of the Oregon jurisdiction, and in 1890 was grand representative from Oregon to the Sovereign Grand Lodge. Last year he represented his lodge in the Grand Lodge of Oregon.
    Judge Day was also secretary of the Jackson County Pioneers' Association. In 1871 Judge Day married Miss Mary McGhee. He is survived by his wife and son, Edward, who live at Jacksonville, and his daughter, Mrs. Mayme Dox, of Williston, N.D.
    The funeral will be conducted under the auspices of the Independent Order of Oddfellows, members of the Grand Lodge presiding.
Morning Oregonian, Portland, January 4, 1910, page 6

Jacksonville Man Drowns at Alaskan Fish Cannery.
    A telegram to E. B. Manley and F. H. Maddon received in Medford Monday gives the information that Edward Day, who had been placed in charge of their cannery near Fort Wrangle, Alaska, last spring, was found dead in the water nearby, evidently having been drowned not long before.
    Mr. Day was the eldest son of the late Judge Silas J. Day of Jackson­ville, aged about 36 years, and a native of the pioneer town. He is survived by his mother and a sister, Mrs. O. N. Nelson.
Ashland Tidings, July 24, 1913, page 2

    Alex J. Rosborough, who has memories and stories of Northern California, is telling us today that near the creek which runs along the east side of Yreka, now called Yreka Creek, Hudson Bay trappers, in the way earlier times, had found camps of Indians, with whom they bartered in trade for fur pelts, and it was to this locality that J. J. Pool and J. M. C. Jones worked their way up the Klamath River from the coast and made a discovery of gold in 1850. Evidently they were not impressed by what they found, or they were traveling through with some other object in view, for they did not remain and it was not until March, 1851, that a discovery of "gold" was made which precipitated one of California's greatest "rushes." "A man by the name of Thompson, and his partner, Bell, while traveling through in company with two companions, Dr. F. G. Hearn, afterwards a dentist at Yreka (whom I knew very well) and Silas J. Day, who, following his experience at mining was judge for many years at Jacksonville, in Oregon, came into the little valley with mules to carry their outfit and camped at a spring to the west and overlooking the present townsite, on a small flat. There the party was overtaken by a rainstorm which lasted for several days. (This spot is located almost in line with what would be the extension of Yama Street, some half mile from the city limits of Yreka. There is no marker to indicate the place, but I hope the newly organized county historical society will soon take care of that.) Around this spring the surface soil was very shallow and the mules in grazing about had pulled up roots of grass full of dirt, from which small pieces of gold were found, washed out by the heavy rain. Thompson dug up some of the dirt and as the result of three pannings proved it to be so rich with gold that Thompson, Hearn and Day decided to stay right there and go to mining. They staked out four claims, the extra claim being for Bell, who was not just then present. Immediately others came to the place of discovery, and when there were about 12 it was decided to name the place. So in honor of the man who had discovered rich pay dirt they named it 'Thompson's Dry Diggins'--the reason why it was designated 'dry' was because the small spring did not furnish a sufficient amount of water for washing the dirt which had to be taken to the creek below for 'rocking.' As there was only one rocker in the crowd and that needed repair, they chopped down hollow oak trees, split the trunks in half, cleaned out the soft, rotten hearts and used screens made of deer hide, improvised rockers to wash out the gold. News of this find spread like wildfire. Other miners came pouring in, some of them bringing 'long toms,' which were capable of handling more dirt, and these superseded the rockers where there was sufficient water to operate them. Wheels were sawed out and carts made to haul pay dirt to the creek. The mad rush for 'gold' was on. Men came swarming in from Sacramento way, from the coast up the Klamath River and from Oregon; some on horseback, some on foot, some were flat broke and without any grub, and there also came men with pack trains of mules, loaded with provisions and tools and whiskey. Stores were opened. At first a long pole leaned against a tree and covered with canvas, to protect the goods, served as a makeshift store for lively business; logs furnished seats, beds were made of boughs, and stones banked up with dirt made the stoves where meals were cooked. All stores sold whiskey at two bits a drink. In other new camps, springing up in faraway places, it sold for half a dollar and even a dollar. Gaming was 'wide open,' and many a miner gambled away at night or on Sunday all that hard work on his claim had brought him."
"Yreka Gold Rush," Oakland Tribune, March 10, 1946, page 19

Last revised April 4, 2021