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Entries Tagged ‘Grants Pass’

Gold-field bandits’ stolen loot still hasn’t been found

The Triskett Gang underestimated the citizens of Sailors’ Diggins, which became a fatal error when they went on a shooting spree downtown. But the $75,000 they stole has never been recovered.

By Finn J.D. John — Posted with permission from the Author. The Author has a very interesting website at www.offbeatoregon.com


The amount of shooting done in Sailors’ Diggins by the Triskett Gang
suggests they likely were using the then-new cap-and-ball Colt revolvers
such as this 1848 Dragoon model. Remember, this incident happened
well before brass cartridges were invented; each shot had to be loaded
by hand with a ramrod. (Image: Hmaag/Wikimedia)

After a former Oregon farmer found gold at Sutter’s Mill in 1848, people from Oregon raced southward to start grubbing it out of the ground. The next year, people from the East Coast raced westward with the same idea.

By the year after that, it was getting to be hard to find a good patch of “pay dirt” that didn’t already have a miner or two working it. New prospectors might spend years poking around little mountain creeks before finding one worth working, and prospecting was hard work.

Increasingly, people started to realize there were actually several different ways a fellow could work the diggin’s:

One could look for gold the old-fashioned way, of course. But one could also go into business selling stuff, at inflated prices, to prospectors; many Oregon farmers got very rich this way.

There was another way, too. One could simply make a five-dollar investment in one of those new-fangled .44-caliber Colt Dragoon revolvers, then go find a successful miner and rob him.

Meet the Triskett Gang

There was one particular group of frontier rowdies who opted to follow this path. They were known as the Triskett Gang. This name sounds a bit like a Disney movie from the late 1960s — maybe as a sequel to The Apple Dumpling Gang? — but in reality, these guys were anything but lovable. They were named not after a yet-to-be-invented Nabisco snack cracker, but rather after brothers Jack and Henry Triskett. In their little band were three other thugs: Fred Cooper, Miles Hearn and Chris Slover.

The story of the Triskett Gang’s last day is a bit fuzzy. I haven’t been able to track down a solid source for the details. A visit to the Josephine County Historical Society in Grants Pass would probably be very helpful in firming up the details. But here’s the gist of the story:

Desperados on the run

Waldo, Oregon

The town of Waldo, f.k.a. Sailors’ Diggins, in the 1890s. This image was
made well after the town’s Gold Rush heyday, when the Triskett Gang
came through town and shot it up . (Image: www.oregongold.net)

In early August of 1852, the Trisketteros were on the run. They’d robbed a few people in California, as guys like them are wont to do, and were heading north with some armed, angry citizens on their tails, trying to lose themselves in the wilderness for a while.

They arrived one afternoon in a little town called Sailors’ Diggins, which today is a ghost town known as Waldo. About five miles north of the border with California near the present-day town of Cave Junction, Sailors’ Diggins was essentially an overgrown mining camp, but it was booming; at a time when the entire state of Oregon had fewer than 10,000 occupants, Sailors’ Diggins was home to several thousand. The mountains nearby were especially rich, and on that particular day, almost every able-bodied man was out working them.

Waldo, Oregon 1950's Ghost town

When photographer Ben Maxwell visited Waldo (Sailors’ Diggins) in
1954, he found not much remaining of the ghost town that once was one
of Oregon’s largest towns . (Image: Salem Public Library, Ben Maxwell

The five bandits quickly found the saloon, went inside and started drinking their stolen gold. After a time, nicely sozzled, they wandered out onto the street. Probably they were contemplating the need to get out of Sailors’ Diggins immediately; a town that size would be the first place the posse would check when trying to get a fix on them.

Maybe it was this thought that made Fred Cooper snap. Bandits aren’t known for self-discipline. Maybe he wanted, more than anything, to hang around that saloon all afternoon, leisurely drinking and flirting and maybe hiring some female companionship for the evening — all those things that bad guys dream about doing with their ill-gotten gains. Maybe he was standing there outside that nice little saloon just getting madder and madder at having to leave, plunge into the woods and start poking around for a tree to sleep under.

Maybe. Nobody knows, really. What is known is that instead of heaving a heavy sigh and heading for the city limits, he pulled his pistol and, without a word, gunned down a random citizen who was walking down the street minding his own business.

Gunning down innocent bystanders

Barn in Waldo, Oregon 1950's Ghost Town

One of the few buildings still standing in 1954 when Ben Maxwell visited
the ghost town of Waldo. (Image: Salem Public Library, Ben Maxwell
collection )

The rest of the gang leaped into action, if that’s the right word. The five of them stormed down the street simply killing everyone they saw. At least two women were raped as well.

Then, as they were leaving town, they paused, hustled down to the assaying depot and cleaned it out — roughly $75,000 worth of freshly mined gold. This they loaded onto two stolen horses and left town.

A mob of angry citizens takes up the chase

Now, Sailors Diggins was right in the middle of the mining action. Many of the miners could hear the gunfire and knew something was very wrong. By the time the Triskett Gang was leaving town, they were starting to arrive, probably with loaded weapons in hand. The 17 dead bodies still bleeding in the streets were their wives, children and aged relatives. You can imagine how they reacted.

All it took was one well-hidden survivor to yell, “They went that-a-way!” and the posse was off.

Weighed down with almost 250 pounds of gold, the bandits weren’t moving very fast, and the posse soon caught them up. The gang members must have been surprised by how quickly the angry citizens got on their trail. After a short pursuit, the bad guys turned at bay on the top of a little hill just outside O’Brien.

Gunfight to the death; but where was the gold?

I haven’t been able to learn much about the ensuing firefight. Presumably at least a few of the miners were killed; after all, the Triskett Gang were professional gunmen, and were able to pick the place where they made their final stand. I also don’t know if the bad guys tried to surrender. It’s certainly possible they didn’t; all they had to look forward to was humiliation and hanging.

In any case, when the shooting stopped, four gang members were dead, one was dying — and there was no sign anywhere of the 250 pounds of gold dust they’d hijacked from the depot.

To this day, that gold has never been recovered — or, rather, if it has, whoever found it was remarkably discreet about it. Treasure hunters still come to the O’Brien area to look for it. Most of them assume the gang hid it somewhere on the hill where they made their stand.

But it’s far more likely they squirreled it away earlier, when they first realized they were being pursued. It’s a lot harder to run from an angry posse when you’re leading a pack horse.

If that’s the case, it could be almost anywhere in the woods between Waldo and O’Brien, probably within a few dozen yards of the road. The stash would be worth about $5.5 million today.

(Sources: http://www.gwizit.com/treasures/oregon.php; http://www.josephinehistorical.org; Marsh, Carole. Oregon’s Unsolved Mysteries (and their “Solutions”). Peachtree City, GA: Carole Marsh Books, 1994; Friedman, Ralph. In Search of Western Oregon. Caldwell, ID: Caxton, 1990)

Grave Creek – Oregon Gold Locations

Grave Creek (Mostly resides in Josephine County)and it’s tributaries have produced placer gold up to the present time. The largest dredging operation in Josephine County was conducted between 1935 and 1938 on the south side of Grave Creek east of Leland. Bedrock became too deep for the dredge to clean and operations terminated, rather than re-outfit the rig with new customized parts that could do the job.  An undisclosed, but significant amount of gold was recovered. Butte Creek, Coyote Creek, Dog Creek, Poorman Creek, Shanks Creek, Tom East Creek, and Wolf Creek were important gold producing tributaries.

The picture famous Grave Creek covered bridge

The picture famous Grave Creek covered bridge

Tom East Creek, which drains the area of the Greenback Lode Mine, produced over 25,000 ounces of placer gold after 1897. A dragline excavator was used for awhile on Coyote Creek east of the village of Wolf Creek. Considerable placer gold remains to be mined in the region. Northeast of Grants Pass about 18 miles and 5 miles East of I-5 at Grave Creek bridge, in the Northeast part of the county from Winona to King Mountain, the Greenback Tri-County District can be found (A group of lode gold mines along adjacent boundaries of Douglas County and Jackson County).Along Grave Creek and tributary Coyote Creek and Wolf Creek; extensive placers are found, especially for gold dredging on the south side of Grave Creek. Upstream from Leland you will find the largest operations County history.


Grave Creek is roughly about 30 miles long and is a tributary of the Rogue River. Grave Creek starts near Cedar Springs Mountain just north of the Douglas County/Jackson County border and flows approximately southwest through Jackson County and Josephine County to its confluence with the Rogue River.

Female Miners in Southern Oregon?

From the archives of Kerby Jackson

When one thinks of the old timers who worked the rivers, creeks, gulches and hills of Oregon in search of illusive riches, we think of the iconic old grizzled prospector. Red shirted and bearded, with a pick over his shoulder, a .45 slung low on his hip and accompanied only by his trusty mule whose back is heaped high with gear, he is the traditional icon of the gold rush era. That image is so powerful and so well known that today, it adorns anything having to do with the word “gold” and like his cousin the cowboy, everyone recognizes him just by his outline. Yet contrary to that traditional image, he wasn’t the only fella who was out there breaking his back for a few bits of color. The patience and hard work of the Chinese and their contribution to the Southern Oregon Gold Rush are legendary, but even lesser known today were the efforts of Pacific Islanders (so-called “Kanakas”), Mexicans, Free Blacks and other groups of men who came to toil in Oregon’s creeks and gulches hoping to strike it rich. And as the following article, originally published over a century ago attests, not every person working in the gold fields of Oregon was necessarily “one of the boys”.

Grants Pass, Oregon. May 1904.

The gold fields of Southern Oregon mineral zone appear to be particularly attractive to women; at least this section has its fair share of women miners, and there is no gainsaying that it has profited thereby. A visitor to the Forest Queen hydraulic mine, near Grants Pass, will find a handsome woman busily engaged about the diggings, operating a giant, retorting gold or even “bucking” the boulders on the bedrock. This woman is Mrs. Wisenbacher, but she was formerly Miss Pipes and was one of the stunning “Sadie Girls” with the popular Anna Held company in “The Little Duchess”. Last year, Mrs. Wisenbacher quit the stage and became a full “partner” with her father and brother in the operation of the Forest Queen Mine. With a woman about to assist, the season has been a successful one at the Forest Queen.

“Though I had become fascinated with the life behind the footlights,” said Mrs. Wisenbacher to a Mining Review correspondent, “I am equally so with the life of a gold digger in Southern Oregon. There are few spots anywhere prettier than that where the Forest Queen is located.”

Mrs. Wisenbacher, being a “Sadie Girl” is, of course, handsome. She would have this season been a “La Mode” girl in the same popular company, but she was induced by her father, who is a prominent Colorado and Idaho miner, to give up the stage and live a life of greater ease and freedom in the Southern Oregon Mountains.

The Mining Review correspondent also came unexpectedly upon another woman miner, a woman “piper”, if you please, in a Southern Oregon mine. She is Mrs. M.E. Moore, and this lady, like the other mentioned is a full “partner” in a placer mine. Mrs. Moore is a piper, an expert piper – not the kind the Scotch Highlanders know so much about – but a hydraulic mining piper – the operater of a hydraulic giant. Every day this woman is at her post beside the giant, long before the sun is up, and she remains there throughout her shift. None know better than she how best to swerve the big nozzle to drive an avalanche of boulders down the gulch ahead of the giant’s stream, scattering them like a handfull of bullets shot from a catapult, or how to bring that long and deep growl to the monster as its cuts and gnaws deep at the base of the towering red clay bank till a great slab of a thousand tons topples and falls with a crash from the mountainside.

Mrs. Moore has been a “partner” of her husband in the mining business for nearly twenty years. She has followed the trails through the mining regions of Colorado, Montana, Arizona, California and Oregon, prospecting, pocket-hunting, digging, always on the lookout for a color, a strike, a bonanza. She has traveled hundreds of miles on pack pony and burro, through the snow and over the burning sands. Those twenty years, spent altogether out of doors, have been days of perfect health for her. “Yes,” said she, “mining is the life for me. I love it. I love the freedom of the mountains and the ozone of the pines. There is no other life like it; none as enjoyable for me, at least.”

The Mining Review, 5/18/1904
Ellen Jack, a female prospector from Colorado at the turn of the 19th century. Courtesy: Kerby Jackson archives

Ellen Jack in 1910

One of the best known female prospectors was Ellen Elliot Jack of Colorado, who is pictured at the left in a photo dated about 1910. Ellen was born in England, but came to the Far West in 1872 after the tragic death of her husband and children. In addition to mining, she was also an early woman business owner. Like her male counterparts who worked the gold fields, Ellen was one tough cookie. Everywhere she went, Ellen carried a pick axe and a six gun in her belt and she knew how to use both of them. She was also said to bear a severe scar that was the result of a tomahawk wound she received during one of the Gunnison Indian Uprisings. At the time this photo was taken, she had just written a semi-autobioghraphical novel entitled “The Fate of A Fairy” which was about a woman who loses her husband and becomes a female prospector.

Another lady prospector was Ferminia Sarras, who was a major mine owner in Nevada and was widely known as the “Nevada Copper Queen”. Ferminia’s story would have been lost to history had it not been for the research of historian Sally Zanjani, the author of “A Mine of Her Own: Women Prospectors in the American West, 1850-1950″

The article above is thought to have been written by Dennis Stovall who was an early author living in Josephine County. Stovall is best known for his novel “Suzanne of Kerbyville” which he wrote the same year as this article. His novel, though fictional, is one of the best sources for information on the early settlement of Kerby, Oregon, as well as the mining that went on in the vicinity of that early gold rush town. Though the novel really focuses on the exploits of a young woman named Suzanne , it is mentioned that Suzanne’s father was a “pocket hunter” and there is quite a good description of his methods.

The Forest Queen Placer, mentioned in this article, was located on Louse Creek, a few miles east of Merlin, Oregon. At the time, it was owned by J.P. Pipes and T. Weisenbacher (or Wisenbacher). The property was originally known as the Lance Placer and at the time of this article it consisted of 212 acres of ground that was worked with the assistance of two miles worth of ditch, 2500 feet of pipe with a pressure of 200 feet, three giants and a Ruble Rock Elevator.

~ Kerby Jackson, Josephine County, Oregon

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