From the archives of Kerby Jackson

Extract from -
Mines & Mining in the States and Territories West of the Rockies
U.S. Commision of mining statistics, 1870


Josephine County in 1895

Josephine County in 1895

This county is situated in the southwestern part of the State, and contains about two thousand five hundred square miles. It is bounded north by the Rogue River Mountains, separating it from Douglas County, east by Jackson County, south by California, and west by Curry County. There are about fifteen hundred inhabitants, and five or six thousand acres of land under cultivation. Kerbyville, Leland, Slate Creek, and Waldo are the principal towns. The condition of the placer mining in the county during the past year has been substantially the same as in Jackson County. Josephine suffers somewhat from lack of regular communications. It is perhaps on this account that I have failed to receive the detailed reports promised by letter from Sailor Diggings and other noted localities. The following description, furnished to a committee of the State Agricultural Society in 1869 by Dr. Watkins, a physician long resident in the county, may be relied upon.

Josephine County attracted attention as early as 1852, as a locality for placer gold-mining. The first mining of any importance was on Josephine Creek, which derived its name from a daughter of one of the miners, and afterward gave name to the county. In the spring of 1853 there was a great rush to the mines on Althouse Creek, which rises in the Siskiyou range, and runs in a northerly direction, uniting with other tributaries, forming Illinois River. The diggings on Althouse were very rich, the bed of the stream paying not only heavily but quite uniformly. At one time Adams & Co.’s books had a thousand names to obtain letters for in the different localities, where miners had previously resided. Sailor Diggings was then a famous locality; a ditch was dug some fifteen miles long at a cost of some $75,000 or $80,000 to bring water to the rich placers of this vicinity, and when fairly under way paid for itself the first year. It paid heavy dividends to its stockholders for ten or twelve years, and many parties who live sumptuously every day owe their fortune to their connection with the Sailor Diggings Ditch Company.

Sucker Creek, a tributary of Illinois River, a large turbulent mountain stream, was extensively mined from 1854 to 1860, but the diggings are deep, the boulders are large and unwieldy, the stream an unmanageable one, and, I think, never made an adequate return for the labor expended; but Sucker Creek has not yet had its day, and, with cheaper labor and better facilities, it will yet yield a golden harvest to the hand of adventure.

Canon Creek, Illinois River, and Galice Creek, were mined during these years, and generally with an adequate return for labor expended.

Williams Creek, a tributary of Applegate Creek, has had for the last few years a hardy mining population, who have met with a moderate return. Josephine is a mining county, and has had all the vicissitudes of such a county. Her citizens leading a roving life, and having little to bind them to the soil, mostly left during the Indian war of 1855-’56. Her rich minerals brought back to her a renewed population, however, but the great Fraser River excitement nearly depopulated her, and now she is only the shadow of her former self. But her rich placers are far from being exhausted. There are rich veins of copper running into her hills. The most noticeable one, some eight or tea feet in thickness, is situated in the hills betweeu Waldo and Althouse; but for some reason attempts to work it have failed, although it appears to be of great purity and inexhaustible in quantity. But the copper mines down Illinois River will yet make this locality famous; the copper is found in well defined lodes, and practically inexhaustible. The question is one of transportation.

Platter & Beach have been running a tunnel for the last three years through a heavy divide, to turn the waters of Althouse, so as entirely to drain the bed of Althouse Creek. Hanson & Co. have done the same at another point, and are now ” striking it rich.” These two operations have opened a district of great mineral wealth, which will awaken the old times in placer-gold mining on Althouse. The returns of the Malachi quartz lode have been very heavy ; and it is reported that this property has been purchased by a San Francisco house, who are pursuing the enterprise with vigor.

The county is dependent for supplies upon a slow, laborious and costly transportation over the Coast range.


Strangely enough, despite the passing of 140 years, a lot of things have not changed here in Josephine County since 1870. Most of the creeks and rivers which were mentioned by Dr. Watkins are still the centers of what little gold mining still goes on this county. The limited activity is not for the lack of gold, but due to the evergrowing problem of environmentalism all in the name of saving “virgin” waterways that contrary to common knowledge, are not so virgin. Sucker Creek, in particular, has had a lot of exposure in the news due to the prosecution of Cliff Tracey for his challenge against the authority of the USFS. But Sucker Creek, named for the large number of Illinois miners who once worked that creek (so named because Illinois is called “The Sucker State” and they also leant the name of their home state to the nearby river and surrounding valley), was worked so heavily in the old days that every boulder and every piece of gravel was probably overturned by the hands of early miners. Later on, around 1910, dragline dredges worked this waterway. Despite this, Sucker Creek is beautiful and supports a great deal of aquatic life. As Mr. Tracey’s tenacity indicates, there is undoubtedly still a lot of gold in the Sucker Creek watershed. It is reported that even down low in the grassy plain valley where the bedrock runs to depth of seventy five or more feet, that good quantities of course flakes can be recovered by simple panning of this creek’s gravels. Quite a lot of mining claims are still located on the upper end of this creek and its tributaries, mostly worked by individual miners.

Althouse Creek is a neighbor of Sucker Creek, and though it is more famous than the aforementioned waterway, both bring their gold from the same sources, which are largely concentrated in the hills between the East Fork of Althouse and the East Fork of Sucker. The gold in these two creeks originates from both lode deposits, as well as ancient channel gravels which still remain mostly unworked on the Oregon side of the Siskiyous. These two creeks have produced the largest gold nuggets ever located in Oregon history, including the famous Collins Nugget from the East Fork Althouse, as well as several nearly that size from Sucker Creek that were all recovered prior to 1900. Though the gravels of Althouse Creek itself have been heavily worked and the upper reaches are so wild that it is like you’ve stepped back into time, a large amount of activity still takes place in this area, most of which by small suction dredge.

Slightly to the west of Althouse Creek is a tremendous wealth of native copper. In fact, this is the greatest belt of copper on the West Coast and it runs for about 100 miles through Sothern Oregon and Northern California. One copper mine that did exist in this area was the famous Queen of Bronze Mine which was located near Takilma, Oregon and operated between 1862 and the 1930. Durings its heyday (about 1900), this 160 acre operation located at 40S, 8W, Sec 36, NW was the largest copper mine in the United States, consisting of over 7100 feet of tunnels. The Queen of Bronze also yielded gold as by-product, its total production amounting to about 60,000 ounces of gold and over 5 million pounds of copper. Since 1930, the mine has changed hands a number of times and despite housing tremendous mineral reserves, little work has been done since 1930 beyond some basic evaluation.

Seal of the State of Jefferson

Seal of the State of Jefferson

As was mentioned in the article, transportation issues prevented these reserves from being heavily mined. In fact, this condition was such that as late as 1941, the situation finally came to a head when residents of SW Oregon lobbied the State of Oregon to improve transportation into the copper belt. Instead, the state built campgrounds in the Northern Willamette. Meanwhile, California’s government also failed to support mining interests in Northern California. Leading citizens from the counties located on both sides of the California-Oregon border met in Yreka, California on November 17th, 1941 to discuss this issue and emerged with a plan. Their goal was for these counties to secede from Oregon and California and to form a new central government – the State of Jefferson. The state seal and state flag that they adopted reflected the core of the issue. The seal was a gold pan with two X’s emblazoned over top of it, representing “the double-cross” that had been done to the region by the governments of Oregon and California. Ten days later, those involved mounted an organized revolt. Astride horses and armed with rifles, they blocked Highway 199 (now I-5) near Yreka and handed out proclamations of independence to motorists. These read:

“You are now entering Jefferson, the 49th State of the Union. Jefferson is now in patriotic rebellion against the States of California and Oregon. This State has seceded from California and Oregon this Thursday, November 27, 1941. Patriotic Jeffersonians intend to secede each Thursday until further notice.

For the next hundred miles as you drive along Highway 99, you are traveling parallel to the greatest copper belt in the far West, seventy-five miles west of here. The United States government needs this vital mineral. But gross neglect by California and Oregon deprives us of necessary roads to bring out the copper ore. If you don’t believe this, drive down the Klamath River Highway and see for yourself. Take your chains, shovel and dynamite.

Until California and Oregon build a road into the copper country, Jefferson, as a defense minded state, will be forced to rebel each Thursday and act as a separate State.”

Eventually, an officer of the California Highway Patrol stumbled upon the roadblock. The men handed him a flier and told him to “go back to California”, upon which he promptly stepped back into his car, did a U-turn and left the area.

On December 4th, 1941, Judge John L. Childs of Crescent City was elected as Governor of the State of Jefferson and a torchlight parade was held at its Capital of Yreka. Media was present to record the event, which was to broadcasted on December 8th. It seemed the State of Jefferson was off to a grand start.

On the morning of December 7th, 1941, Japan launched a crushing attack on Pearl Harbor. The newsreels of Jefferson’s establishment as a state never appeared and the rebellion of locals ceased as the people went to work to support the war effort.

Eventually, a proper road was built into the copper country. It is called the State of Jefferson Scenic Highway, but most of the copper is still there awaiting some industrious miners to take it out.

One thing that has changed are the communities which Watkins mentioned in the article. Two of the four communities he mentioned no longer exist at all, namely Waldo and Leland. The other two, Kerbyville and Slate Creek barely exist and they are no longer called called by those names. Today, the only substantial community in Josephine County is Grants Pass, which was just a little hole in the road in Watkin’s days.

Waldo, Oregon in 1890

Waldo, Oregon in 1890

Waldo was one of the the first communities established in Southern Oregon and was originally called Sailor’s Diggings. This area gave rise to the first organized mining district in Oregon – the Waldo Mining District – which was established in 1852. This district still exists (and actually pre-dates creation of the State of Oregon) and is at the forefront of fighting for the rights of miners in this region. The Waldo Mining District, as the first seat of local government in this area, was instrumental in the formation of Josephine County which was established in January of 1856 when it separated from Jackson County. Waldo became its first county seat. Though popular myth has always claimed that the population of Waldo exceeded 30,000 miners during its heyday, in reality, only about 1500 persons (excluding Indians) lived in Josephine County in those days. Two thirds of these were miners working around the vicinity of Waldo, a small number of which were Chinese. Starting out as a tent city and growing into something more permanent, during its boom, Waldo was a wide open town that often attracted a rough element.

Ferd Patterson

Ferd Patterson

One fella who was attracted to the wealth of the diggings in the area was a young gambler by the name of Ferd Patterson who thought himself as not only a bit of a dandy, but he also thought of himself as a bit of a gunslick. Several years before he made a big name for himself by killing Sumner Pinkham in Idaho and ultimately bit the dust in Eastern Washington, Ferd wound up in an arguement with two local miners in Waldo over a card game and promptly gunned them both down. With the locals hot on his heels, Ferd beat feet for Portland, where he soon got himself into a bunch of trouble when he scalped his mistress and killed a well known riverboat captain whom he thought was shacking up with┬áhis girl. Another individual who got himself into trouble in Waldo was the notorious outlaw Boone Helm who later made a name for himself with the Henry Plummer gang, not to mention with his partaking of the flesh of one of his unfortunate partners somewhere in Idaho. In 1858, Boone was on the run from California and headed to The Dalles which widely reputed as a safe haven for criminals. During his stay in Oregon, Boone got himself in all kinds of trouble and killed several other men. One man he didn’t manage to kill was an old farmer living near Waldo. When Helm begged food off the farmer, the old man took pity on him and invited him into his home, where he provided him with food and rest. Illustrating that no good deed should go un-punished, Boone decided that he would kill the old man and steal whatever food and valueables that he had. Upon his attempt to sneak up to the old man while he lay asleep in his bed, instead of an easy victim, Boone soon found himself face to face with the barrel of Fowling shotgun. Upon escaping from the cabin, like Patterson, Boone Helm was chased out of the county. However, like other boom towns, Waldo would not last. By the 1880’s, many miners had left the vicinity and headed to nearby Kerbyville which eventually replaced Waldo as the seat of power in this county. A good many others went to the new strikes on the Frasier River. In December of 1928, Waldo lost its post office. During the 1930’s, it was discovered that Waldo had been built upon a rich gravel bench and the townsite was soon purchased by a local mining company. As also happened with the townsite of nearby Browntown on Althouse Creek, during that decade, the monitors took care of Waldo once and for all as they mined the site out. Today, nothing remains of Waldo but a cemetery.

Fort Leland

Grave Creek House at Leland

Like Waldo, Leland also now no longer exists. This community was located on LeLand Road somewhat past the present community of Sunny Valley, Oregon. Though this was originally the site of Fort LeLand during the 1850’s and the surrounding land was patented in 1859 by James Twogood who operated a stage station nearby called Grave Creek House, the small community that grew up in this area was known by a number of names, namely Maloneyville and Altamont. The town received its first post office in 1884 and served as a supply center for nearby mines, namely that of Criteser and Tast (1/4 mile west of town) which was established in 1878, the Goff Mine that was established a half mile north of town in 1886 and yet another large mine about one mile west of town that was eventually owned by the Lewis Company of Portland. By 1890, a few miles south of Leland, another town also grew up in the form of Placer. Like Leland, that town too no longer exists, both of them going into decline around World War One. By the 1940’s, the name of this area was changed to Sunny Valley. Quite a lot of mining is still done by individual prospectors in this gold rich area, mainly along Grave Creek.

Watkins also mentions the town of Slate Creek. Though now a shadow of its former self, this town still exists only today we call it Wilderville and consists of little more than an old store and a community church. At one time, one of the greatest marble mines in the United States looked down on this community. Nearby Slate Creek runs behind Wilderville and is a tributary of the Applegate River with tremendous reserves of placer gold. Decades ago, when my grandmother first came to Oregon and wished to live a solitary existence, she lived on an old mining claim high up on Slate Creek and made her way with nothing but a gold pan and a rifle.

Kerbyville in 1885

Kerbyville in 1885

As mentioned earlier, Kerbyville replaced Waldo as our local county seat. It still exists today and though little of it remains, it is a great old town with a lot of gold history and a nice musuem. Like Waldo, Kerbyville was a rough place during its heyday where miners often doled out justice at the old hanging tree. According to local legend, Kerbyville was established when a packer by the name of “Tig” Martinez was transporting a pool table from Crescent City, California which he had consigned to a man named Jake Cohen who was a saloonkeeper at Althouse. Tig had the table on the back of his favorite mule, who he called Anita. Suddenly, Anita collapsed from the strain and promptly died. It was believed that there was not another mule in the whole of the valley which could carry the table on to Althouse, so Tig left it atop the mule and went to see Cohen and explained to him that the table was near the farm of James Kerby and that he would have to transport it the rest of the way to Althouse. Tig then asked for his pay, which Cohen refused to give to him for lack of delivery. The end result was that Tig was now the proud owner of one pool table which was currently lying atop the carcass of his favorite mule in the middle of the trail. Not wanting to lose the money that he had invested, Tig soon came up with an idea. After removing his mule from beneath it, Tig erected a tent around the table, set up a bar and advertised the grand opening of a brand new saloon. As it was the only pool table in the area, he soon had a roaring trade and a town grew up around it. At its height, about 500 people lived in Kerby, mostly miners who worked the neighboring creeks and gulches. In the surrounding hillsides, a lot of gold can still be found. As you might have guessed, this writer was named for that town.

~ Kerby Jackson, Josephine County, Oregon