Crater Lake
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II. White Men Slowly Penetrate the Southern Oregon Wilderness

A. Early Exploration by Fur Traders

The first Euro-Americans to enter southern Oregon were probably French-Canadian trappers working for the Hudson's Bay Company, whose early records mention the Rogue River and the Rogue Indians, both of which had acquired their name from the character of the natives, who were considered "fierce and warlike," habitually stealing traps and their contents from the early fur hunters. [1] In 1820 Thomas McKay penetrated the Willamette Valley, but withdrew after encountering hostile Indians along the Umpqua River, He was followed six years later by Alexander Roderick McLeod, whose small party of four white men and nine Indians slowly progressed along the Oregon coast in a search for furs. At the same time, Chief Factor John McLoughlin of the Hudson's Bay Company outfitted a strong brigade to penetrate what was thought to be rich fur land to the south of Fort Vancouver and investigate its economic potential. The group was joined by David Douglas, a British botanist then collecting samples in the Northwest. Upon reaching the Umpqua River, Douglas left the trappers and went alone into the nearby forested hills, where he was well received by the Indians. [2]

The quest for beaver continued to bring others to southern Oregon. In 1827 Peter Skene Ogden, head of the Hudson's Bay Company brigades combing the Snake River country, led a trapping and exploring expedition to the area that sought furs and also the location of a large river rumored to have been found there. They reached Klamath Lake in December 1826--the first adventurers to enter the heart of the Rogue country. In early 1828 Jedediah Smith and a party of eighteen men, driving 300 head of horses intended for sale at the annual American fur rendezvous in what is now Wyoming, set out for the Rogue country from the south. His miserable journey, through the thick brush, dense, wet redwood forests, and abysmal canyons of the Trinity and Klamath river areas in northwestern California ended in disaster in July on the Umpqua River in Oregon when fourteen of his party were ambushed by Indians. Four survivors, including Smith, ultimately reached Fort Vancouver nearly 200 miles north. [3] During the next twenty years, several different sites on the Umpqua River became small trading centers, but no intensive efforts at colonization were made.

B. New Land Routes Through Southern Oregon Studied

A land route had been opened along the Oregon coast all the way from San Francisco Bay by Alexander McLeod during the winter of 1828-29, following the watershed of the Eel River across the Trinity Mountains and north through the Rogue Valley to the Willamette. Another expedition followed the Oregon coast to the Umpqua River, swung south toward California, and passed through the Rogue Valley to Klamath Lake. An Oregon-California land route was definitely established by 1833, with many persons taking advantage of this trail despite frequent confrontations with the Indians. [4]

In 1841 Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, commander of the U.S. Navy South Seas Surveying and Exploring Expedition, ordered a detachment under George F . Emmons to explore the land route between the Columbia River and San Francisco Bay. Accompanied by a party of thirty-nine that included several soldiers and seamen, an artist, a geologist, a naturalist, two botanists, guides, and hunters, Emmons crossed the Umpqua Mountains, passed Rocky Point, continued on over the ridges near present Gold Hill, followed northeast up the Rogue River to the vicinity of present Ashland, turned off from Bear Creek, and ascended the Siskiyous on over to the Klamath River and into California. [5] In the spring of 1846 John C. Fremont came through the area on his third official exploring expedition to the West and camped on the west edge of Klamath Lake during a survey mission for the government. The camp was surprised by a band of Klamath Indians who killed three of his scouts, and in reprisal the Fremont party attacked a large village or rancheria of Indians in the direction of Tule Lake. Several tribesmen were killed, the rest driven away, and their wickiups and racks of dried fish burned. This incident perhaps set the tone for future white-Modoc relations. [6]

C. Opening of the Southern Emigrant Route

Although the first overland travelers from the East to Oregon faithfully followed the Columbia River, by the mid-1840s other routes were being sought. Mounting tensions between the Hudson's Bay Company and the growing number of American settlers in the region demanded a new route well removed from Company posts and influence. In June 1846 Jesse and Lindsay Applegate, Levi Scott, and other residents of the Willamette Valley, having formed a group known as the Old South Road Company, left their homes to open a new wagon road connecting with the Humboldt Trail. This one would be free from jeopardy by the British on the Columbia River in case of war. It would also provide a shorter, easier route from Fort Hall, Idaho, to the Willamette Valley by avoiding the treacherous Snake River portion of the Oregon Trail and the difficult section near The Dalles of the Columbia River that involved dangerous whirlpools, strong currents, and. long portages. Their route passed by or near present Albany, Corvallis, Eugene, Cottage Grove, Roseburg, Grants Pass, Jacksonville, Medford, and Ashland in Oregon, and then past Klamath Lake and along the border between Oregon and California. It entered the latter state via Surprise Valley, continuing on into Nevada and across the Black Rock Desert. From that point it reached the Humboldt River near present Humboldt, Nevada, and, finally, Fort Hall. Here the company met an immigrant train of 150 people that they brought back with them to the Willamette settlements, although not without severe travails and hardships, including Indian attacks, disease, barren deserts, and low food supplies. Less than half the party lived to reach the valley in these first wagons to arrive from the south. This passage, which would be increasingly improved upon and used, was known variously as the Southern Route to the Oregon Trail, the Southern Emigrant Route, or Applegate's Cutoff. It was instrumental in opening up lands south of the Willamette to settlement and continued to be favored by a few immigrants to southern Oregon. A large portion of it was followed by '49ers bound for northern California until Indian hostilities seven years later interrupted the flow of traffic. [7]

D. Gold Rush of 1849 Accelerates Oregon Settlement

In July 1848 a supply schooner sailing into the Columbia River harbor brought news of the discovery of gold in California by James Marshall at Sutter's Mill on a branch of the American River. Overnight the rush was on. In Oregon it turned immediate attention to the Mother Lode country and brought startling changes to the Columbia River valley's pattern of settlement. New impetus was added to westward migration, resulting in a greater movement of Americans to the Far West than ever before. Traffic along the Oregon and California trails swelled to flood proportions, and new routes and shortcuts were blazed by impatient goldseekers. Oregon settlers were not left behind in the great Gold Rush of '49. While those that could afford it took immediate passage on ships heading for the California coast, others less fortunate hurried south with packtrains and wagons. Among the earliest in the fields, the farmers, soldiers, tradesmen, and officials of Oregon who joined the mad rush fared better than later arrivals and helped to open and drain the virgin fields in northern California. By wintertime scores of these lucky individuals had filled pokes with thousands of dollars worth of gold dust. Married men in particular began drifting home to develop the resources of Oregon, having apprised the profitable market that existed in California for foodstuffs and lumber. An estimated two million dollars in gold flowed into Oregon during early 1849. Merchant ships supplying California entered the Columbia River daily to trade, millowners made staggering profits, and the wages of laborers multiplied. [8]

E. Gold Mining Begins in Southern Oregon

The first contact with the southwest Oregon coast from the sea was part of a concerted effort to open supply routes into northern California during the Gold Rush period of the late 1840s and early 1850s. Vessels would probe the mouths of coastal rivers and then unload exploring parties and send them into south-trending canyons to see if roads could be opened into the interior. Interest and settlement in southwest Oregon was stimulated by the discovery of gold in the sands of some of the ocean beaches north of the Coquille River, resulting in the establishment of various towns near the mouth of the Rogue River that flourished for two seasons before the boom faded. Miners continued panning the Applegate River sands, pushed up the Rogue, and mined the gravel bars in the ravines of the Coastal Mountains. Packers traveling between the Willamette Valley and Sacramento, while grazing their stock on the meadows of the upper Rogue, also found time to pan gold in the Rogue River tributaries. The Willamette Valley settlers who were supplying surplus crops to the California goldfields were using the inland route mentioned earlier to drive packtrains and cattle across the Umpqua and upper Rogue river valleys over the Siskiyou Mountains to the Mother Lode country.

As surface mining declined in California, prospectors began turning their attention northward, and by 1850 gold fever was spreading into the Rogue and Umpqua river valleys of southern Oregon. New, important discoveries of gold would soon be made in Oregon by adventurers fanning out from the Mother Lode and Trinity Mountain districts. The first major strike in southern Oregon occurred in the Rogue Valley on Josephine Creek in Josephine County in 1851. Either later that year or early in 1852 a more widely-publicized discovery was made by a packer James Cluggage and a miner John R. Pool, who were transporting supplies between Yreka, California, and towns in the Willamette Valley. While attempting to recover some stray pack mules about thirty miles across the Oregon line, near Table Rock, Cluggage turned toward the hills to the west. He followed a stream later known as Jackson Creek, and in an area where the stream left the hills, later known as Rich Gulch, found a strike so rich that the early arrivals were said to have averaged about one hundred ounces of dust and nuggets a day.

News of this gold discovery spread rapidly during the spring of 1852, and hundreds of men joined the modest rush to the Rogue Valley. The new boom town of Jacksonville in the foothills on the western edge of the plains soon became the commercial and transportation center of the southern Oregon goldfields. These discoveries at Josephine Creek and at Jacksonville were followed by many more--at Sailor Diggin's and at the Applegate diggings in southern Jackson County in 1852; at the Foote's Creek diggings, fifteen miles west of Jacksonville, and at Willow Springs, five miles north, in the fall of that year; and at Dry Diggings near Grants Pass. [9]

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Last Updated: 14-Feb-2002