Reminiscences of Orson Avery Stearns, 1843-1926
Articles by the Rogue Valley pioneer.
Photo from Joseph Gaston's The Centennial History of Oregon, 1811-1912
Reminiscences of Pioneer Days and Early Settlers
of Phoenix and Vicinity
A Brief Sketch of the Life and Character
of Samuel Colver
Orson Avery Stearns
Including Six Letters of Transmittal to
Mrs. Effie Taylor, Medford, Oregon
From O. A. StearnsIn undertaking the task of recalling the early days of pioneer life, it must be remembered that nearly seventy years have elapsed since the first settlement of Rogue River Valley, and while the writer hereof was some two years behind the first settlers, [and] was little more than ten years old when in October 1853 his parents took up a donation land claim on Wagner Creek [and] his firsthand knowledge of incidents and events connected with the early events connected with the early events commenced, that many other people whose recollections have been printed and may in some ways differ from those here recorded, it does not necessarily follow that either their statements are at fault or that mine are the only true ones. People differ in their point of view, and while some have keener perception than others, their memories may not have equal capacity for retaining early impressions, for time does not equally deal with the faculties of all, as some have greater powers of retention of incidents than others, either by reason of greater vitality or from association of other incidents that tend to greater fixity of expression.
It should not be forgotten that the writer does not claim infallibility in his reminiscence, but simply records here his remembrances as he can recall them and in a feeble way convey them to paper in his own way. He would further ask the reader to overlook the frequent repetition of the personal pronoun, as it seems indispensable that much of this narrative should be a recital of his own and relatives' experiences.
With this lengthy introduction and apology, and the further explanation that it seems best to divide this article in chapters conformably with the various periods and subjects narrated, I will close.
Rogue River Valley was first settled in 1851. Or rather that year witnessed the first pioneer settlement. The first dwelling house was erected on Bear Creek about midway between what is now Central Point and Medford, by A. A. Skinner, who was the earliest Indian Agent appointed to take charge of the Rogue River Indians. This house (a log cabin of fair size) was occupied in the fall of 1853 when first seen by the writer, by Judges Skinner and Rice, the latter a man with a family of a wife and one daughter. I always understood that the two men were old friends and partners. Skinner did not long remain a resident, but went to the Willamette Valley and located at or near where the city of Eugene now stands, and Skinner's Butte is a landmark to his memory, as it was undoubtedly named after him. [Eugene's Skinner Butte was named after Eugene F. Skinner, who was apparently unrelated to Alonzo A. Skinner. Some sources give Skinner Butte as an early name for Jackson County's Roxy Ann Peak.] Several other houses, scattered throughout the valley, were built that same year, among which was that of Samuel Colver on the site of Phoenix just across the road and a little bit south of the present house, known for many years as the blockhouse. Hiram Colver, a brother of Samuel's, took up an adjoining section to the south of Samuel's, both of these claims including the land lying along Bear Creek. Whether Hiram built his log cabin the year 1851 or not I cannot say.
A. A. Skinner's Indian agency marked on an 1854 map
It should be remembered that the provisional government of the territory enacted a law in ____ as an inducement to settlement of the Oregon Country, which then embraced both Oregon and Washington territories and part of Idaho and Montana, giving to every settler one section of land, if said settler was married, and one-half section to a bachelor. By the terms of this law, the amount of land was cut in half after the year 1852, therefore emigrants settling in the valley after that time were restricted to amount of land, hence the variance between the earlier and later donation land claims.
I believe the families of the two Colver brothers remained in the Willamette Valley until 1853, as up to that year there was a very sparse settlement, and the facilities for procuring provisions was so limited and prices so prohibitive that it would have been almost impossible to maintain a family.
Believe there had been a few small fields of grain and vegetable gardens raised in 1852, but am not sure of that. When my father's family came in, in October 1852, it was difficult to obtain seed wheat at $10 per bushel, and everything else was correspondingly high.
My father traded Jacob Wagner a two-horse wagon worth $200 for 100 hills of potatoes, and dug them himself. Flour was selling at $33 per hundred, and the sacks would stand alone after the flour was emptied out, the flour having been packed across the Coast Mountains from Scottsburg during the rainy season, uncovered, until wet in from ½ to 2 inches in depth, which hardened into a stiff dough and molded. All kinds of groceries were scarce and very high. The sugar we could get came in fifty-pound mats; it was more like sand as it was an ashy grey color and full of all kinds of filth. It was made in China, with the usual contempt for cleanliness that was characteristic of the coolie. My mother understood how to refine the sugar, after which it resembled nice clean yellow maple sugar, but was reduced in weight fully one-fourth in the process. For coffee, parched corn, peas and sometimes carrots or parsnips were used. Some people used browned bread crumbs, making what was termed crust coffee.
The merchants those days carried but little clothing except miners' supplies, and people had to resort to picking up castaway clothing from the streets of Jacksonville, where it was the custom of the miners and gamblers to throw their old or soiled clothing after purchasing new, and a large part of these castaway garments were simply soiled, and after washing nearly good as new. As no children's clothing or footwear were obtainable, nor material for the making of them, the mothers of families were forced to make the clothing for their own and children's wear.
My father made lasts for the footwear of all the family except for himself, and my mother made the shoes for the family, the uppers from castaway boots picked up in the streets of Jacksonville in front of the stores, the soles made from harness or saddle leathers picked up here and there. All flour sacks were carefully washed and used to make underwear, pillow cases, sheets, &c.
On account of the high price and poor quality of the flour, potatoes and squashes were added to make it go farther, and often the adulterant was a perceptible improvement to the quality of the bread. A few wild plums were to be had along the streams, and elderberries quite plentiful. They were largely used both as sauces, pies and dried for winter use, while some made a very fine wine out of them for use in case of sickness.
After the harvest of 1854, the amount of flour from outside was largely supplemented by boiled wheat, and coarse meal made by grinding wheat or corn in large coffee mills bought for that purpose.
As wild game was quite plentiful, and after the first winter beef was plentiful and of excellent quality, the fare of the settlers was much improved.
There is a diversity of opinion as to the building of the first sawmill. I have always been of the impression that the sawmill on Wagner Creek, built by Granville Naylor and Lockwood Little and a Dr.____, was the first, and that of Milton Little [Milton Lindley?] of Gassburg second, but some claim that the sawmill built by the Emery brothers at Ashland was first. However, all three of these mills were erected very early and were running in 1854.
Neither of them could saw much more in a day than two good whipsawyers. They used to claim they could either of them saw from 500 to 1000 feet in twenty-four hours, and they were always behind [in] their orders. The early settlers had to split or hew out puncheons for their doors, floors and other parts requiring lumber in their houses' construction. Most of the early houses were built of round logs with the bark on; some were hewn on the inside, a few hewn on both sides. All were chinked by putting in split pieces from shingle or shake bolts, and plastered over with mud. Chimneys and fireplaces [were] built of rough stone with split slats and mud for chimneys. Windows were very rare except for a hole cut through the logs and covered by cloth, usually an empty flour sack.
Many of the first cabins had earthen floors, some rough slabs from the mills, with the sawed side up and the edges trimmed to fit by an ax.
Mrs. Effie Taylor
The first school house was built by the settlers living near what is now Talent. It was of rough logs, with cloth-covered windows on two sides. Its floor was of slabs, benches of slabs, with legs of round sticks inserted in auger holes, no backs. The desks were simply rough plank tables. It was erected on the bank of Bear Creek about one-fourth of a mile from the farm of Jacob Wagner (now Talent). There being no school districts yet established, it was started as a subscription school and the name of Eden given to the school. The first teacher was Miss Mary Hoffman, and her school consisted of the children of the surrounding country for several miles in every direction, many of the pupils being older than the teacher. The schoolbooks consisted of books brought across the plains from near a dozen different states, and were as varied as were the pupils. Scarcely any two families had the same series of schoolbooks, and the organizing of classes was a very difficult matter. Reading, writing and arithmetic were about all the branches taught.
Believe I can give a pretty correct roll of the scholars, who ranged in age from seven to twenty-three years of age. They were Welborn Beeson; Joseph, Samuel, John and Robert Robison; Oscar, Orson and Newell Stearns; Theresa Stearns; Thomas, Martha and James Reams; Martha, Abi, Donna, Hiram and Solon Colver; Elizabeth and Nancy Anderson; Calvin Wagner; Mary, Nancy and Joseph Scott; Mary, Robert, Daniel, John and William Grey; Lewellyn Colver, and I am not sure but there were two or three others. Lew Colver was then about seven years old and rode to school on a little white pony. The teacher was a very good disciplinarian and, though very pleasant and sociable outside school hours, was quite strict in enforcement of discipline, almost entirely by moral suasion. At intermissions she joked and laughed with the other girls as though one of them. I remember one instance where she had received a love letter written entirely [Chinook] jargon, which she and the other girls were immensely tickled over, but which she was very careful not to let the other girls see the signature to.
There were during the next few years four other terms of three months each taught in the log school house, though the attendance was never as large, nearly all the older pupils dropping out.
The Rev. John Grey was the next teacher, and a more thoroughly disliked pedagogue it never was my misfortune to attend. He always rode to school on an old bay mare, with his children, five in number, trailing along behind or driven in front of him. On reaching the school house he would dismount, unsaddle and, giving his steed into the charge of one of his boys with instructions to take her down near the creek and stake her out where was good grass, would take his saddle and sheepskin blanket and spread on his stool, and there he would remain nearly the entire day, making all pupils and classes come up to his throne to recite their lessons; and woe to the laggard in recitation or who failed in any way to please him, for he generally kept a heavy ruler by his side, which he frequently used. He was particularly severe with his son John, who was a twin of William. John was in looks the image of his father, being dark and with very black hair and eyes, with a furtive look like a hunted animal. He could never recite his lessons through fear of his father, who would scowl at him fiercely when he came up to recite and upon the slightest mistake would hit him on the side of his head with the book he happened to have in hand, knocking him to one side, then hitting him on the other side and frequently continuing the performance until tired out. No wonder John Grey grew up to be a profligate and ne'er-do-well. He died in the Klamath poor farm several years ago.
Henry Church was the third teacher in Eden school house. He was a tuberculous person and of a variable disposition. Quite capable, but his unfortunate disposition prevented him from having that esteem and confidence of his pupils that is necessary for success in teaching.
A Mr. Reddick was the fourth teacher. He was a bachelor who had located a homestead just southeast of the Rockafellow place on Bear Creek. He did not amount to much as a teacher.
A Mr. McCauley was the fifth and last teacher who held the position of tutor to the Edenites. He was a fairly good man and tolerably fair teacher who simply took up the vocation to fill a jobless space in life, and with no special desire to excel in the profession.
The school house in Gassburg was built sometime in the late 'fifties. It stood about the same place now occupied by the Phoenix church. It was [a] lumber building, box and batten construction, I think, with fairly good homemade furniture. It was about 18x32 feet in dimensions and faced the east. It was lighted by three or four windows on north and south sides. The first school taught there, to the best of my recollection, was by Orange Jacobs, and he taught several successive terms.
Many of the pupils who attended the Eden school attended the Gassburg school, besides many others living farther down the valley. Charles Hoxie; Al, Rose, Nettie Gore; Sarah Jane Arundell and a younger sister whose name I cannot recall [possibly Mary Jane]; William Burns; Wm. and Lucinda Williams; Doc & William Griffin; John, James, Nancy & (another younger sister) Justus; George & Alec Gridley; Lucinda and Ben Davenport; Lucinda Low; Wm. Belle; and a younger sister of the Hamlins. Several others whose names I cannot now recall were among Jacobs' pupils at one or more terms.
I believe James Neil also attended one or more terms of his school. Lucinda Davenport married Jacobs at the end of his first term.
One incident that might have had a tragical ending occurred during the second term. The Griffin and Justus pupils lived on the west several miles and frequently came and went away from school together. One morning upon reaching the school house a little before school time we were astonished to see the elder Justus pacing before the school house with a cocked revolver in his hand while Doc Griffin and a number of the other pupils from the same neighborhood stood by listening to the old man's tirade against Griffin, in which he repeatedly threatened to blow Griffin's head off for kissing or attempting to kiss Nancy Justus while on the way home from school the previous day. O. Jacobs soon arrived and prevailed upon the old man to defer his warlike intentions to some other time and place. Never heard of any sequel to the affair, though many of the boys agreed that any fellow who would kiss Nancy Justus deserved to be shot, for she was as homely and ungainly a creature as I ever saw, and as ugly in disposition as in looks. She afterwards married the two Ball brothers; not at the same time, but in rather rapid succession, both of them dying very suddenly and mysteriously after a short matrimonial experience.
After Jacobs quit teaching and went to practicing law, a Professor John Rogers opened up school in the Colver Hall. He was a graduate and professor in Yale College, who left the East at the discovery of gold and had been drifting over the Coast for a number of years, and I presume had about reached the bottom of his purse.
His school was an immediate success, his method of teaching new and unique. He seemed to have a mastery of every science and had [a] method of his own to classify and teach them. He encouraged studying out loud in school and elsewhere, claiming that pupils who were as absorbed in their studies as they should be would not be disturbed by the recitals of others. He encouraged mass rehearsals and had all the little scholars talking and quoting Latin phrases. Whenever there were visitors--and there were many--he would ask some of his younger scholars the Latin names of various animals and other objects and would smile and rub his hands gleefully upon their giving the correct answers in chorus. Your mother, my sister and one or two other girls were his prize repeaters, and he had them drilled to perfection as performers. He encouraged his pupils to take up many advanced studies for which they had no preparatory knowledge, and he frequently changed from one study to another so that his pupils had a smattering knowledge of many subjects rather than a thorough knowledge of a few.
He was very punctilious and polite, and drilled his pupils in politeness. He even encouraged school parties on occasions when there was no school and gave them lessons in deportment, but always insisted on ending all parties as early as 12 M[idnight].
He was quite religious, opening school with prayer when he insisted on bowed heads and closed eyes, his own being always open and watching vigilantly for any infraction of the rules by his pupils. His devotional exercises were taken standing, and once in a while his voice would cease while his firm and rapid strides carried him to some part of the room when one would hear some noise as of a person being lifted up and violently reseated. When the steps returned . . . the invocation was resumed in the place left off without a perceptible change of voice and concluded in [the] usual manner.
At times he would be very nervous and hard to please, as though under a strain; at other times full of smiles and good nature. He taught one full year's term and part of another when his pupils had gradually dwindled and until he had so few that he dismissed school entirely. Soon after his school ended the cause of his nervousness and instability was discovered in the garret just above the platform where his desk stood, to which a small trapdoor gave him easy access. There were found several empty whisky bottles. It was also learned that in his accustomed early morning rambles he was wont to visit the store of McManus, who always kept a barrel of whisky on tap and who gave the professor his morning invigorator under the pledge of silence. After the discovery of the bottles and the departure of the professor, McManus told a joke he had on the professor. He had emptied one barrel of his liquor and, removing it, had placed in its place a barrel of very strong vinegar. He was out in his woodshed to get a load of wood to fill up his stove one day, leaving the professor standing by his fire when, coming suddenly into the back door, he saw the professor in the act of emptying a full glass of the supposed whisky down his throat. The choking and gagging that followed was terrible to see and hear but could not restrain Mc from a fit of laughter almost as paralyzing as the dose of vinegar to the professor. The latter it seems had been in the habit of helping himself to the liquor so temptingly displayed, and had heard Mc coming and hastily drew and swallowed the liquid for fear of being caught in the act, not knowing of the change in barrels. Mc said the prof. looked like a dog caught sucking eggs.
As my attendance at the first term of Rogers' school was my last term of schooling, the names of succeeding teachers in Gassburg are only partially known. I think a Mr. Burhans taught the next term there, and a Sylvester Price I think taught there one term.
I will add that while attending the Jacobs school myself my brothers and several other boys kept bachelor's hall ["batched it"] in a cabin about one hundred and fifty yards east of the school house. And for most of the time while attending the Rogers school my mother kept house for us in a hewed-log house just west of the blockhouse, in which the Davenports formerly lived. Dr. Timothy Davenport, with his wife, spent several winters in there prior to 1864, and finally Aunt Sally and Ben went back to Silverton to live.
There were many old settlers living in the village when I entered the volunteer service in the fall of 1864. Many of them had died or moved away during the intervening years before I was again familiar with the happenings there.
In the next chapter I will take up the early history of the village and relate the incident that gave the name of Gassburg to the place, as I was a personal observer of that incident.
At the time of the beginning of the growth of the hamlet (as it might be termed) of Gassburg, say about the period of 1855 to 1860, the settlement of the region from Ashland down to what is now Central Point was almost exclusively confined to donation claimants, mainly bachelors, usually in pairs, with occasionally a family. Most of these donation claims were taken in 1853. A few, including the claims of Samuel and Hiram Colver, were taken up in 1851 to '52. The Myers brothers located adjoining claims on [the] east side of Bear Creek in '53; adjoining them on the north were the Rhinehart brothers, bachelors David and Ezra, who were joined several years later by another brother. On the Myers' south was a family by the name of Fisk, who later sold out and went to northern California. Below Fisks', on Bear Creek, was the two half-sections of Woolen & White, also bachelors. On the north of Woolen's was the two partnership claims of Peter Smith & ____ Thrash (afterwards bought by the Patterson family), then between these claims and Bear Creek was the Wills claim, occupied for many years by William (Bill) Smith, who jumped the claim of Wills when the latter was shot by the Indians in 1853, and whose brother contested for and finally obtained title thereto. Then there was the claim of D. P. Britton, who was a young bachelor, for two or three years, but who finally went to the Willamette Valley and ran away with another man's wife down there, and lived thereafter on his farm and raised, together with a family already started, quite a family whose descendants, many of them (all girls), still reside in the valley. Next was the claim of Henry Amerman, of one-half section, taken prior to 1853, extending from Bear Creek eastward nearly to the mountain, where a canyon of considerable extent ran up into the range, which was early occupied by a Norwegian family by name of Canuteson. North of Amerman the two Oatman brothers took a half section each, as they were both men with families. Harrison B. and Harvey were their names, but they did not remain on their farms many years, as farming was too strenuous work for them, and they early moved to Gassburg, where Harrison started the second store there and Harvey built a hotel which he ran in connection with a saloon and billiard hall. A stable across the road was for many years the stage barn for the Oregon and Cal. Stage Company, and Oatman was host for the traveling public.
Continuing the enumeration of early settlers, down the valley N.W. from the Oatman claims which adjoined the Saml. Colver place on the north was a family by name of Quigley, whose place adjoined the high cliff of rocks to the east, and gave to the cliffs the name of Quigley Rocks for many years. Then came Wm. Mathes, the Rev. John Grey, the Scott family and a son-in-law whose name I do not now recall. The Pinkham brothers, Ed & Joe; the latter married Grey's eldest daughter, Mary (I think her name was). All these later named people were located in a sort of group north of the crossing of Bear Creek, the Grey and Scott children forming quite a percentage of the earlier schools.
Randle was the name of widow Scott's son-in-law. They lived over there many years, and Randal I believe died there. He was a victim of phys (phthisic, I think they used to spell it). It is now called asthma.
Having enumerated all the early settlers on the north of Bear Creek from the Myers place down as far as Wm. Mathes' place, I will now return up to the Woolen south line and give the names of as many on the south and west side of the creek as I can recall. The first was an old bachelor by name Dingman, who sold to O. Coolidge in 1861. Next (on the creek) [were] two bachelors, one whose name I have forgotten, the other was one of the schoolteachers later in the old log school house; his name was Reddick. Then the claims of Wm., Albert and George Rockafellow, whose claims were in the south of [the] junction of Wagner and Bear creeks. Jacob Wagner came next, who was supposed to be a partner of J. M. McCall, as they held down a half section land, though bachelors, for a number of years, McCall later giving way to James Thornton, who built upon and proved up on the south quarter-section.
Up Wagner Creek in order named was John Beeson, John Robison, David Stearns, Lockwood Little and Granville Naylor, who built the first sawmill thereabouts if not in the entire valley. All these last-named were located on Wagner Creek. To the west and extending to and embracing Anderson Creek were, first, James Downing on a creek flowing into Wagner Creek and named after the locator of the claim. Then the Anderson brothers E. K. (Joe) and Firman, whose half-section extended from the John Beeson farm westward to the foothills. I will here state these lands were unsurveyed until 1865, and there was some confusion resulted in arranging the claims as originally taken to conform to the subsequent surveys. Owing to this confusion many claimants managed to smuggle in quite a lot of unclaimed lands and hold them until children of theirs came of age, when they took up the lands so smuggled and acquiring title thereto retained the same in the family.
Adjoining the Anderson claim on the north and west was the claim of Woodford Reams, whose claim also touched the west line of Hiram Colver on the west. Then the claims of the Coleman brothers, Dad Little &c. Returning to Bear Creek and south of Hiram Colver's claim was the claim of two more bachelors, Nelson Smith and another bachelor who did not remain there and whose name I have forgotten. This is the place where the county poor farm is now located. It was purchased from the donation claimants by James Amerman sometime about 1858 or 1859 and occupied by him until his death in the '70s I think, when his widow married Col. Stone, who had charge of the same until it was sold to the county, I believe.
Hiram Colver's house was just a little ways below on another note, later owned by a Mr. Harvey. There was just two houses between Wagner's and Gassburg up to 1855.
The grist mill was commissioned in 1854 by S. M. Waite before the outbreak of the Indian war of 1855, and I think the sawmill of Milton Lindley was built about the same time. All that portion of Samuel Colver's farm west of the main road was then open pine timber with a scattering of oak and laurel trees. It was nice large saw timber and close by the mill. A few years sufficed to cut down all the saw timber, and the once wide-open forest soon became a forest of young pine and other trees, with a mass of rotting treetops and limbs, the refuse of the wasteful method of logging where only the straight limbless bodies of the trees were used. I remember well that from 1858 to 1861, the young growth was only tall enough to partially conceal the mass of waste tree trunks and limbs left by the loggers, and [at] the very last term of school that I attended in the old school house that stood at or near the present church, there used to be a contest among the boys to see who could run and jump over the highest young pines.
About the time of the outbreak of the Indian war or just before, Sam. Colver and John Davenport commenced to build the blockhouse. They intended it to serve as a hotel and a store for general merchandise when completed, as also to serve as a rendezvous for settlers during Indian troubles. It was sometime during the early autumn of 1855 that the Indians, having met quite serious defeat on Rogue River, had scattered out and were attacking outlying scattered settlements that notices were sent out for all scattered settlers to concentrate at best available points for protection, as nearly all able-bodied young men were in the various militia organizations pursuing the campaign against the Indians, leaving only men with families to hold the entire settlement against possible surprise and attack. Most all families within a radius of six miles gathered at the site of the blockhouse then under construction, making quite a village of tents and wagons. Many of the men engaged in the work on the blockhouse as Lindley's mill was busy sawing out the 4x4 timbers.
We remained there several weeks,with many coming and going. As Mr. Waite had quite a force of men working on his mill, the sawmill was being run night and day to furnish material for both mill and blockhouse, and several new industries sprang up, so there was quite a population.
In the evenings, after the day's work was over, there was usually a huge campfire burning in a central location, and all the young people and many of the old used to gather around the fire, sing songs, dance and tell stories until bedtime. Among all this concourse, while there were quite a number of young men and bachelors, there was only one young marriageable woman. Her name was Kate Clayton, who was employed by Mrs. Waite to help her cook for the men employed on the mill. She was a girl about twenty and one of the most fluent talkers I ever met. As every young girl fourteen years of age was then considered a young lady and usually had a dozen or more admirers, Miss Kate, from her position as almost sole attraction of that assembly, always had every available male congregated in her immediate neighborhood. From her ability to carry on an animated conversation to a half-dozen or more admirers at once, as well as her prompt and witty repartee, she had been given the sobriquet "Gassy Kate," the term "gass" or "gassy" being recent slang for talk or talkative, or, as the dictionary would define it, "light, frivolous conversation."
One evening soon after our arrival in camp, the usual campfire company was gathered around the fire, Kate as usual in the position of presiding goddess, while gathered around her in rapt admiration were her usual numerous admirers, among them Hobart Taylor, Dave Geiger, Jimmie Hays, ____ Black (given name forgotten), who had a very decided lisp. One of the men, during a lull in the talk, casting his eyes around the multitude of gathering tents, remarked, "I say! This is getting to be quite a town; we ought to give it a name." "I think tho too," said Black, "and I move we call it Gathville after Gathy Kate!" "Oh no!" said Hobart Taylor, "that sounds too small and insignificant. I move we call it Gassburg. That sounds more important." "Second the motion for Gassburg" came from a dozen or more at once. And Gassburg it became from thence forward, for over twenty years.
Soon after the Indian war was over, in 1855 or '56, when a mail route was established between Portland and Sacramento a post office was established in a small office across the road from the grist mill, with S. M. Waite postmaster, and he took his fire insurance plate "Phoenix" as the name for the post office, but that did not serve as the name of the town for over a generation or more, and I have a very distinct recollection of all the above from actual personal knowledge.
The village received no permanent increase as the result of the Indian scare, but soon after the war was over the discovery of gold in the '49 and Davenport diggings gave it a start.
The number of the inhabitants of the village at the close of the Indian war in 1856 was approximately 75 or 80. There was the flouring mill owned by S. M. Waite, the sawmill of Milton Lindley at the extreme north end of the village, a carpenter and wagon shop by John Seiter, later owned by ____ Aspenwall, a tannery owned by Geiger bros. David and Wm.--am not certain as to given name of last--a saddle and harness shop by Jimmy Hays and Joe Dies, a drug store by Dr. Colwell, a blacksmith shop by Milton Smith, and there may have been one or two more small industries. Grandpa Colver had come there with Grandma in the meantime, and Grandpa had built a brick store which was rented to a Jew by the name of Samuel Redlich, afterwards associated with another Jew, constituting the firm of Goldsmith and Redlich. About the time of the gold discovery H. B. Oatman built another brick store, a part of which was occupied as a saloon and billiard hall.
Several different parties kept store in it, and I think several restaurants sprang up, some of them of very short life.
During the years prior to the gold strike the popular amusements consisted principally of dancing parties, held generally in the Oatman hotel, but occasionally in the Colver hall, where also were held traveling shows and public gatherings of various kinds. There was organized a temperance society called The Sons & Daughters of Temperance, which had quite a membership from '54 until about '59. Quite a large number of the young men and women belonged, especially young men of the steadier and better class, such as the Geiger bros., Jimmy Hays, Hobart Taylor and others. There was also quite a number of young men who worked around at various businesses, who were quite active in all the amusements of the place. These men and the larger boys of the school used to play town ball (the predecessor of baseball) in the public road just south of the Colver house and barn, or between there and the brick store.
Also we played "prisoner base," which developed many good runners. Among the most active of these men were the Bishop brothers, Dan & Wallace, Ab. Giddings, John Coleman, Wm. Griffin, Wm. Burns (Big Bill we always called him, to distinguish him from his half brother, or rather his stepmother's son, whose name was Wm. Williams). There were many others whose names I do not now recall. Of other citizens of the town who were well known, though not in the athletic field, were several who took an active part in the debating society that was organized and maintained during the period that O. Jacobs taught school, and lived for several years thereafter.
Among the big guns of the club as orators and logicians were Jim Davenport, O. Jacobs, Sam Colver, Dr. Minear and Mr. Arundell, who lived on his donation claim north of the Thurber claim (which was afterwards the Rose farm). To these seasoned debaters was occasionally added one or more of the Geiger boys, Charley Hoxie (who was a pupil of Jacobs) and James Neil, who also attended the last of Jacobs' school. Occasionally some of Jacobs' younger pupils were persuaded to attempt to defend some very abstruse questions such as "Resolved: That pursuit is more satisfying than possession" or "That the works of art are superior to the works of nature" and many other old and oft-debated subjects. But as a rule, us younger orators would just merely succeed in stammering out a very weak and incoherent apology for not having prepared ourselves, and sit down much relieved.
No small part of the social activities of the village was that played by the matrons of the place. No ball or social party could be a success without their active aid. The few budding young women were so entirely monopolized by the bachelors of various ages and qualities that the growing boys and young men would have been entirely left out in the cold had not the matrons taken pity on our forlorn condition and sought us out as partners in the dances, where we usually congregated to gnash our teeth in impotent fury at the bearded men who were swinging our girl sweethearts around as though they belonged to them. I remember very distinctly the first time I ventured onto the ballroom floor to dance. I was fifteen years old and as bashful and self-conscious as a lad of that age ever was, and was ever hanging around where a public dance was being held--not to dance, I was too timid to venture on the floor--but to nourish my jealous feelings over seeing the girl on whom my puppyhood love had been fixed, but who had informed me after three years of constant devotion that I was too young for her any longer, that she was "a grown woman."
But yet, not having recovered sufficiently to look for and love another, I was watching through green haze to see some other fellows usurp her favors.
There was a cotillion being formed when Hanna McCumber, a matron of 35 or 40, and quite buxom, came to where I was standing, caught me by the arm and pulled me out on the floor, saying, "I know you want to dance, but you never will unless someone drags you out." After looking around I found the three other ladies on the floor were matrons of my acquaintance, and as they all assured me that they would see me safe around, my stage fright in a manner left me, and by the time we had went through the first figure my assurance began to return, and after the three figures were danced I was confident that I could go through all right. The matrons who assisted through my maiden dance were Aunt Huldah Colver, Mrs. Estes, Mrs. Burns and Aunt Hannah McCumber (afterwards Jones, as her third husband). Her first husband's name was Gilson, at least she had a son who went by the name of George Gilson. McCumber, her second husband, was never much known, as he seldom ever visited her, only once at Gassburg so far as I know. He was a seafaring man, spending most of his time on long voyages and leaving his wife to amuse herself as best she could.
He was a large, very dark man with bushy black hair and beard and eyes [and] wore a pair of large earrings, was a truly piratical-looking man who one could easily visualize as capable of ordering his hapless prisoners "to walk the plank." Aunt Hannah, as she was called, was one of the well-known Hoxie pioneer family, sister of George, James and Charles Hoxie. They came from the New England states near New Bedford, I think, and the father was an old sea captain. What became of McCumber after his visit to his wife as related above was never known, but it is related that several sums of money came to the post office directed to Hannah McCumber, which she refused to receive. And some time later she obtained a divorce and married a Mr. Jones from Hornbrook, Cal., who was supposed to possess some property. Whether Aunt Hannah died in the little town I know not, as I lost record of many when I entered the service.
Of the other matrons, Mrs. Estes, who came there with her husband and son Logan about 8 or ten. He went north on the gold craze of 1861 or '62, and I heard nothing more of him.
[omission--due to Stearns' editing of Hannah McCumber's story, as mentioned in the next letter below]
excitements of that excitable era, and left her to support herself and son, which she did by sewing The Dr. Minear of whom I spoke as one of the debating chiefs, who practiced for a number of years and also kept a drug store for a while, was one of her permanent boarders. Mrs. Burns was the wife of J. P. Burns, who lived east of the road and north of the Lindley mill and I think died there. His son by a former marriage was nearly the same age as Tom Reams, while Mrs. Burns' two children by a former husband, William & Lucinda, were just about a year older than Lew & Belle Colver with whom they were almost inseparable chums until death and marriage separated them. The girls were each called Sis by the parents and associates, so it was common to refer to them as the two sisses. Two other girls whom I should have mentioned as attending the school of early day[s] were Sarah Blue and Belle Livingstone. The latter was not a permanent resident of Gassburg, her people living near Table Rock on Rogue River. The former lived in the village with her parents. A brother, Johnny I think they called him, attended school later on.
Sarah Blue later married a man by the name of Edward, a pretty good man. Belle Livingstone married a man who was later convicted of stealing stock and fled the country. She followed him up, and their whereabouts I never learned.
An incident happened in the early part of the gold period that was rather amusing though somewhat tragic. An unmarried woman of about thirty-five who had settled into the community from no one knew where and who did all kinds of domestic work for a living, and who had with her a son of about 16 who went by the name of Frank Merrill, was married after a very brief courtship to a cobbler who had but recently set up shop in the village. This man went by the name of Bowers. Did not have any particular recommendation in the way of good looks or pleasing personality; he simply seemed to have dropped in there from somewhere, and without knowing his given name he was dubbed Joe Bowers, from the catchy song of that title.
Either because it was embarrassing to the lady to remain without any other than her maiden name or as a desire to have a home of her own, which the newly arrived shoemaker doubtless promised her, a match was speedily formed between the two and immediately, to celebrate the event, Bowers got beastly drunk and conducted himself in so shameful a manner that a party of indignant citizens waited upon him, tossed him in his blankets awhile, then dumped him into the millrace nearby, and so effectually did they scare the fellow that he folded the robes of night around him and departed into the unknown. The newly made bride did not grieve for long, but soon after married another shoemaker, an old miner and bachelor whose claim adjoined that of Sam Colver's on the south & west. He was always known as Dad Little, and his wife as Aunt Lillie. She made an excellent wife and neighbor, and in spite of her earlier mistakes lived to be respected by all who knew her.
There were many changes in the years between 1855 when the blockhouse was built and the commencement of the Civil War. Martha Colver married a man by the name of Cisley, who was a sort of horse trader and sport, a good dancer, and quite popular with the girls. Hiram Colver was very much opposed to the match, not only because he thought Martha was entirely too young, I think only 15, but because he did not think Cisley was a very desirable son-in-law. But Aunt Maria doubtless thought it a pretty good match, besides it would leave her a less number of girls to look after, so the two were made one in the old log house. Uncle Hi in the meantime shouldered his rifle and went up Wagner Creek hunting, thus silently manifesting his disapproval of the entire affair. He only lived a very few years after the marriage.
Martha Reams married another sporty man about the same time, Ed Askley, who took her up to the northern mines with him. She did not remain long up north, but soon returned without her charming partner. What was the trouble she kept to herself and several years later married a bachelor, a German by name Joseph Rapp, who though quite a number of years her senior was a quiet, industrious and thrifty fellow, who bought the Thornton place on Wagner Creek, where he followed gardening with good success up to the time of his death some fifteen or twenty years ago, leaving his widow and a son Fred, who still owns the place with some added lands. Martha, after several years of widowhood and invalidism, passed away some few years ago.
Mary Scott, who was of about the same age as the two Marthas, married a horse trader and horse racer named Johnson, who died a few years later leaving one son, Calvin. Some time later she was courted by one Dan Hopkins, a bachelor of a speculative disposition, who later left her to become a mother without the forms of marriage. Her son by him is yet living and has always borne the name of Al Hopkins.
Mary soon afterwards married George Baily, a very insignificant young fellow whose principal accomplishments were the consumption of whisky and tobacco, though he did work a little sometimes. He bought a place on Jenny Creek formerly owned by James Purves, and here they lived for many years, keeping travelers and making and selling sugar pine shingles and shakes. Here they reared quite a large family until, worn out by hard work and the discouragements of a hard and prosaic existence, she passed over into the beyond, which could not prove worse than she had found life here.
About the year 1859 or '60, Uncle Sam Colver went back to Texas to dispose of some land he acquired there during his adventuresome younger days, after selling which he went up into Canada and invested in some French Canadian and other breeds of horses, coming across the plains with them in 1860. He had some thirty or more of fine mares, and some five or six stallions of various breeds, among them the Norman heavy draft horse, the "Coeur de Leon" or Lionheart, a Blackhawk trotter, an iron grey and one or two others, but losing his most valuable animal, one that cost him, so he said, $2500 on the chair. He also brought with him several fine mules, one pair of very large ones he called Jack and Barney pulled his camp outfit across the plains driven by a man he hired in the East for one year for $300. John Wagner was the man's name, and he was one of the most faithful and industrious hired men I ever saw and was the mainstay of Colver's for many years or as long as Uncle Sam would pay him enough to keep him.
It was soon after his return from Canada that Uncle Sam saw a chance to make some money by taking a lot of horses and mules up to the northern mines and running a saddle and pack train from the mines to the nearest source of supply. Leaving Wagner in charge of his farm, he took quite a bunch of animals up to the mines where he operated a saddle train for the greater part of a year conveying miners to and from the mines, and sometimes carrying gold out. As there was a very dangerous gang of outlaws infesting that region at that time who, when not running the many gambling dens that infested every mining camp, were waylaying miners who were going out of the country to invest their gold, or they would swoop down on isolated claims and hold up the miners, rob their cabins or sluiceboxes, steal horses, and commit all kinds of deviltry.
Uncle Sam was knocked down and robbed at one time, the robbers leaving him for dead, but he was only stunned and managed to crawl to safety. He returned home shortly after, but if he brought any money with him I never heard of it.
A vigilance committee later hung or drove away most of the outlaws, some of whom were even elected to protect the people, but joined the gang for profit. One of the men hung there was a former resident of Gassburg, Alexander Carter by name. He was one of two brothers who used to do most of the fiddling in the early-day dances. George, the elder, a medium-sized man about 35 or 40 years old, married Lucinda Low shortly before the John Day mining excitement, which took away many young men besides the Carter brothers. Alex Carter was a fine-looking man, standing six-feet-four, slender and straight, was handsome and a veritable Beau Brummel among the ladies. He had courted Lucinda Sterling, who lived with her mother and two brothers west of Gassburg, but later in the village itself. The elder Sterling, Jim, was a prospector and miner, not at home much. A younger brother, I do not remember his name, nor what became of him. A man by the name of Al Lee cut Alex Carter out and married Lucinda, which seemed to make him more reckless than ever. He was always fond of liquor, and followed bartending and gambling mostly, but no one of his former friends, and they were many, for despite his wildness he seemed to be good-hearted and was sociable and pleasant, ever dreamed of his undertaking the life of a highwayman.
Lucinda Carter, after her husband went up north, joined the church during a great revival at a protracted meeting in Gassburg, which was conducted by Rev. Stratton, a very eloquent Methodist divine from Eugene, and both during the continuance of the meeting and for some time afterwards was a very frequent visitor to the house where his convert lived, and less than a year afterwards there was a scandal and a church trial of the Rev. Stratton (who, by the way, had a wife and family in Eugene), but as usual in such trials, the preacher was exonerated, or whitewashed, while the woman carried the perfect image of the reverend Stratton in her arms.
The husband never returned, and after a few years she moved away, as did her father's family.
I do not think the Davenports, excepting John, made Gassburg their continuous home, as Tim, or the doctor, with his wife and child had a farm at Silverton in the Willamette Valley, and came up to Gassburg to spend the winters for several years. Ben Davenport, with his mother and sister, used to live just a little ways west and north of Colver's, and Ben went to school to Jacobs until after his sister Lucinda married him.
I do not remember whether Aunt Sally Davenport lived in the village up to the time of her death or not. I rather think she and Ben went down to Silverton, and that she died there.
Florinda, Tim's first wife, spent several winters in Gassburg and was a very frequent and welcome visitor at my father's house. Ora, their only child at that time, was about four or five years old. Homer and another boy were born afterwards, and I never saw the younger one, nor Homer, until the L[illegible] Fair.
Mrs. Effie Taylor
In 1860 there was quite an influx of people to the town of Phoenix, for that fall came the tribes of Barneburg, Lavenburg and Furry, as well as several others, who became permanent residents, besides many more who were simply some of the flotsam and jetsam of the floating population who come and go with the tide of prosperity or adversity, and whose presence or absence never create much of an impression upon the society in a community.
Fred and Wm. Barneburg had been among the early donation claimants on the east side of Bear Creek near the Taylor and Mathes claims. They had come to the country in the rush to the Cal. gold mines and later located claims here, leaving their families mostly in Missouri, I think.
In 1859 they went back after them, and in 1860 brought them across the plains to Gassburg. There was the old lady, the mother, and besides the families of Fred and William there was John, a tailor by trade, with his family; the unmarried brothers Aaron and Peter (a cripple) and I do not know if there were not an unmarried sister or two, besides Mrs. Lavenburg and Mrs. Furry.
There was Uncle Dan Lavenburg, and a nephew Augustus Lavenburg, and possibly more whom I have forgotten. John started a tailor shop; Dan started a restaurant and notions shop selling beer and, maybe, something else. His wife, Aunt Lizzie they called her, was a famous cook and started a boarding house which soon became famous as the best between Portland and San Francisco. It was not long before the stage passengers took their meals there, as Harve Oatman's wife died about that time and there was no one to keep up the hotel. Mrs. Oatman left a young baby and three boys older; the eldest, Bertie, being then about 8 years old. Frank and Homer came next in order, and Elmer the baby was raised by the Root family, who came into the valley about the same time as the Barneburgs and rented the Wagner place. Mr. Root was a singing master, and his entire family were musical. The eldest daughter married a tinner by the name of Reeser soon after reaching the valley. Annie, the next daughter, married Ole Gunnison, a carpenter, a few years afterwards. Charlie, the youngest, was about the age of Lewellyn Colver, and was a very nice, pleasant fellow. He took up a claim next to that of Lew C.'s and mine in the Klamath country, batching with us for a year or more when he contracted tuberculosis and died in about a year without completing any title to his land, and as none of his people cared to take it up, it was occupied by another party.
Charley Root was in love with one of the Shook girls, a family who came into the valley in 1860 and who rented the Hiram Colver farm. There was quite a family of them, John, Mary, Newton, Hattie, Rhoda, David, Will, Peter and Ada. They went out to the Klamath country and located in 1869, and three of the boys and the youngest girl live there yet. Mary, the oldest girl, married James Sutton, who was a former editor of the Jacksonville Sentinel. Hattie married a man by the name of Parker [whose] residence was in Washington Territory or state. Rhoda went to Jacksonville to work for some Jewish family, took up with a Jew, went bad and followed the life of the red light district. Peter died at about 20 years of age. Dave and Will never married, and John married a dressmaker in Portland, when he was past 40, and his wife was nearly as old. Each thought the other had money, and each was resentful when undeceived. They led a cat-and-dog life; she finally left him after getting some hold on his property when they had a lawsuit over it, which is unsettled as yet. Newton came over into the valley here some thirty-five years ago and married one of the Payne girls, who was a widow. After a few years they separated and both remarried. Newt, as he is generally called, owns some property here in Ashland and lives here now.
Al, Lee and family lived in Gassburg for a number of years not far from where Dan Lavenburgs lived; they afterwards went over to Siskiyou Co. where he owned and operated a mine on Greenhorn Creek for a number of years.
The Davenports were living in Gassburg when Olive Oatman was rescued from the Indians, and she lived with her relatives there for a time. She and Florinda, Tim's wife, were great chums, and Olive gave Mrs. D. and several other women friends exhibitions of her swimming prowess in Bear Creek, teaching some of them swimming lessons there. I do not remember whether Aunt Sally D. died in Gassburg, or whether she died after going down to Silverton with the Dr. and his family. The Davenports were cousins of Uncle Sam Colver's I have always understood, but whether related on Grandfather or Grandmother Colver's side I either never knew or have forgotten. Grandma Colver was a Currey, and a nephew of hers, George B. Currey, who, by the way, was the colonel of the 1st Oregon Infantry, after serving as captain of a company of the first Ogn. Cavalry, used frequently to visit the Colvers in Gassburg. George B. was quite a politician, and occupied several prominent positions in the state government at various times.
Tim Davenport was a well-known figure in Oregon and, though no politician, was a very able and wise councilor in all matters of public policy. He was a member of the legislature several times and always took a leading part in shaping legislation and in discerning and opposing graft and trickery in legislative matters. He was clerk of the State Land Board for a number of years, and selected much state land that inured to the state under various acts. Being a practical surveyor, his work was accurate, and very valuable in such matters. While living in Gassburg he taught a class in shorthand for a while, just to put in his time.
I was a boy of about 15 years when I first became acquainted with him, and he seemed to take quite a liking to me. Knowing that I was desirous of obtaining a college education and, perhaps, realizing how impossible of attainment it was for me there, he offered to give me the opportunity if I would live with him, help him on the farm winters, and attending school. In the summers he would pay me big wages assisting him in his surveying contracts, and send me to college as soon as I was far enough advanced to go.
That was a very fine offer, but situated as I was, my older and younger brother left home being both dissatisfied with farm work and farm life, had I accepted his offer it would have been disastrous to my father's business, besides I could not accept without the consent of my parents.
All the above is personal, and unrelated to the narrative, but I mention it to explain that my friendship for the Davenport family had a very stable foundation, and the fact that the Dr. and I were fast friends and frequent correspondents up to near the time of his death will not be surprising.
Meanwhile the Civil War was drawing near, and the news of the firing on Fort Sumter sent a thrill of anger through the hearts of all true patriots, and the necessity of prompt action on the part of all true patriots required that this remote part of the great nation do its part in the defense of the Union. Remote as we were from Washington, with no communication except by way of vessel by way of Panama, or around the Horn, it took from six weeks to two months for news to reach us, and much might happen in that time. Although our frontiers were occupied by hostile Indians who were only held in subjection by the military forces stationed at the various frontier posts, the necessity of having all available troops sent to the front necessitated the raising of volunteers to replace the regulars now guarding us, that they might assist in putting down the rebellion. A call was immediately issued for the raising of a full regiment of cavalry, and Jackson County was required to furnish one company.
Recruiting offices were opened, and the erection of log barracks for their accommodation was commenced in the early fall of 1861. The site selected for the camp was in the woods about a mile southwest of the town of Gassburg, on Coleman Creek.
In a short time the log barracks, stables for the horses, officers' quarters and storehouses were completed, for as fast as volunteers were recruited they were set to work. As soon as the barracks were habitable the cleaning of the ground for drilling purposes followed, and it became a busy place.
Gassburg simply rushed into the proportions and activity of a small city, as all the material and subsistence required to maintain a full company of cavalry with their horses and everything pertaining thereto was of necessity purchased there. The shoeing of all the horses and teams kept the blacksmiths and shops busy. Milt Smith had been joined the fall before or that spring by O. T. Brown, who just came across the plains from Wisconsin, and he was a good smith and tireless worker, though a small man. He and Smith took the contract to shoe the government stock, and it kept them busy from daylight until dark, weekdays and Sundays.
Meanwhile Brown took the ague [malaria], which was then the prevailing disease all along Bear Creek every summer and fall. Still, never stopping to rest except when he shook so hard he could not drive a shoe nail, Brown worked until by spring when the cavalry left he was almost a physical wreck.
The raising of the company of cavalry in the valley sadly depleted the number of young men in the community, as well as to change the political complexion of the vote. Jackson County for a few years had become quite a strong Republican county, but after the departure of the volunteers, followed almost immediately by a large influx of Missouri bushwhackers who had been chased out of Missouri when Price's army was defeated and scattered the first year of the war, it was for many years Democratic. [This assertion is contested.]
Among the young men who enlisted in the first cavalry from Gassburg that I now recall were the following: Hobart Taylor, Jas. Hoxie, Jas. Kimball, Robert Grey, Gus. Lavenburg, Felix & Joseph Peppoon (newcomers) and, I think, John Van Dyke, [and] several others whose names I have forgotten.
As the mines were still booming, one or two other businesses that started up during the recruiting of the cavalry still kept up. Henry Mensor, a Jew merchant of Jacksonville, put a stock of goods into the Oatman brick, and Patrick McManus put up a store farther south.
S. M. Waite had sold his grist mill to a big German who formerly had a donation claim east of Manzanita [the Central Point area] on The Desert, as it was called [the White City area]. This man's name was Wm. Hess, and quite a character too. Lew Colver used to tell a story of him which was rather funny as well as characteristic of the man. He had purchased some half dozen or more of geese, which swam around in the millrace between the mill and the road, and the owner was very proud of them, calling the attention of his many patrons to his new venture. Someone called his attention to the similarity of the looks of all his flock and suggested that he had been cheated, as they were all ganders. "Huh! Guess I know," quoth Hess, and proceeded to point them out to his critic in the following words: "Now, him been a goose and him been a goose, and she been a gander, and she been a gander," designating a different one every time. But he was much disappointed to find later that his flock did not increase.
I forgot to mention a Dr. Hargrave, or Hargrove, who came to Gassburg soon after the flouring mill was built and remained some little time. Mrs. Waite was his eldest daughter, and he had another unmarried daughter, Laura by name, who later married Pat McManus. They afterwards moved to Yreka, where he was engaged in the mercantile business with a McConnell under the cognomen of McConnell and McManus. The head of the farm married the youngest daughter of a pioneer family, Giles Wells; her name was Elizabeth, I think, though she was always known as Bid or Biddy Wells.
While I have it in mind I will relate an escapade of hers in Gassburg, wherein the Jew Redlich was the victim. This Redlich was a confirmed ladykiller. He was a slight, waspish-formed fellow, about five feet and a half high, light-complected with a mop of very curly light-brown hair, thick lips which, had his complexion and hair been dark, would have stamped him as of Ethiopian origin. He was a confirmed guitar player and often accompanied his playing with love songs sung in a very melodious and plaintive manner, at the same time rolling his protruding eyes around as though in the throes of colic.
He was always very attentive to the ladies, and for years was the steady beau of Donna Colver. In fact, everybody expected them to be married, but from some cause (probably racial and religious) they were not.
One day quite a number of young ladies, among them Bid Wells, visited his store when he was engaged in his musical solos, presumably to do some shopping. They got to joking and cutting up when something was said about Samuel's failure to get married, when Biddy remarked that she could not imagine how any woman could think of marrying a trifling little whiffit like him.
Redlich spunked up at that and asserted that though he was not as large as some, he was more of a man physically than many larger men. "Pshaw!" said Biddy. "I'll bet I could dust your back for you myself." "I'll bet you can't," said he. "How much will you bet!" said she. "I'll bet you a new silk dress against the price of it," said he. "Done," said she. So they shut the store door against intrusion, and with only the other girls as audience they had their contest. Biddy went away with a new silk dress. How much the other girls got to keep the matter quiet I never learned. But it eventually leaked out, and whether that was the cause of the Jew leaving the country I do not know, but he left the country shortly afterwards and I never heard of his returning. I do know, however, that he would never knowingly meet any of his former acquaintances in San Francisco, where he lived later, because after the war I was in the city when I recognized him when I passed him on the street, and following behind him to a hotel found his name in the register. I left my card with the request that he call on me or give a date when it would be convenient for me to call on him, but never heard from him though I called at the hotel again to learn if he had left any word for me.
Another family I had forgotten, or overlooked: They came into the country about 1860, first renting a place across Bear Creek, later moving into the Burg, where Uncle Billy, as he was called, followed shoemaking and mending. His family consisted of himself and wife and four children, one girl and three boys, ranging from 16 to ten years of age. The oldest, Wm. Henry, was a member of the [Siskiyou] Mountain Rangers, a home guard company to which Lew C. and myself belonged in 1863 & 4 and afterwards, also joined the 1st Oregon Infantry, to which we and any other boys of the valley belonged. The Roberts family moved out to the Klamath country in 1869 and located next to the Shooks in Alkali Valley. The girl married James Callahan, a stockman of that valley, and raised a large family, most of whom still live in the Klamath country. James Callahan was sent to the insane asylum many years ago and died there. His widow too is dead, as also the entire family. The boys were all worthless and dissolute characters, and died violent deaths.
Quite a number of people who, though not permanent residents, were occasional residents of Gassburg, working in the mines during the winters while there was water for sluicing and at various occupations during the dry part of the year. Among them were Dennis Crawley, and his mining partner Charles Boxley. The latter went to school one or two terms to O. Jacobs. Crawley was sent to the insane asylum about 1860 or '64 and was discharged from there in 1865, going out to Klamath late in 1867, where he stopped over winter with Lew. Colver and myself, where we were joined in January by Charles Root. Dennis died in the asylum some fifteen or twenty years later, having had a recurrence of his insanity or simply another acute phase of it, as I do not believe he was at any time perfectly sane after his first commitment.
The Goddards and several others who resided at or near the Burg came into the valley sometime about 1861 to 1863. The Allens, who settled near the Colemans and whose daughter Maria later married John Coleman.
A Mr. Ball--given name forgotten--with his two sons, Alfred P. and Rufus, came there about the same time, and Mr. B. took over the tannery that Geiger and others had established, and ran it for many years. He was a Yankee, and a very queer character. He was a small, skinny man, with little beady black eyes, a hawk's beak of a nose, hatchet faced, and a wrinkled leather (russet) colored skin. He was a very pious hypocrite, and notoriously unreliable.
About that time came also the elder Thurbers, the father and mother of John, Jack Thurber, or Jack of clubs as he was called.
Your mother later came into possession of his donation claim, and was living there when she died. The Thurbers were Vermont Yankees, and all of them original characters.
Mrs. Effie L. Taylor
In the fall of 1864, President Lincoln issued his last call for volunteers--three hundred thousand men, and Oregon was called upon to furnish her quota, which was fixed at one regiment of infantry and enough cavalry to fill the depleted ranks of the First Cavalry, most of whom had been discharged by reason of expiration of their terms of enlistment.
Jackson, Josephine, Coos and Curry counties were assigned the raising of one full company of infantry, and Franklin B. Sprague, the miller in Hess' mill, undertook the recruiting of them with the assistance of I. D. Applegate, who had been in command of the Mountain Rangers, a militia company to which Loui Colver and many others, as also myself, had belonged for nearly two years. Mr. Sprague asked me to join his company and assist him in the recruiting office in Jacksonville, but as I had a wood contract yet uncompleted for Uncle Sam Colver it was necessary to get his consent to leaving it unfinished, which was readily granted, and on the 17th day of November I entered the service, being the first to enroll in the company.
On the 19th, three other men enlisted, men returning from the northern mines, having their blanket rolls on their backs. I was detailed to escort the recruits out to Camp Baker, about 8 miles distant over the old hill road by Hamlin's farm. A Lieutenant McGuire of the 1st Cavalry had been sent out to take charge of the old camp and drill the recruits. He had moved into one of the cabins a few days before, and had but a meager outfit for batching, very few supplies of any kind to commence with.
I left Jacksonville about 3 o'clock P.M. with my recruits pretty well ginned up, to walk over a rough road eight miles to Camp Baker. What with the bad roads and erratic movements of my recruits, on account of an overload of spirits, it was well after dark when we reached McGuire's headquarters. As there was no bedding for me, and the four had to spread their blankets on the floor, I trudged on to Gassburg and put up at Colver's.
That was my introduction to military service, and while I shall not attempt to give a history of that service but just an introductory to that part connected with the old village and those of its inhabitants who went out on the frontier to guard it against Indians, as also to account for some of them since.
I have in my possession a roster containing the names of all who joined Sprague's company, and a very brief indication of their careers as far as known. There were 81 names on the enlistment rolls, of whom four only remain alive as far as [is] known. After spending a week or two in the recruiting service, Captn. I. D. Applegate was cheated out of the promised lieutenancy and Harrison B. Oatman was given the commission against the protests of the entire company, most of whom knew and disliked him, a feeling that was fully justified by his subsequent military career. No plausible reason has ever been given for shelving Applegate.
Only two plausible excuses or reasons could be conjectured. One, that Oatman was a Mason, as were nearly every state official who had influence in the state. The other that Oatman was indebted to quite a few prominent citizens in Jackson County, and having no position that gave promise of his being able to liquidate in the near future, a military commission promised to place him in a position where he might favor his many creditors in securing future contracts to furnish government supplies, while Applegate was a man of strict honesty and unapproachable in the matter of bribery or favoritism, and his appointment would not benefit them.
Oatman did nothing to help raise the company and never could drill it. My brother Newell and cousin Alonzo Williams, to whom I turned over my rental of my father's farm that I might enter the service, also enlisted during the winter leaving the farm without a tenant, and my father had to rent it during the entire time we were in the service.
Sometime in January 1865, Uncle Sam Colver came to me and said that Loui was crazy to enlist, and if I would promise to act as "big brother" to him he would consent to his joining the company. Of course I felt very highly flattered by his request, as it showed me that he held me in good esteem, and I trust my promise was faithfully kept. As our company contained many neighborhood boys, some of them pretty wild, and the drilling did not occupy as much of their time as it ought, many of the neighborhood hen roosts and pig pens suffered from night visits of foragers.
No one was ever arrested or punished, though the tables in several of the mess houses were loaded with food not issued by the commissary. One man in our company, Stephen T. Hallack by name, would never eat of the foraged provisions and used to remonstrate with the boys against the practice of foraging with great vigor and sincerity. He was a quiet man of about forty years of age, a native of New England, a sincere Christian and of strong convictions. He had a mining claim near Colemans, and had been in that neighborhood several years and was well liked. He met a sad death the winter of 1865 and '66 returning from the valley where he had been on furlough, and froze to death in sight of the fort the morning of April 1st. His was the only death in our company during the nearly three years of our service.
I wrote up a full account of this sad tragedy and have the newspaper clipping containing it.
Our company marched over the mountain to Fort Klamath by way of Green Spring Mountain in May 1865, arriving there the first day of June. Soon after our arrival Captain Sprague received permission from Maj. Rhinehart, our post commander, to hunt for a more feasible wagon route from the valley than the one opened in 1863 by way of Rancheria Prairie and Mt. McLoughlin when Col. Drew went over to establish the post, as that was almost impassible for wagons, and a vast amount of army stores and supplies had to be transported over there each year.
Sprague secured the permission and, securing the services of John Mathes of Butte Creek, they put in about two weeks exploring the range from McLoughlin northeasterly and finally located the route from the Rogue River road near Union Creek across by the Annie Creek gap to Wood River (the present road).
Upon making his report of the success of his explorations, Sprague received authority to take twenty or more of his company with provisions, team and tools and open up the road upon the route selected. This was accomplished in about six weeks. When the road was nearly done, orders came for Sprague to take forty men of his company and forty of "C" Company of the First Cavalry with equipment and proceed to Steens Mountain, about two hundred and fifty miles eastward in the Paiute Indian country, to meet there another company of our regiment and build Camp Alvord as a base of operations against the hostile Indians of that region. As Sprague was desirous of having all his men who accompanied him to voluntarily offer to go, he had me go with him out to the road camp to get a list of the boys out there who would volunteer.
It was while we were at the road camp that we learned of his discovery of the lake now known as Crater by two of the road crew who were hunting deer a few days before. We found at the road camp a party of four Jacksonville men, having come out to see the new road, and as they wanted to see the lake, they went with us on our return to the fort when, following the instructions given us by the discoverers, we visited the lake, and myself and one of the civilian party ventured down to the water, being the first human beings to reach its waters.
As I was the first to reach the water, it was conceded to be my privilege to name the lake which, at the suggestion of Capt. Sprague, I called Lake Majesty. And that was the name by which it was known for several years, or until James Sutton and a party from Jacksonville several years later paid it a visit and, having a canvas boat, visited the island, ascended to its top and finding the depression therein renamed the lake Crater Lake after his return to Jacksonville, where he was editing the Oregon Sentinel, and in which he gave a glowing account of his trip.
The lake, no doubt, had been seen before, but never located definitely, nor even a blaze on a tree to indicate its having been visited by white men previous to its discovery by members of our company. Sprague wrote an account of our visit and the name we gave it, which was the first actual location of and naming of the lake, and to the credit of Company "I" is due the addition of this one of the world's greatest scenic wonders; for, had it not been for Sprague's enterprise in searching out and building that road, the lake might have remained today as it had remained for centuries before, unknown.
A few days after our return to the Fort from this trip, the boys who were opening the road finished their work and returned also, and the active work of preparing for the expedition to Steens Mountains two hundred and fifty miles out into the Paiute Indian country was under way and within one week was on the road with forty cavalry, forty infantry of our co., three or four army wagons and a train of fifty mules loaded with our equipment and supplies, together with a small herd of beef cattle for the commissary department.
Your uncle L. Colver did not accompany us, preferring garrison life as quartermaster's clerk.
After near three weeks of rather arduous travel and some few adventures, with no skirmishes, we reached our destination, Steens Mountain, during a terrible sandstorm that obscured the sun and rendered progress against it very difficult as well as painful, the coarse sand being driven by the force of the wind cutting one's face worse than hailstones. We found Company "G" of our regiment already on the ground, having arrived from The Dalles a few days previous, and they were occupying holes dug in the sides of the creek banks which were covered with sticks, brush and canvas to protect them from the fierce winds that seemed to prevail in that country.
A very interesting chapter could be written descriptive of that country and of our work there constructing quarters for men and animals, providing forage for animals and wood for quarters, but such hardly comes within the scope of pioneer tales. I will simply add that after little more than six weeks' stay at Alvord, and just as myself and several other "noncoms" of the three companies had constructed ourselves a log house, covered with split rails, grass and mud, the officers discovered that there was not enough provisions on hand to carry the entire force through the winter, hence it was necessary to send a part of the number to the nearest garrison, which happened to be Fort Klamath. They had sent messengers to Ft. Boise and also to Fort K., but had heard nothing from either place, so they decided to start a party of 25 men each of our co. of infantry, "C' Company, and 12 men of "A" Co. Cavalry, with the 50 mules that were hired at Fort K. to transport our supplies hither, on the backward journey to Fort K. And as the supply of officers remaining at Alvord was limited to four, Sprague having returned to Fort K. nearly a month previous with dispatches and had not returned, so it was feared he had been killed by Indians, they put me in charge of the outfit, and we started back about the 10th of Sept. without a tent or shelter of any kind and only 20 days rations. It was rather a peculiar situation, myself, an infantryman, in charge of such a force of men and animals, 37 cavalry men, mounted, and 25 infantrymen to keep them company.
However, we made the journey in 15 days, having experienced several rainstorms and arriving in a severe snowstorm with about a foot or more on the ground. We ate our last food the morning before we arrived, Indian dogs having raided our camp while about sixty miles up Sprague River and eating up our bacon.
We found the fort almost in a turmoil over the ration and work problem, and our advent only increased the discontent which resulted in what we called the "bread riot," an account of which was published in the National Tribune last fall, and which I will send you.
In my next chapter [I] will give you a brief acc[ount] of how L. Colver, Robt. Clark and myself took up claims in Klamath country, established a road and some incidents in the life and history of Uncle Sam Colver, who was more or less identified with that country for years.
Mrs. Effie Taylor
The winter of 1865 and '66 passed at last after its rather strenuous times, and in the spring came orders for all the cavalry at the post to proceed to Vancouver to be mustered out of service, leaving just "I" Company with the major in command of the post and Lieutenant Oatman in command of the company. In little less than a month the major also was ordered away to be mustered out, and he had scarcely gone when our Captain Sprague, with four of our company who had been with him out at Camp Alvord, returned to Klamath and took up the usual routine of post duty with occasional forays out in the Indian country.
That spring Lindsay Applegate, with some wagons drawn by cattle, brought out some supplies, tools and a few men to commence erecting some log buildings at the upper end of the lake near the mouth of Wood River, where he proposed to establish the Klamath Indian Agency to which he had recently been appointed. After building one or two log houses and putting up a lot of hay to feed his cattle during the winter, Applegate went back to his home near Ashland, leaving an old bachelor named Samuel D. Whitman in charge of the embryo agency. The following winter, 1866 & '67, he had some quarrel with the Indians and became afraid to stay there alone, so a corporal and four or five of our company were sent down there as guard during the winter.
Under Sprague's command we had no troubles with our rations, so we got all we were entitled to, and the captain sent out a government team to the valley to bring in a lot of fruit and vegetables for winter use. The only thing to mar our otherwise pleasant winter was the death by freezing of one of our comrades on returning from a furlough from the valley, the narrative of which I enclose herewith.
We had one or two little scraps with the Indians, but without loss to ourselves, and not many fatalities to the Indians.
Having made several trips over the mountain by way of our entrance, the old emigrant road, and seeing the country at different seasons, I formed the opinion that the country at the south of Klamath Lake was a very desirable country to settle up and, talking with Bob Clark of our company, he and I made up our minds to locate ranches there just as soon as we were mustered out, which we were confident would be sometime in 1867. Lew Colver finally concluded he would join with us to locate at a point on the trail by which we had marched in coming to the fort, a spring with a nice piece of meadow and plow land beside it that we regarded as a desirable place to live. O. T. Brown, who with his wife and son went from Gassburg to Fort Klamath about the time our company did, and who had been engaged in furnishing the garrison with beef during the time we were there, concluded he, too, would locate at the east foot of the mountain on which was called by the Indians We-tass Creek, about eleven miles below where we expected to locate.
In April the Applegates, father and three sons, came out to see how the agency was thriving and to make preparations for more extensive improvements, and as he was going back over the mountains again right away and our captain was daily expecting orders to take his company out to Jacksonville to be mustered out, and the old emigrant road needed some repairs before wagons could get across, Capt. Sprague sent me ahead with Applegate to blaze out some changes in the road across the mountains, while a detail of about twelve men with provisions and tools were to follow, and I was to meet them on my return across the mountain, and we were to open up the road across. O. T. Brown accompanied Applegates and myself, and on our trip down through the valley both Mr. Brown and myself put up notices on our several locations, though it was not until late July that we were mustered out and ready to move out and go to work.
Soon after we were mustered out, Bob Clark got a letter from his mother in Tennessee begging him to go back there to visit her before settling down, so he took vessel from San Francisco to go around by Panama and never came back, leaving Loui and myself to the sole ownership of the ranch. Uncle Sam Colver had been very anxious for Loui to join with me in taking up the ranch and persuaded us to take his herd of horses, some fifty head, on shares. Uncle Sam and I took the horses out there within two weeks after we were mustered out and, after putting the horses across the river from Brown's, who had built himself a cabin and moved his family and stock there before we were moved out, I was left out on the ranch alone except for a dog and with my scythe went to mowing grass, as it was late and we needs must hurry to get enough hay up to winter the horses. I was there working alone for two weeks before Loui came out with a wagon, some supplies and more tools. I had no grindstone, and after two days' mowing my scythe was too dull to cut anymore, so I used to walk eleven miles to Mr. Brown's and grind my scythe, generally staying all night and having two good square meals each time.
The only company I had was a camp of Klamath and Modoc Indians about a quarter of a mile away who were engaged in digging roots (or the squaws were; the Indians were loafing and hunting a little).
I had no shelter of any kind but built my blanket bed by my campfire, and after supper went to bed and to sleep, when the mosquitoes would let me, and wakened only when the coyotes came around to serenade me, when my dog would bristle up, get onto the side of my bed and growl fiercely until the serenade was over. But I worked early and late, and despite the loss of every third day in visiting the grindstone at Brown's I had quite a start in hay making when Loui came out with more provisions and tools including a grindstone. While the team and wagon was there we hauled up a load of wood and some poles to build a pen in which we could sleep and keep our provisions. We had our campfire outside. Henry Roberts came out with Louie and took Jack & Barney with the wagon back to the valley, leaving the two of us to finish haying. This accomplished, we went to work getting our house logs hewed up in the timber. We thought we would not build a cheap rough log house; we would hew the logs on all sides. Two sides would have been much better, but we did not know so we took more than double the time and work to hew them nicely on all four sides and dovetail them together.
Before we had the logs ready we had a severe two days' rain, and as we only had a few tules thrown on top of our pen for shade it sifted the rain through on our bed in great shape. It was so cold and damp we could only keep warm by remaining in bed. This we had to do for two days and nights, as there was too much wind to allow us to build a fire, and only by remaining inside our wet blankets could we retain any warmth. Loui had a little woolly feist [dog] he called Jeff, who was always trying to crawl into Loui's side of the bed o' nights, and I was in the habit of catching him in the act and, grabbing him by his woolly hide, would throw him outside the pen and make him sleep with the larger dog, but during the storm I had an inspiration that Jeff would make a good foot warmer, so when he came begging to be let into the pen we let him in, and putting him in the blankets at the foot we used him to our advantage and his eminent satisfaction to keep our feet warm during the entire time of the storm. Our logs cut, we borrowed a team and wagon from Brown to haul our hay and logs, as well as a few poles to build a corral and a stable, then we went with Brown to the valley where we purchased a wagon, loaded it with provisions and getting Jack and Barney and a big team of horses from my father we started back with Mr. Brown, who had a six-horse team and wagon.
It took us several days to make the return trip, as there was four different places on the mountain where we had to unload our wagons and pack the contents on the back of our team to the top of the hill, when it required the entire strength of the team to pull the empty wagons to the summit.
This method we had to repeat three separate times on the road. On one occasion one span of Brown's horses which were left unhitched at the head of his team for a few moments took it into their heads to run away, dragging the stretchers in a headlong flight down the mountain. They ran several miles before someone caught them, and the delay kept us a full half day longer on the mountain.
But as there is an ending to all trials, so too our trip ended without further serious mishap, and our winter's supply was safely housed. Our cabin was up and covered, a fireplace built, and a corral and pole stable with a shake roof over our hay also constructed. It was unfortunate that in getting out our logs we made a miscalculation in the number it would require, and when we had built up the walls as far as the logs would reach we found that the joist for [the] upper floor was only six feet above the floor, while we intended to have it seven feet high. It was night when we got the walls up, and we debated that evening whether we would go to the timber in the morning and get out enough more logs to raise the walls another foot, but were undecided until we awakened in the morning to find our bed covered with two inches of snow, when we concluded we had better get a roof over us as quickly as possible. However, we only occasionally had a visitor whose head bumped the joists. On one occasion we had a cattleman who was driving a large herd of cattle into Eastern Oregon put up with us overnight whose head reached up between the joists eight inches, he being six feet eight inches high. His name was Robert Hutchison, and he had a brother equally as lengthy. It seemed that that part of Oregon was quite prolific in lengthy men, there having been three or four families of giants come out of Umpqua to Eastern Oregon, in order, I presume, that they might have room to grow up.
Sometime in late November Uncle Sam came out to our house bringing with him a big fellow who claimed to be a horse breaker, who was broke and wanted a winter's job, and Uncle Sam thought it would be a good scheme to give him a job breaking some of his big geldings so Loui and I could have teams to work. This man's name was Hutchins; we always called him Hutch for short.
Soon after Hutch came out, Dennis Crawley came out with a spike team consisting of two more or less crippled mules and a blind horse. He had been several years in the insane asylum and having come out to find that his former partner Charles Boxley had gotten away with his property up at '49 Diggings, and on the strength of old acquaintanceship with Uncle Sam he came out to locate near him, expecting to partake of our hospitality to the extent of living in our house, using our stable, and feeding our hay to his team. This he did until near spring when he got a cabin built about two miles away.
Winter set in early in December, and as we could do little in the way of improving during the prevalence of snow, Loui and I concluded to go over to the valley to spend the holidays, and some little time besides, leaving Hutch and Dennis to look after and feed the horses. Accordingly on the 18 of December in a heavy snowstorm we started out, and through snow from 18 inches to over two feet deep we crossed the mountains and spent a very delightful four weeks visiting and attending parties, the first of any consequence since we first went east of the mountains to Fort Klamath.
The 24th of January we started on the return home, accompanied by Charley Root and Dennis' partner H. M. Thatcher, a schoolteacher whom Dennis had persuaded to go into partnership with him, Thatcher to furnish the money in the shape of $50.00 per month while Dennis was to do the work on land which Dennis was to take up and improve for them jointly. Thatcher had two pack horses loaded down with provisions, Loui and I had each a pack horse and Charley Root another. As the snow had piled up very deep on the mountains and no one had been over the emigrant road to break the trail since Loui and I came over in Dec. we were forced to go over the Siskiyou and around by way of the old Indian trail up the Klamath. It took us well into the night of the third day to get to Brown's. The snow was near four feet deep, and the only way we could keep the trail after it became dark was for one of us to walk ahead and feel the trail with our feet, as the government expressman from the fort went over the trail both ways every week so that there was a packed trail underneath the freshly fallen snow that one could feel with the feet. We came within sight of the lights of Brown's house just as they extinguished them to go to bed about 10 A.M. [sic], and a half hour later we reached the house and roused them up again, and by the time our animals were attended to Mrs. Brown had a good hot meal ready for us.
Next day we got home and found the snow two feet deep and so fine and dry that it would not pack into a trail. The wood was about all gone, and no sled nor wagon to haul more on, so it became imperative that we get some material down from the timber, two miles away, and construct a sled. The only course was for four or five of us to walk to the woods breaking a trail and with ropes draw the necessary timbers down to the cabin. This we finally accomplished, and as it was terrible cold we had to do all the work in the cabin in front of the fireplace. Hutch was a pretty good carpenter and understood sled making, and with the help of as many of the others as could get at the work it was only a few days when we had two pair of bobsleds ready to use. Dennis took one set to use hauling logs for his cabin, we used one set to break colts by and haul firewood, and while the mercury must have been way down below zero for weeks and our cabin was none too well chinked up, we managed to keep from freezing. Our only way to cook was by the open fireplace; consequently we cooked and ate at the same table, aiming to use about equally from each store in proportion to the numbers of each group.
There were just six of us cooking, eating and sleeping in the 10x12 cabin, four of us sleeping in bunks, two on the floor, and sometimes we would have to keep people traveling who could not reach the ferry at Linkville and had to put up with us. I remember one night when a pack train of mules got there late [on] a stormy night and we had to put up the four men and about thirty mules. I cooked breakfast standing on the hearth while the floor was crowded with sleeping forms wrapped in their blankets. I did not serve a very elaborate meal, but a hearty one such as all of us frontiersmen were used to. This is one of many instances to illustrate how the pioneers opened up the country.
We helped Dennis build his house early in March, and he was ready to move into it by the time grass was standing. He moved away one day when the rest were away, and took many of our provisions with him. Our provisions were stored overhead on one side of the house (cabin), while his were stored on the opposite side. All were in sacks, ours being for four of us were much larger than his that were intended for but two. But he made the mistake of taking the larger sacks of sugar and coffee, and took a fifty-pound sack of salt that Uncle Sam had brought out to salt his horses. Dennis never paid for his horse feed nor for his own accommodations and was always a thieving neighbor. He finally died in the asylum.
The coming spring Ivan Applegate persuaded Loui and me to allow him to propose the name of one of us for the position of assistant farmer on the reservation, as that position was vacant and he thought he would prefer to have one of his old chums to have the position and it would give us a little income, which was very much needed, as what little money we had saved up in the Army was about all gone. When the appointment arrived it was made out in my name while I supposed it would [be] made out in Loui's name, as he was tired of ranching and wanting to quit, but Loui agreed to take the position until I could get the hay put up and other necessary work done so I could occupy the position without sacrificing anything. So I remained on the place and Loui went to the Agency to stay until August.
I remained at the agency until about the 20th of December, hewing logs for buildings, splitting shakes to cover the buildings, and even quarrying stone and building fireplaces and chimneys. Helped construct quite a number of log buildings at the present agency site, some of which are still standing. Applegate had put in nearly a hundred acres of grain that spring, mostly bald barley, and had it harvested and stacked at the old agency site, which is about three miles below the present site. In the fall he purchased an old second-hand threshing machine from either Hanley or Ish, over in the valley, had it hauled out and started to thresh his agency crop. It is needless to say that most of his help was Indians, who knew little about such work. There was a very heavy crop of straw and Applegate wanted it all stacked for feed. He put me in charge of the straw division of the threshing forces, and when I marshaled them found there were no hay forks, so I sent some of them down into a willow thicket and had a supply of forked willow brush cut, and after peeling and shaping the forked ends into the semblance of fork tines, I was ready to start to work. With such inadequate implements, and inexperienced workers, it took a double crew to keep the straw away from the machine and up to me, as I did the shaping of the stack, while the poor Indians had to work in the tail of the machine in the dust and smut.
I must confess that some of my workers came out so much darker than when they went in that I could scarcely recognize them; whether their squaws got them recognizable or not I never learned.
My sphere of action while "assistant farmer" on the reservation embraced every known activity on a pioneer ranch. I was even sent down the lake in a boat to secure some oak wood that grew on what was known as the peninsula, the wood being needed for ax helves and handles for various farming and other tools. I went down in a whitehall boat with a number of soldiers who were going down to gather the vegetables they had raised in a garden at the lower end of the lake, and which they were to bring back in a large barge that had been built for a ferry boat the year before. I got my hardwood over to where the barge was before the soldiers had their vegetables loaded, so had to wait a day for them to get ready. We started back with our bargeload about midafternoon and pulled across to the tip of the peninsula, where we camped for the night. The next morning the lake was frozen over with from 1½ to 2 inches of ice. However, we could move slowly, as we had three long sweeps, two to propel with and one for rudder. With two men to man each side sweep they would drop the blade through the ice and by pushing on the sweeps gradually force the prow of the boat onto the ice, breaking it down ahead, then carrying the sweep blade forward again they could propel the boat at the rate of two miles per hour. It was imperative that we get through, as we had eaten all our provisions up and could get no more until at the other end of the lake.
By changing oarsmen frequently and keeping steadily at it we managed to reach the mouth of Williamsons River by sundown and here we were compelled to make camp, and finding driftwood roasted some potatoes, which with raw turnips, cabbage and carrots had to do us for supper and breakfast. Next morning there was an added inch or more to the thickness of the ice, so we realized the impossibility of proceeding up the lake to Agency Landing. Our only alternative was to tow the craft up Wood River, and this looked like a hopeless task, as there were drifts, logs both submerged and partially submerged, for miles up it. We put one man ashore with instructions to make his way by land to the fort and agency for teams and men with provisions to assist us. We then went to work removing logs and brush, working mostly in the water, sawing, chopping and pulling upstream as fast as we could open a space wide enough to pull through, and by night had made our way about three miles up the stream and met men coming to aid us, and with the welcome news that the wagons were coming and something warm for us to eat was awaiting. We made the agency and fort next day, glad to get off the lake.
Soon after this, about Dec. 20, I got a furlough of twenty days and, with several others, started for the valley to spend the holidays, and never went back to the agency, as while I was in the valley the epidemic of smallpox broke out and my mother and youngest brother were both stricken and died, while I was under quarantine for about six weeks. Another was put in my place at the agency, and when I went back to the ranch the spring of 1869, Loui turned his interest in the ranch over to his father, and as all improvements, wagon, harness & tools were owned equally, and the team we had broken was Uncle Sam's and he gave them to Loui, it left me in bad shape financially.
Having long realized the necessity of there being a county road from the valley over the mountain so that the country would be more accessible, as an inducement to settle the country up I drew up a petition to the county court of Jackson County and after securing practically every settler's signature east of the mountain, I went over to Emigrant Creek where Dr. Colwell had established himself at the Soda Springs and was trying to monopolize all the lands along the creek as a stock ranch, but was troubled by several settlers below him. The Dr. would sign the petition if it called for the road to be laid out through the center of the narrow creek bottom, as that he thought would render it impossible for the settlers to remain. The settlers would sign the petition only if it would follow the creek, leaving most of the land for occupancy and tillage. I had hard work to get both parties to agree to sign, but finally did so by assuring them that I would have good honest men put in as viewers, who would study the best interests of those living along the road. When I presented the petition, the court [of commissioners] debated a long time whether the country across the mountain was of sufficient importance to justify the expense of the survey and location, and finally agreed that if the petitioners, or two of them, would give $1,000, one thousand dollars, in bonds to reimburse the county in case of an adverse report of the viewers, they would order the survey. Accordingly Captain Sprague and myself executed the required bond, and the order was made. At my solicitation the following men were appointed as viewers, to wit: Samuel Colver, O. T. Brown and Wm. Songer. J. S. Howard was the surveyor, who made the survey which was duly accepted, and a subscription was immediately circulated to raise money to open the road, as no public funds were available. A sum of six hundred dollars was raised, four hundred of which was subscribed east of the mountains, where the entire voting population was but thirty. Uncle Sam and my father were the only subscribers to the fund below Ashland. Many in Ashland were opposed to the road, as they were in favor of putting a land grant road through by way of Dead Indian; nearly half the subscription raised in Ashland was paid in provisions by the stores, which were charged at exorbitant prices.
Uncle Sam Colver volunteered to take charge of the work and raised a lot of laborers and commenced early the spring of 1869 at the Songer place on the stage road, and by early fall had it opened clear through to the Klamath Valley. While it could not be expected that such a small sum of money would build near fifty miles of mountain road, it remains as a fact that teams of two horses could haul over it a full ton without having to unload and pack up the steep places as formerly. In fact, Uncle Sam did more actual road work with that six hundred dollars than has ever been done at any time since with ten times that sum. The building of that road was the beginning of the development of the great inland empire consisting of what is now Klamath and Lake counties in Oregon, and the valleys of Surprise, Hot Springs and Big Valley in California, because it was their nearest and only route over which they got their supplies for many years.
I think it was during the fall of 1869 that my father and mother, together with my sister and Bill Colver, came out to pay us a visit. They visited also on Browns, but the two girls came up and spent one night at our cabin. We gave the girls the cabin to sleep in while we spread our blankets under the porch on the ground. Some time in the night I [was] bitten or stung on one knee, which felt like the sting of a yellowjacket, but when we went to fold up our blankets in the morning, out came a large, fat scorpion, which showed the cause of the pain. The effect was not much worse than had it been a wasp, and soon passed away.
I remember calling the attention of the girls to the neatness and orderliness of our household, that we had a place for everything and that everything was in its place. That place was under the bunk, as all our winter provisions as well as boots and boot jack were there. Charley Root made his home with me for nearly a year after Loui quit. Uncle Sam was there some of the time, but as was ever his habit [he] was very erratic and uncertain. We had divided the young horses, Loui and I getting each a fourth of the increase, taking choice about until all were divided. Believe my share was six one- and two-year-old colts for my interest in two years' work.
After the place was divided, Uncle Sam got Brown to take up a piece of land adjoining his, on which he built and rented Uncle Sam's portion and kept his horses there for several years, finally buying Brown out when he had over eight hundred acres in the farm, which he later mortgaged to Amerman, and which the latter foreclosed at his (Uncle Sam's) death.
Mrs. Effie Taylor
A Brief Sketch of the Life and Character of Samuel Colver
It is usual as well as eminently fitting and proper that the passing of a citizen of local prominence should receive a public notice commensurate with that person's prominence and notoriety in the community in which he or she had spent a larger part of their lives. In the passing of Samuel Colver, nearly twenty years ago, there was a very noticeable lack of the usual biographical notice of his life which was certainly due to so noted, if eccentric, a character. A man of such unquestioned ability and marked public service to the pioneers of Rogue River Valley deserved better of his compatriots than the brief announcement of his tragic death, which was the extent of his public eulogy.
After this long silence, hoping for a proper memorial notice and public acknowledgment of the life and services of a citizen who contributed no small sum to the safety and welfare of the early pioneers of Rogue River Valley to be printed, the writer will in a crude and modest way briefly sketch the life and public services of the deceased, and thereby pay a merited though belated tribute to one whose public and private life was devoted in large measure to the betterment of pioneer conditions and the comfort and happiness of his fellows, as also to recall many incidents so typical of this talented and many-sided character.
Samuel Colver was a native of Ohio, and attended the common schools of that state until his early teens he, in company with a younger brother, Hiram, was sent to a well-known college of that state to complete his education. Here he found the strict orthodox requirements so distasteful to him that he was often in verbal conflict with his teachers, and his rhyming witticisms and caustic criticisms soon brought him into open conflict with the faculty until finally . . . he was publicly reprimanded and given his choice of publicly apologizing or leaving the college. He chose the latter course, which terminated his scholastic career. What he followed for the next few years the writer is unable to state, but about that time the state of Texas attempted to throw off the yoke of Mexico, and young Colver went to that new field where there was abundant room for adventurous spirits, and no restrictions by narrow orthodox teachers. Young Colver joined the Texan army under the banner of Sam Houston, and served as Texas Ranger until after the sanguinary battle of San Jacinto, which established Texan independence.
After the independence of the Lone Star State was established, Colver served under that flag on the frontier as scout and trader with the Indians, sometimes in conflict with hostile tribes, and in peril of his life. A detailed account of his adventures during that period I never learned except his account of one adventure, where he was forced to cross a wide extent of country occupied by a hostile tribe of Indians, and his only method of travel was on foot and by night. The cactus and other thorny shrubs soon tore his clothing to shreds and he had to clothe himself entirely with the untanned skins of wild animals and eat of their unsalted flesh for days at a time until he reached a settled portion of the country. How many years he followed this wild adventurous life I never learned. His next adventure was in his native state, which he canvassed pretty thoroughly as a public lecturer on the then newly discovered science of Mesmerism. He had as a subject a remarkable character by the name of Buchanan, whose feats of mind reading and other stunts while under the power of the mesmerist were truly wonderful, and at that time unaccountable. Shortly after completing his lecturing tour, Colver met and married Huldah Callender, and for a few brief years it is presumed he spent upon his father's farm in Ohio, but soon after the discovery of gold and the opening up of the Oregon Country to settlement under the liberal donation land law the Colver brothers, Sam and Hiram, together with their families and many relations undertook the long and perilous journey across the plains by way of the Old Oregon Trail to the Willamette Valley, at that time the only well-known part of Oregon Territory.
Their first location was believed to have been somewhere east of Salem, near the Waldo Hills, as the Davenports and others of their kindred remained in that section for years afterwards, but soon after the discovery of gold on Jackson Creek and the consequent settlement of, or desirability of, the Rogue River Valley for farming purposes, both the Colvers proceeded to that valley, not to follow mining, as neither of the brothers seemed to have any desire to seek their fortunes in the gold fields, but rather to avail themselves of the liberal offerings of land claims.
They both took up a section of land along Bear Creek, in the richest and most picturesque section of the valley, and some eight or ten miles from the site of the gold discovery, where a rough camp of tents and log cabins was being erected as the nucleus of a considerable town, and for years the county seat of Jackson Co.
The land claim of Samuel Colver was of less value agriculturally than that of the younger brother Hiram, as it was more broken and timbered. But at the same time it was more picturesque, having a really notable butte on the southwest corner standing some two hundred feet above the surrounding lands and about equidistant from the spurs of the Siskiyou Mountains that formed the east and west borders of the valley.
There had been more or less discontent among the Indians of the Rogue River Valley since the advent of the first whites--trappers--several years before, and opening up of the southern Oregon trail in 1846, after which [there was] an increasing number of emigrants passing through the country either going north to the Umpqua and Willamette valleys or south to the gold fields of California. The Indians had become more jealous of the incursions of the palefaces, and when the miners began to flock into the country there were frequent clashes between whites and Indians, resulting in killings of many innocent persons as well as the destruction of property until a state of open warfare existed in the early part of 1853, when a treaty was made with the Indians, a company of U.S. regulars stationed at Table Rock and Saml. Culver, who had been appointed as Indian Agent by Superintendent Joel Palmer, was in charge of the Rogue River Indians. [Samuel H. Culver was appointed Indian Agent, not Samuel Colver.] At what date Culver's appointment as agent was made, or when it terminated I do not know, but in the treaty made by Joe Lane and other with the Rogue River Indians at Table Rock on Sept. 10th, 1853 as recorded in Vol. I, page 399 Gaston's Centennial History of Oregon, the following names appear as those of the party of the whites who visited the Indians in their encampment under the cliffs of Table Rock, at the invitation of Chief John.
They were: Gen. Joseph Lane; Joel Palmer, Superintendent of Indian Affairs; Samuel H. Culver (did not know he had a middle name), Indian Agent; Capt. A. J. Smith, 1st Dragoons; Capt. L. F. Mosher, Adjt.; Col. John E. Ross; Capt. J. W. Nesmith; Lieut. A. V. Kautz; R. B. Metcalf; J. D. Mason & T. T. Tierney. Eleven white men and 700 Indians.
This treaty was observed by the Rogue River Indians and whites until the fall of 1855, when the Indians broke it by killing and robbing freighters on the Siskiyou Mountains, which precipitated the war of 1855 & '56, and I think Culver's authority over the Indians terminated soon after breaking out of hostilities in 1855. The settlers in most parts of the valley had arranged their houses for defense in case of attack, but many of them left their homes and concentrated at different points in the valley where numbers of them could most easily collect in emergencies to assist each other. One of these points was the Saml. Colver residence, where quite a village had commenced, there being a small sawmill running, a grist mill under construction, and a large blockhouse was being built by Colver and his cousin, John Davenport, to serve as defensive point for settlers to rally in case of attack, and intended as hotel and store when the war should be ended. This his house was built of sawed timbers 4x4 inches square put together by wood pins and dovetailing the corners. It was two stories high and was loopholed for rifles. A porch and outside stairway on the east side completed the main building, though there was an addition the entire length of the building on the west built later.
After the gathering of the settlers in the fall of 1855 while the building was in course of construction, it was never occupied by any number of settlers as a fort, to my knowledge, as the number of people gathering there as residents and tradesmen was sufficient to make the place a point to be avoided by prowling Indians.
The Colver brothers, I think, did not bring their families up from the Willamette Valley until the fall of 1855, when the log cabins they first built on their claims were lived in until other houses were built.
Nether of the brothers ever did much farm work, what agricultural development was performed was by renters. Hiram Colver was [a] student though a lawyer by education and being rather frail did not attempt to improve his farm to any great extent. He died in 1857.
Samuel Colver was an athlete, and was always an outdoor man. He was very hospitable, and his house was open to strangers. His wife, "Aunt Huldah" as she was familiarly called, was one of the most generous and kind-hearted women that ever lived, a fine cook and housekeeper, a very domestic and home-loving woman, while Samuel Colver, or "Uncle Sam" as he was usually called, cared little for home life and seemed to prefer the out-of-doors. His love for horses, dogs and all animals was a distinguishing peculiarity of his--and it was a constant trial for Aunt Huldah to keep his pet pigs, dogs and even chickens out of the house. Colver was [a] good debater and always ready to express his opinion on any subject, was an early abolitionist, an advocate of woman's rights and a prohibitionist of the most advanced type, and ready to defend his beliefs at all times and against all comers. Though active in politics, he never was an office seeker nor, to my knowledge, was he ever nominated or offered the nomination for a public office.
While he was a pronounced infidel, or agnostic, Aunt Huldah was decidedly religious, and her house was a favorite haven for preachers and seemingly without protest from Uncle Sam.
In 1859 or '60, he went back to Texas, sold his land that had been given him as bonus for his services in the war with Mexico, went to Canada and bought a number of very fine French horses, stallions and mares. One horse, a very fine one costing him twenty-five hundred dollars in Canada, he lost on the plains coming back to Oregon, also another stallion that cost him about one thousand dollars. He arrived home in the fall of 1860 with some fifty head of horses and quite a few mules that he brought from Missouri.
Two of the stallions he brought with him were notable animals, having records as light and heavy draft animals from the Montreal horse fair, registered as having received first premiums in their respective classes for that year. The light draft animal was of the "Coeur de Leon" or Lionheart breed, and had a record of traveling on a test a mile in three minutes with cart and 1200 lbs. weight; his weight was 1300 lbs. The heavy draft animal was about three or four hundred pounds heavier and was of Norman blood; [he] was a draft animal and not calculated for speed. These animals kept by Colver several years for breeding purposes and their impress on the horses of the valley was very pronounced, and no horses were ever brought to the valley that so improved the character of the stock then here or left such a permanent impress of their character as did those two animals.
Colver brought another stallion, a smaller animal of the Blackhawk breed, a fast trotter which he sold for about $1400 soon after arriving here.
It is to be regretted that Colver did not keep up his stock by importations of blooded animals to keep up the fine strain he had such a good start of, but his zeal soon flagged and constant inbreeding and neglect soon ran his herd down to a low standard of quality and gradually his herd dwindled away. He brought with him across the plains a man he hired in the East to drive his wagon, and whom he engaged to work for him for a year at 300 for the year and board. His name was John Waggoner, and he was one of the most faithful and competent hired men I ever saw. Soon after Colver's arrival home with his horses he took quite a number of his horses and mules and joined an exodus of miners and adventurers who rushed to the newly discovered gold mines in northeastern Oregon, leaving John Waggoner in full charge of his farm and stock. His hired man proved to be a much better farmer and manager than Colver ever was. Meanwhile Colver used his animals to run a saddle and pack train to and from the mines carrying freight, passengers and gold out of the mines to the nearest point of supply.
It was while he was thus engaged that a band of gamblers and horse thieves terrorized that country and Colver was knocked over the head with a revolver, robbed and left for dead. He however survived his injuries, and an organization of vigilantes undertook to rid the country of the outlaws, shooting and hanging many of them; some of these proved to be members of the law offices of the country. After the vigilantes had made their roundup, there was quite an exodus of tough characters from that northern country, and travelers were safe to come and go and to continue their search for gold. Colver soon returned home a poorer but wiser man, and for a time remained quietly at home.
The Civil War had broken out and a company of cavalry was garrisoned in a newly constructed barracks about one mile west of the Colver house. There was quite a demand for all products of the soil, as both men and horses had to be fed. I think Colver had little beyond his own needs to dispose of, though many acres of his land had never been cultivated, being used mostly for pasture. After Wagner's year was out he worked for Colver by the month for a while at quite an advance in wages, and finally started a boot and shoe repair shop.
The fall of 1864, under Lincoln's last call for volunteers, another company was recruited in the counties of Jackson, Coos and Curry, who took up their rendezvous in the old barracks vacated by the former cavalry. Colver's son, Lewellyn, was a member of this company, and many of the neighboring boys joined. This was an infantry company, and remained in the garrison until the latter part of April 1864, when they were ordered to Ft. Klamath from which they scouted eastward in the Indian country nearly to the Idaho line.
After the muster out of the company, which was not until July 1867, Colver remained on his place, but a year later he went out to Klamath County and bought out his son's interest in a ranch that the writer and his son had taken up when mustered out and took charge of a band of horses which had been ranged out there ever since his son had located there the year before. From then on until his death Colver spent as much of his time in the Klamath country as in the Rogue River Valley, though his horses were rented out on shares nearly all the time and he had no business that would require his constant presence there.
At the breaking out of the Modoc War in Dec. 1872, Colver was visiting among some of his friends near the California border and took an active part in trying to collect up the scattering Modoc families who had for years been living around the large cattle ranches just over the Cal. border and persuaded them it was better and safer for them to go onto the Klamath reservation where their Chief Schonchin and the peacefully disposed members of his tribe remained rather than join Captain Jack's warriors in the Lava Beds. He had succeeded in collecting nearly all the Modocs who had lived on Hat Creek and on Willow Creek, the Fairchild and Dorris ranches and had got them over twenty miles on the road towards Linkville, when they heard that a party of armed men from the latter place were on the way to meet them with the avowed intention of killing them. This, of course, frightened the Indians, and that night they all dispersed, making their way to Captain Jack's stronghold in the Lava Beds.
This disgraceful and cowardly attempt resulted in adding quite a number of warriors to the force of Captain Jack [and] defeated all future attempts to make peace with any of the Modocs, as they would have no confidence in any promises of the white men. It was very creditable to Colver and should have been publicly commended but was scarcely noticed. Many if not all those who composed the bloodthirsty crowd who comprised these raiders had an opportunity to show their valor the night after the fight with Col. Jackson on Lost River, when a call for volunteers to go up Lost River, through Langell Valley, Clear Lake and Tule Lake was called for, and only 7 men out of about 25 who had expressed a desire to go could be found ready to venture forth in the night to make the trip through the country adjacent to the Modoc country, and these same cowards remained behind while the seven men who were not cowardly went down through the dangerous country, rescued the survivors of the Tule Lake massacre, took them to the soldiers' camp and returned to Linkville after warning all the settlers within a radius of 100 miles of the Modoc outbreak. Doubtless it was some of these brave (?) men who later, after the dispersal of the Modocs from the Lava Beds and the surrender of the women and some of the old men, a party of them in charge of one or two packers were started for Fort [Klamath?] that fell upon and murdered these captives.
As the writer was out of the country soon after the first fight with the Modocs, and [did] not return until the war was ended, he is unable to give any further details of Colver's activities--if any--during the Modoc War.
For several years Colver spent his time partly in the Klamath country and partly in Rogue River Valley with no definite or regular business or occupation in either place. He had sold part of the place he bought of his son to O. T. Brown, who had charge of his remnant of horses and with whom he made his home part of the time. As both his children had married, and both remained in the valley, his [wife] soon took charge of the home place and looked after the business there while the father vacillated between the two counties. At one time Colver got an idea there was a fortune in peddling fruit and vegetables in Klamath, whereupon he fitted out one or two wagons and with a driver or two ran a regular trading schedule between Rogue River and Klamath, bringing out fruit, green and dried, bacon, beans and other produce, and was agent for a jelly factory near Talent where a man had started to make apple jelly out of the surplus apples, doing quite a business. Uncle Sam dressed himself in buckskins and would go on ahead of his wagons to drum up trade, and the absence of money did not deter him, as he was ready to trade for anything. Before the summer was past he was trading for or buying ranches and stock all over the valley, or rather bargaining for them. In the commencement of his realty speculation he bought O. T. Brown's ranch, for which he borrowed twelve thousand dollars in money, mortgaging the Brown place and the remainder of his place. Mr. and Mrs. Brown, with several hundred dollars of their ranch money, took a trip back East and on their return bought another farm about two and a half miles above the one they sold. In the meantime Colver's land speculations had become so numerous and reckless that his son and son-in-law had to put a stop to it, as he was bargaining for so much property he could not pay a single obligation, and it became evident that he was off his balance. He was adjudged insane and sent to Salem, where he got into conflict with some of the attendants, had to be overcome and put into a straitjacket for awhile before he would submit to the rules. I do not know how long he remained in the asylum, but he was out within a year and came out to Klamath a quieter man in many respects. Colver told me that the trouble he had in the asylum was caused by the keepers ordering him to bathe in a tub where nearly a dozen other patients had already bathed without a change of water, and he refused to bathe and they tried to compel him when he knocked one or two of them down when they doubled teams on him, overpowering him and putting him in a padded cell with a straitjacket.
I think he was let out before long with his son [no] and son-in-law appointed as guardians. Of this I am not positive, but that is the usual way in such cases where the case is not serious or permanent, simply a hallucination or temporary aberration. I am not sure whether it was before or after [after] his daughter's death that this happened.
His son, Loui, was shot several years after that [No, before. Mr. Stearns is wrong about this. Uncle Louie Colver died in 1884. My mother, Isabel Colver Rose, died in 1885. Two years later, in 1887, Grandpa Colver, crazed with grief, the loss of his children, and worrying over financial matters, brought on an unbalanced condition which caused him to be confined in an asylum for one month. Signed, Nellie Rose Jones.] and his death had a very noticeable depression on him, as he seemed more quiet and less sociable, more self-centered and brooding. I believe he rented or took up a piece of land on the west side of the river where he kept a few head of stock and where [he] stayed mostly alone. He was always getting himself hurt in some way that he was partially crippled and of necessity kept at home. His crazy real estate venture left him with a debt that was enough to steady him down and which was destined to leave him landless.
There was one peculiarity with him, he was always studying some rhymes which he would delight in singing or reciting before a crowd. Some of his compositions were very fine, both in sentiment and in rhythm, but none of them so far as I know have ever been preserved. He used to correspond with some of the leaders of the equal suffrage society, and I have heard him recite some of his caustic verses in which he was not very choice of language, and he would deliver lectures or talks along the same lines. There was one song I have heard him sing that he composed for the occasion of a large public gathering in California, I think in which the demand for transcontinental R.R. was urged. The music was supplied by a young lady in the audience, and it was certainly worthy of the occasion and awakened great enthusiasm. It is a shame that it has not been preserved. I can recall only a portion of the refrain, which was given as answer to a question propounded in the several stanzas of the song as to what the spirits of the dead demanded of the living as recompense for the hardships and sufferings of the pioneers. I wish I could recall more of it:
"Tis the voice of the emigrant dead
Comes floating o'er the main
And asks for a road across
For a railroad o'er the plain." *
There was quite a number of stanzas depicting the horrors of cholera both among the land emigrants and those coming by water, both around the Horn and by way of the Isthmus, the Indian massacres and other dangers met and overcome, and at the end of each stanza a variation of the above query. My sister remembers just a little more of it than I do and can recall and recite the melody.
Most of Colver's verses were aimed at some common fault or frailty in custom or in human nature and exposing to ridicule. He had one, a favorite of his, to which he was adding verses from year to year and applying to all manner of tradesmen, politicians, merchants, stockmen & nearly everybody; it always terminated in something like this, a common excuse for doing something known to be wrong but justified: "For if I don't do it some other rogue man or person will." He delighted to get into a crowd and sing this song for the diversion it would create. For the last year or two he was batching in a cabin about two miles up the river from Keno, and as he was crippled in one leg from having his horse fall on it, he kept pretty close to his cabin, and spent most of his time studying up new versions of some of his old rhymes. The last time I saw him alive was some part of February the year he met his death. He came to my house in the forenoon and stopped to get my razor to shave himself. Said he was going uptown. He stopped at O. T. Brown's, about three miles above, and went from there to town and put up at Mrs. Roberts, Aunt Hattie's, I think. He was seen by but one person after that, and his disappearance was not remarked upon for some time, as he was in the habit of going and coming without announcing his intentions or giving his destination. Near two weeks had elapsed when an Indian who had been trapping on the swampy border of the lake above McCornack's came into town and reported finding a horse dead in a deep pond or spring hole in the swamp above McCornack's; the horse was tied by a bridle to some willows on the edge of the hole, a saddle blanket and overcoat were on the bank nearby. At once people remembered seeing Colver several weeks before, and McCornack remembered his eating dinner at his house over two weeks before when he had inquired of him about an old Indian trail that led from the upper end of Wocus Marsh across the south end of Eagle Ridge to what was variously known as Ball's, Gowan's and Spence's Bay, and where Spence (Wm.) was at that time living. At the same time McCornack remembered Colver having said something about intending to go up to Spence's and his telling him he had better go around by the road through Long Lake, as it might be difficult to follow the old trail with several inches of snow covering it, but Colver replying that he had been over the trail before and "He and old John (his horse) would make it through all right." At once Mc and others went to where the horse was and recognized it was Colver's and saw at once what had happened.
The swamp at that place was covered with grass and bunches of willows with potholes or small pools of water with swamp edges and practically bottomless, as the edges were of springy turf projecting over the water and no chance to get a footing to climb out. The water had been slightly frozen, and a snowfall of a few inches covered up its treacherous surface, and Colver had ridden right into one. He had gotten out and had tried to help his horse out, but as to do that would have required an upward lift of the horse and [was] impossible for one man, he had tied the horse's head by the bridle to the willows and left him with the saddle and blanket and his coat, which of course was wet, and started off, presumably to get assistance to rescue his horse. A search was made of the surrounding marsh; the pond was dragged to no purpose. As Colver was crippled, carrying a crutch to get around with, and McCornack's house five miles away was the nearest habitation, the presumption was that Colver would attempt to return there, so the search was carried at great length in that direction without results. Many were the surmises as to what became of him. It was evident that he must have been wet all over when the horse broke through, and that he exhausted himself trying to rescue his horse when, night coming on and he crippled would be unable to reach McCornack's for several hours, if at all, he had probably fallen exhausted somewhere in that neighborhood and was covered up in the snow, as it snowed nearly all that night. Some were of the opinion that Colver went to the mountain, that here came down to within two hundred yards, with the hope of building a fire to dry himself and keep from freezing, but the snowfall had obliterated all signs if there had been any, and after several days the search was reluctantly given up as one of the unexplainable mysteries.
In June , soon after the circuit court for Klamath County was convened, word was brought down from the upper lake by a man who had been trapping in that neighborhood [Charles Rolfe] that he had found the remains of a man on the shore of the lake at a place known as Coon Point just across Spence's or Ball's Bay. He had been traveling near the shore in a canoe when he saw some vultures fly up from some willows near the edge of the lake, and his curiosity being aroused turned his boat into the willows that lined the shore when he discovered the remains of a man whose partly submerged body and lower limbs were lying in the water and his shoulders on the shore among some driftwood. He could see no head, but immediately came down to the city to report to the authorities.
The immediate conclusion was reached that the remains were those of Colver, as he was the only person unaccounted for at that time, and steps were immediately taken to secure the remains and solve the mystery of four months' standing, if the identity of the corpse could be established. A small steamboat was secured and about a dozen persons went on board with a box and other necessary implements and proceeded to the place described as the resting place of the corpse. Among those forming the party was the prosecuting attorney W. A. Colvig, a doctor, a justice of the peace, Ira Johnson, L. F. Willets the writer, and several other persons not now recalled. We found the body as described, and nearly intact except for the head and a few of the bones from one hand that was extended above the shore. The breast having been exposed above the water had been partly consumed by the vultures, but the lower limbs and the clothing was intact and readily identified and the skull found at a little distance away in the brush and divested of its flesh and hair. I easily recognized [it] by its peculiar form, as also by scars that he had received during his lifetime. After a full identification and the necessary affidavits being made, the remains were carefully enclosed in the box and we steamed around the north of Coon Point and up Steadman Creek, dug a grave under a fir tree near the spring forming the head of the creek and gave him burial, putting a wooden marker with the name of the deceased on the board and returned to the city.
The discovery of the body explained the mystery of Colver's disappearance and his movements after leaving his horse. At the time of his breaking through the pond's slight covering of snow and ice, there was not to exceed six inches of snow on the ground, and probably less than that on the ice. There was perhaps a mile of swamp intervening between the pool where the horse fell into the edge of the lake and from there around Eagle Ridge by water to Spence's about 18 miles which was several miles nearer than another way that could be traveled by anyone partially crippled, as was Colver, and as the lake was frozen it offered a possible chance for him [to] cover that distance even in his crippled condition. He evidently did not consider the eventuality of a storm that would blot out all landmarks, even the high shores of Eagle Ridge, much less did he realize the danger of running into blow holes or thin places over warm springs under the ice that were known to exist along Eagle Ridge, and it was evident that he met his death in one of these places, and that his body remained under the ice until its breaking up in April. During March and April there was a prevalence of south winds that drove the ice north and piled it in great masses on every south promontory. The place where the body was found was just in the line of the drift and was about 12 miles north of the known location of warm springs east of Eagle Ridge.
We know that a very hard snowstorm fell the night after he left McCornack's, commencing soon after sunset and continuing all night. It was afterwards learned that Colver had expected to either meet a man at Mr. Spence's or get definite word in regard to [a] purchaser for his ranch, which would permit his cancellation of the Amerman mortgage. This was the impelling motive for his trip, and had he not been so secretive about his business there would have been anxiety felt for his safety and an early attempt made to ascertain his whereabouts. That no enquiries were made by his immediate relatives or any search for him instituted prior to the discovery of his horse were also commented upon.
After the finding of his body, I am told that Aunt Huldah related a strange experience of hers that convinced her of his death. It was some time during the night he must have met his fate that she was awakened at her home in Phoenix by the footsteps of someone on the porch and a peculiar knock on the door that she recognized as one agreed upon between herself and husband to be given whenever he arrived home at unseemly hours. Recognizing the knock she arose, went to the door, exclaiming as she did so, "Is that you, Papa?" Opening the door no one was in sight, and she retired to her couch with a vague feeling or conviction that something unusual had happened to Uncle Sam. Whether she related this circumstance to anyone prior to the discovery of the body I never learned. But if she did it only goes to show that it was one of those strange cases that are met with and classed as telepathic, but which many claim to be true spiritual messages.
Though not an outspoken believer in the possibility of communication with disembodied spirits, Colver's studies and practice of hypnotism and his witnessing the strange and unaccountable manifestations of hypnotics or those in what was known as the clairvoyant state undoubtedly indicated an open mind towards all phenomena relating to the unknown forces of nature, and whatever his belief may have been let us hope that he has forever solved the question and that its solution has been happily satisfying.
I promised myself that I would add a few instances of Colver's "eccentricities" to let a little light into the peculiarities for which he was noted. A trait or peculiarity of his was his attitude towards tobacco. He claimed to abhor its use, and to decry it in every way, and never to my knowledge ever bought it in any form, and yet he was a confirmed and persistent user of the weed. One of his first questions when meeting a stranger was "Do you use the weed?" And if the reply was "I do," would be a request for a chew, and he would usually take enough off a plug for several chews. Should anyone ask him if he used the weed he would disclaim it except on rare occasions when a toothache or something else offered an excuse. He claimed he never carried it because he was liable to use too much of it and make himself sick. Yet he was always ready to take toll of others, never to repay.
In trade, he was always ready [to] ask a good price and collect it too, and yet he would be extremely liberal and generous at times. During the years when his son and I were in partnership with his horses, we had the privilege of the use of any of his young horses if we would break them. I had picked out one young horse that I thought would make a good saddle horse, had broken it well. I had tried to buy it of him, but he asked me $125 for it which I thought was $25 too much, and refused to buy. Shortly after I had ridden the horse over to Phoenix, and while at his house some parties came there and were looking over his horses asking him his prices on different ones, when Colver pointed to the horse I was riding and says, "There is one of my horses that this man has just broken." The man looked the horse over, and says, "What will you take for him?" Colver turned to me and says, "That horse is worth $75, isn't he, Orson?" I said, "Yes, I guess he is." And he would have taken $75 for him when he had asked $125 for him a short time before. That was the way with him. He had no set prices but it varied according to how he felt at the time.
I have heard him tell of bringing a bunch of beef steers (100, I believe) to Rogue River Valley in the fall of 1852, just after the discovery of gold, when he was offered 50 cts. on foot for them but wanted 75 cts. He could not sell at that price; the winter came on with two feet of snow and little feed. He sold what was left in the spring for 25 cts., losing near $10,000. That is a fair sample of his business ventures.
When he went back East and bought his horses, he drove back with him on his wagon a large span of mules which he kept for use on the farm. They were good, steady animals, and though of the female gender, he called them Jack and Barney. After John Wagner left him he used to drive these mules to the running gears of his wagon whenever he went down into the Bear Creek bottom to work, and bring back a load of wood, driftwood usually. He never was in a hurry, and the mules were always ready to grab a bunch of grass by the wayside, and Uncle Sam would leave his lines slack so they could graze unhampered. On one such occasion while I was cutting wood for him he went away with the team and came in at dinner time and sat down to the table when Loui says, "Pap, did you feed Jack and Barney?" Colver looked up as though just awakened, and says, "Why no! Did I take them with me?" The mules were found one on either side of a fallen tree which they had drawn the wagon astride of in their search for grass. Colver had left them to cut a bunch of brush that he thought ought to be grubbed up, and then had wandered on to another and so had continued grubbing brush and forgotten about his mules.
I had a contract to cut a lot of wood for him in the creek bottom the fall of 1864 and boarded with the family. Colver used to follow me down to my work and pick up brush and pile [it] against some old dead trees to burn them out. Nearly always he had his grubbing hoe with him to cut out an occasional grub, but most of the time he was gathering and piling brush against old trees that he was attempting to burn down. If the fires were burning good he might lie down on the ground nearby until the fire needed replenishing, when he would pile on more brush. When it came quitting time I sometimes had to wake him up to go to supper, and after supper he would often go back to complete burning a tree down. On one occasion he started to finish his particular tree and Aunt Huldah cautioned him particularly not to lie down because the tree might fall on him, but he assured her he would not be gone long as the tree was nearly ready to fall and it would only require a little more time to finish. That he would be back at early bed time. Next morning Aunt Huldah was telling us at breakfast, "What time do you think it was when Pap came in? It was after one o'clock this morning, and he would not have come in then if the tree had not fallen down and wakened him up." Luckily the tree did not fall on him; it fell right beside him, but the limbs had all been burned off, so the only effect was to waken him very suddenly, and he stole silently home and to bed.
Another instance where he was awakened rather suddenly happened when he and I were coming into the valley from the ranch and camped for the night at Jenny Creek. We had no pack horse, so we took a few extra blankets under our saddles and a little lunch enough for supper and breakfast. After we had eaten our supper and had talked awhile Colver took one of our saddle blankets, which happened to be a burlap sack, spread it down near the fire and curled up on it very much after the fashion of a dog or cat, which was a custom of his, and relapsed into silence either meditation or slumber in spite of my urging him to lie down on the bed that I had made up nearby. He said he would come to bed pretty soon, for me to turn in and not wait on him. This I finally did. How long I slept I do not know, but I was awakened by a terrible commotion, a mingled torrent of oaths and exclamations, among which I could distinguish "Damned old fool! Burn yourself to death, will you!" together with a vigorous slapping and pounding. I immediately exclaiming "What in the world is the matter?" when he exclaimed, "Matter! Hell! Matter enough my clothes caught fire and I came near burning my damned fool self to death. Both my coattails have burned off and it burned my waistband nearly through." His words and manner were so emphatic and at the same time so apologetic that I could not help being convulsed with laughter which kept me from sleep for an hour or more. Colver finally crawled into bed, but at short intervals all night I could hear him bemoan his luck and curse himself for a damned old fool not to have any more sense than [to] do such a fool trick.
Uncle Sam had appropriated and worn both the uniform coat and the overcoat that Loui brought home from the Army, and the tails of both on one side were burned to the waistband. He had Aunt Huldah cut off that portion of the burned garments, leaving both of them tailless, and these he wore for years, whether as a reminder of his proneness to cremate himself or as a matter of economy I never determined, but it certainly looked comical.
Another instance of his absentmindedness happened several years later. He rode out in the pasture one day to repair the line fence between his and Amerman's land, which was near the S.E. corner in the creek bottom. He was gone all day, came in at night and went to bed. In the evening he went out to feed old Maj. John (his stallion and riding horse, the one he rode into the hole in the marsh years later). He, in great excitement, saying "Old John has been stolen, and he was ridden away as both saddle and bridle are gone." He routed out several parties to scour the surrounding country, telegraphed both up and down the valley to have the roads patrolled and (I believe) had the sheriff's office looking for the thief. Late in the afternoon, some parties who had been over on the Siskiyou trying to get on track of the horse were nearing home, when just below where the ditch crossed the road south of Colver's line fence they heard the neighing of a horse across the creek in Colver's pasture, and the voice seemed familiar. Upon going over there they found old John, tied to a tree in the brush where Colver had left him the day before when repairing the fence. The horse was pretty hungry and thirsty from his long fast, but Colver felt much relieved though rather crestfallen at having raised such a false alarm.
These are a few of the many incidents that might be related to show the unreliability of him as [a] dependable man. He was prone to deep meditation at times when his appearance was more like that of a sleepwalker, and his mind seemed to be far off. He would put in more time and meditation over some catchy but foolish rhyme that ought to occupy it in some profound philosophical problem. With all the advantages and opportunities he had as an early settler, with a body of land that in itself was a fortune, he never seemed to accomplish anything of permanence for himself or his family. That he did not fail financially sooner than he did was undoubtedly due to the industry and good management of Aunt Huldah.
And yet, Uncle Sam was a good man, in his way benevolent and kindhearted, tolerant in everything except in extra care and trouble his slack ways caused hardship to his wife, who never more than mildly remonstrated with him for the trouble he caused her by his too exuberant hospitality and careless habits. His father and mother came from the East and took up their home with him soon after the completion of the old blockhouse, occupying two rooms in the S.E. corner of the first floor until they died. I believe both Uncle Sam & Aunt Huldah went down to San Francisco from Portland, by water, and met them during the time the vigilantes were rounding up the thugs and robbers in that city. It is said the old people arrived in the city in advance of [the] arrival of their son and his wife and came near falling into the hands of the outlaws who, believing they had money, had contrived to have them put into different rooms, when a friend of Uncle Sam's interfered and put them in another apartment where he kept guard over them until the arrival of their relatives.
I submit these reminiscences, hoping that in the absence of a more complete and comprehensive account it may serve in a measure to supply some facts and incidents worthy of preservation and to show that not all are forgetful nor blind to the good qualities, as well as the faults, of those who helped to make the early history of this country.
That the many mistakes and errors of the article may be forgotten, in the attempt to chronicle the good of an old friend of the writer, is the hope of
O. A. Stearns
There's a voice from the Desert Plain
Comes floating on the air
In a deep and mournful strain,
From the weary sleeping there.
'Tis the voice of the emigrant dead
Who rest beneath the sand,
Who ask for a better road across
A better road by land.
There's a voice from the Isthmus, too,
Where pestilence and death
Guard every avenue
And poison every breath.
'Tis the voice of the countless host
Whom pestilence has slain
Who ask for a road across
A railroad o'er the Plain
There's a voice from the stormy Cape,
'Tis heard in the ocean's moan.
'Tis the voice of those who sleep
'Neath the briny waves' white foam.
'Tis the voice of the shipwrecked dead
Above the wild ocean's roar,
Who plead for a road across on land--
A road from shore to shore.
Lane County, Oregon
The Oregon Statesman, Oregon City, O.T.,
October 14, 1851
In 1919 Stearns annotated his aunt's overland diary, adding to it the following recollections (which I've abridged) of his entrance as a 10-year-old into the Rogue Valley in 1853. Both are available on Google Books, and reward searching out.
APPENDIX.On a pleasant early October day in 1853 an emigrant train consisting of some 12 covered wagons, drawn by poor, weary cattle, some of them cows, with a few lighter wagons drawn by horses, followed by a small herd of cattle, might have been seen a few miles east of Clear Lake, on the old Southern Oregon trail.
By Orson A. Stearns
These wagons were occupied by women and children, who looked careworn, ill fed and weary; the teams were driven by men who also showed the marks of hardship and unrest, but also the grim, determined look of men bent on the accomplishment of a hazardous, though self-appointed task.
All the women and children old enough to walk went ahead of the wagons, though being very careful to not get too far away. Traveling through heavy timber, over steep, rocky ridges for several hours, they finally came to a more open, level country, where there was occasional open glades and the dry bed of a stream, which evidently ran towards the west. Following down this dry stream, sometimes along near its bed, again through the heavily timbered borders, night overtook them where the bed of the stream turned down a rocky canyon and the road climbed a spur of mountain to its left. After climbing this mountain and following along its summit for a mile or two the road suddenly seemed to drop down over its summit nearly perpendicularly into the dark depths below. The wagons were all stopped and the drivers instructed to unhitch all but the wheel oxen; they then cut down small trees and hitched them to the hind axle of each wagon, and after chaining the hind wheels, plunged into the darkness below. They had hard work to keep the wagons in the road, so steep it was that the sorely crowded oxen were with difficulty kept before the crowding wagons. At last, after a descent of what seemed to be a mile, the road came to the crossing of a creek, and following along near its course, over sharp, steep ridges for a mile or more, they crossed another creek in a deep canyon. Crossing this creek and up over the canyon's rim, they came out into an open prairie surrounded with groves of small pine trees. This they learned was Round Grove Prairie, and they made camp, turning the tired cattle loose in the prairie and putting out two guards, a custom that had been followed since crossing the Missouri River in the spring.
It was too dark and everyone too tired from the long, hard day's journey to expect much of a supper, but scarcely had the preparations for a scant supper commenced when suddenly the prairie was illuminated by blazing trees, rendering it plain to see the wagons, the stock and the entire surroundings.
The guard had discovered an immense amount of moss depending from the young pine trees, and out of curiosity had put a match to one to see if it would burn, when, like a flash, the flame ran from branch to branch, until the entire tree was a blazing torch. The other guard seeing the success of the illumination, followed his example, and as there were hundreds of moss-covered pines surrounding the prairie, the illumination was kept up until after supper time and until every one was ready for bed.
The following morning, after a rather late breakfast, giving the tired cattle ample time to get their fill of the luxuriant grass, they were again put to the wagons and the final day's climb commenced. It was some three or four miles through rocky, timbered benches, crossing one or two more small mountain streams, before the real climb commenced, and while it was rough enough, in no place was as steep a mountain encountered as the first climb of the day before. Quite a cavalcade of the younger members of the several families, together with [a] convalescent [Rogue Valley] volunteer, preceded the wagons, and he was constantly pointing out varieties of trees that had not been encountered before since leaving the States. He was frequently asked, "How much further is it to where we can see Rogue River Valley?" And he would laughingly reply, "Oh, just a few miles farther, over the next ridge."
With untiring feet and unflagging zeal the youngsters pushed along until coming out on the top of a mountain they saw open timber ahead and way beyond that timber other mountains. Here the road seemed to drop down again steeply into a canyon, with a seemingly higher, but sparsely timbered mountain beyond. "There," says Settin, "when we climb up that other mountain you can see Rogue River Valley."
Not waiting for the wagons, they ran down the steep road until reaching the foot, they came to a creek, where they were persuaded to remain until the wagons caught up, and where they stopped for noonday lunch.
No sooner was lunch over than the foot brigade started up the mountain and soon stood overlooking the valley. "Hooray! Hooray!" they shouted, "we're in Oregon! Where's Rogue River Valley?" "That's Rogue River Valley," said Settin, "down yonder," pointing way down where the mountains on the opposite side of the intervening chasm seemed to fade away in the distance. "I don't see any valley, only a great, deep gulch with timber in it," replied his interlocutor. "That's the valley, all right; you'll see it when you get there; it's quite a bit of a ways down to it yet, though." Though the view was grand and the culmination of a long, tedious journey, a circumstance calculated to be gladly welcomed, the ideals that had been cherished of the appearance of the future home were rudely shattered, and every step down the mountain plunged the hearts of the youngsters into deeper gloom and disappointment. Their ideals were shattered. Coming from the fertile, settled plains of the Middle West to live in a cooped-up, narrow gorge, surrounded by high mountains, was something they were not prepared to expect. What feeling animated the breasts of the adult members of the train may never be known. Doubtless a feeling of strong relief that the dangers and trials of the trip were at last ended, and with a hope of finding health, happiness and a competence in the new home.
That night a camp was made soon after reaching the foot of the mountain, on Emigrant Creek. The following morning, after a drive of some four miles and crossing over a divide to the west of the Emigrant Creek, they came in sight of the first settlement seen for over four months. One house, with fields to the south, they were told was the Mountain House. The one directly ahead where their road crossed a creek and intersected another road was that of a Mr. Hill, who, it seemed, was a former acquaintance of Myron Stearns, one of the emigrants, and here he and his family concluded to stop, leaving the others to proceed down the valley. Some three miles farther they stopped for noon, where a Mr. Condra lived. The latter had been a member of the train up to the time they reached Goose Lake when he, together with several other families who were going to Yreka, pulled out ahead, and he had reached home before we got into the valley. Some one of the men bought a watermelon here and it was a grand treat for the few who helped eat it. Condra had a water wheel in Bear Creek and attached to it was a contrivance for pounding up wheat and corn into a coarse meal. He called it a pounder, and it was similar to a rude arrastra such as the Mexicans use for crushing rock, only the levers that carried the stones for crushing were raised and dropped into wooden hoppers, instead of dragged around in a circle over the material.
After the noonday lunch the train continued on its way until early evening they made camp by the side of a mountain stream just above where there was a fine, large garden.
The next morning the camp was visited by several nearby settlers, among them John Beeson and son, who persuaded some of them to take up land near them. Several families, the McLanes, Pearsons and others proceeded on down the valley, but the Stearns families remained and camped there, while the men of the family went with the visiting neighbors to look up places upon which to locate, returning at nightfall with the information that they had decided to locate about a mile above, which became the future Stearns donation land claim, and here we will leave them to make their homes in the new Eden.
The garden near which our last camp was pitched was that of Jacob Wagner, on the creek known by that name, and near which the town of Talent is now located. Mr. Wagner was one among the earliest settlers in the Rogue River Valley, having taken up his donation land claim in 1851, two years previously. During the fall of 1852 he had gone down to the Willamette Valley and purchased quite a lot of potatoes, which were quite plentiful and cheap there. These he proceeded to divest of their eyes, which he gouged out and placed into sacks until he had two mule loads of them, which he packed to his home in the Rogue River Valley over the trail leading through the Umpqua and Cow Creek Canyons. These potato eyes he planted in the spring of 1853 on the rich bottom lands of the Bear and Wagner creeks at their junction, and here the miners and newly arrived emigrants secured their supplies of potatoes. This vegetable sold at that time for 25 cents per pound, which, though very high, was not more so than every other article of food.
My father, David E. Stearns, traded a wagon valued at $200 for 100 hills of these potatoes and dug them himself. My uncle, Samuel E. Stearns, and myself dug potatoes on shares for the tenth bushel for several days and my uncle estimated that I (a boy of 10 years) dug 10 bushels per day, which were worth, at prevailing prices, $15. Pretty good wages for a boy! Flour brought $33 1/3 per hundred in 50-pound sacks, which, when emptied, would stand alone, so much of the flour had become wet in packing across the Coast mountains from Scottsburg on the coast, where it had been landed by vessel from Chile, South America.
All groceries and meats were scarce and high, except beef, which was from 30 to 35 cents per pound. No flouring mills were in the valley, as very little wheat had been raised, and that sold at $10 to $12 per bushel and could be had only for seed. Squashes, pumpkins and turnips, as well as potatoes, were mixed with the flour to make bread, and several varieties of vegetables, beans, peas and corn were used to make coffee.
There was very little cloth of any kind to make clothes for the women and children, in consequence of which empty flour sacks and cast-away clothing and footwear were remade into garments and footwear for both women and children. As the town of Jacksonville, then an aggregation of tents, shacks and log houses, was the center of a rich gold-mining region, every other tent or shack was a saloon or gambling palace (?) and the newly rich miner or gambler always bought the best raiment to be found in the town, casting his old or somewhat seedy garments into the streets when changing his raiment. Hence it was frequently possible to retrieve fairly good suits as well as head and footwear from the castaway clothes of the gamblers, who discarded their soiled clothing rather than take the trouble to have them laundried. The extravagance was a godsend to many a newly arrived emigrant, who would otherwise have suffered for clothing.
In the early settlement of Rogue River Valley it was thought that the soil or climate or both were unsuited to the raising of fruits and vegetables, except in a few sheltered localities; therefore, few gardens or orchards were put out, and the few who did enter into the business received good returns for their labor. My father planted out some peach pits in 1854 and two years later some of the trees bloomed; one peach reached maturity and was an object of much curiosity, some people coming 12 miles or more to see it. My father was offered $5 in gold for it, but declined the offer, and the peach was divided up into seven portions and eaten by the members of the family. The next year, 1857, we had some 12 or 15 young trees in bearing and a neighbor, John Robison, also had some come into bearing, and we both sold peaches in Jacksonville and in the mines for 12½ cents each, or $1.50 per dozen.
For many years past Jackson County has been one of the banner counties of the state for peaches, as well as nearly every other fruit and berry grown in the temperate zone, as also producing excellent corn and other grains, as well as vegetables, in profusion.
Of the members of the Stearns family, one, Samuel E., took up a donation claim east of the Overbeck Grove, where now is West Medford. Myron N. took up a donation claim on Emigrant Creek, where now the Murphy ranch is. Issacher Williams took up a donation claim on the east of Bear Creek, adjoining the Merryman claim. Avery P. Stearns took up no land, but located in Jacksonville, and resumed the practice of law and was the first probate judge of Jackson County. He died in 1857.
The donation claim of D. E. Stearns on Wagner Creek is the only claim now owned or occupied by a descendant of the pioneer families of that name, and they own less than one-third of the original 320 acres. This is true of nearly all the old donation claims, many of them being divided into small tracts of a few acres, while few of them contain as much as 80 acres in one tract. The descendants of the family all scattered all over the coast, many of them becoming pioneers in other portions of Oregon and Washington.
The writer, who was a pioneer in the Klamath country, dating his settlement from 1867, when the first settlement was made, is now the oldest surviving member of the emigrant train of 1853, and is the oldest pioneer resident of the Klamath country.
In looking back over the changes that time has wrought, no less in Oregon than elsewhere in the nation, he can but ask himself, "What is the future to develop or achieve which will be as great or as remarkable as the past?" Perhaps we are just entering upon an era of wonderful achievement for the betterment of mankind. Certainly the field of progress and achievement. must in future be in a direction and development far different than in the past. May its success be equally as great in the development and progress of the race.
Abridged from Transactions of the Forty-Seventh Annual Reunion of the Oregon Pioneers Association, Portland, June 19, 1919, page 227.
Historical Review of the First School in Rogue River Valley
First Building Erected in 1854 and Was Located at a Point Northeast of Talent;
Mary Hoffman Was the First Teacher; Textbooks Were Few; Names of Pupils Are Given.
------EDITOR'S NOTE--The following history of the first school organization in Rogue River Valley, written by O. A. Stearns in his eightieth year, is believed to be the most comprehensive and accurate in existence, and is presented with the knowledge that it will interest hundreds of men and women of pioneer days and many of the younger generation.
Someone asked me a short time ago to give them an account of the first school organizations and the first school taught in Rogue River Valley, with a general description of the school house and the conditions under which it was taught.
The first school house of which I have knowledge was built by the early settlers of the Wagner Creek section in the summer of 1854: A meeting of the citizens was called, a temporary school district was organized and named Eden School District. They elected three directors, and a school clerk (comformable to practice in vogue in the western states from which most of the settlers had emigrated), and decided to build a school house and start a school at once. To think with them was to act, and the logs for the school house were soon on the ground, and an old-fashioned log-rolling found nearly the entire neighborhood on the ground, and the building was put up and finished with such material as was to be had in a day or two.
The house was located on the banks of Bear Creek about one-fourth of a mile N.E. of where the town of Talent now stands; it was about 18x32 feet in size, with a slab or puncheon floor; the cracks between the logs were chinked with pine blocks left from the splitting of the shakes with which it was covered. One or two windows on either side were made by cutting out a segment of the logs and covering the aperture with muslin cloth (flour sacks).
The school furniture consisted of two long tables placed lengthwise of the room with benches on either side for seats; these benches were made of slabs with holes bored through them and round logs of oak inserted from under or round side of the slabs. Several smaller benches were made for the smaller scholars. The teacher's desk and seat may have been of rough lumber, as a sawmill built by Granville Naylor during the previous winter was sawing some lumber up the creek, where Lynch's mill formerly stood.
The door was built of lumber, I think, though it was hung on wooden hinges and was operated with a leathern latch string. Water was brought from a spring just under the hill near the creek.
The school house faced the public road to the west, where now is the Pacific Highway. There was neither fireplace nor stove, as it was strictly a summer school; the ventilation was excellent and sanitary in a marked degree.
The oak thickets on either side supplied toilet facilities, and a good-sized club or board, pounded on the door, summoned to books.
A daughter of a pioneer family residing near Jacksonville, Mary Hoffman by name, was employed to teach the first term of three months. Her salary I do not remember, but there was a fee of ten dollars collected for every pupil, and there was some twenty-nine of those, by far the larger number of whom were nearly or quite as old as the teacher.
As there was no book store in the valley, the scholars had to depend upon such books as were brought across the plains with them, and they were of all the varieties in use in the several states, scarcely any two families having the same series, but by using tact and lending one to another, our teacher managed to get along surprisingly well.
Herewith is a list of the scholars as I remember them:
Elizabeth Anderson, Nancy Anderson, Colver Lewellyn, Martha Lewellyn, Abi Lewellyn, Donna Lewellyn, Hiram Lewellyn, Solon Lewellyn [Stearns elsewhere identifies them as Martha, Abi, Donna, Hiram and Solon Colver], Thomas D. Reams, Martha Reams, Mary Scott, Nancy Scott, John Scott, Robert A. Grey, Mary Grey, Daniel Grey, the Grey twins John and William, Joseph Robison, Samuel M. Robison, John Robison, Robert Robison, Calvin Wagner, Welborn Beeson, Theresa Stearns, Oscar Stearns, Orson Stearns, Newell Stearns.
There were two or more spelling books of which I distinctly remember, the Cobbs and Websters. The McGuffey series of readers and the U.S. School History, the Primeo [Premio?] primary grammar, the Adams, the Kirkhams, and one other grammar.
The Rays part 3, the Adams and the Davies arithmetic, several different geographies, comprised about all I recall. We were divided into classes according to the advancement in the various studies, but the R's were about all that were particularly stressed, and the old style of toe the mark and giving head marks to the most proficient was then in vogue.
I recall no difficulty in maintaining school discipline, which would indicate a proficient teacher or a remarkably well-behaved lot of scholars. One thing [was that] so many grown scholars who were strictly on their good behavior had a steadying effect on the younger and the young ladies (for so the older girls were) were on good terms with the teacher, and when not in study hours were on terms of sociability, and enjoyed fun-making equally one with another. I remember at one time during the noon hour, when the teacher and the larger girls were having a hilarious time about something that they did not seem desirous of sharing with the boys and younger scholars: It afterwards leaked out that their fun was over a love letter, which some lovelorn suitor had sent the teacher, as it was written entirely in the Chinook or jargon then quite common conversing with the Indians, but scarcely appropriate to convey the tender emotions. Its oddity and grotesqueness was too much to keep secret from the other girls.
So far as I know I am the sole survivor of the early school; the teacher is the only other survivor.
That pioneer school house had five other terms of three months, each taught all by different teachers and in the following order:
The Rev. John Grey, Henry Church (died of tuberculosis shortly after his term was out), Mr. Eldridge, Mr. Reddick, and Mr. McCauley. The first named was the poorest and most thoroughly disliked of any teacher I ever knew, even his own children, five of whom attended his school, not one but what feared and detested him.
Two Indian wars were in progress during a portion of the several terms of the school.
------Ashland Daily Tidings, March 10, 1924, page 1 Welborn Beeson wrote an account of the founding of the school--differing in several significant respects--that was published in the Tidings on September 16, 1892.
This paper was written by O. A. Stearns in his 80th year. I remember seeing the building in 1877 when I came to the country. A lady told me she saw it in 1883, but it had gone pretty badly to decay.
Signed, MRS. O. A. STEARNS.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
O. A. StearnsKind and Esteemed Friend.
Fort Klamath, Oregon
February 5th, 1867
Although I have not as yet received an answer to my last letter to you, I shall undertake another, for I know the answer will come sometime.
You will see by the heading that I am not yet among the citizens. Although all the volunteers on the coast were ordered to be mustered out, we alone remain. There are now but sixty of us, ten of the enlisted men, and one 2nd lieut. having been mustered out last July at Vancouver.
We have been expecting to be mustered out many times, but it was delayed until the winter closed in upon us, and precluded the moving of other troops to take our places.
The weather has not been very cold here, nor the snow very deep, but there has been a great deal of rain and snow both, the latter being two and one half feet deep at the present time. We have had some skating on the lake about eight miles from here; the Captain, who is very fond of the sport, furnishing horses and saddles for a party of us, whenever we wished to go down with him. But now, as the snow has covered the ice, there is no kind of amusement here.
Soldiering has degenerated into a farce. Our Captain being in command here, and not liking the pomp and display generally displayed, has reduced the duty to a simple observance of guard duty. There is no one required to walk post, and the members of the guard merely take their turns keeping up a fire and observing that nothing goes wrong about the garrison. Sometimes the guard stays on for a week or more without being relieved, and when the next guard goes on there is no ceremony of guard mounting.
The Captain does not ask, nor will he allow anyone to salute him excepting such times as he has muster.
There is not a man in the company but respects him because he endeavors to make the soldiers' duty as light and agreeable as possible.
We have a literary society here and publish a paper. There are not more than five contributors, and I do all the copying and act both in the capacity of editor and reader. This serves to occupy some of my time, and amuses those who do nothing to contribute to the general amusement fund.
In consequence of there being so many stories of our being relieved last fall, winter found me with but few books or other reading matter, consequently I am not very well prepared to do much in the way of editing a paper.
We have some curious specimens of composition; some of them exceed any of Artemus Ward's, Josh Billings', Mrs. Partington's, or any of the noted oddities of the present day. I shall send some of them to Harper's Drawer [the humorous anecdote column of Harper's Magazine].
I was out on an Indian hunt last fall, and after coming back I got twelve days' furlough and went home. Had an excellent time, and enjoyed my short-lived freedom to the utmost extent. Found all the people well, and glad to see me. My sister had just finished a three months' term of school teaching. Father was busy at work, finishing his new dwelling house, and has moved out of the old log house which has sheltered them since coming to this country, and now they occupy the new one.
They have a "Good Templar" lodge at Phoenix, and nearly all the young and many of the old people in the vicinity are members. I believe there are four lodges of that order in the county. I never belonged to a temperance organization, as there was none in the county until after I enlisted. Expect to join the Templars when mustered out. Not because I ever was addicted to drinking, for I never drank anything stronger than homemade wine, except in one instance, when I took some brandy while undergoing a little surgical operation, but because I might prevail upon others who were addicted to drinking to follow my example. Example makes half the drunkards, and it should save many if it was for good instead of evil.
One time when I was down on the lake skating, the ice was thin and clear, out some distance from the shore, and the Indians were out, barefooted, spearing fish. The water was not very deep, and they could see the fish through the ice. The Indian would carry his spear in one hand, and a short, heavy club in the other; when he saw a fish he would run above it on the ice, and by thumping with his club would scare it, when he would follow it until it run its head under some of the moss on the bottom of the lake. He then would break a round hole through the ice with the end of the club, and running his spear within a few inches of the exposed portion of the fish, by a sudden thrust he would impale him and pull the spear, with the fish at the point, through the ice. I saw them catch a great many that way while there. They catch many during the night by building fires upon the ice near a large hole, when the fish, coming under, would be secured with their spears. The fish were of the sucker species, and some of them would weigh ten pounds or more.
The Indians are rather short of food this winter, they having laid in less than usual under the promise of government that they should have the flour and beef promised them in the treaty and the failure on the part of the government to fulfill its part of the stipulations.
Uncle Samuel is getting more slow in his movements every day, and very forgetful of his promises to others after having his wishes complied with. I fear many of the broken treaties are on account of his dilatory habit of not immediately fulfilling his promises. The Indians certainly have often just grounds for breaking their word when the government sets them such pernicious examples.
Nearly every mail brings us some news of some fight with the Snake Indians, indicating that the troops who are stationed all through the wilderness they inhabit are hunting them to some purpose. Those Indians can come nearer subsisting upon air than any race of beings in the world. They are seldom very long in any one place, and can travel for days without succumbing to fatigue. They have never been, and I think never will be, friendly to the whites. To conquer them is to exterminate them.
As my letter is growing long without becoming interesting, and as I am nearly sick with a cold, I will close.
My regards to all, and wish to hear from you as often as convenient.
I remain as ever you sincere friend and pupil.
Typed transcription, University of Oregon Special Collections. Addressee not recorded.
CRATER LAKE HISTORY.Ashland Tidings, July 20, 1896, page 2
Account of Rediscovery of Lake Majesty or
Crater Lake, and First Visit to its Waters.
Lake Majesty, or, as it is more generally known, "Crater Lake," was first discovered by a party of returning prospectors sometime late in the fifties or early sixties. It was never definitely located, and the published account of its discovery so exaggeratively pictured that little credence was given to the narrative, and the circumstance was apparently forgotten, until its rediscovery in August, 1865, by two members of Captain F. B. Sprague's Company "I," of the 1st Oregon Infantry, named F. M. Smith and J. M. Corbell, or, as they appear on the roster of the Co., Smith 2nd and Corbell 1st. [Notice of the discovery of the lake is not known to have been published in 1853.] In brief its discovery originated thus:
In July of that year, Captain Sprague conceived the idea of getting a more practicable road over which to haul the government supplies to Fort Klamath than the then traveled route by way of Mt. Pitt and Rancheria Prairie, and in company with John Mathews of Big Butte Creek viewed out the road from the Fort to Union Creek where it intersected the old John Day wagon road that was projected and partially built in the early sixties and afterward abandoned.
The then commanding officer of the post, Major Rinehart, gave him permission to take a detail of twenty-five of Company "I" and build the road.
Just before its completion, or about the 12th of August, 1865, orders came to send detachments of forty men each of Co. "C," 1st Cavalry, and of Co. "I" 1st Infantry to the Steens Mountain country near the line of the Chico and Owyhee road, to operate against the Snake Indians. As the Captain wished the detail to be filled by volunteers and thought most of the boys then building the wagon road would volunteer, the writer accompanied the Captain to the camp near Union Creek, and after getting the names of those who volunteered for the expedition, we, in company with four gentlemen from Jacksonville, Messrs. Coates, Foote, Jas. Clugage, and I think Wm. Bybee, returned by way of the newly discovered lake, about which marvelous reports were current, both as to its majestic beauty and inaccessibility. All previous visitors declaring the utter impossibility for any living thing not possessed with wings reaching the water's edge alive.
After the awe caused by the glimpse of its wondrous beauty had somewhat subsided, Mr. Coates and myself began to search for a place to descend, and against the earnest remonstrance of the other members of the party, finally disappeared over the edge of the rim that from above appears to overhang the water.
The point where we made our attempted descent was to all appearance a place where the former rocky wall had slid away into the water leaving an irregular trench or trough, whose sides were partly rocky and partly composed of loose pumice and soil. After slipping, sliding and walking alternately for perhaps one-third of the distance, down we came to a point whence we could see the water, and where there seemed to be a semblance of a beach, made by the mass of rocky wall that had slid into the water, on either side of which the rocky wall seemed to drop perpendicularly into the unfathomable blue of the lake. Seeing that we were to be successful in our venture, there was quite a race between Mr. Coates and myself to be first to the water. Being younger and more active than my companion, I reached the water's edge several yards in advance, and firing my revolver, as a signal to our comrades above that we had made the descent successfully. In a short time Captain Sprague and two of the other parties came down to the water, one only, Mr. Clugage, refusing to venture, saying there was not money enough in the state of Oregon to hire him to attempt the descent.
As we stood there in silence and awe, overcome by the grandeur and sublimity of the scene before us, Captain Sprague broke the silence by remarking that we ought to christen the lake, and as I was the first human being to touch the waters the honor properly belonged to me. At his suggestion, I gave it the name of Lake Majesty, and we fired a volley from our revolvers in honor of its christening.
An account of this visit and the christening of the lake was written by Captain Sprague and published in the Oregon Sentinel late in August, 1865.
That there are fish in the lake I firmly believe, as while we stood at its water's edge on that occasion and were debating the probability of its being inhabited by the finny tribe, a kingfisher alighted on the limb of a pine tree that grew from a rock ledge overhanging the water, and uttered his peculiar cr-cr-cer, which to us was conclusive evidence of the existence of fish in the lake. That there have never been fish seen there is to my mind no evidence of their nonexistence, as the peculiar color, depth and refraction power of the water would enable them to see and avoid the approach of intruders. I am also informed that Lake Tahoe, whose altitude, depth of water and other characteristics are very similar, has been found peopled with trout, whose existence would never have been known if left to the discovery by the unaided eye. There the fish are caught by trolling spoons attached to several hundred feet of line and towed behind boats whose occupants never see the fish until hooked. There is record of trout weighing as high [as] sixty pounds having been caught there by that method.
There is no doubt that there are innumerable subterranean rivers connected with the lake, and as all these streams are well stocked with fish, it is not improbable that they have found their way into this fountainhead.
It would be well worth the trouble for some of the visiting Mazamas or members of our local clubs to try the method of fishing followed in Tahoe before jumping to the conclusion that no fish exist in Crater Lake.
O. A. STEARNS,
Formerly 1st Sergt., Co. "I," 1st Oregon Infantry.
ORSON AVERY STEARNS. One of the best stock ranches in Klamath County lies six and three-quarters miles southwest of Klamath Falls and comprises four hundred and seventeen acres, of which three hundred acres have been improved. This place has been the home of Mr. Stearns since April 5, 1867, and its fine condition is due wholly to his earnest and untiring efforts through all these years. A specialty is made of stock-raising and the dairy business, for which purposes he keeps more than one hundred head of cattle. It has been only through the most constant and difficult labor that he has brought his land to its present condition, and for his effective and judicious exertions he is entitled to rank among the leading stockmen of the county.
On his father's farm sixteen miles northwest of Rockford, Winnebago County. Ill., Orson Avery Stearns was born January 9, 1843, being a son of David Ebenezer and Fidelia S. (Cannon) Stearns, who were married September 19, 1840. His father, David E., was born at Monkton, Vt., February 11, 1808, a son of Rev. John and Asenath (Campbell) Stearns. At nine years of age he left home and became an apprentice to the carpenter's trade. When fourteen years old he started out for himself, wandering here and there, and working wherever an opportunity was presented. Many of the early buildings in Buffalo, N.Y., were erected with him as one of the workmen. During the early '30s he went to Winnebago County, Ill. At that time Illinois was considered the far distant West. Settlers were few, advantages conspicuous by their absence, and improvements also lacking. He took up land from the government and engaged in farming there until 1853. Meanwhile he had met and married Miss Cannon, who was born near Twinsburg, Ohio, September 30, 1820, and accompanied her parents to Winnebago County, Ill., settling at Tyler, three miles from Mr. Stearns' place, April 5, 1853, Mr. Stearns started for Oregon, crossing the plains with ox-teams, and on October 9 camping near Wagner's Springs, eleven miles south of Ashland. Two days later he took a donation claim of three hundred and twenty acres on Wagner Creek, near Talent, Jackson County, where he remained until his death. To him belongs the
credit of raising the first peach ever raised in Jackson County, where fruit is now both plentiful and of such luscious quality as to gain widespread fame. In politics he was a lifelong Republican. His wife died February 4, 1869; he survived her many years, passing away August 31, 1886. They were the parents of six children, viz.: Oscar Leroy, deceased; Orson Avery, of this sketch; Newel Doski, deceased; Arminda Melissa, wife of James Purves, of Talent; George Arthur, who died in 1861; and Emilie Maria, also deceased.
When ten years of age Orson Avery Stearns accompanied the family from Illinois to Oregon, where he grew to manhood upon the land claim. November 17, 1864 he became a member of Company I, First Oregon Infantry, being the first man to enlist as a private in that company. He remained in Jackson County until May 25, 1865, when he went to Fort Klamath, where his company commander, with part of the company, located and built a new road from the fort to Rogue River, passing near Crater Lake, at that time almost unknown. It was while out viewing the progress of the construction work on the road that Captain Sprague and Sergeant Stearns met a party of gentlemen from Jacksonville, Ore. and together went to view the wonderful lake, Sergeant Stearns and a Mr. Gates attempting a descent to the water. Sergeant Stearns first reached the water's edge and christened the lake at that time Lake Majesty. It was afterwards called Crater Lake from the discovery of a crater in the island near the northwestern bluff.
Mr. Stearns served with his company in the Snake country when they helped build Camp Alvord during the fall of 1865 and made several campaigns after the hostile Indians, having one engagement near Albert Lake in 1866. On enlistment Mr. Stearns was appointed first sergeant and served as such during the entire period of his connection with the army, with the exception of two months. July 19, 1867, he was mustered out at Jacksonville. Meantime he had located his present place and on being mustered out settled on the farm, to the cultivation of which he has since given his exclusive attention.
At Sacramento, Cal., May 17, 1873, Mr. Stearns married Margaret Jane Riggs, who was born in Ray County, Mo., July 22, 1855, and died May 17, 1895. They were the parents of the following children: Leslie Orin, of Klamath Falls; Blanche Alice, wife of George Ager, who owns a farm adjoining her father's place; and Eva May, Mrs. Theodore Bryant, of Klamath Falls. The second marriage of Mr. Stearns occurred January 10, 1897, and united him with Luella M. Sherman, who was born in Ohio in July of 1861. The only child of the second marriage is Ernel Everett.
Politically Mr. Stearns is a pronounced Republican. He was the first delegate to a political convention from this section of the state, being a representative of the Republican soldier vote at Fort Klamath March 16, 1866, held at Jacksonville, Ore. As one of the first justices of the peace here, his jurisdiction at that time embraced all of Klamath and Lake counties. In 1880 the members of his party elected him to the state legislature when Klamath was still a part of Lake County.
His service in that body was satisfactory to his constituents and proved the possession on his part of ability in legislative matters.
The family represented by Mr. Stearns is among the earliest established on American shores. The genealogical records state that on the morning of April 8, 1630, Isaac Stearns and family, Sir Richard Staltonstale and family. Rev. George Phillip, Governor Winthrop and many others embarked at Yarmouth, England, in the good ship Arabella, which anchored at Salem, Mass., June 12, of the same year. An investigation of the location convinced the passengers that they did not desire to settle there, so they soon proceeded to Charlestown and from there to Watertown near Mount Auburn, Mass. From that day to this members of the family in each generation have contributed to the development of their various localities and have been citizens of high standing and the loftiest principles of honor.
Portrait and Biographical Record of Western Oregon, Chapman Publishing Co. 1904, page 932
There lives today in Ashland the first white man to set foot on the shores of Crater Lake. He was not the first white man to visit Crater Lake, by 10 years, but so far as is known, he is the first white man to make his way down the supposedly unscalable cliffs to the water's edge. His name is Orson A. Stearns, and he was born in Illinois January 9, 1843. When I visited him recently at his home on Pine Street in Ashland he said:
"I am a native son of Illinois, but my father, David E. Stearns, was born in Ohio. My mother's maiden name was Fidelia Cannon. They had five children, of whom I am the fourth. I was 10 years old when we crossed the plains to Oregon. We crossed the Missouri River at Kanesville--now called Council Bluffs. The year before we crossed the plains was the cholera year. Everywhere along the Old Oregon Trail we saw graves made the preceding year--1852. There were 12 wagons in our party, and my father's brother, Avery P. Stearns, late of Texas, was captain of our train. The two things that stand out most clearly in my memory are the stampeding of our oxen by a band of Indians, and waiting for an hour or more for a band of buffalo to cross the trail. The hills and hollows were dark with thousands of slowly moving buffalo on their way to the Platte River.
"Father settled on Wagner Creek, south of Talent, in Southern Oregon. I spent my boyhood there. In 1864, when I was 21, I enlisted in the First Oregon Infantry and was assigned to Captain Sprague's company. We were sent to join a company of cavalry that had gone to build Fort Klamath. Judge William Colvig, now of Medford, was a member of this cavalry company. A makeshift wagon road had been made by way of Mount Pitt to Fort Klamath. Captain Sprague asked and was granted permission by Major Rinehart to send a detail of our company to discover a more feasible road across the mountains. Captain Sprague hired John Matthews, a half-breed, to serve as guide. After three weeks of rough traveling he reported a better route by way of Rogue River and Union Creek. Captain Sprague detailed 20 men to open up this new road. He had promoted me to first sergeant, so I was left at the post to attend to my duties there. The business men of Jacksonville agreed to furnish shoes, rough clothing and supplies to the settlers doing the road building.
"Before the road was completed orders came to detail a number of men from our company to build a fort at Steens Mountain. Captain Sprague did not like to order the men to do this work, so he asked me to go with him to where the road crew were working on the western terminus of the Rogue River-Union Creek road and see if we could secure volunteers to go to Steens Mountain to build the fort there. Two of the road gang had been detached from the road work to get meat for the road crew. These were F. M. Smith and John M. Corbell. They were members of my company--Company I, First Oregon Volunteer Infantry. They killed some deer, which they brought into Castle Camp. They had come into camp the night before we reached their camp, and the men were still laughing over the outrageous lies they told. A committee of five or six men had come out from Jacksonville to see how the road was progressing. The deer hunters repeated their story to us. They claimed that on climbing the summit of a steep mountain they had come to the jumping-off place and that in the bottom of a huge hole there was a body of water miles in extent and unbelievably blue in color. Nothing we could say would shake their story, and they claimed they were not joking. Smith and Corbell, the deer hunters, told us the big blue lake at the top of the mountains was about three or four miles east of Castle Camp. Captain Sprague decided to visit it and prove or disprove their story on our way back to Fort Klamath. Deputy Sheriff Ford, James Clugage, Coates and the other members of the Jacksonville party decided to go with us.
"It was a hot day in the latter part of August, 1865. We finally decided to leave our horses at Castle Camp and search for the lake afoot. We traveled through heavy timber for a couple of hours. Suddenly we emerged from the timber at the rim of the crater. For a moment we stood there speechless. Then one of the men said, 'It ain't so. That must be the sky we are looking at, but how we got so far above it I can't understand.' Most of us didn't say anything. There didn't seem anything one could say that fitted the occasion. Finally, one of the men said, 'No living creature, unless supplied with wings, could get down to the water--if it is water.' I noticed some tracks leading away from the rim, where a bighorn sheep or a goat had come up; so I said, 'I believe I can make my way down to the lake.' Captain Sprague said, 'I forbid your doing such a foolhardy and dangerous thing.' Coates, the civilian from Jacksonville, said he was going to try it. Finally, Captain Sprague consented to my making the attempt, providing I would use extreme caution.
"We made the descent on the northwestern rim of the lake. I was more active than Coates, and was as surefooted as a goat; so, by sliding down a rock slide and dropping from ledge to ledge I finally reached the water. I discharged my pistol to let them know I had succeeded. In a moment or so I was joined by Coates. We waited awhile, and soon the party on the rim started to join us. They all came but Clugage. He said there hadn't been gold enough dug and coined since the world began to pay him to try to come down the rim to the lake. One of the men felt the ice-cold water, and said, 'I wonder if there are any fish in the lake.' Just then a kingfisher flew down and dived into the water; so we decided there must be fish of some kind.
"Captain Sprague said, 'We are the first white men to reach the shores of this wonderful body of water.' Turning to Coates and me, he said, 'Whichever one of you two men reached the water first shall have the honor of naming it.' Coates said, 'The sergeant beat me down by a minute or so. I guess the honor is his.' Captain Sprague turned to me and said, 'Well, sergeant, what are you going to call it?' I couldn't think of any name to fit it, so I said, 'It deserves a good name. I will have to think it over for a while.' Captain Sprague said, 'You are right. It is the most majestic body of water I ever saw.' Then, turning to me, he said, 'Sergeant, what do you think of Lake Majesty as a name for it?' Naturally, I acquiesced.
"The others climbed back to the rim of the crater by the way we had come down, and it was a tough climb. I decided to see if I could find an easier trail up. I got to a place where I could neither go up nor go back the way I had come, so I called for help, but they did not hear me. They waited till nearly dusk, and decided I had fallen and been killed, so they started back for Castle Camp. I finally jumped across a deep crack in the rocks, caught my fingers in a crevice, and eventually, like a human fly, crawled up the cliff and caught up with the others before they had reached camp."
Crater Lake was first seen by white men in 1853. A party of California miners in search of the Lost Cabin Mine, joined by some miners from Jacksonville, happened on the lake. J. W. Hillman was the leader of the prospecting party. They could not decide whether to name it Deep Blue Lake or Mysterious Lake, but finally decided on the former name.
In 1869 J. M. Sutton, editor of the Jacksonville Sentinel and founder of the Ashland Tidings, with a party of men from Jacksonville, visited the lake and renamed it Crater Lake.
Fred Lockley, "Expressions and Observations of the Journal Man," Oregon Journal, Portland. Undated clipping, Southern Oregon Historical Society vertical files.
ASHLAND PIONEER IS LAID TO LAST SLEEP, SUNDAY.One of the last of Ashland's pioneer characters, Orson A. Stearns, a man whose life was interwoven with the early history of southern Oregon, passed away Thursday at the Stearns home on Pine Street in this city. Mr. Stearns was 84 years old at the time of his death. For some time Mr. Stearns has been in very poor health.
As a young boy Mr. Stearns crossed the plains with his parents in 1853, and the family was among the very first to settle in Klamath County. A Civil War veteran, he served throughout the struggle for the Union, then returned again to Klamath County to make his home. He was stationed for some time at Fort Klamath where he took an active part in the Indian wars of that section.
Funeral services were held on Sunday afternoon from the Dodge chapel and were largely attended by old residents of the county. Mr. Stearns is survived by his widow, a son, Arnold Stearns, and by two daughters, Mrs. Blanche Ager and Mrs. Emma Bowdoin of Klamath Falls.
Medford Mail Tribune, August 2, 1926
O. A. Stearns (son of David E. Stearns, decd.) was born in Winnebago Co., Ill., January 9th, 1843, crossed the plains with his parents, leaving [the] old house April 5th, 1853, and reached Rogue River Valley Octr. 9th of that year. His parents settled on a D.L. claim 1½ miles up Wagner Creek from what is now the village of Talent. Was married in Sacramento, Cal. May 17th 1873 to Margaret J. Riggs, who died May 17th, 1893, leaving 3 children, Leslie O., Blanche A. and Eva M. Was married again January 10, 1897 to Luella Sherman, who has one son, Ernel E. Was a member of a relief party of seven who left Linkville the first night after Major Jackson's first fight with the Indians and rode all night and the next day, warning outlying settlers of the outbreak of the Indians and reached Tule Lake 2 days after the massacre of settlers there. We rescued the survivors and conveyed them to a place of safety. Joined the Society September 5th, 1906.
Southern Oregon Pioneer Society records, volume 1, page 430, SOHS MS 517
A Pioneer of Distinction.
Hon. O. A. Stearns, of Klamath County, who was a guest of honor at [the] Crater Lake commemoration banquet at Medford Saturday evening, and who is visiting in Ashland and vicinity for a few days, is a pioneer with distinction. Mr. Stearns is accredited with the honor of being the first white man to reach the waters of Crater Lake. This was in 1865 when he was a soldier, a volunteer in Capt. Sprague's company. Mr. Stearns also claims the distinction of having a taste of the first peach ever ripened in the Rogue River Valley, which grew upon a tree upon the homestead of his father, David Stearns, in Wagner Creek Valley, west of Ashland. This was in the early fifties, and a single peach ripened upon the sprig of a tree planted by Mr. Stearns and was divided among the seven members of the family.
Mr. Stearns, with many other citizens of the Rogue River Valley, were among the first settlers in the Klamath country, and he has resided there for the past thirty-five years, prominently identified with the growth and development of the country, the latest epoch in which was arrival of the first railroad train a few days ago at Klamath Falls. Upon this train Mr. Stearns made it a point to be a passenger. Friends of his from Klamath tell interesting incidents in connection with this trip of his.
Ashland Tidings, May 24, 1909, page 5
Last revised June 7, 2019