The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised

Sticky Stories

    . . . the road is very heavy and clayey mud. The horse's feet when drawn out go off like corks from large bottles, such is the suction of the mud. At other times the water from an old hoof hole would squirt 6 or 8 feet above one's head when on horseback. Plug! Plug! Plug! would be the music.
Journal, 1855, entry for February 4, James Mason Hutchings papers, Library of Congress MMC-1892

Muddy Road
A country road in an unidentified state.

    All that part of the valley lying east of Rogue River and north of Bear Creek may be included in division 1st. This division presents a peculiarity of soil not found anywhere else in the valley. Here we find the noted "big sticky," a tough, gluey and tenacious kind of clay and loam mixed. The nature of this soil is such as to adhere with incorrigible obstinacy to everything brought within its reach, and won't let go worth a c-c-cent. Almost every foot of the upland of this division, in times past--and not very remote either--was a barren desert incapable of producing the lightest vegetation. Its reclamation is of comparatively recent date, and may be attributed solely to the wash of the hills that bound it on the east. This supposition approaches certainty, and may be satisfactorily proven. 1st--by a comparison of the valley soil with that of the hills. Second--by the fact that a large area lying along Rogue River and reaching towards the hills is yet totally desert, the wash not having yet reached it. Third--the unusual susceptibility of the soil to the motion of water. The whole region from Reese Creek to the Siskiyous is more or less cut up with drains or niches; and in some places these washes are so numerous and deep that stock hunters, unacquainted with the passes, experience great difficulty, and not infrequently delay, in finding a practical crossing.
"Jackson County--Its Agricultural and Mineral Resources," Democratic Times, Jacksonville, April 8, 1871, page 2

    This is a very nice valley to look at, but the land is very spotted. Sand and gravel, black loam and granite and sticky, as it is called here. Black loam produces wheat and some corn, also alfalfa. I haven't seen any clover, timothy or bluegrass here. Granite produces some grain, fruit, etc. Sand and gravel produces cheatgrass, good for pasture a short time in the spring. Sticky produces more swearing than anything else. They tell me it pulls the soles off their boots and the tires off the wagon wheels.
"Coming Back to Iowa," Saturday Evening Messenger, Fort Dodge, Iowa, January 22, 1887, page 5

    Just beyond Bear Creek to the east is a scope of country known as the "Big Sticky." The soil is of an adobe nature and very hard to till; but, nevertheless, is a wonderful grain producer. Along the foothills in this belt of adobe soil the growing of fruits proves successful, and there remain thousands of acres of this land which in time will be planted to fruit.
    While the hill land produces grain and fruits there lie beneath its surface large and valuable deposits of coal, iron and copper.
    The "Big Sticky" country extends to the east and northeast from three to six miles, while many hamlets dot the hills and small valleys beyond.
    To the north of the "Big Sticky" country a distance of five miles from Central Point there lies a large scope of country known as the "Desert," on which there is but little settlement, it being used chiefly as a stock range. This land would require irrigation to make it produce crops, which can be done by taking the water out of Rogue River, Little or Big Butte creeks.
"The Rogue River Valley," Ashland Tidings, February 17, 1888, page 1

    The hunters of Medford expected to have a soft snap in hunting geese on Big Sticky, it having been reported that the bipeds could not fly off with the load of adobe which they accumulated in walking in the wheat fields.
"Medford Squibs," Democratic Times, Jacksonville, January 9, 1890, page 3

    Editor Mail:--In presenting this common but, I think, useful subject for a brief consideration in the columns of your wide-awake and fearless journal, the Medford Mail, I do this simply in behalf of the community I live in and do not expect to revolutionize the whole road system from ancient times down to the present, nor have I any pet theory or particular system to offer the public on the subject of roadmaking, but more in particular to call the attention of our honorable county court once more and cause them to more fully understand and realize the sad and deplorable condition of this piece of public highway in our midst, and of which they are the direct custodians. This piece of road I call your kind attention to is the gray, sticky or adobe land that the road is made of, if made at all, and stretches a distance of two miles around the base of the upper Table Rock, and is a portion of the Fort Klamath road leading up Rogue River, and from appearances of this piece of road as regards travel, anyone would conclude this was the boundary line between this section and the interior of the valley, for the guideboard says, most emphatically, thus far shalt thou travel and no farther, during the months of November, December, January and February. And now, Mr. Editor, just think of this being our only direct thoroughfare to our county seat and different trading points, and to be so completely shut off and isolated, possibly for four months, and quite frequently longer, naturally causes us, as law-abiding citizens, to speak out boldly for reform. You may possibly ask what our road supervisor is doing that he does not put this piece of road in a condition for winter travel. It is simply this: because the territory or jurisdiction that he controls is too great for one man, and he devotes his time and labor principally to the mountains and foothills, and by the time he gets to where the labor should be directed or used, it is about all exhausted. He then fills up the old wagon ruts, throws out a few loose rock and broken rails that have been used as the last resort in removing this terra firma from the wheels of the wagon so they can revolve, and possibly the first band of sheep or cattle that comes along will roll all these things back down into their old accustomed places. This done, he pronounces this piece of road in good condition for summer travel, admitting it is thus does not ensure us a winter road, which is beyond question the most interesting and important part of the season for the farmer and merchant. Now, while I claim to mingle with and represent a portion of this prosperous community on the north side of Rogue River, I can see no particular reason why we should not have our share of public assistance, judiciously applied, to make this piece of road what it should be--a passable winter-traveled public highway, and should bedding this piece of road with rock and then gravel be found to be too expensive, then why not cause a new survey and change the roadbed to the river bottom, on different land, which is owned by Mr. Thomas Curry and William Bybee, which gentlemen are too well known for public-spiritedness and generosity to not willingly favor all public improvements. We further suggest to our honorable county court that a limit of one year be the length of time for each road supervisor to hold office, instead of the three-year system as at present adopted, as the ideas of men on roadmaking are very great, and in one year's time a man can bring to the surface about all the ideas he has, and if not good it causes retrograde instead of progression.
    Table Rock, Jan. 31, 1892.
Medford Mail, February 4, 1892, page 3

A Needed Improvement.
    A prominent citizen of the country north of the river, writing to one of our county exchanges a short time since, called attention to the crying demand for the expenditure of some county funds in getting a passably good road around the upper grade of the Table Rocks. Ever since the first settlement of the county, owing to a failure of the viewers of the Bybee's ferry and Fort Klamath wagon road to locate the route clear of adobe or "sticky" soil, the road has been well nigh impassable in the winter season to even the lightest kind of vehicles. For the short stretch of two miles hundreds of travelers have been compelled to spend the better part of a day in urging their weary horses through by short pulls and constant cleaning of the wheels. As the soil is full of wash boulders, making an insecure foundation for any sort of a road, it has been impossible heretofore to make a passable winter road with the available labor which could be applied upon it. As the Times believes in the intelligent expenditure of county funds in the bettering of our road system, and knowing that the work can only be done at certain seasons of the year, and believing that the many residents of the country north of the river have endured the petty tyranny of this short stretch of road long enough, we would venture to suggest to our honorable county court the propriety of engaging some experienced road builder to at once construct, at as little expense as may be consistent with doing thorough work, on a good gravel road along that stretch of mountainside. It is much too important a highway to be longer neglected by the county court, and the only wonder is that the residents of that section have not made this matter an issue in local politics long ago. Let the work be executed while it can be done the best and the most economically, and the whole north side of the county will be vastly benefited by it.
Democratic Times, Jacksonville, March 4, 1892, page 3

    There is more truth than poetry in the word "sticky." Oh! sticky, sticky loosen thy iron grasp from our heels and wheels and allow us to finish putting in our crops.
"Sticky Sticklets," Medford Mail, April 21, 1893 supplement, page 2

    The day was hot, the shade was tempting. Frank Lewis lay down to rest, a four-bit piece rolled out of his pocket and fell down a crack in "sticky." Frank had to get a pick, grubbing hoe and shovel and work his way down three feet before he recovered the silver.
"Eagle Point Eaglets," Medford Mail, August 25, 1893, supplement page 1

    The True-Bashford thresher that got stuck on "sticky" will commence work next week if good weather still continues.

"Griffin Creek Gatherings," Medford Mail, September 22, 1893 supplement, page 1

    It has been said that corn does not do well on sticky soil. C. C. Taylor disproves this assertion by showing up at this office [with] as fine a sample of that sort of cereal as one would wish to see.

"All the Local News," Medford Mail, November 10, 1893, page 3

    There has been a real estate sale made of the Hammond land to Bert Whitman and Henry Hanson. Bert holds a position to know where the best fruit comes from. Sticky loses its sting when people learn that Roxy Ann contains some as choice fruit locations as are found in this Italy of Oregon. The parties named here have commenced with a force of hands and will soon convert their possessions into a model fruit garden.

"Roxy Ann Rockets," Medford Mail, January 5, 1894, page 2

    Mr. Yancy has some trouble hauling the flour to the railroad, now that the roads are so bad. He started with a load last Friday and got out on the big desert when he pulled his team out of the road on apparently better ground, but it proved to be worse, as the wagon sunk until both axles were flat on the ground. Had to unload and then had lots of trouble to get out. The best way is to keep in the well-traveled road if it is muddy--and right here is a good place to say that if we could get to Medford in wintertime the town would be much benefited by our trade.
"Eagle Point Eaglets," Medford Mail, January 19, 1894, page 2

    Rev. A. C. Howlett.--"Roads, well, there would be roads if one could find the bottom, but they are better than they were a few weeks ago. There could be a road made which would greatly improve matters for us Eagle Point people, and by opening it up we would be relieved of the necessity of wallowing through several miles of sticky every time we came to your city. If a road could be opened from a point near the corner of Mr. Hogle's place to run in a southerly direction through the Hamrick place, then across the Ish pasture field and intersect the main Eagle Point road near S. Murray's place, the sticky land would be left entirely out, and we would have fairly good traveling through the entire year. There are two and a half miles of sticky that is positively impassable in the wet season. There are a great many people who want to trade in your city but who cannot because of this piece of road."
"All the Local News," Medford Mail, March 2, 1894, page 3

Why Did Mr. Merritt Do It?
    EDITOR MEDFORD MAIL: --During the past week I had business along the road leading from the Central Point cemetery to Big Sticky and I saw a notice posted on a gate post notifying the traveling public not to travel through that place, signed "By order of J. W. Merritt," and the query arose in my mind: Can it be possible that Mr. Merritt will try to force all the travel from Butte Creek and surroundings to go through the Ish lane, two and a half miles through sticky mud, to get to Medford, or is it a plan to force us to go to Central Point to do our trading when we can save at least twenty percent by going to Medford?
BUTTE CREEKER.           
Butte Creek, March 29.
Medford Mail, March 30, 1894, page 2

    The chronic rain growler has ceased his growling, and the sticky is adhering to his boots with tenacity--and he is rejoicing that his feet are no larger.
"Lake Creek Creeklets," Medford Mail, June 1, 1894, page 4

    'Tis but a step from the sublime to the ridiculous. As we watched the panorama of the sunset heavens, we came upon a piece of road that lay through the black mud--the "big sticky" that Jackson and Umpqua have in common, especially Umpqua. It was night now, the gleaming sunset was only a memory, but the black sticky was a fact. My companion explained that they have three kinds of sticky. First is the ordinary "sticky," then "black sticky," lastly there was "sticky be damned." Wait until you try it before you pronounce the last definition to be profane. It is said the "oldest inhabitant" claims that as he tried to pass through the valley, late in the fall, the rains set in and he got stuck and could go no further, so had to winter here. When spring came, and the weather cleared off, he concluded to stay stuck. I give this as one of the legends current.
S. A. Clarke, "Unwritten History," Oregonian, Portland, November 30, 1894, page 9

    My suggestion with regard to the inconvenience of attending to business in Medford, on account of the rush and jam, is causing the agitation of another subject, to wit: The laying out, opening and preparing a new road from here to Medford. In the summer we have a good enough road, but in the winter the scales are turned, for we then have a solid stretch of sticky mud for two and a half miles--from the desert through the Ish lane, one and a half miles, that is now impassable on horseback, and from the southern terminus of that lane to the northern end of the Pruett lane, one mile; and now the talk is that we must have a road commencing at or near Wm. Gregory's gate, running south to enter the Pruett lane, thereby saving at least a mile of sticky mud. The talk is this section is that if the business men of Medford expect to hold our trade, they must provide a way for us to get to Medford at all seasons of the year. As it is now, we are forced to go through fields and pastures, laying down fences and opening gates--or else go by Central Point, through that horrible lane between the Constant and Wrisley places on the one side and the Olwell orchard on the other. If we go through Central Point the merchants there will surely offer some inducements to have us stop and just look at their goods and prices--and you can guess the result. It is to the interest of the business men of Central Point to throw all their influence in favor of improving the road from Eagle Point to that place, and not improve the road to Medford; so your business men should be on the watch or they may lose a large trade from Sams Valley, Rogue River, Big and Little Butte creeks, Antelope Creek, Yankee Creek and a big portion of Big Sticky and the desert.
A. C. Howlett, "Eagle Point Eaglets," Medford Mail, January 4, 1895, page 2

    To see the benefits to be derived from that much-needed road from this section of the country to Medford, the business center of the Rogue River Valley, a person would only need to spend the time for a few hours every day for say one week on the streets of Medford, and take the names down from all parts of the valley on the north and east side of Bear Creek, and see the amount of produce that is taken into the Hub from Dry Creek, Antelope Creek, Lake Creek, Little and Big Butte creeks, Mount Pitt precinct, Upper Rogue River, Table Rock, Sams Valley, the Meadows, etc. They would see at a glance that that trade was worth looking after. It is all very nice in dry weather, but in the winter it is not so, as that almost impassable Sticky Flat is between here and Medford, and it is so much easier to go to Central Point, Jacksonville or Gold Hill than it is to plod through "sticky" for two miles and a half that notwithstanding the fact that we are satisfied we can do better in Medford than in any other place in the county, still the chances are that some of us would yield to the temptation to avoid that "horrible sticky" and go elsewhere. When your business men take into account the long list of names of our stockmen who nearly to a man go to Medford to trade, it seems to be to their interest to provide, at least in part, a road so that we can reach Medford in the winter without trespassing on the rights of others by throwing down their fences and going through their premises.
A. C. Howlett, "Eagle Point Eaglets," Medford Mail, June 7, 1895, page 2

They Embrace Three Kinds: Black Sticky, Blue Sticky, and Sticky Be D----d.

From the Morning Oregonian.
    In different parts of Western Oregon, and especially in localities of the Rogue River and Umpqua valleys, are localities where so-called adobe land is found, known as black, sticky soils, that are not easy to handle. One of the traditional spots of early times was the lane that went through the donation land claim of Gen. Jo. Lane, in the Umpqua, where this black, sticky soil rolled up on the wagon wheels until they became masses of revolving mud.
    When traveling in the Umpqua during late years I have encountered this land, and realized all that has been said of it. At times, in the muddy season, one comes to a spot where a loaded wagon has stopped to clear off the wheels, and four small mountains of black mud told the story. Once when driving with a friend in Rogue River Valley we found such a spot, and he kindly explained that there were three kinds of these sticky soils, viz., "black sticky, blue sticky, and sticky be d----d."
    While these soils roll up a fearful accounting in the wet season, they crack open as fearfully in the summertime. It is well known they can only be plowed under the most favorable conditions, and tillage is a work of difficulty at the best. Corn is said to do well, and most grasses thrive, while alfalfa is a good crop; oats do moderately well, but wheat will not fill satisfactorily. Prof. Hilgard of the University of California says:
    "Sticky soil, or adobe, is usually very productive in California, where properly cultivated. As I remember your Southern Oregon lands, they will not be exceptions to the rule, except, perhaps, in case of the blue sticky, which sometimes is not intrinsically productive enough to justify expense on a large scale. These soils are originally swamps, and share in the advantages of pond muck. When underdrained with tiles, they till kindly and are very productive. They must be tilled deeply to prevent cracking open during dry summer months. Strong teams are required, and intelligent management as well as judgment as to time when plowing shall be done. If plowed too wet they remain puddled for years, while if too dry, they turn up in big clods. The more vegetable matter you can get into them the better; some of the sandy marls of your Coast Range--used at the rate of 200 bushels to the acre--would be just the thing to improve their tillage and make them produce more freely."
    There is occasionally a trace of these adobe soils in the Willamette, and it is said some are found on the college grounds near Corvallis. Prof. G. W. Shaw, at the head of the chemistry department of the Agricultural College, also furnishes a very clear statement. He says there are two kinds of these black, sticky soils in Southern Oregon; one, due to the excess of organic matter, is easily handled by neutralizing with lime before planting, after which this is as easily handled as other soils. These soils are well supplied with plant food. The other variety is a black adobe, rich in organic matter and plant food, but of very difficult physical conditions to handle, save to the drainage. When so drained it forms excellent soil for fruits and all crops. In its present condition it is not adapted to fruit, but pears, and possibly apples, might be planted on it after it has once been cultivated. The first cultivation must be done exactly at the right time, so needs very close observation. Mulching will be beneficial to prevent too rapid evaporation and compacting.
The Sun, New York City, April 26, 1896, page 4

    S. B. Holmes circulated a subscription paper last week soliciting for volunteer work on the county road between the west edge of the desert and Bear Creek. He met with fairly good success, and work will soon commence. The supervisor proposes to make a rock road over the worst of it.
A. C. Howlett, "Eagle Point Eaglets," Medford Mail, May 10, 1901, page 5

    The necessity of permanent repairs on the piece of sticky road running from Thos. McAndrew's place to the desert is becoming more apparent each year. This is unquestionably one of the worst pieces of roads in all of Southern Oregon, and it is a road over which there would be a great amount of travel during the winter months if it were made passable at that season of the year. A move is now under way to put a good substantial filling of rock the entire distance. About one mile of this rock road has been previously built but was not used during the past winter because of the fact that it had not been graveled. It is proposed to gravel this piece of the road the coming summer and as well put rock on as much more of the remaining two miles as is possible with the means at hand, and it is further stated by the supervisor of that district, Mr. H. C. Turpin, that the amount of work done will depend upon the subscriptions received from the patrons of the road and the business men of Medford, all of whom are interested in the betterment of highways leading this way. Mr. Turpin will circulate a subscription paper in Medford soon for this purpose, and it is to be hoped that our people will see it to their financial interests to give all the assistance possible to the project. The county commissioners, we understand, have agreed to make a contribution of $300, and it is thought that in the vicinity of Brownsboro alone $100 can be raised in work.

"City Happenings," Medford Mail, April 26, 1901, page 7

Swamped with Four Horses on Jackson County Roads.
    A hearse with four heavy horses attached to it was the sight seen on the streets of Medford last Saturday morning, as it was on the way to carry the body of a farmer from his late home down near Central Point to the cemetery, says the Medford Success. It was not for pompous effect that the driver had four horses to his hearse, but it was the fear that he would get stuck in the mud and that the country road instead of the cemetery would be the last resting place of the unfortunate farmer, whose life had been made miserable by the mudholes that now threatened to be his tomb. The driver's fears were not without foundation, for he did get stuck, and it took an hour's time and all the able-bodied men in the funeral procession to rescue the hearse and its burden from the bottomless depths of a Jackson County road mudhole.
Rogue River Courier, Grants Pass, February 19, 1903, page 1

Brownsboro, Oregon, Nov. 9.
    Editor Medford Mail:--Since writing the article "Good Roads" for your paper last week, the writer has been asked if he could suggest a remedy within the power of the people of Jackson County. In answering that question I would reply as a lady replied to a politician, when asked what she would do if she were a senator. She replied: "There are many things I would not do that are now done by state senators." If I were a road supervisor I would not fill a bad mudhole with mud; I would not put in a culvert and have the surplus water run over it instead of under it, as I see many now. If I were a county commissioner I would not allow a supervisor his pay for putting in such culverts and crossings. As a supervisor I would not sit idle at a crossroad post office and whine about not getting any pay until January 1904, and walk home and be compelled to hold onto a fence by the roadside to keep from miring down for the want of a few loads of fine gravel, which could be easily procured not eighty rods from the mudhole. But I was asked what I would do. I would use all the available means at my command to make a permanent improvement at every place I had work done. There is no county in Oregon that has more good material for good roads than Jackson County. I speak from a personal knowledge when I say that along the county road, for a distance of one mile from the Butte Creek bridge westward toward Medford, there is enough good material to macadamize the county road from Brownsboro to Big Sticky Lane. There is no need for a rock crusher, as the rock is already in much better shape than if crushed. It is mixed with a gray granite soil or decomposed rock, which renders it, when compressed, almost waterproof and forms a smooth, compact surface. The writer has made a satisfactory test of five rods of road using this material, but not having sufficient force to make the work thorough, yet it is in every way satisfactory. The material is abundant and of easy access. All that is necessary to complete a good, permanent road is, first, to plow or dig ditches on each or either side of the road, throwing or scraping the dirt to the center, leaving it crowning in the middle; then cover eight inches deep with the material mentioned, and we have a good turnpike, winter and summer, at a very small expense. If it did not seem like dictation, the writer would invite one or both of our county commissioners to visit the pits of material. The writer will take pleasure in going with them and looking the matter over, and as far as the writer is concerned, there would be no expense to the county. He would also be pleased to entertain the commissioners. Before closing this article let me say while I write concerning this county road, and this road district, No. 15, I am just as much interested in other and all districts in Jackson County. Jackson is the best county in the state, and Oregon is the best state in this Union, and the United States of America is the best country and government in the world, and we are the people.
Medford Mail, November 20, 1903, page 3

    I am officially authorized by Antioch and bordering districts to send a special invitation to our Hon. County Judge to pay us a visit during the months of December, or January, 1904, and be an eyewitness to the condition of a piece of county road, three-fourths of a mile long, lying at the base of Upper Table Rock. It is used by many people and is in as great a section of our country as perhaps any other thoroughfare in Southern Oregon. The piece of road in question was made, according to history, in the year 1903, and it still remains in its virgin state, and not a dollar's worth of labor has been expended to improve its condition by our county administrations down to the present time. If the county court will come to our assistance with the county rock crusher and funds and build us a permanent winter road, it would not only open up and enhance the value of property, but would be greatly appreciated by the patient and progressive people on the north side of the river. Your humble scribe was introduced to the above piece of road twenty-eight years ago one dark, rainy winter night when he lost his shoes and bearings, and has known its condition continuously since. We would like the county court to travel the above-described piece of road in a light conveyance, if not by daylight, then come out some of these moonlight evenings and you will be able to think and say enough "cuss" words to determine your future destiny. We would be a more prosperous people if we could only get our winter produce to the metropolis when it commands the highest price, but we are kept from visiting the towns during the holiday season all for the want of a few hundred dollars judiciously expended on this piece of road. I did intend writing each one of these gentlemen a letter, but with your kind permission I ask space in the columns of our family newspaper, the Medford Mail, knowing that it reaches more homes than any other county paper, and would certainly have more official bearing on our honorable county court by the publication of this unworthy article in its columns.
Medford Mail, December 18, 1903, page 4

    George Lynch, of Trail, went to Medford last week and enjoyed not the sticky. He won't go again soon and has warned all his neighbors to stay at home.

"Rogue River News,"
Medford Mail, February 10, 1905, page 3

    H. von der Hellen:--"The crops are turning out all right in my neighborhood, although not meeting the highest expectations of some of the farmers. Still the yield is very good. I notice this year that the sticky land, where it has had any kind of a chance, is producing better than the bottom lands in the way of grain. I attribute that to the season. The sticky land is remarkable for holding moisture. Where it has been properly cultivated the more sun there is upon it, the more friable it becomes. The mellowness acts to exclude the air and retain the moisture beneath, also it allows the plants a chance to grow. On the other hand the ordinarily loose, loam soils bake in the sun and form a crust which chokes the growing plant, prevents the absorption of moisture and at the same time allows the moisture previously retained to escape. The sticky land is all right in dry seasons."
"Street Echoes," Medford Mail, August 25, 1905, page 1

    Ex-Commissioner Riley:--"We Big Sticky people can come to town now any time we want to, on account of the way the county constructed the road last year through one of the worst stretches of ground in Southern Oregon. Formerly it was an absolute impossibility to pull through that sticky lane at certain seasons of the year, and there have been more wagons and good resolutions broken along that line of road than anywhere in Southern Oregon. Now, however, after Roadmaster True and his men have made a roadbed of crushed rock and packed it solid with that big fifty-ton roller it's a pleasure to drive over the road, especially to some of us oldtimers, who can point out places wherein former days we got "stuck" and were either compelled to unload or abandon our vehicles entirely. There's nothing like good roads, and the people are getting educated up to the idea. Within five years Jackson County will have some of the best roads in the state if the present policy is kept up. The court was criticized somewhat when it purchased the road machinery, but you hear very little of that now."
"Street Echoes," Medford Mail, February 21, 1906, page 1

    Ed. Andrews left Thursday for the East, to be gone six weeks or two months, during which time he will do missionary work for Southern Oregon.
    He took with him several hundred pounds of the products of Southern Oregon, including wheat, corn in stalk and other grains, fruit, minerals and wood, and last, but not least, samples of the famous black sticky soil, which he opines is the best on earth.
    "I am taking this exhibit along," said Mr. Andrews, "in order to show those people what can be produced here. There is a pretty strong impression in some parts of the country that the soil here is principally gravel. I will tell them to moisten a portion of that sticky and rub it between their fingers, and see whether there is any gravel about it or not."
"Going to Bring Settlers," Medford Mail, February 23, 1906, page 1

    The material for making good roads is right at hand, it only wants to be intelligently and practically applied. For years the Big Sticky land was synonymous with broken wagons, balked horses and profanity, now it's one of the best roads connecting Medford with the country districts, and this result was accomplished by labor and material intelligently applied.
"City Happenings," Medford Mail, March 2, 1906, page 5

    G. W. Stevens was circulating a good roads subscription paper in Medford Wednesday, and within a very short time over $100 was subscribed. The road improvements asked for are to be placed between Thos. Riley's place and the Bradshaw ranch, a distance of about three and a half miles. Before coming to Medford he secured subscriptions to the amount of $345 among the farmers living in the neighborhood of the proposed improvements. The roads are sticky, and they want them covered with crushed rock. It is expected that the county will help materially in this work.
"Additional Local," Medford Mail, March 30, 1906, page 8

    D. H. Stevens, living south of Medford, had quite an experience last Friday and Saturday. He arrived at the Sunny Side [Hotel, Eagle Point] all O.K. Thursday evening and stayed overnight, with his two teams, one two-horse and one four-horse team, on his way to Olsen's sawmill, and on Friday morning started, but when he reached the mill found that he was unable to procure the lumber he wanted so they--he was accompanied by a young man by the name of Smith--began to retrace their steps and go for the Round Top mill. So after coming back about six miles they climbed Rocky Hill, took a circuitous route around by the Obenchain school house to the mill, where they found almost everything they wanted, but the trials and tribulations had but just begun. It had rained the night before, and the road on the north side of Round Top is not the best when wet. The horses were either sore-footed or smooth-shod, and the sticky in short patches was well worked up. It was his first experience in sticky and it stuck, the wagons slipped and to make a long story short they were five hours getting the wagons up the hill, a distance of two miles, but on they came, undaunted, and reached the Sunny Side Hotel at ten o'clock p.m., hungry and tired; but they were soon served with something to satisfy the craving appetite and went to Daley's hall and enjoyed the social dance for awhile, but it will be some time before they forget their, or rather Mr. Stevens', first experience in Round Top sticky.
A. C. Howlett, "Eagle Point Eaglets," Medford Mail, November 2, 1906, page 8

    Dave Pence--"Coming down from home Saturday I had my first real experience with sticky, although I have lived with it, you might say all my life, but had always missed getting into it. That one experience was enough, however, to satisfy whatever curiosity I might have had about it. I was an hour going half a mile and, as I hadn't prepared for sticky I had to claw it off [the wheels] with my hands. No, I didn't say anything. What was the use? I just whistled and pretended I was enjoying myself."
"Things Told on the Street," Medford Mail, August 16, 1907, page 1

    The Medford people, also the people living east of Medford, have for years dodged what was known as the "sticky lane" in winter, when going to and from this city, but this year, no matter what the amount of moisture at all there need be no doubt in the minds of travelers toward Medford but that they will be able to reach their destination. The road from the McAndrew place across the black lands has been graded up, covered with crushed rock and is now being treated with a coat of sand, which will ultimately make it one of the best winter roads in this part of the state. The foundation for this was laid several years ago when part of the road was covered with rough rock. There wasn't money available to continue the work projected, and the "grading of the sticky lane" was regarded as a "joke." However, the foundation for a real road was laid there and now the road has been built on top of it, so that no fear of the "sticky lane" need deter anyone from taking the straight road to Medford.
"City Happenings," Medford Mail, October 25, 1907, page 5

    W. J. D. Anderson--"The much-dreaded Big Sticky lane is now practically a thing of the past, thanks to the intelligent road-building that has been going on in that section. Time was, and not such a long time ago either, that anyone starting through that lane in wet weather, be he afoot, horseback or in a wagon, had no assurance that he would be able to traverse that stretch of road. Now he need have no misgiving about getting through. The road isn't as smooth as a floor by any means, but it is solid as a rule, especially where the crushed rock has been used as a covering to larger rock beneath. In these portions the road is perfectly solid and smooth, the crushed rock seeming to form a firm cement-like surface impervious to moisture above or below. Those portions which have been treated with river gravel are not so good, the gravel not packing so closely and the road being more or less muddy and rough, but even it is a great improvement over what it was a few years ago."
"City Happenings," Medford Mail, December 27, 1907, page 5

A Splendid Road.
    The road built from Medford to the desert across "Big Sticky" last year is a piece of work that should make the present county court famous and is a monument to their ability as road builders. This fertile region has been isolated heretofore on account of the impassable condition of the roads in winter. There was no demand for real property abutting it. This condition has now changed, and property values are much higher and in great demand along the entire stretch of road. Medford has received a great deal of trade that formerly went to Central Point because it could not get to Medford in bad weather.
Medford Mail, May 29, 1908, page 3

    It is to the venturesome spirit of Dr. E. B. Pickel, a well-known physician of Southern Oregon, that the people of the Rogue River Valley owe the opening up to the planting of orchards of the large tract of land known as Big Sticky, however, better known among those familiar with the locality by several unmentionable aliases.
    In winter the roads through this district are impassable to a wagon. Even in a light buggy a driver must get out every few rods and knock the mud off the wheels with a club. To work this land as an orchard needs to be worked was considered impossible, and there was little belief that the land would ever grow trees. In fact grave doubts were expressed as to Dr. Pickel's mental arrangement when he, in the season of 1905, set out 8,000 trees, covering 140 acres. But when he followed this up by planting 4,000 more trees the next year it was freely predicted that Dr. Pickel was heading for the wall. Little did anyone, even the doctor, think that three years after the first planting the orchard would be sold at a profit of nearly $100,000.
    The story of Dr. Pickel's buy on Big Sticky reads like a fairy tale. It appears that the doctor and his wife had nearly completed plans for a trip abroad, but through the influence of Dr. Van Dyke, of Grants Pass, they became interested in orchard land and decided that if a suitable buy offered itself they would take it and postpone the trip abroad. One day Dr. Pickel was called on a case over into the Big Sticky district and his driver, who was familiar with the country, pointed out the Bush ranch of 161 acres which was about to be foreclosed by the state for the interest on money borrowed from the school land fund. Next to it was the Smith ranch of 240 acres which the driver said could be bought for $4000. Right then and there, Dr. Pickel forgot all his desires to see the cathedrals and art galleries of the old world. Instead he bought both farms, paying $6500 for the 401 acres.
    The trees set out on the 401 Ranch, as the orchard was called, grew fine, despite the dismal predictions. The soil was even found workable if handled at the right time and in the right way. The second year Dr. Pickel bought 160 more acres, but the farm was still known as the 401 Ranch. Last spring, feeling that the undertaking was too great for a single man to handle, the doctor sold out to a stock company for $110,000. The land, the trees, the improvements and the labor expended cost Dr. Pickel $35,000, leaving the difference as a handsome profit on a three-years' investment. The doctor has since then bought another place which he is developing. Now, nearly the whole of Big Sticky is being set out or has been set out to orchard.
Arthur M. Geary, "Enormous Wealth of Rogue River Orchards," Morning Oregonian, Portland, September 5, 1909, page F2

Blacksmiths Buy Land at $20 an Acre and Now Are Offered $750.
    Some seven years ago J. W. Mitchell, a blacksmith, and E. C. Boeck, a wagonmaker, were induced to purchase eighty acres of land over in the section of the country then known as the "sticky" section. The section did not belie the name, nor does it yet; but at that time those who were buying land there and planting it to orchard were regarded as easy marks. "Why, they can't even raise their feet when the stick is right," was the common opinion.
    A change has come over the spirit of their dreams of late, however. Big crops have been harvested from the black soil and the fruit sold for big prices.
    But to come back to the blacksmith and the wagonmaker. They paid $1,600 of hard-earned cash--earned by pounding iron and building wheels--for the eighty acres. They spent some more setting out the trees. They harvested a crop or two, and then a man came along and purchased 22½ acres of the 80 for $17,000.
    "They couldn't raise their feet" on that land, but in a few years they raised its value from $20 to over $750 an acre.
Medford Mail Tribune, December 28, 1909, page 2

    I have just returned home from spending two days very pleasantly visiting the hospitable Missouri farmers of the fertile, green, breezy sections known as the Antioch, Chaparral and Mountain districts, about sixteen miles north of Medford, my former home of twenty-five years' continuous residence. I found black mud, red mud, gray mud, but the deepest mud I found on the road between the swift city of Medford and the town of Central Point, and its present muddy condition pleasantly reminds me of the old mossback town of McMinnville away back in the 'sixties. The balance of long stretch of county road was sloppy and rough, but not mirey. Thanks to our ex-county commissioner, Joshua Patterson, and his able assistance for the noticeable improvements on the county roads generally, and more especially are we thankful to the honorable county court for the building of a fine, smooth, graded road of the most improved method on the long stretch of adobe country leading around the base of the upper Table Rock, an indescribable improvement so long and patiently waited for by the traveling public, that serves the the entire valley.
J. G. Martin, "Prosperity Prevails with Ranchers,"
Medford Sun, February 10, 1911, page 5

    And speaking of soil quality: the Rogue has it in the greatest diversity. There's the river bottom land, the choicest of the valley, fertile and free, and pleasant to work; then there's the "sticky," red and black. Stories are told, true of course, of hens that become anchored in this sticky soil, and of cows that can't come home because the mud gathers on their tails till it's a bigger load than they can carry. Yet some of the richest, most productive orchards are in this same "sticky," but when it is not understood it is ugly stuff to work.
Wilford Allen, "The Last Great West," Pullman Herald, March 3, 1911, page 1

Story of Rogue Valley Pioneer
by J. G. Martin, Sage of North Medford

    It was in February, 1876, just after finishing a five-year term of enlistment in the First Regular U.S. cavalry service, that I drifted in Southern Oregon on the overland stage and at once resolved to settle down, get married and be a free and independent granger farmer, to grow up in the then comparatively new agricultural district at Table Rock. At that time this district covered all the country of north Rogue River Valley, which seemed to be very productive and inviting in its luxuriant growth of wild native oats and abundance of game, fish, coyotes and skunks. It was sparsely settled with a class of industrious ex-Confederate Missouri farmers. I at once cast my lot with them on a 160-acre tract of black adobe land, perfectly level and enclosed in one big field by a worm rail fence of the native bull pine variety made way back in the '50s, perhaps when Indian Chief Sam laid claim to Rogue River Valley. Although an inexperienced tenderfoot, so to speak, I knew enough about the farmer's occupation and his arduous labors that it required some capital, strength and industry, with which I was not overburdened, especially the former. The precious springtime weather was passing rapidly, which caused my ambitious, restless nature to become fidgety, for I did want to be a farmer so badly, so I at once invested in a team and machinery to begin plowing and seeding. On April 30th, 1876, I made my maiden effort to run a furrow across a 40-acre tract. When I reached my flag stake I stopped my team and looked back. No evidence of a furrow could be seen, only a little dirt occasionally was disturbed, and it was rolled in a cigar shape, with about ten lbs. of Jackson County dirt clinging tenaciously to each of my plowshares, with only my plow beam and handles in sight and my horses grown about six inches [taller] apparently since I started. I did manage to get back from the place I started, but with a badly punctured system of nervous prostration, and turned out my team without an invitation. I sat down for a moment to meditate and asked my Creator and myself the question: "Is this a part of the great state of Oregon or Hades?" I congratulated myself on the thought of having such a strong willpower that I could protect my early pious Sabbath school training by not using more emphatic language on this trying occasion, but would keep it in reserve for the next trial. After dinner I rode six miles horseback to Sams Valley post office, our nearest post office, without a saddle, and did not sit down comfortably again for ten days. I got a copy of the Oregon Sentinel, a pioneer Republican paper published by editors Turner and Frank Krause, and it gave notice of a Republican county primary to be held at Antioch school house the following Saturday. I says to my wife: "I shall attend, being a Simon pure Lincoln man, and can perhaps get some history of this peculiar soil and how to cultivate it from some experienced farmer at the Republican primary."
    Well, I was on time and waited two hours overtime at Antioch, the pioneer school house of the county, and no one came, so I wrote out my credentials, signed them as chairman, secretary and delegate to the Republican county convention to be held in Jacksonville two weeks hence, and adjourned the meeting.
    Here I was, a stranger in a strange part of Oregon, married to one of Iowa's fairest of orphan girls right on the verge of trying to farm 160 acres of Jackson County's black friendly land with the name and sight of a Republican, a curiosity, with no grandmother or mother-in-law to go to for sympathy or money. Can it be I had a monopoly on bad luck? We will see. The following Saturday was Democratic county primary and out of curiosity I attended. The house was full and my neighbor Democrats kept coming on foot, horseback, in wagons. After listening to an afternoon's loud and boisterous speeches, fifteen delegates were elected to the Democratic county convention, to be held in Jacksonville--what a contrast--but these were palmy days for the Democratic Party, for a nomination was equivalent to an election.
    I returned home and consulted my nearest neighbor, F. J. Martin, a German, a practical farmer of fifteen years' experience in plowing, seeding and cultivating his 160 acres of grey sticky. His friendly advice was of untold value to me in that trying time, for it completely knocked discouragement and uncertainty out of my experimental venture and gave me the key to success beyond our expectations of twenty-five years of continuous residence as a sticky farmer. Today a field of sticky land looks good to me, although so much shunned and despised, and as I pass I cannot but doff my hat to its strong, productive nature as the only soil on God's green earth that governs man in its cultivation.
Medford Sun, September 10, 1911, page 12

    The greatest "bugbear" to the county road builders in the past has been the "Big Sticky" locality. This section lies east of Medford, passing through the richest orchard land, out over the reclaimed desert. The notorious "Big Sticky" gets its name from the peculiar lava ash formation of the soil, which becomes so muddy in the winter that many a wagon has had to be abandoned in its resisting grasp until spring.
Helen C. Gale, "Jackson County Leads in Race for Improvement of Highways," Sunday Oregonian, Portland, October 22, 1911, page 18

Regarding Good Roads and Those of a Few Years Ago
    To the Editor: In the year 1906 when I just landed in Jackson County the town of Medford was a small place of about 1800, while Ashland was a place of from 4000 to 5000. At that time Ashland was pointed out on the map in large print while Medford would have to be sought with a magnifying glass. The roads we had at that time were simply lanes fenced off in the fields with a rail fence on either side. The only piece of good road I know of at that time was about three-quarters of a mile along the south side of upper Table Rock, pumice sand being used, which came from W. M. Scott's place.
    The county at that time was assessed at $4,500,000. The only means of transportation at that time was by means of sticky cart, consisting of the hind wheels of a wagon with every alternate spoke sawed out, a pole stuck in for a tongue. Then if it was really necessary for the lady of the ranch to come to town, Hiram would put two horses to the cart, pack three dozen eggs in oats, take a roll of butter, and a gunny sack full of hay for the team. He would load Nancy in the cart who did the driving while the proud Hiram would walk knightly along with a sticky paddle and poke sticky [from between the spokes] from early morning until late at night before returning home.
    One man said: "Mary Jane, I only regret that God did not give me more language to curse the sticky!" Well, such language brought on a crusade of agitation for good roads among the newcomers, which caused him and others to raise up in arms against the movement and shout "ruin, disaster and bankruptcy!"
    About then a few Medfordites started the Medford Commercial Club, chipped in a few shekels, passed around the hat, got a few hundred and decided that it was money well spent to advertise the valley's resources. So they got up the Medford booklet and after the first carload or two went east it started a boom. At that time the best land averaged about $40 per acre. Well, the more we advertised the more we raised the price of Hiram's land; consequently many Hirams were displaced with a live set of people who have expended $75,000 for gravel roads each year ever since 1906. The county, instead of being assessed at $4,500,000, is now assessed at $36,000,000. At that time, if a newcomer had gone to Jacksonville and proposed a bond issue of $750,000 and would have made the assertion that Jackson County would have been assessed at $36,000,000 in 1913, he would have been hogtied, thrown in jail, adjudged insane and rushed off to the insane asylum.
    Well, here we are, 1913 well spent. Seven years have passed. We are to have a bond election to raise $500,000 to build a paved trunk line through the county, passing through nearly every important town in the county, one-fifth of the principal to be paid off in ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five and thirty years. Well, will the county be able to pay it off in that time? One thing sure, if the taxable property raised $31,000,000 in seven years past, at the same ratio the county in thirty years from now would be assessed $150,000,000.
    The most of us will be dead in 1943, so let us build the road and enjoy its use while we live and let the coming generation help pay for the benefits they will also enjoy.
Medford Mail Tribune, August 22, 1913, page 4

    Last Wednesday Miss Hilda Abbott and Mrs. Hildred Smith of Butte Falls called for dinner on their way up home. They had been working in the Edgell orchard, but the continuous showers made the sticky mud so that they could not lift their feet to the rungs of the ladder, so they concluded to suspend operations until more pleasant weather.
A. C. Howlett, "Eagle Point Eaglets," Medford Mail Tribune, October 25, 1920, page 7

    Residents of the Eagle Point district are getting ready to file protests against the placing of "sticky" on a two-mile stretch of the Crater Lake Highway between Antelope Creek and Little Butte. According to the protestants this is the most astute piece of road engineering since Caesar built the Appian Way, and they don't like it a bit.
   The "sticky," it is declared, was put over the macadam by the state highway commission, the county bearing 20 percent of the expense of the placing. The "sticky" was supposed to harden, which it did in the summer, but no allowance was made for the rain, and the sticky, living up to its name, is now a goozy mess, and Tuesday was up Mike Hanley's "ex" [exhaust pipe?]. It hustles a cheap and popular make of car to plow through.
    Residents of the district intend to request that it be removed forthwith. Mr. Hanley, anent the mucilaginous condition, said: "It is just a little bit the smartest trick I ever ran into, and it is time the taxpayers did something."
    According to Jackson County traditions, native sons of Butte Creek have long legs from kicking sticky off their boots in youth.
Medford Mail Tribune, November 19, 1925, page 5

By United Press
    MEDFORD, Ore., March 19.--Employment, with big feet as the prime requisite for crashing onto the payroll, is offered in the fruit orchards surrounding this Southern Oregon city.
    The flat-shaped foot qualification is necessary because of continued seasonal wet weather, which has caused orchard soil to become so soft that unless you wear a size 9 brogan, or better, you are useless.
    Most any man who has a foundation the size of a couple of satchels can walk right out into an orchard and land a job as a pruner.
    The employing orchardist will select a few sample wet spots for the applicant to step on. If you don't sink in the mire above your shoe tops you'll swim right into a job.
Berkeley Daily Gazette, March 19, 1927, page 13

    At the old Barber Field at the fairgrounds, it had been a common occurrence for ships [airplanes] to become mired in the mud, and because of that, one passenger line began to make its landings in northern California, but [with completion of the new airport] it expected to resume its schedule here in a short time.
"Medford's Airport Is Completed," Medford Mail Tribune, December 31, 1929, page 8

    What is now called Agate Desert was known only by me as "Big Sticky." The great number of agates on the desert, however, make the name Agate Desert more appropriate classically if not topographically.
Eph L. Musick, "The Old 'Big Sticky,'" Oakland Tribune, December 27, 1942, page 29

    "Big Sticky, the area of Medford east of Crater Lake Highway."
Robert W. Sage, Memories of a Table Rock Boy, 2008, page 71

Last revised August 5, 2023