Rogue River (Oregon) | history


First peoples

Purple flowers on slender stalks rise above a base of dark green leaves.
Supplemental foods for native peoples along the Rogue included camas bulbs.

Archaeologists believe that the first humans to inhabit the Rogue River region were nomadic hunters and gatherers.[28] Radiocarbon dating suggests that they arrived in southwestern Oregon at least 8,500 years ago, and that at least 1,500 years before the first contact with whites, the natives established permanent villages along streams.[28] The home villages of various groups shared many cultural elements, such as food, clothing, and shelter types.[29] Intermarriage was common, and many people understood dialects of more than one of the three language groups spoken in the region.[29] The Native Americans (Indians) included Tututni people near the coast and, further upstream, groups of Shasta Costa, Dakubetede, Takelma, Shasta, and Latgawa.[30] Houses in the villages varied somewhat, but were often about 12 feet (3.7 m) wide and 15 to 20 feet (4.6 to 6.1 m) long, framed with posts sunk into the ground, and covered with split sugar pine or red cedar planks.[31] People left the villages during about half of the year to gather camas bulbs, sugar-pine bark, acorns, and berries, and hunted deer and elk to supplement their main food, salmon.[32] The total early-1850s native population of southern Oregon, including the Umpqua, Coos, Coquille, and Chetco watersheds as well as the Rogue, is estimated to have been about 3,800.[28] The population before the arrival of explorers and European diseases is thought to have been at least one-third larger, but "there is insufficient evidence to estimate aboriginal populations prior to the time of first white contact... ".[28]

Culture clash

The first recorded encounter between whites and coastal southwestern Oregon Indians occurred in 1792 when British explorer George Vancouver anchored off Cape Blanco, about 30 miles (48 km) north of the mouth of the Rogue River, and Indians visited the ship in canoes.[33] In 1826, Alexander Roderick McLeod of the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) led an overland expedition from HBC's regional headquarters in Fort Vancouver to as far south as the Rogue.[33]

Formal portrait showing the head and shoulders of a white-haired man wearing a dark cape or coat
Peter Skene Ogden encountered inland Rogue River natives in 1827.

In 1827 an HBC expedition led by Peter Skene Ogden made the first direct contact between whites and the inland Rogue River natives when he crossed the Siskiyou Mountains to look for beaver.[34] Friction between Indians and whites was relatively minor during these early encounters; however, in 1834 an HBC expedition led by Michel Laframboise was reported to have killed 11 Rogue River natives, and shortly thereafter a party led by an American trapper, Ewing Young, shot and killed at least two more.[33] The name Rogue River apparently began with French fur trappers who called the river La Riviere aux Coquins because they regarded the natives as rogues (coquins).[1][n 1] In 1835, Rogue River people killed four whites in a party of eight who were traveling from Oregon to California. Two years later, two of the survivors and others on a cattle drive organized by Young killed the first two Indians they met north of the Klamath River.[33]

The number of whites entering the Rogue River watershed greatly increased after 1846, when a party of 15 men led by Jesse Applegate developed a southern alternative to the Oregon Trail; the new trail was used by emigrants headed for the Willamette Valley.[36] Later called the Applegate Trail, it passed through the Rogue and Bear Creek valleys and crossed the Cascade Range between Ashland and south of Upper Klamath Lake.[37] From 90 to 100 wagons and 450 to 500 emigrants used the new trail later in 1846, passing through Rogue Indian homelands between the headwaters of Bear Creek and the future site of Grants Pass and crossing the Rogue about 4.5 miles (7.2 km) downstream of it.[38] Despite fears on both sides, violence in the watershed in the 1830s and 1840s was limited; "Indians seemed interested in speeding whites on their way, and whites were happy to get through the region without being attacked."[39]

In 1847, the Whitman massacre and the Cayuse War in what became southeastern Washington raised fears among white settlers throughout the region and led to the formation of large volunteer militias organized to fight Indians, though no whites were yet living in the Rogue River drainage.[40] Along the Rogue, tensions intensified in 1848 at the start of the California Gold Rush, when hundreds of men from the Oregon Territory passed through the Rogue Valley on their way to the Sacramento River basin.[41] After Indians attacked a group of returning miners along the Rogue in 1850, former territorial governor Joseph Lane negotiated a peace treaty with Apserkahar, a leader of the Takelma Indians. It promised protection of Indian rights and safe passage through the Rogue Valley for white miners and settlers.[42]

Formal portrait showing the head and shoulders of a white-haired, full-bearded man wearing a dark suit
Joel Palmer, Oregon Superintendent of Indian Affairs

The peace did not last. Miners began prospecting for gold in the watershed, including a Bear Creek tributary called Jackson Creek, where they established a mining camp in 1852 at the site of what later became Jacksonville.[43] Indian attacks on miners that year led to U.S. Army intervention and fighting near Table Rock between Indians and the combined forces of professional soldiers and volunteer miner militias.[44] John P. Gaines, the new territorial governor, negotiated a new treaty with some but not all of the Indian bands, removing them from Bear Creek and other tributaries on the south side of the main stem.[44] At about the same time, more white emigrants, including women and children, were settling in the region. By 1852, about 28 donation land claims had been filed in the Rogue Valley.[45] Further clashes in 1853 led to the Treaty with the Rogue River (1853) that established the Table Rock Indian Reservation across the river from the federal Fort Lane.[46] As the white population increased and Indian losses of land, food sources, and personal safety mounted, bouts of violence upstream and down continued through 1854–55, culminating in the Rogue River War of 1855–56.[47]

Suffering from cold, hunger, and disease on the Table Rock Reservation, a group of Takelma returned to their old village at the mouth of Little Butte Creek in October 1855. After a volunteer militia attacked them, killing 23 men, women, and children, they fled downriver, attacking whites from Gold Hill to Galice Creek.[48] Confronted by volunteers and regular army troops, the Indians at first repulsed them; however, after nearly 200 volunteers launched an all-day assault on the remaining natives, the war ended at Big Bend (at RM 35 or RK 56) on the lower river.[48] By then, fighting had also ended near the coast, where, before retreating upstream, a separate group of natives had killed about 30 whites and burned their cabins near what later became Gold Beach.[49]

Most of the Rogue River Indians were removed in 1856 to reservations further north. About 1,400 were sent to the Coast Reservation, later renamed the Siletz Reservation.[50][51] To protect 400 natives still in danger of attack at Table Rock, Joel Palmer, the Oregon Superintendent of Indian Affairs, ordered their removal, involving a forced march of 33 days, to the newly established Grande Ronde Reservation in Yamhill County, Oregon.[52]

Mail boats

A red house and several other buildings, either red or white, are arranged on a large grassy area mostly surrounded by white fences. Two pickup trucks can be seen on a dirt road leading to one of the white buildings. Heavily forested hills rise beyond the grassy area.
Rogue River Ranch at Marial, to which mail was delivered by boat and mule

After the Rogue River War, a small number of newcomers began to settle along or near the Rogue River Canyon. These pioneers, some of whom were white gold miners married to native Karok women from the Klamath River basin, established gardens and orchards, kept horses, cows, and other livestock, and received occasional shipments of goods sent by pack mule over the mountains.[53] Until the 1890s, these settlers remained relatively isolated from the outside world. In 1883, one of the settlers, Elijah H. Price, proposed a permanent mail route by boat up the Rogue River from Ellensburg (later renamed Gold Beach) to Big Bend, about 40 miles (64 km) upstream. The route, Price told the government, would serve perhaps 11 families and no towns.[54] Although the Post Office Department resisted the idea for many years, in early 1895 it agreed to a one-year trial of the water route, established a post office at Price's log cabin at Big Bend, and named Price postmaster. Price's job, for which he received no pay during the trial year, included running the post office and making sure that the mail boat made one round trip a week. He named the new post office Illahe.[55] The name derives from the Chinook Jargon word ilahekh, meaning "land" or "earth".[56]

Propelled by rowing, poling, pushing, pulling, and sometimes by sail, the mail boat delivered letters and small packages, including groceries from Wedderburn, where a post office was established later in 1895.[57] In 1897, the department established a post office near the confluence of the Rogue and the Illinois rivers, 8 miles (13 km) downriver from Illahe. The postmaster named the office Agnes after his daughter, but a transcription error added an extra "s" and the name became Agness.[57] Upriver, a third post office, established in 1903, was named Marial after another postmaster's daughter. Marial, at (RM) 48 (RK 77), is about 13 miles (21 km) upriver from Illahe and 21 miles (34 km) from Agness.[58] To avoid difficult rapids, carriers delivered the mail by mule between Illahe and Marial, and after 1908 most mail traveling beyond Agness went by mule. The Illahe post office closed in 1943,[59] and when the Marial post office closed in 1954, "it was the last postal facility in the United States to still be served only by mule pack trains."[60]

The first mail boat was an 18-foot (5.5 m), double-ended craft made of cedar.[57] By 1930, the mail-boat fleet consisted of three 26-foot (7.9 m) boats, equipped with 60-horsepower Model A Ford engines and designed to carry 10 passengers.[61] By the 1960s, rudderless jetboats powered by twin or triple 280-horsepower engines, began to replace propeller-driven boats. The jetboats could safely negotiate shallow riffles, and the largest could carry nearly 50 passengers.[62] Rogue mail-boat excursions, which had been growing more popular for several decades, began in the 1970s to include trips to as far upriver as Blossom Bar, 20 miles (32 km) above Agness.[63] As of 2010, jet boats, functioning mainly as excursion craft, still deliver mail between Gold Beach and Agness.[64] The Rogue River mail boat company is "one of only two mail carriers delivering the mail by boat in the United States";[65] the other is along the Snake River in eastern Oregon.[65][66]

Commercial fishing

For thousands of years, salmon was a reliable food source for Native Americans living along the Rogue. Salmon migrations were so huge that early settlers claimed they could hear the fish moving upstream. These large runs continued into the 20th century despite damage to spawning beds caused by gold mining in the 1850s and large-scale commercial fishing that began shortly thereafter. The fishing industry fed demands for salmon in the growing cities of Portland and San Francisco and for canned salmon in England.[35]

A large, golden-brown fish
Male freshwater phase Chinook salmon

By the 1880s, Robert Deniston Hume of Astoria had bought land on both sides of the lower Rogue River and established such a big fishing business that he became known as the Salmon King of Oregon.[35][n 2] His fleet of gillnetting boats, controlling most of the anadromous fish population of the river, plied its lower 12 miles (19 km).[35] During his 32-year tenure, Hume's company caught, processed, and shipped hundreds of tons of salmon from the Rogue.[35] Upriver commercial fishermen also captured large quantities of fish. On a single day in 1913, Grants Pass crews using five drift boats equipped with gill nets caught 5,000 pounds (2,300 kg) of salmon.[35]

In 1877, in connection with his commercial fishery, Hume built a hatchery at Ellensburg (Gold Beach), which released fish into the river. In its first year of operation, Hume collected 215,000 salmon eggs and released about 100,000 fry.[69] After the first hatchery was destroyed by fire in 1893, Hume built a new hatchery in 1895, and in 1897 he co-operated with the United States Fish Commission in building and operating an egg-collecting station at the mouth of Elk Creek on the upper Rogue. In 1899, he built a hatchery near Wedderburn, across the river from Gold Beach, and until the time of his death in 1908 he had salmon eggs shipped to it from the Elk Creek station.[70][n 3]

Based on variations in the size of the yearly catch, Hume and others believed his methods of fish-propagation to be successful.[72][73] However, as salmon runs declined over time despite the hatcheries, recreational fishing interests began to oppose large-scale operations. In 1910, a state referendum banned commercial fishing on the Rogue, but this decision was reversed in 1913. As fish runs continued to dwindle, the state legislature finally closed the river to commercial fishing in 1935.[74]

As of 2010, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) operates the Cole M. Rivers Hatchery near the base of the dam at Lost Creek Lake, slightly upstream of the former Rogue–Elk Hatchery built by Hume. It raises rainbow trout (steelhead), Coho salmon, spring and fall Chinook salmon, and summer and winter steelhead.[75] The United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) built the hatchery in 1973 to offset the loss of fish habitat and spawning grounds in areas blocked by construction of the Lost Creek Dam on the main stem and the Applegate and Elk Creek dams on Rogue tributaries.[76] It is the third-largest salmon and steelhead hatchery in the United States.[77]


In 1926, author Zane Grey bought a miner's cabin at Winkle Bar, near the river.[78] He wrote Western books at this location,[78] including his 1929 novel Rogue River Feud.[79] Another of his books, Tales of Fresh Water Fishing (1928), included a chapter based on a drift-boat trip he took down the lower Rogue in 1925. The Trust for Public Land bought the property at Winkle Bar and transferred it in 2008 to the BLM, which made it accessible to the public.[80]

In the 1930s and 1940s, many other celebrities, attracted by the scenery, fishing, rustic lodges, and boat trips, visited the lower Rogue. Famous visitors included actors Clark Gable, Tyrone Power and Myrna Loy, singer Bing Crosby, author William Faulkner, journalist Ernie Pyle, radio comedians Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, circus performer Emmett Kelly, and football star Norm van Brocklin.[81] Bobby Doerr, a Hall of Fame baseball player, married a teacher from Illahe, and made his home along the Rogue.[81] From 1940 to 1990, actress and dancer Ginger Rogers owned the 1,000-acre (400 ha) Rogue River Ranch, operated for many years as a dairy farm, near Eagle Point.[82] The historic Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater in Medford was named after her.[82] Actress Kim Novak and her veterinarian husband bought a home and 43 acres (17 ha) of land in 1997 near the Rogue River in Sams Valley, where they raise horses and llamas.[83]

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