History of the Pacific Northwest
Oregon and Washington 1889
Volume I
Page 368 - 374

Copyright 2000 - 2003 - Janine M. Bork
 This page is part of the  Union County, OR AGHP

(1827 - 1847.)

Southern Oregon - Natural Divisions - Topographical Features - Early Immigration - First Settlement - Introduction of Cattle - Emigrant Wagon Road - Heroic Corporation - Pioneer Road Builders - Frémont's Old Camp - Exploring Southeastern Oregon - First Immigrant Train Through Southern Oregon.

THE history of the settlement and growth of Southern Oregon is full of varied and striking incidents in the life of its pioneers, very different from those experienced by the settlers in the northern part of the state. The first immigrants to Oregon were attracted to the Columbia river, in the expectation of finding that great watercourse another Mississippi, down which their crops could easily be transported to the Pacific and the markets of the East. While there was some disappointment in regard to the facilities afforded by the upper Columbia, the settlers were fully compensated by finding all the desired advantages in the Willamette valley, the great plains north of the Columbia, and the land-locked harbor of Puget Sound.

     The subsequent immigration was chiefly induced by those advantages. The principal idea seemed to be the ability to secure a market for the products of their industry. The southern portion of the country was almost entirely unknown at that time. Its remoteness from a market, and hte hostile character of the Indians occupying the country, rendered it a very undesirable region into which the settler should remove his family; while the ruggedness of the country rendered it a very difficult region to explore under any circumstances. The northern boundary of what is known as Southern Oregon is north from the waters of the Umpqua river on the south. This range meets the Coast Range of mountains near the forty-fourth parallel of north latitude, and extends in the general direction of south-by-east until it meets the Cascade Range at a point about fifteen miles south of Diamond Peak. From this point, the boundary is an imaginary line running due east to the line of the territory of Idaho. The southern boundary is the forty-second parallel, which is also the northern boundary of the states of California and Nevada. The eastern, which is also the western boundary of Idaho, is within a very short distance from the one hundred and seventeenth degree of longitude west from Greenwich. The western is the Pacific Ocean. Its area is not quite two degrees of latitude, and a little more than seven of longitude.

     This area is intersected by a network of hills and mountains, two ranges running north and south throughout its whole extent, the Coast and the Cascade, while others without a ny law or order intersect it from east to west. The Coast Range is from fifteen to thirty miles from the coast, while the Cascades are from seventy-five to one hundred miles. The most striking difference in the topography between the northern and southern portions of the state arises from the change in the direction of the


                                                            TOPOGRAPHICAL FEATURES OF SOUTHERN OREGON.                                                            369

watercourses. North of the Calapooia Mountains, the main Willamette runs nearly due north to the Columbia, with a broad and fertile valley on either side; and on the eastern side of the Cascades the Des Chutes runs an almost parallel course until it joins the Columbia above the Dalles; while, south of the dividing line, all the great rivers have their rise in the Cascades, and, running westerly, break through the Coast Range, and reach the Pacific. The first principal river south of the Calapooia is the Umpqua, and the next is the Rogue, while there are other lesser streams which rise in the Coast Range, and run west to the ocean, as Siuslaw, Coos river, Coquille and Chetco. The Cascade Range from the point where the Calapooia meets it, near Mt. Thielson, to the Siskiyou Mountains, at which it ends, presents some of the most striking mountain scenery on the coast. Mt. Thielson is a snow-peak, and is said to have an altitude of 9,250 feet above the sea. Further south are a cluster of snow-peaks, among which is situated the now famous Crater Lake; and overlooking the Rogue river valley is Mt. Pitt, also a very striking landmark. From the northwest base of Mt. Thielson, the north fork of the Umpqua takes its rise, and from the southwest base the south branch. After devious courses, they unite a few miles east of the Coast Range. The spurs of Mt. Thielson to the west and southwest, between the two branches of the Umpqua, sink down until they are lost in the hills of the Umpqua valley; while between the Umpqua river and the Rogue river, which has its origin near the source of South Umpqua river, the spurs of the Cascades extend in a rough range of mountains nearly to the coast. The Siskiyou, which is the dividing range between Oregon and California, runs westerly to the ocean, and, after passing Rogue river valley and the headwaters of the Illinois river, spreads out so as to cover all the country south of the Rogue river to the California line, making a section that is almost inaccessible, and has never been thoroughly explored to this day. The Coast Range is only about one-third the height of the Cascades, nor has it so large a base; but even this range is impassable except at certain passes. The valleys of the Umpqua and Rogue rivers are not what the name generally implies. These rivers have no broad level land along their borders; but there is a succession of small valleys divided by hills, the largest of which is the Rogue river valley, the first on the north side of the Siskiyou Mountains.

     Such a country, it will be readily perceived, presented great difficulties to the explorer, since he could not follow the course of the streams, but had to spend weeks threading the intricacies of the hills and mountains, the most of which were covered with a dense growth of timber; and we can scarcely give too much credit to those who first penetrated this wilderness, and opened it to civilization. There is strong proof that the Catholic priests from the Spanish missions in California visited the valley of Southern Oregon long before Lewis and Clark saw the Columbia river; and many years before the first Americans made the trip, the trappers of the Hudson's Bay Company had made their annual journey from the Sacramento to the Columbia with their furs. The first Americans of whom we have any authentic account, who penetrated the country, were a party of trappers, under the command of Jedediah S. Smith, of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, of St. Louis. In the spring of 1827, this party left the head of the Sacramento, with a large lot of valuable furs, with the intention of proceeding north to the Columbia river; from which point they could return east to their rendezvous, on Green river, east of the Rocky Mountains. Upon reaching the headwaters of Rogue river, thinking they had reached a stream which ran into the Columbia, they followed it to the ocean. From this point, they followed the coast to the mount of the Umpqua, where they were attacked by the Indians

370                                                    HISTORY OF PACIFIC NORTHWEST - OREGON AND WASHINGTON.

while crossing the stream; and all of the party, except Smith, Prior and Laughlin, were killed. These three managed to reach Fort Vancouver, with the loss of their animals and furs. Smith reached Vancouver in August, 1828. The Hudson's Bay Company, being very desirous of recovering this valuable property, sent one of their traders, John Garnier, for this purpose, who erected a stockade, called Fort Umpqua, at the junction of Elk creek and the Umpqua river. This was the first settlement of any kind south of the Calapooia Mountains.

     The next party to undertake the trip from the Sacramento to the Columbia was a party of sixteen men, headed by Hall J. Kelley and Ewing Young. They had with them about one hundred head of horses and mules, and left the mission of San José for the north in the summer of 1834, their destination being the settlements on the Columbia. They reached Rogue river valley with much difficulty, and had a fight with the Indians on Rogue river. Kelley was taken sick in the mountains of Southern Oregon; and it is probable that the whole party would have been destroyed had they not been overtaken by a party of trappers, under the lead of La Framboise, returning to Vancouver after their season's hunt. This party kindly relieved their necessities, and brought them safely, by the Hudson's Bay Company's trail to the Willamette valley.

     In 1835, a party of eight trappers left the Sacramento valley for the Columbia. They made the trip in safety until they arrived on Rogue river, and made their camp near the mouth of Foot's creek, below Rock Point. Here several hundred Indians came into camp with professions of friendship, and suddenly attacked the party with clubs, bows and knives. The Whites fought with great desperation, and succeeded in repelling the attack, with the loss of two men killed, the rest more or less wounded, and all but two of their guns. The survivors proceeded northward, fighting the Indians by day and traveling by night. But four of the party lived to reach the settlements on the Willamette. Their names were J. Turner, George Gay, Dr. Bailey and Woodworth.

     The want of neat cattle being severely felt by the settlers in the Willamette valley, it was decided to make an attempt to procure the same from California. For this purpose the Willamette Cattle Company was organized at Champoeg, in 1836, with Ewing Young as leader, and P.L. Edwards treasurer. the company selected for the work numbered eleven men, all mountaineers, many of whom had passed over the trail in 1834 and 1835. They left the mouth of the Columbia in a vessel named the Lariet, on the 10th of February, 1837, and arrived at San Francisco on the 1st of March. After much difficulty in procuring the cattle, and a still greater difficulty in driving them, the party arrived at the head of the Sacramento valley on the 20th of August, with 729 head. The difficulty of driving these cattle, the most of which were wild, over a narrow, brushy trail and steep mountains, were great; but in addition to this they were attacked in the Shasta valley, just south of the Siskiyou Mountains, by Indians. This necessitated not only a close watch over the cattle, but the utmost care to prevent a surprise by the savages. They reached Rogue river on the 17th of September, having had several of the cattle wounded by arrows, but only one killed. On that night, the party camped at Foot's creek, near where Turner's party was attacked two years before. On the morning of the 18th, they moved about sunrise; and about noon, in a rocky and bushy pass, they were attacked from each side of the road. Young halted the cattle, and leaving them in charge of the herders, proceeded, with four men, to rout the Indians. This he affected, but his horse was shot with two arrows, and Gay was wounded in the back by another. From this point, until

                                                                                                    EMIGRANT WAGON ROAD.                                                                            371

they reached the Umpqua, they were continually harassed, but finally succeeded in reaching the settlements on the Willamette about the middle of October, with 630 head of cattle, with a loss of three men killed by the Indians.

     The next attempt to pass through Southern Oregon was made in 1841, when a detachment of Commodore Charles Wilkes' exploring expedition, commanded by George F. Emmons, then a lieutenant, consisting of four commissioned officers and thirty-four men, left Vancouver for Yerba Buena (now San Francisco). Taking advantage of this escort, J.D. Dana, the geologist, and several emigrants, with their families, undertook to make the trip. They took the old Hudson's Bay Company trail and left Fort Umpqua, at Elkton, on the 18th of September. they had been warned before they left, by Mr. Garnier, the agent in charge of Fort Umpqua, of the character of the Indian tribes through which they would pass, and the dangers they were liable to encounter. By using strict military discipline, and allowing no Indians in his camp, the lieutenant succeeded in making the trip without loss, although he Indians threatened an attack at several points.

     In 1842 and 1843 there were cattle driven from California, and parties of emigrants going and returning; but, as they have no reference to the settlement of Southern Oregon, and their experience was the same as already narrated, it is not deemed necessary to record them.

     The first and most effective method to secure the settlement of Southern Oregon, although it was not so intended at the time, was the opening of a wagon road from the Willamette to the confines of Southern Oregon, and, in view of its results, is entitled to an extended notice. The immigration to Oregon by the way of the Columbia river route had suffered severe hardships in the years of 1843, 1844 and 1845; and many attempts had been made to find a more accessible route over the Cascades further south, without success, - justifiable search; for such a pass has been since discovered. The immigration of 1846 was expected to be unusually large; and while it was important that they should be afforded better facilities for reaching the Willamette valley, it was also necessary to provide against any interference by the British authorities, who at that time had laid claim to a large portion of the Columbia river route.

     This matter was the subject of much discussion among the settlers; and it was finally concluded that the most feasible plan was to cut a wagon road from the Willamette through the Umpqua and Rogue river valleys, thence east over the lowest portion of the Cascade range and through a country then unexplored, to Fort Hall, on the headwaters of Snake river. To accomplish this object, a company was formed in Polk county in May, 1846, to undertake this enterprise, but, being insufficient in numbers, returned without accomplishing anything. Upon the return of what might be designated as the prospecting party, a company was formed to execute the project. The company was organized by the action of no legislative body, nor even by an instrument of writing, but by what was more binding than either, - an agreement, between the men composing it, who had faced danger in almost every form, that they would accomplish the object they had undertaken or lose their lives in the attempt. History presents but few instances of self-sacrifice greater than this; and, it must be said in addition, that not a single one of the company failed to perform the agreement he had undertaken. Their names are as follows: Jesse Applegate, Lindsay Applegate, Levi Scott, John Scott, Henry Bogus, Ben Burch, John Owens, John Jones, Robert Smith, Samuel Goodhue, Moses Harris, David Goff, Bennett Osborne, William Sportsman and William Parker.

372                                                    HISTORY OF PACIFIC NORTHWEST - OREGON AND WASHINGTON.

The expenses of the expedition were supplied by those of the party who were able to do so; and as the Applegates were the richest in cattle, then the only money in the country, the burden fell principally upon them. It must be remembered that this expedition was undertaken with no hope of reward, except of increasing the population of their beloved Oregon, and securing the title to the United States. The members of this company were all mountaineers, and were fully aware of the dangers they had to encounter. Mr. Ogden, of the Hudson's Bay Company, gave them all the information he possessed in regard tot he trails and the character of the route to be passed over, which he had derived from the employés of the company and his own experience. He ridiculed the idea of building a wagon road through that country, stating that it was an impossibility and took especial pains to warn them of the hostile disposition of the Indian tribes through whose country they would be compelled to pass, the worst of which, according to his statement, were the Rogue river Indians, who had acquired the name by their conduct towards the hunters and trappers of the company.

     This company of road builders was not composed of the material to be frightened at such a prospect; but, having provided for their families during their absence, each with a saddle and pack horses left Polk county on June 20, 1846. The point of departure was on the La Creole river, commonly called the Rickreal, about where the town of Dallas now stands; the course was up the west side of the Willamette to the crossing of Mary's river, the site of the present city of Corvallis, thence up the same river by the way of Spencer's Butte until they arrived at the base of the Calapooia Mountains. Up to this point they had experienced no difficulties, with the exception of building a few bridges. From this point a thorough reconnaissance was made; and the Pass creek route, which afterwards became the roadway, was not adopted on account of the heavy timber. They chose a mountain ridge a few miles east, where, although the hills were higher, the expense of a wagon road was less, owing to the timber being more sparse. They came out on the southern side of the Mountains into a beautiful little valley, now known as Scott's valley, where some of the party subsequently settled. From this point the party moved on through, as one of the party described the route, "the grassy, oak hills and narrow valleys of the Umpqua country." They had some difficulty in crossing the North Umpqua river, but met no serious obstacles to a wagon road until they arrived at a point on the South Umpqua, near where the old Hudsons Bay trail crossed the Umpqua Mountains. A thorough examination of this route proved it to be impracticable for wagons; but, by following up a stream opposite where they were camped, they discovered an available pass through the present Umpqua cañon. On this stream they struck the trail of a large body of Indians who had preceded them a few days, and who endeavored to stampede their horses while camped in the little valley at the southern end of the cañon. Traveling through a very broken country, the sharp hill separated by small streams, upon which were little openings, they arrived about noon at a branch of Rogue river afterwards named Grave creek. After resting here two hours, their course was through a more open country, with scattering pine and oak timber, until they reached a prairie on the banks of Rogue river, about sundown.

     The Indians had followed them from the cañon; and, when they approached Rogue river, a large number of the savages occupied the bank of the river where the trail crossed. The party therefore decided to remain in the open prairie, and prepared for a night attack. Owing to precautions taken, no attack was made; but at daylight the Indians were found occupying the position of the night before. On nearing the crossing, the

                                                                                       EXPLORING SOUTHEASTERN OREGON.                                                                    373

company was divided into two divisions, one driving the pack horses across the stream protected by the rifles of the second, when the latter crossed protected by the guns of hte first. From this point they passed up the south bank of Rogue river and through the Rogue river valley, which is described as one great meadow interspersed with groves of oak which appeared like vast orchards, until they reached a stream now called Emigrant creek. Here the old trail led south across the Siskiyou Mountains; but the course of the road builders was east over an unexplored country several hundred miles in extent.

     On the morning of the 30th of June, they moved along the north bank of the creek and soon began the ascent of the mountains to the eastward, the slopes of which they found to be gradual, where wagons could pass without difficulty, although these mountain sides were covered by a heavy forest of pine, fir and cedar. On the 4th of July, they reached the summit of the Cascade Mountains, and after descending the steep slopes on the eastern side, at noon reached a small glade, from which they could see the Klamath river. After reaching the river, they followed up the north bank about six miles, when, emerging from the forest, they obtained a full view of Klamath country, extending eastward as far as the eye could reach.

     Following the river up to near where it leaves Lower Klamath Lake, they crossed the stream, and, proceeding down the river and along the lake shore a few miles, came into the main valley of the Lower Klamath lakes. At this time, columns of smoke were seen rising in every direction, which proved to the party that their presence was known to the Modoc Indians, who were thus telegraphing the fact to the different bands of the tribe. Keeping along the shore of the lake, they came to a stream called Hot creek, where they found pieces of newspapers and other evidence that civilized people had camped there a short time before. They also found signs which some of the party believed indicated that persons had been buried there, which opinion was strengthened by the great excitement among the Indians upon their arrival. It was afterwards learned that this was the spot at which the Modocs had surprised the camp of Colonel Frémont, killed three of his Delaware Indians, and would probably have destroyed the whole camp but for the vigilance and presence of mind of Kit Carson. The Indians doubtless supposed this party had come to avenge the murder. Taking every precaution against an attack, they pursued their way around the southern end of Lower Klamath Lake, and camped with the lake on the west and a high, rocky ridge on the east of them. In the morning,  they ascended the ridge, and discovered at its eastern base Tule or Modoc Lake. Farther to the east, at a distance estimated at thirty miles, they saw a timbered butte, and what appeared to be a pass through the range which surrounded the lakes. In descending the ridge, they became entangled among the crevices and caves of the lava beds, and were compelled to return to smoother ground. Thence a northern course was taken around Modoc Lake; and after crossing Lost river near the lake, they passed eastward over the rocky ridge between Langell valley and Clear Lake; thence around the southern end of Goose Lake; and on the 8th they encamped at the mouth of a stream coming in from the southwest. From this point a pass was found into Surprise valley, with grass and water plenty; but beyond the prospect was exceedingly gloomy. Between them and the Humboldt river, their objective point, a sandy desert, broken only by rocky ridges, stretched interminably without a sign of water or grass. Nothing daunted, they left camp on the 9th; and, after enduring severe hardships of hunger and thirst on this alkaline desert under a July sun, on the 18th, at noon, they reached the Humboldt river. Being too far south, they proceeded up the valley for three days, when they arrived at the Meadows, where they

374                                                        HISTORY OF PACIFIC NORTHWEST - OREGON AND WASHINGTON.

found plenty of grass and water; and, after remaining a few days to recruit their horses, they resumed their march. The majority of the company proceeded to locate the road to Bear river, south of Fort Hall, as originally intended, while Jesse Applegate, Harris Goff, Owens and Bogus turned off from thousand Springs valley to Fort Hall for supplies.

     While at Fort Hall, Jesse Applegate represented the advantages of the route just explored; and a caravan of ninety or one hundred wagons met, on August 12th, at the Thousand Springs, to follow the new road. Leaving David Goff and Levi Scott to guide them to the Willamette, the Applegate party, accompanied by a party of young men of the immigration, pushed forward to mark or cut out the road, as the exigency required. The real labor of road-making was over the Cascade Mountains, through the Grave creek hills and the Umpqua cañon. After arriving in the Umpqua valley, their provisions being exhausted, they left the work of clearing the road over the Calapooia Mountains, which was light, to the immigrants themselves, and returned to their homes, in the Willamette, on the 3d day of October, 1846.

     In May, 1847, Levi Scott led a company of twenty men, destined for the states, over the Applegate route, and guided a portion of the immigrants of the following autumn into the Willamette valley in good season and in good condition, while the main immigration by the Snake river route, suffered severely. Among the immigrants of this year (1847) was Colonel W.W. Chapman, who has since made a brilliant record, both in the territory and the state. This expedition established the reputation of the southern route; and the legislature of that year passed an act for its improvement, making Levi Scott commissioner, and allowing him to collect a small toll as compensation for his services.

     In June, 1847, Cornelius Gilliam set out, with a company, to explore the Rogue river and Klamath valleys, and on his return made favorable mention of the climate and soil of that locality. Nevertheless, on account of the hostile savages, Southern Oregon remained still unsettled. The discovery of gold in California opened a new era in the history of that section, which will be developed hereafter.


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