After Haiti, Oregon


Although the amount of energy devoted to the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake is heartening, I sometimes wish that impulse were operational closer to home. I have always found it fascinating that Oregon’s rural poor, who are poor indeed, never seem to need any help as far as most of the same Oregonians are concerned who leapt so publicly to the help of Haiti, when it became a cause celebre. Perhaps if Oregon’s rural poor had the decency to be more picturesque we’d have plane-loads of doctors rushing in to help. Or perhaps the Haitians, also a conservative rural people, offend liberal sensibilities less because the beliefs they share with their Oregon brethren, but far less with their urban benefactors, are hidden behind a foreign language.


Crater Lake Under Snow


Llao Rock and Wizard Island: it was the stillest day we’d ever seen at the lake

My dentist, the first Klamath Indian to become one, was talking about Crater Lake the other day, in the moments before the panicked shrieking began.

“We get free entrance to the park,” he said, speaking of the members of his tribe. “A trade-off, I suppose. We give them the lake and they let us visit.”

For millennia prior to its “discovery” in June of 1853, the Klamath Indians had used the lake as an open-air cathedral, of sorts. Climbing up to the rim to see the lake was allowed only on religious pilgrimage and only with a reverential cast of mind.


The lodge


Daily Constitutional #2: Petard Ditch Loop

Today I went back to the Jacksonville Woodlands to do the Petard Ditch Loop, a 1 1/2 mile hike that starts at Rich Gulch, which I covered here. To get to the trailhead, either hike up to Rich Gulch as I described in that post, or drive further up Oregon Street to the streetside trailhead that goes through the Chinese Diggings area.

I took the latter. I parked in the gravel triangle where another street intersected Oregon and walked back to the trailhead, past a pair of bobbing quail. I walked up past the cougar warning notice for a quarter mile, turning right at the intersection of another trail and walked through the field above Rich Gulch. At Rich Gulch, I turned left at the sign for Petard Ditch. You travel along the ditch in question, a mile-long watercourse dug by hand in the 1850s to provide water for large scale gold mining, for about half a mile until it loops. Take the higher fork and drop down to Jackson Creek for the return walk.

Because my hikes tend to turn, or so S. maintains, into Death Marches, naturally I took the third fork on the main trunk instead of the second and wound up meandering uphill to the east. The trail eventually started switchbacking. Courting a heart attack, I stuck with it and wound up on the broad top of a high ridge that descended gently to the north. Although the views were minimal, the sinuous madrone trees and elevation made the broad ramp a breezy colonnade. There was a sense in the wavy salmony trunks of the madrone of a view of the Mediterranean through the trees in a post-impressionist painting.

I followed the ramp downward through a strange little bit where the madrone and oak were mixed uncharacteristically with pine and fir. Here a scattering of pale yellow butterflies danced across the path. Once the trail started switchbacking down the east side, I figured out that since the trailhead was northwest of the ridge that I might be offbase just a smidge. So I hiked back up hill to the ridgetop, down the westside switchback, back down the path to the juncture and took a left again to complete the loop.

From the Britt area parking lot the hike would be about 3 1/2 miles but from the Oregon Street trailhead it was only about 2. (With my crazed Death March addition it was about 3.)

Next on the agenda: Ashland’s Lithia Park, from the plaza to the reservoir.

, , , , ,

“Negro” Bill’s Cabin


While I was hiking in Rich Gulch, in the Jacksonville Woodlands in Southern Oregon, I walked a little ways above the former mining works to the area called Frenchman’s Gulch. It got that name due to the numbers of French families who made their way into the area in the 19th and very early 20th centuries. There are several interpretive signs there which include maps of the area. One small square on those maps is marked “Negro Bill’s Cabin.”

I knew that Jacksonville had at one point been a very ethnically varied town, as many are that attract people due to the possibility of making money. Jacksonville in the 1850s was the biggest gold rush between Sutter’s Mill and the Klondike. There were Jewish families, Chinese and black, though many, most in fact, left after the gold petered out.

I wanted to find out more about this Bill so I contacted the Southern Oregon Historical Society (SOHS) at the Jacksonville Museum and the Jacksonville Woodlands Association.

It turns out that on the original U.S. Land Office mining maps, the cabin was identified as “N/gger Bill’s Cabin.” (Not the preferred nomenclature, Dude.)

Larry Smith, president of the Jacksonville Woodlands Association told me they wrestled with that for a bit, not wishing to be ahistorical but also not wanting to post that word on a sign that would exist without sufficient context. They settled on “Negro Bill’s cabin.”

Carol Harbison-Samuelson, formerly Library Manager and Photo Archivist for the SOHS, was good enough to do some research on this topic.

Our collection includes an 1867 road work book that lists “colored men” working on the roads and the amount they were paid ~ a man named Bill is listed. In the county commissioner’s journal of December 5th of 1877 a request is made to pay, “Mr. William Short (colored) $2.50 for cleaning the court house and county jail.” In the Jackson County census of 1870 and 1880 ~ Mr. William Short (black) is listed as living in the Jacksonville Precinct. In the 1870 census he is listed as 40 years old and in the 1880 census he is listed as being 51 years of age. I imagine he is the same man as “Negro Bill” because the other black men have different names ~ I find only one William or Bill. Perhaps you can get an idea where his cabin was by looking at the census records.

So, chances are not bad that our Bill is the William Short in the 1870 census.

I subsequently checked the burial list of the Jacksonville Cemetery, at Bill’s suggestion, and found the same William Short listed.

Short     William
05/07/1902    City        7     6
Age at Death - 74 years. Colored.

He was born in 1828 in West Virginia, no doubt a slave, and died 74 years later. He was buried in the City section of the Jacksonville Cemetery, in Block 7, Plot 6.

I’m hoping to find out whether this William Short is the Bill who had the cabin and, if so, find additional information about him in the census records, as Carol suggested, and in microfilm of Jacksonville’s numerous old newspapers. If it’s not him, I hope to find out who was and what their life was like.

Daily Constitutional #1: Jacksonville Woodlands, Rich Gulch

Although it’s not a great photo, this place, the Jacksonville Woodlands, is my favorite place to hike. It’s a rink of privately-acquired (though publicly accessible) woods surrounding the historic town of Jacksonville, Oregon, where part of my family is from.

I wrote up my favorite hike there as a sample for a column I was planning to try with the Medford Mail Tribune. Since I’ve accepted the job in Eugene with a large independent video game developer and publisher, I won’t be writing it for them. Hopefully, someone else will. As for me, I think, when the mood takes me, I’ll just do it here. Consider this the first installment of my “Daily Constitutional.”

Daily Constitutional #1

If you spend too much time in front of the TV, as I have done lately, your impression of fitness will wind up pretty skewed. According to the square oracle, the only way a person like you or I can get fit is to purchase something, usually something large and expensive, and then spend either hours a day on it or, less convincingly, minutes. But most doctors agree that you can grab great health gains from a simple activity that the overwhelming majority of us know how to do, even if we do it too seldom: walking.

When I say walking, I don’t mean hiking, even less snowshoeing or mountain climbing. A good walk of half and hour to an hour each day can result in weight loss, lowering of blood pressure, reduction of stress and strengthening of muscles. So, my plan is to put my feet where my mouth is (without actually putting my foot in my mouth, though no promises there). I’ll give you a nice, simple, easily-accessible walk to do somewhere in the area each day. If you take the walk, chime in on our online forums and tell us what you thought. If you have a walk to suggest, write me and let me know.

The Jacksonville Woodlands. Rich Gulch Trail. Two Miles Round Trip. Moderate

Over the past 17 years the Jacksonville Woodlands Association has secured and maintained 20 pieces of land surrounding the town of Jacksonville. They’ve created low-impact trails, trail maps (available for a buck at trailheads) and even in some places put in interpretive signage.

The Rich Gulch trail is one of my favorites. When I go to Jville, I drive up Highway 99, take a left on Old Stage Road, jog right on Griffin Creek and left back onto Stage, then come into town on California Street. At the far end of town, take a left on Oregon Street, an immediate right on Pine, an immediate left again on First, then another right after the Britt Festival grounds. Park in the lot at the trailhead.

From the trailhead at the map box, head out across the flat land through a widely-spaced oak forest, keeping to the left of the old water tank. Eventually, you’ll work your way up the slope, birdsong usually your only companion. Walk on, along the side of a little pine valley. As you come up to Rich Gulch itself, the site of a great deal of the gold mining that put Jacksonville on the map, you will see an area gated off with waist-high metal fencing. That’s one of the sinkholes created when local residents returned to gold mining during the depths of the Great Depression. The hole, ten feet wide and twice as deep, yields an unexpected occupant, the body of an old car.

Twelve interpretive signs will give you interesting information on the mining history of the area.

Walk a few feet further on and look down to the right. That’s Petard Ditch, that carried water for mining from Jackson Creek, hand dug by the miners. Now look to the left. There’s a ridge there and if you walk up to it, you’ll see it was the retaining wall for the small reservoir in front of it. There, the water would be stored, allowing pressure to build up. In the summer time (after the main gold mining died out) it was used as a swimming hole by local kids.

Across the further ridge you’ll see the main diggings. Here the water, whose pressure had built up in the reservoir, was loosed in soil-stripping gushes through great hoses, washing the dirt of the sides of the gulch and into the “long Tom” and other sluicing boxes to separate the gold.

Mining changed the area. It created fascinating, and in some cases even beautiful, effects, though it took its toll as well. The land is not the same as it was before the gold rush.

From the diggings, you can head back the same way your came, or take your pick of further walks. The half-mile Frenchman Mine Loop will take you up over the valley where many early French pioneers lived, ranched and, yes, made wines from the vineyards they planted, long before Rogue Valley wines had won any awards. In the other direction, the 1.5 Petard Ditch Loop will take you to Jackson Creek.

Walking is man’s best medicine. –Hippocrates, Greek physician, 5th century B.C.

[We’re going over to do the Petard Ditch Trail tomorrow. Perhaps I’ll write that up and ask S. to take a decent photo. Once back in Eugene, I’ll do Mt. Pisgah, my favorite place to walk in that area.]

, , , ,

100 Peaks Over 7,800 Feet in Oregon

Some time ago I came across a great article by Jeff Howbert on the Mazamas’ web site. (The Mazamas are a 113-year old Northwest mountain-climbing organization.)

Want to make a couple of quick bucks? Here’s a bar bet almost any Washington climber should jump at. The conversation would go something like this…After swapping lies for awhile, you casually observe, “Boy, there’s a lot of high mountains down in Oregon, too. In fact, I heard there’s almost a hundred that are over 8000 feet high.” Your climbing buddy/victim will probably deny this without even thinking about it. “Nah, no way!”

In fact, it’s true. Check out Jeff’s piece on the Mazamas site and then check out their list of Oregon’s 100 Highest Peaks.

, , ,

Dying in Oregon

James Kim is not the only person to die in the snow in Oregon. He’s just the one with the most media friends. On CNET’s site, where his co-workers worked to post the latest and most exhaustive news regarding Kim and his missing family and the subsequent discovery of his wife and children (safe) and him (dead of exposure), a number of readers attempted to comment on what can be learned from Kim’s death. They were attacked quite enthusiastically by those who believed the comments on the site should be used for condolences and recollections. Personally, I respected their wishes. But now, on my blog, I wish to register the issues of import to those with no personal connection with the Kims.


Rowena Dell

We hiked at Rowena Dell, over the white felt of bleached summer grasses, dead till the green reach of rain in autumn, that blanket the black basalt ziggurats stepping up from the Columbia River, whose immensity was sensible even a thousand feet above it. All around lichen-blurred cairns of rotten rock broke through those undulating blankets, like wisps of smoke suspended in the windless heat. The perfume of sage hung low to the ground, pushed down by the weight of the August sunlight. Waves of heat from the baked, mud-clay paths were stacked up along the ground waiting for a breeze. Fifty miles in each direction only the river moved and then only reluctantly, bending geomorphically around the headland into the great stone slot east of Mosier. Rusty whistles from an occasional 100-car freight-train traveling along the Washington side rent the air weakly before being subsumed again into the gigantic stillness.