The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised

Silas Newcomb
From Sacramento to the Umpqua in 1850. Compare with George E. Cole's 1850 account of the Umpqua.
    Reader! When last [we] met we were in the country of gold, of crime, the last resting place of the mortal remains of many a miserable and disappointed miner.
    I now hail you from the mild and genial climes of Oregon. The last entry, you will discover by referring to the preceding page, was as I had started on my [way] to this country. Below you will find a brief sketch of events since making the last entry. While traveling on shipboard and on foot among the wilds of Oregon, the keeping of a journal was impossible.
    Mr. Cooper and the writer reached Sacramento City on the 21st September without anything occurring worthy of notice. The country was gently undulating and was mostly prairie land, while in some places scattering oak timber, or "openings," met the view. The vegetation [was] dry and bearing a yellow cast from the effects of the "dry season." I imagined and now believe the soil to be entirely unfit for cultivation. In the city my first business was to seek the post office in hopes to get the first letter from home and friends since leaving the "Badger State" in April last. Found it on Water Street, and then and there witnessed a novel sight, a "something new under the sun." So great is the "run" on the office that there are two places--or "portholes"--of delivery, dividing alphabetically the letters into two classes, the first class commencing with the letter A. and ending with M., the second commencing with N., and ending with Z.
    So great is the rush for letters that, in order to do justice to all, a line is formed extending from the office, and every applicant must needs seek & place himself on the end up or down street, as they (the lines) often extend several rods in length. There is no other way to reach the desired goal but to place yourself "in line" and bide your time, unless you purchase the "chance" of someone and take his place, which is often done when there is a decided "run" on the "premises" and the line of anxious applicants extends over a quarter of a mile! But the reader asks perhaps why anyone should make sale of his chance when it costs so dear! It is a practice of those who, too lazy to labor, take this method to sustain a precarious living and as soon as sold out place themselves in line again and [are] once more in "market." I am told that as high as five dollars has been paid for a "chance" by no doubt one whose business rendered it impossible to wait the tedious process necessary to reach the P.O. I found the line extending out about four rods and placed myself in rank and in the space of fifteen minutes was turned away with the chilling "not any" in answer to the inquiry for letters. Oh how disappointed I felt, as I was about to leave the country and this was my last chance. I must go to Oregon, and my chances for a letter for the next six months must necessarily be "few and far between." Another peculiarity connected with this office is that a person can make but one application at a time but must withdraw and again place himself at the outer end of the moving column. While waiting this tedious process many while away the time by newspaper reading, and others by cracking their jokes on their fellow pilgrims. When a mail arrives, though the office does not open till 8 o'clock a.m., persons have been known to place themselves before the port of delivery as early as one o'clock in the morning, anticipating the great rush which daylight is sure to bring, which is increased as the hour of eight approaches. I found two letters for Mr. Bennett, but none for Capt. Clark.
    Sacramento City is situated on the Sacramento River at the junction of the American Fork with that stream. It stands immediately on the river's bank, on a handsome site, and is tastefully laid out. The street along the river is the "levee," and "Water Street." Back [of this] the streets run parallel with this, and all are cut at right angles by streets running towards the river.
    The last bear the names of the alphabet, for instance, "K Street," "G Street," etc., in regular order from first to last. It contains a few decent buildings, but they are generally very common in appearance. Owing to the flood here, last winter, when the two rivers overflowed and destroyed so much property, the city authorities had determined on raising the levees, and men were at work. It will cost the corporation a large sum to effectually do this great work, extending as it must several miles above and below the city.
    The weather on the 21st was rainy. On [the] 22nd in company [with] Mr. Cooper visited the Kentucky Ranch a few miles below the city. On the 23rd I accidentally fell in with Mr. Saml. Phoenix of Walworth County, Wis. who came out the season of '49. He was keeping, in company with another gentleman, a boarding house and where while I remained in the city I was made welcome at his table without cost. When I left he assisted personally in getting my baggage on board the steamer bound for San Francisco. It will be when reason is lost or life has ended that Samuel Phoenix' kindness to the penniless and almost despairing exile will be forgotten by him.
    Oh Friendship! what sunshine and peace hast thou shed abroad throughout the earth, and how highly ought thou to be prized by thy votaries.
    At five o'clock p.m. on Wednesday Sep. 25th the old steamer Miner left the "levee" of Sacramento City on her way to San Francisco, and with her left also a full load of passengers and among them Mr. Cooper and myself.
    I had had a longing desire to visit Oregon ever since leaving the States, and now that my desire was about to be gratified, that I was actually under motion Oregonward, the reader will not be surprised when I assure him or her that I was almost happy once more. I looked upon (I could never tell why) Oregon as my home, as a land where I would once more, should I live to get there, aspire to manhood, once more smile again, where I should find friends, a country where all was not gold! gold!! gold!!! from the love of which had come all my hardships and sufferings. California never would look like home, nor was I ever satisfied to live there.
    At ten o'clock a.m. 26th Sepr. we arrived [in] S. Francisco, passage on the Miner eight dollars. We soon after landing found a brig, the Kate Heath, of Boston, about to sail for [the] Umpqua River, a lately discovered harbor on the Oregon coast, and such were the favorable reports concerning this place and the valley above that we took passage immediately and laid in our stock of provisions for the expected sea voyage. [William Tichenor was reportedly the mate of the Kate.] The city of San Francisco is a monster place, considering how short a time it has been in the hands of Americans. Its site is rather broken, being on the side of a hill or rather a succession of hills. It contained many substantial brick and stone buildings, of which Sacramento could not boast. The number of its inhabitants was estimated at fifteen or sixteen thousands. In the center of town is the "plaza" or "square" surrounded on all sides by stores, shops &c. San Francisco will be the "New York" of the Pacific Coast.
    The harbor is as good as can be found in the world, being a most capacious bay. It was a sight worth seeing to view the shipping as we approached the city on board the steamer. Vessels from every country on the globe might here be seen lazily riding at anchor.
    In consequence of the mines being discovered (Feb. 1848) a great many vessels were deserted by their crews, and are now rotting in the harbor. Some are partly, others wholly, dismasted and are fast going to decay. Many families I noticed were living on board these old hulks, and where they become too much decayed to live in or too much in the way of other vessels they are towed out from the shipping and burned. We saw one on fire as the boat approached the city. Not less than five hundred vessels, steamers &c. were anchored in the bay. The Kate Heath was lying near the shore and, outside of her, vessels for a long distance. About middle afternoon on the 26th she weighed anchor (the tide being in) and "warped" her way out into the open bay, proceeded a short distance and anchored opposite the upper part of the city, but some distance from the shore. This was preparatory to leaving the next day.
    It was not until five o'clock p.m. on Friday, Sepr. 27th, that we a second time weighed anchor, and the brig put to sea, passing through the "Golden Gate" upon the broad bosom of the Pacific just before darkness closed around us. Many a father, son, husband & brother have entered that "Gate" never, never more to return! Their bones are beneath Sacramento's sod, placed there by a stranger's hand. True, too true!
    Before coming to the "narrows" we passed on our left the ruins of an old Spanish fort situated on the bluff and which once commanded the entrance to the harbor.
    For the first time in my life was I afloat on the ocean; for the first time did I smell salt water, when, trusting to "Miss Kate Heath" (who while our acquaintance lasted conducted herself to our satisfaction) we at dusk left the shores of California and steered a westward course, the wind being against us, and entered on the now gently rolling, trackless Pacific. All that night and the following day and in fact for a whole week did we have a steady northwest wind which kept the brig off her course, our only chance being to bear up against the wind as much as possible, which made our course west-northwest. On this tack the vessel kept till we were about six hundred miles from the American coast, when she was put on the other tack, northeast, and again bearing up against the wind as much as possible. During this time the wind, blowing stiff, causing the brig to labor some; there was considerable seasickness among the passengers, who were compelled to pay tribute to Old Neptune in the loss of several meals. As for the writer, he with the rest felt the nauseating sickness, but not to that degree as to cause him to "cast up Jonah." But the debilitating effects stuck by me till [we] landed in Umpqua and had been kindly fed on a vegetable diet by some of the settlers, an account of which will be given hereafter.
    On Sunday [the] 29th I lay in my cot and read the whole day. Among the passengers was an old man from (I understand) the state of New York who was without an acquaintance on board and who was, and had been for a considerable length of [time], troubled with a disease common in the mines, namely, dysentery, which, with him, had become chronic. In consequence of this and his inability to wait on himself properly, he became a subject of complaint by his fellow passengers who occupied the cabin forward. On board the brig, raised amidship and destined to ply on the Umpqua River, was a small sail vessel or sloop. Into this had been stowed firewood, cabbages, potatoes, onions, etc., the ship's supply of vegetables for the trip.
    The weather, at sea at least, was cool and the wind raw and uncomfortable about this time, and instead of waiting on the old man and treating him like a human being, the officers, to get him out of the way, treated the gray-headed, emaciated, sick old man like a dog by hoisting him into this cold, cheerless and noisome abode, taking up to him his food as though he had been a wild beast. Oh, I shall never forget that sick and friendless old man's pale and emaciated countenance, his feeble step, his treatment on board the brig & the tragic termination of the affair. When I looked on this aged, gray-headed old man, lone & friendless, my heart yearned towards him, for he reminded me of my father, whom I never expect to see again. I noticed on his box or trunk the name of "D. H. Higgins." More of him anon.
    On Tuesday, Oct. 1st, a sail hove in sight, but the distance was too great to speak her. Continued northwesters and many sick. Next day saw great numbers of porpoises sporting around--headwinds still. On the 3rd, windy with a rough sea. Every few minutes (I stopped to kill a mosquito which was about "presenting his bill"--Jany. 1st) the brig would ship a wave which kept the deck slippery and gave several a good ducking. Oh what swells! rising mountains high & as they approach the vessel [she] seemed about to engulf in them. Nearer and more near they roll on, and when apparently about to strike the faithful Kate she rises like a duck, the wave passes under her, when down she plunges into a deep gulf, seeming sure to meet destruction in the approaching wave which, like its predecessor, moves harmlessly by. Such is the scene presented today.
    4th Oct., if possible, more boisterous than yesterday. The ship's timbers shriek and groan in a wonderful manner. On the 5th the wind was a little more favorable, the ship being on the starboard tack and steering a north by northwest course, and the wind having changed a little to the west.
    Next day, 6th, a sail in sight on our weather bow at 4 p.m. Today the sailors have made several attempts to take a porpoise, multitudes passing near the ship. Unsuccessful. Today many birds in sight, indicating a near approach to land. Our course today as yesterday. About dusk the ship is struck by a squall which, though it lasted but a short time, compelled the ship's crew to take in sail in a hurry.
    About 8 o'clock a.m. of the 7th the exciting cry of Land ho! was heard from the mate from masthead, and soon after we saw land on our starboard bow which proved to be Cape Mendocino, the most westerly land of the United States' possessions. It is above 40º north latitude. Today we kept in sight of land, by tacking. Night set in with rain. Waters smooth. Passed Cape Mendocino about noon on the 8th. The water this day was running in large swells towards the shore, and as we were running within a couple of miles of land we witnessed a sight astonishing to behold. Breakers of tremendous size and power and as far as the eye could reach were rolling, tumbling and breaking in upon a bluff shore. Our vessel was so near that we could distinctly hear the sound, and crew and passengers stood a long time in watching the breakers. Towards night we stood out to sea, fearful of being driven by the strong current among the breakers. We saw a brig today steering for San Francisco. At noon today Sat 40º45'. The appearance of the country along shore has been thus far very broken and mountainous. We saw today on the beach what appeared to be several elk.
    On Wedy. the 9th we were becalmed all day with a heavy sea setting in towards the land. This day I was attacked by the bowel complaint, or diarrhea.
    At about seven o'clock in the morning of the 11th a slight wind sprung up which was acceptable to all on board. It came from the southwest and bore us, though slowly, directly on our course. The weather in the morning and middle of the day was pleasant and warm. Just at dusk we had a good stiff breeze which continued all night and as evening set in a rain commenced pouring down, and it rained by spells all night.
    My sickness did not prevent my waiting on myself, and this day I felt some better. At noon in latitude 41º9'.
    Friday 11th. Two weeks this evening since leaving San Francisco. Fair wind all day. About 9 a.m. saw at a distance several whales which occasionally spouted water to a great height. At one o'clock p.m. it commenced raining. At three p.m. we happily arrived off the mouth of Umpqua River but, the sea running high, could not enter with safety. Stand off for the night. At noon in lat. 43°16'.
    October 12th. This morning the old man in the sloop was found dead, his spirit having sought a world where gold nor avarice cannot enter. He died, and was found lying on his face and knees, when, no one on board knew.
    During the night while standing off we had drifted and been driven from the shore by the wind so far that we did not make opposite the mouth of the [Umpqua] river till afternoon. When opposite the mouth we were met by the mate and five seamen from the brig Bostonian, which vessel had while entering a few days before been wrecked. They came out in a whaleboat and the mate coming on board by whom we learned that it was then full tide, the tide setting in. All things being in our favor we at about 3 o'clock p.m. steered for the channel and were soon after anchored snugly and safely in the river, which is a harbor sufficient to contain a vast amount of shipping. In passing in, we had a view of the wrecked brig lying among the breakers, a sublime spectacle. However, at ebb tide, she lay high and dry at which times the crew were employed in landing her cargo on the beach where they had a tent and were living camp life. But a painful part of my story remains yet untold. The whaleboat containing the five men in returning to their comrades land was carried among the breakers on our left, and it is perhaps needless to say stove and upset and three of the five men perished. This occurred while we were entering the channel and consequently spectators of the whole scene. These whaleboats are most excellent sea boats, and this had apparently remained upright long after every man was washed off and all the oars unshipped. Oh that spectacle! I shall never forget the sound of those greedy, mountain waves as they rolled and tumbled headlong on the beach and stood on either side ready to receive us should our faithful Kate leave the pathway of comparatively still waters. But, as I said, we entered safely, and many there were on board who carried in their countenances an index of inward satisfaction that they had escaped all the dangers of a fifteen days' voyage at sea and were once more, if not on land, so near it as to see and hear the birds singing in the branches of the trees. To heighten their satisfaction the increasing roar of the surf, in plain view, indicated a storm without. Among the number, reader, was the writer.
    Direct distance by sea from San Francisco to [the] mouth [of the] Umpqua River computed at 450 miles.
    Next day (13th Oct.) was Sunday. Early in the morning the old man's mortal remains were conveyed on shore--north bank--and buried. I could not but reflect on the scandalous treatment recd. by this image of his Maker, this sick and careworn old man from the officers of the ill-officered Kate Heath. I heard from numbers of the passengers murmurs of disapprobation concerning the affair. He lies beneath the sand trod, heretofore, only by the red man. Who had lost a kind father, brother, husband, or son?
    Today has been pleasant. Many natives visit the boat bringing smoked salmon to exchange for old clothes. They are known as the Umpquas who are a cowardly yet treacherous, thieving tribe. A very few can speak some jargon, a language common among the natives in the lower Columbia and Willamette valleys of which the reader will, should he or her follow the writer's imperfect and hastily written sketches to the end[, learn more hereafter]. They use a canoe made of the fir common here and evince considerable skill in their manufacture. In the p.m. a hunting party got into the brig's yawl and went on shore but the undergrowth of brush was so dense as to debar their progress far from the river's bank. Waterfowl on the river very plenty.
    The land along the shore is, especially on the right, rough and mountainous and timbered to the water's edge, consisting chiefly of fir which grow slender and are very tall, well suited for piles, used in building over the water by driving them deeply into the sand. They are in great demand at San Francisco. The Kate Heath was to [take] these as cargo on her return. Everything, even the natives, looked wild, yet these shores were welcome objects to many of us on board. Oh how I longed to get back into the country, the fertility and beauty of which we had [heard] much from several on the brig who had made the trip before and had passed up the river to the settlements.
    On the morning of the 14th we were suddenly awakened by loud cries from the Captain calling on the sailors to aid him. At the same time I heard, as I lay in my bunk, a loud sound like distant wind, and the brig was soon after dragging both anchors, being struck by a squall of wind and rain, the latter coming down in vast quantities. It soon however subsided, but during the whole day we were visited by squalls of a similar kind though of less force. It also hailed some during the day. Next day proved rainy also. The brig was to remain at the mouth of the river for her cargo, consequently those who wished to ascend the river must needs seek to accomplish the desired end by purchase of a canoe from the proprietors of the soil, or take passage in the little sloop now fitting up for the river trade.
    Like many others, getting tired of waiting for the weather to become more favorable, I this day made trade with the Indians for a large canoe, which was about 20 feet long and three feet broad in the middle, large enough to hold four men and baggage and ride with safety. On the morning of the 16th at 4 o'clock, taking advantage of the tide which had just commenced setting in we (myself and three others) left the brig in a rain bound for Scottsburg, a town site at the head of tide water and navigation, on the river, distant--so said--30 miles. Seven p.m. same day found us there.
    To my mind the scenery along the river was sublime--was truly sublime. About seven p.m. we landed on an island for the sake of building a fire to warm ourselves and eat our morning's meal, but the rain poured down in such quantities as to baffle all attempts at starting [a] fire with matches. While on the island a boat from Scottsburg, belonging to the Bostonian and engaged in carrying the cargo of the same to S. where they had opened a tent store, passed down the river.
    After using up our patience and a box of matches in [a] vain attempt to start a fire we left the island and proceeded on our way, the rain still falling. The river is here quite wide-- a mile and a half--and interspersed with numerous islands which rendered it difficult to keep the channel, but fortune favored us and with a single paddle (and one to steer) and the tide to aid [us] we met with no mishaps. In the middle of the day we raised a sail, the rain having ceased and a breeze springing up. Two of the company were sailors who rigged a blanket on a couple of sticks, and while the wind lasted we made good progress. About 10 o'clock a.m. the tide commenced ebbing, but though the canoe had to stem the double current of tide and the natural flow of the river, yet by keeping along shore we made considerable progress, so anxious were we to arrive at S. that evening. The shores nearly the whole distance from S. down are very high, rocky and precipitous mountains covered for the most part with fir which in many places was growing on the sides of mountains rising from the water's edge nearly perpendicular. Beautiful waterfalls met the eye every few miles, and occasionally would we pass the mouth of some slight tributary. From S. down the general course of the river is northwest. Dist. 30 miles.
    As said before we arrived at head of tide water at seven p.m. of the 16th. We were hailed by the welcome tones of a white man (being after dark) from whose cabin shone forth the comfortable evening fire, and who had been attracted to the shore by the sound of voices on board our "bark."
    Without inquiry as who we were he invited us to take shelter beneath his roof, and never did the welcome of a stranger seem more timely. All of us wet to the skin and besides the writer laboring still under the attack of the bowel complaint, weak, and almost exhausted. After a good warm supper from our host, Mr. Smith, and getting thoroughly dry we took lodgings on the cabin floor (the ground) and soon after forgot our day's labors or that we were in far-off Oregon and not among our friends east the Mississippi.
    The next day was pleasant, the sun shining out as if to make amends for his conduct the day before. Smith's house was not in Scottsburg proper, the latter being half a mile farther up and on the opposite (north) side [of] the river. After [the] morning's meal--consisting of fresh salmon broiled, dried herrings, bread baked in [a] frying pan before the fire, a cup of hot coffee, the former eaten with fingers instead of knives and forks (nothing uncommon however) and the latter drunk from tin cups--we got into our canoes and went up to Scottsburg. We found it to consist of a great number of lots and blocks staked out by the proprietors Messrs. Scott and William Sloan, the former a noted mountaineer who had a house body [frame] up but then resided in the valley above. His part of the site is above. Mr. Sloan's below. Besides Mr. Sloan's house there were a house and tent at the upper end of his claim--the latter, a store, selling off the cargo of the ill-fated Bostonian. The site consisted of bench land, back of which rose high and rocky mountains allowing no egress except [via] the river.
    Just above the town are rapids and shoals in the river preventing farther navigation of the stream which at S. is perhaps fifty rods [825 feet] wide. On the opposite side stood a log cabin. The depth of the river up to S. I believe to be sufficient to float all vessels that can cross the bar at its mouth. The principal timber on the bench land is a species called myrtle--the mountainside, as usual, timbered by the beautiful fir & cedar.
    The 17th and 18th stayed at Smith's waiting the arrival of the sloop, on board of [which] was Mr. Cooper & in whose care was my baggage. Having arrived on the last day mentioned, I, the next day (19th) in company with several others started on our journey up the river to the settlements, all on foot, leaving most of my baggage behind in the care of Mr. Cooper who chose to remain awhile. We did not start on our journey till late in the day and after a rough and tiresome (to me at least) walk of six miles, passing two log house bodies on the way we came to the residence & claim of Mr. Hatfield where we were permitted to sleep on his floor and next morning took breakfast with him. This day I felt better than yesterday and determined to move on with the rest. After paying Mr. Hatfield four bits for my lodging and breakfast, I, with the rest consisting of six individuals, moved the weary frame onward, for hope was in the future. That night we reached Fort Umpqua, formerly belonging to the Hudson Bay Company, and who, by their servant and agent, Mr. J. B. Gagnier, a Frenchman with a squaw wife, still held formal possession. By him we were most cordially recd., lodged and fed.
    From Hatfield's to the Fort we passed but two houses and those, as usual, built of logs, in [one] of which resided Dr. Wells, but the other was vacant. This day we traveled 14 miles, and never were my limbs nearer sinking under me than when we reached the Fort. The treatment I received at the hands of this generous-hearted Frenchman will be remembered in gratitude as long as reason lasts or life remains. As the Fort is situated on the south bank we of necessity had the stream to cross, Mr. G. sending over an Indian with a canoe for us. From the river, the land rises till you reach the Fort in a gradual manner and was then covered with a green carpeting of grass which the late rains had put on the face of nature. Oh how lovely, kind reader, did that prospect at that hour and under those circumstances appear to me! As we ascended from the river the sun shone out upon this lovely scene, the mildness of the atmosphere, the beauty of the landscape, the melancholy yet pleasing emotions of the mind, all conspired to make me once more happy.
    I had been so long away from friends, so long on a desert plain or climbing rugged mountains, added to which my destitute and sickly condition that my head seemed near crazed, hope had near sunk within me and oh! how I longed for sympathy, how much needed I the comforting voice of friends. The past, those events that had caused my exile, my almost ruin of body and soul, came at times upon my diseased and corroded mind like the overwhelming avalanche. At such times would I waken from a dream as it were, to find myself a miserable outcast, destitute of the means to enable me to command a day's sustenance (I had 12/-) [$1.50], ragged and what was much worse, the subject of a most weakening and now chronic disease, in a land of strangers, even in far-off Oregon!
    We entered the enclosure which surrounds the premises through a wide gateway which during the day is left standing open. From the gateway leading through the court to the entrance to the main buildings, we followed up a beautiful and cleanly kept walk. Mr. Gagnier, though (as he afterwards told us) he had been a resident here for the last 14 years, with a native wife, and surrounded by Indians only, seldom seeing a white man, received us with all that politeness or rather kindness of manners that would shame many a self-conceited Yankee of the States. That his professions were heartfelt we soon had evidence. We entered, passing through an unfurnished apartment, and were handed chairs. After a few minutes conversation, Mr. G. disappeared but soon returned and set before us two kinds of liquor and those who chose partook thereof. Soon after our kind host again left us and while he is gone let us look around the room. In one corner stands a very decent table and above it a case, & on the shelves a large number of books & papers. Here is the Oregon Spectator, the [first] specimen of Oregon newspaper ever seen by me.
    Overhead hang several rifles and on the opposite wall may be seen a clock and looking glass. But here comes Mr. G. with a dish in his hand and in that dish--guess reader!--Do you give it up? In the dish then, were handsome, smooth and quite palatable apples, the growth or product of our host's industry.
    After supper, got up by himself, consisting of venison, salmon, bear meat, pilot bread, butter and tea, Mr. G. piloted us about the premises. He has large bands of cattle, horses and hogs and raises wheat, peas and potatoes, besides plenty of garden sauce, a full variety of such as are commonly raised in the States.
    When bed time came our host brought clean blankets and spreading [them] on the floor made us a more comfortable bed than we had had in a long time. Nor did his civility end with the day, for in the morning he brought us water to wash, a towel as white and clean as [the] Sierra Nevada's snow, and when we had done washing a comb was in readiness. He seemed to anticipate our every want. Our breakfast varied from supper only in our having coffee instead of tea. His squaw kept out of sight most of the time but I noticed she changed her apparel, putting on a clean calico dress made after the style of the whites. Mr. G. is a native of Canada and left for the Pacific shores while yet a mere boy, since which he has been in the services of the Hudson Bay Company, trading with the natives for furs and skins. Mr. G. showed me a most beautiful skin of the sea otter which he said was worth $50, in England. 
    The country from Scottsburg to the Fort is rough & mountainous except the narrow bottoms along the river and which are all claimed up by mostly bachelors and who now are either building or preparing to build. The short distance of this section of country from the ocean and ship navigation has hastened its settlement. The bottoms are quite narrow, the widest not more than a mile in width and generally not more than half that distance. The road from place to place consists of an Indian trail and which in one place climbs to and crosses over the very pinnacle of a tremendous hill or mountain which is nearly perpendicular, and up which it took us at least half an hour's hard climbing to mount.
    On the morning of the 21st after bidding goodbye to the generous Frenchman, who refused pay for the hospitalities rendered us, we started for the settlements in the valley above, distant the first house 12 miles, and over high mountains and through dense forests nearly the whole way. As our progress would be slow and in all probability night overtake us before arriving at Stillwell's (first house) our host would have us take something for refreshment on the way. The company consisted of but two--a man by the name of Wheat, a lawyer by profession and from Louisiana, and myself--the rest of our company remaining at the Fort.
    The "trail" from the Fort to the settlements, instead of leading up the Umpqua, follows up a stream known as Elk Creek, a northern tributary which empties into the main stream a little below opposite the Fort and at the mouth of which a town has been laid out called Elkton. At an early hour an Indian by the direction of Mr. Gagnier set us again on the north bank of the Umpqua which is here about 40 rods wide and rapid.
    Each of us had a small pack which we slung across our shoulders, found the trail as directed and starting on, in the distance of a couple of miles reached the first ford on the Elk which was at this place about two or three rods wide and "knee deep." To give a history of our struggles and hardships on the way during this day's travel; how we had to climb high and slippery mountains, rendered so by the late rains; that we had Elk Creek to ford five times; that we traveled the last six miles after sunset, without arms, through a densely timbered country, keeping the trail by the sense of feeling, and finally arrived at Stillwell's at 9 o'clock in the evening--would require much time and paper and not, perhaps, particularly interest to the reader. Had I been in good health, strong and robust, the trip would not have been mentioned, but the state of health I was in rendered it and its hardships circumstances to be long remembered by me. On the way we met a gang of men headed by the mountaineer Scott, of whom I have before spoken, engaged in cutting out a wagon road from Elk Creek settlement to Scottsburg.
    We stopped at their cabin and rested a while where we were treated to a dish of broiled bear meat and with it a cup of hot coffee. This Capt. Scott has, first and last, had many "scrimmages" with the Indians but always coming off best. He has all the while an Indian employed in hunting who furnishes the camp with meat. The valley of Elk Creek from the mouth to Stillwell's affords very little prairie bottom and but one really good claim. The weather of the 21st was pleasant as also was the day before.
    On the morning of the 22nd, after paying Mr. S. [Stillwell] every cent of money I possessed, I left for Mr. Jesse Applegate's, three miles still farther up the creek, in hopes to get employment. Found him in the woods making rails, to whom I related my situation and wishes.
    He told me there was still hope for me, that in Oregon no man need go hungry or naked who was willing to labor, that, though he did not then desire my services, still he would interest himself in my behalf and that he thought I could get employment in the valley. Oh those words of "wine and oil," dear reader, affected me to tears, for Mr. A.'s kindness touched a tender chord, in the situation I was then in, a stranger and a beggar!
    Of Mr. Applegate I had read, before leaving the "States," as being an enterprising, worthy, and prominent citizen of Oregon. He emigrated from Missouri in 1843, being among the first to reach O. with wagons. From Fort Hall they had the sage to break and road to explore to Oregon. He is an eminent scholar and excellent surveyor, has been a member of the Missouri and also of the O. legislatures, a judge etc. He formerly resided in the Willamette Valley--selling out he, with two of his brothers, Capt. Scott and a few others, settled in this valley two years ago and have made a good wagon road between the two valleys which leads over the Calapooia Mountains. In the spring of 1846, Mr. Applegate & Capt. Scott headed a party that explored what is known as the "Southern Route" to Oregon and got through to Ft. Hall in time to meet the most of that years emigration. The new route leads from Fort H. to Mary's River and down the same two hundred miles or within one hundred sixteen miles of the "sink" where it leaves and taking a northwest course reaches the Klamath which it crosses, and taking a north course enters Oregon from the south, avoiding the formidable Blue and Cascade Mountains. Late emigrations came the north route on account, chiefly, of the hostility of the "Diggers" on Mary's River.
    Mr. A. has a large stock--three hundred head of cattle and stock of other kinds in proportion. A plainer dressed or more farmer-like looking man does not live in Oregon. He works hard and has already his claim (640 acres) nearly fenced.
    "Umpqua Valley, so called, is not a valley but a group of valleys among a group of mountain buttes. The face of this tract of country, sixty-five miles long and forty miles wide, equal to about fifty miles square, may be compared to potato hills on an immense scale, with more hill than valley. Less than one third of it is susceptible of cultivation.
    "The valleys are small. The soil is rich and deep, and produces luxuriant crops. It has more sand, is more loamy, and richer than the larger part of the soil in the Willamette Valley. For wheat it may be no better, but, if we except some timbered and prairie bottom lands of the Willamette, quite superior for other crops. Much of the flat land is too wet in winter, but I saw more that will not admit of easy draining. Patches of fir are frequent, and of great value for building purposes. Some of the dry plains and mountainsides are extensively sprinkled with low-spreading white oaks, which exhibit an exact resemblance to old orchards, and give the country a highly interesting and beautiful appearance. The plains are nearly continuous, being connected by passages between the buttes admitting of good carriage roads. There are exceptions. Some of the valleys will not be arrived at but by a rugged way.
    "The Umpqua River, which passes centrally through, affords abundance of water power. Scarcely a mile, or perhaps half a mile on it, that could not be improved for mill privileges. But there is not a mill in the valley.
    "Cattle are in fine order. To say they are good beef is a weak expression. Stall-fed beef in the "States" is seldom as good. If Jesse Applegate's herd of three hundred--calves, cows, oxen and all, as they are--could be driven into an eastern market, they would be a sight to be stared it, and would furnish beef a delicacy and deliciousness of flavor that eastern palates have not tasted.
    "For grazing purposes, the Umpqua Valley can scarcely be excelled. Immigrants so locate their claims as to embrace the valleys without much of the hills. But the buttes, lofty and steep as they are, have a gradual ascent and good soil, and excellent grass, even to and over their mountain summits. They will never be taken as claims, or purchased of government, but farmers in the valleys will enjoy them. Thus a valley farm of six hundred and forty acres will be practically a farm of more than seventeen hundred acres, variable, to be sure, by location and the number of cattle kept by neighbors.
    "The oak trees produce [an] abundance of acorns, and hogs--which subsist comfortably, but not luxuriously, a part of the year, on grass and roots--round and swell out their porky proportions in acorn time in beautiful [and to] their grunting selves, very dangerous style.
    "The road from Umpqua River to the Calapooia Mountains is smooth and good, so it continues north through the mountains, and as far as prairies extend. A few rather bad creeks want bridging.
    "For picturesque scenery I have seen no place that equals the Umpqua Valley. A hundred different positions present a prospect of valley, and hill rising above hill, in the most interesting succession, everywhere terminated by a range of mountains in the distance. Low-spreading oak trees, and patches of thick fir, with a bend of the river in view, completes the picture, and, as to natural objects, make it perfect. Such scenery is quite beyond the inventive power of the pencil aided only by the imagination. Something by the hand of industry is still wanting and will soon be added before the luxury of vision to the lover of nature will be enjoyed to its fullest extent. There should be dwellings and flocks and herds grazing.
    "To those who look only to the cozy acquisition of property the Umpqua Valley is peculiarly inviting, but it has its inconveniences, which such men should take into account. Population must always be sparse.
    "If schools are maintained, it must be at large expense because the children of only [a] few families can congregate together. Religious meetings, to most families, must be at distant points. Persons accustomed to society, in easy neighborhood associations, may feel the loneliness of comparative seclusion, deeply." [This quote, like the ones following, is drawn from Newcomb's memorandum book, which he consulted to create this memoir.]
    We now return, reader, to the scene of the writer applying to Mr. Applegate in the woods, asking for employment and advice. As said before, Mr. A.'s kind and cheering words were felt in all their force. He asked me to his house and offered it as my home till I had gained strength and found employment. He told me of a Mr. Robt. Smith as being likely to employ me who having no family was boarding at a neighbor's whose name was Wm. Wilson, a man of family. As the distance was only about four miles from Mr. A.'s I concluded to decline the kind offer of my generous friend, and, after dinner, bearing a letter to Smith from Mr. A., I proceeded to Mr. Wilson's.
    I found Mr. W. at home and also Mr. Smith. The former when apprised of my destitute condition, made me welcome also to stay with him awhile although I frankly told him I had no money and was hardly able to work any. As for Smith, he had no employment for me.
    The day of my arrival at Wilson's was on the 22nd Oct. and which was fair, though the morning was foggy. "23rd Stayed at W.'s--weather as yesterday--gaining strength."
    "24th. Morn. foggy--evening a sprinkle with thunder. Mr. Reed, an emigrant from Willamette Valley, camped near here last night on his way to his claim on the Calapooia, a stream which the trail leading to Cala. crosses about eight miles south of this. Mr. R.'s claim is at the crossing. He has [a] large family besides [being] accompanied by his son-in-law, Saul Williamson and wife."
    This day in company with Mr. Wilson's father, an old man, this season from the "States" (Missouri), I visited the country south of this and especially the valley of the Calapooia, the next northern tributary of the Umpqua, above Elk Creek or river. The crossing of the Calapooia is about ten miles above its mouth. Not a house (except Reed's, which at that time was not completed) was to be found south of the "divide" which separates the waters of Elk from those of the Calapooia. He (Reed) had been out in the preceding Spring and with the help of the natives [had] raised the body of a house and then returned to the valley of the Willamette. Mr. W. and the writer stayed with Mr. R. and family the first night after their arrival. They had a tent and three wagons covered which answered the purposes of a house till theirs could be finished. The next day Wilson and myself explored the country south of the Calapooia lying between that stream and the Umpqua. We saw as handsome a country as "needs be" but destitute, generally, of water.
    Rail timber was also rather scarce. We returned that night also to Mr. Reed's camp and claim. The weather this day--the 25th--was at times very warm.
    On the 26th Mr. Wilson returned to his sons in Elk Creek settlement while I--for want of something else to do--spent the day in examining a claim next above Reed's and at night concluded to call it mine, marking--as is the custom--several trees in conspicuous [places] with my name and date. When about to return to Mr. R.'s, I met a lone Indian who had just [caught] a salmon from the Calapooia and which I purchased with a few charges of powder. He had shot this with an arrow. Its weight before dressing was twenty-four pounds. I now made a bargain with Mr. Reason Reed to exchange labor with him, helping him to finish his house so to get into it before the rainy season, or winter, sets in.
    "Sunday, Oct. 27th visit several salt licks above on the Calapooia. Weather cloudy. On return saw a wild animal, name unknown, but of the panther tribe. Hard to determine which most frightened, self or 'varmint.'
    "Monday 28th. Helped Mr. R. on his house. A fair day. Return parties of Oregonians from California passing every day. 29th. Helped R. on house, into which family moved tonight though destitute of a chimney or floor. Day very pleasant. Billy, an Indian, brings in a deer the hams of which R. buys. Excellent eating. Eat my weight (almost) into the stock of eatables set before me, every week, and want more. Never had I such appetite before; gain strength.
    "Wednesday Oct. 30th--A fine mist and rain nearly all day. On my claim is a cabin about 12 by 10 feet, built by some immigrants late in 1846, who not being able to get into Willamette Valley before winter set in, were obliged to build and winter here. During the winter they [were] driven to the necessity of eating even mice, getting out of munitions with which to kill game. This not standing to my notion, I have this day pulled down and moved. Claims being taken all around us, mostly by single men.
    "31st. Sunshine and showers. Helped Billy Brackett finish his cabin. Situated on claim in prairie south of Reed's.
    "Nov. 1st Friday. Morn. foggy--chilly air all day, wind in the north. Retd. to William Wilson's.
    "Sat. 2nd. Helped W. get out stuff to make flooring; p.m. went down to Jesse Applegate's. Cold, chilly wind all day.
    "Sunday 3rd. A pleasant day. Last [night] a severe frost which froze slightly the surface earth. Ret. to Wilson's.
    "4th Nov. Yesterday Wilson and his father killed and brought in one black bear and two black-tailed deer--fine eating. Last night clear, cold and frosty. Warm and pleasant today.
    "5th Nov. Again visit Applegate's; hire to Charles Putnam, son-in-law of A's--at $3 per diem--to work on his claim building a house. His claim [is] about five miles below on Elk Creek. P.M. go below to his claim.
    "6th Nov. Rainy all day. Mr. Applegate and myself cut and sawed up a shingle tree.
    "7th Nov. No rain today and weather improved.
    "8th Nov. Some rain last night. This morning Mr. A. shot a deer. Weather fair.
    "Sat. 9th Nov. A. and P. return home. Weather cloudy at night; the large mountain wolf, with its compeers, gave us a most dismal serenade, no doubt prowling about in consequence [of] the slaying of the deer.
    "Sunday 10th Nov. Putnam comes down. Evening rainy.
    "11th Nov. Pleasant.
    "12th Nov. Frosty this morning--chilly all day, the air feeling like snow. P.M. some sunshine.
    "13th Nov. In consequence of a boil near one of my eyes which is so much swelled as to prevent my seeing sufficiently to work to advantage, I leave, on foot, for Scottsburg after my baggage. Frosty and chilly. Reach Doct. Wells' place and stay all night, and a cold one it is. 14th. Reach Scottsburg, where I stay tonight, which is extremely chilly. 15th. With my baggage on my back start back and at dusk reach Doct. Wells'. Extremely tired and footsore. 16th. Reach Stillwell's. My eye getting some easier. My right hand is in a bad fix. While working for Putnam I raised a blister on the inside [of] my hand under the 'callus' where my 'next to the little finger' joins the hand. During my journey to S. it has become very much inflamed and quite painful. 17th. Go to Mr. Wilson's on Elk Creek. Hand continues to swell. P.M. make Mr. Goodell, living on Elk Creek, a visit. 18th. Make bargain with Mr. Goodell to keep house for him (a bachelor) while he goes on a trip across the Calapooia Mountains into the Willamette Valley. Not being able to labor in consequence of my hand's swelling, I do this to provide myself a home without expense, which is absolutely necessary in my destitute condition.
    "Rather windy from south and showers during the day."
    .Reader, on the last two or three pages I have transcribed from my memorandum book things or incidents as they occurred from day to day. You will not fail to discover that the writer at the time was in a most dependent condition, without money and disabled from labor. On the 20th Mr. Warren A. Goodell started on his hazardous journey to Oregon City. He went with an ox team and wagon. The 19th had been rainy nearly all day. After Mr. G.'s departure my hand continued to grow worse for several days and at its worst was frightful to behold. But as a detailed account of my intense sufferings, the continued solitary life I led (reading such books as the neighborhood afforded), and of other trifling matters which occurred from the leaving of Mr. G. to the present time would interest no one, I shall content myself with inserting in this journal from my memorandum book, which will lead the reader along to the present time (Jan. 1st 1851). You will observe the entries are mostly concerning the weather (which I purpose to continue) which will serve to give to all who have never visited Oregon some idea of the "rainy season" or winter in O. which, I need not say, differs very much from the winters of those states of our Republic lying in the same lat. and bordering the Atlantic coast. This quality of climate, in my opinion, is the peculiarity of the country bordering the Pacific coast, not only in Oregon but in our sister embryo state, California. Would you ask, reader, whether or no my expectations, while in California, concerning this country are thus far realized? In answer I say yes, fully, and happy for me was the day I conceived the idea of leaving the modern Golgotha in exchange for Oregon Territory.
    "20th Nov. Showery by spells all day.
    "21st Nov. Much wind, rain and hail during the past night. Prevailing wind from the southeast.
    "22nd. Rainy all day.
    "23rd. Some showers. Go to Mr. Wilson's in p.m.
    "24th Sunday. A little snow in the hills back of Wilson's early in the morning. Ret. to G.'s--showers.
    "25th. No rain today.
    "26th. As yesterday.
    "27th. Occasional showers. A light sprinkle of snow on the high hills or mountains.
    "28th. Some rain and some sunshine. Large numbers of wild geese on the wing [to] the southward.
    "29th. Continued rain all day.
    "30th. Go up to Jesse Applegate's to see Rev. H. H. Spalding, sub-Indian Agent from Willamette Valley. Ret. in afternoon. High waters. Occasional showers.
    "1st Dec. Sunday. Rainy all last night. Find snow on the mountains this morning. Today, showers of rain and hail.
    "2nd. Wake up to find the ground white with snow and still snowing. Today occasional snow squalls. At night, no snow on the ground except on high hilltops & mtns.
    "3rd. A slight frost this morning and fog--snow squalls during the day, the snow melting as fast as it falls except on the mountains.
    "4th. Morning, ground white with snow and frozen some. No storms today--weather chilly and cold--ice in many places.
    "5th. Last night cold, and froze more than the preceding night. A fair day but not warm enough to melt the snow.
    "6th. Morning windy and signs of a coming storm--wind chilly--waters abated. A fair day--wind from the north.
    "7th. Morning foggy with a frost, ground continued slightly frozen. A fair day with signs of a change of weather.
    "8th. Sunday. Rainy all last night. Today some wind and cloudy. At night some showers.
    "9th. Foggy morning--mild and pleasant in the middle and after parts of the day. Snow all vanished on the hills and mountains.
    "10th. Morn. foggy--remainder of day pleasant.
    "11th. Night & morning foggy--and in fact all day, especially on the hilltops.
    "12th. Some fog in the morning, as usual. Day pleasant and weather mild--grass grows [and] is now green and luxuriant.
    "13th. Some cloudy in the morning with a slight fog. Day generally fair.
    "14th. Sunshine and clouds.
    "15th. Sunday. A foggy morning, slight showers of rain during the past night. Clouds & sunshine.
    "16th. Some rain during the past night. A fair day. Start for Willamette Valley. Cross the Calapooia Mountains. Arrive at Wm. Martin's. Distance today 15 miles [to] Martin's first house.
    "17th. A fair day--wind north. Grand view of Cascades, Coast Range and "Spencer's Butte." Reach Martin F. Brown's. Distance 12 miles.
    "18th. Fair. Disagreeable traveling down Long Tom. To Ben. Richardson's 9 miles and to 'Bachelor's Hall' 6 miles farther. Ducks & geese in vast numbers on the plains. Dist. 15 miles.
    "19th Dec. Weather fair and mild. 'Bachelor's Hall.' Ferguson 3 miles, to Doct. Richardson's 7 miles, to Winkel's (the Buttes) 5 miles. Distance traveled today 15 miles.
    "20th. A showery day. To Mary's River 8 miles. Meet Mr. Trapp and go to his house 3 miles from the mouth of river.
    "21st. Rest from my travels. Weather cloudy, but no rain.
    "22nd. Sunday. Rainy day. A high wind early in the morning.
    "23rd. A fair day but cool.
    "24th. Heavy frost last night, a fair day. Write letters to Lewis Clark, P.M. [postmaster] of Sacramento and P.M. of Oregon City.
    "25th. Morning a heavy frost--day pleasant--write to Bro. E. N., Darien Center, Genesee Co., N.Y.
    "26th. Frost this morning--a pleasant and warm day--write a letter to Augustus Harlow.
    "27th. Spend the day in reading--weather mild and pleasant with frosty nights.
    "28th. Frost with a foggy morning. A mild and sunshiny day.
    "29th. Fine and pleasant day.
    "30th. Cold nights with pleasant day.
    "31st. Last day of the year pleasant."
    Reader, in consequence of the continued disability of my hand, I left the Umpqua Valley for the purpose of finding employment in a school. My hand, though not yet healed, does not prevent my using the pen. Mr. John Trapp and the writer have entered into contract, the latter agreeing to act as pedagogue in the family for three months, com. Jany. 1st 1851, and gets $40 per mo. for his services. Reader adieu!
    [Newcomb continues his diary in similar fashion (mostly weather notes), writing from Benton County through March 31, 1851.]
Beinecke Library WA MSS-359, pages 190-221.  Stephen Dow Beckham transcribed and annotated much of this portion of Newcomb's diary for the fall and winter 2013 editions of The Umpqua Trapper, published by and available from the Douglas County Historical Society, Roseburg.

Last revised January 9, 2020