"This is the worst place in the world."
Andrew Jackson Poe, 1848
Notes on discovering, developing, and surviving the road through the infamous Canyon on the Rogue-Umpqua Divide--the place where the word "canyon" entered the English language.
In roughly chronological order of events:
Entering the Canyon from the north, circa 1930.
On the morning of [June] 24th, [1846,] we left camp early and moved on about five miles to the south branch of the Umpqua, a considerable stream, sixty yards wide, coming from the eastward. Traveling up that stream almost to the place where the old trail crosses the Umpqua mountains, we encamped for the night opposite the historic Umpqua canyon.
The next morning, June 25th, we entered the canyon, followed up the little stream that runs through the defile for four or five miles, crossing the creek a great many times, but the canyon becoming more obstructed with brush and fallen timber, the little trail we were following turned up the side of the ridge where the woods were more open, and wound its way to the top of the mountain. It then bore south along a narrow backbone of the mountain, the dense thickets and the rocks on either side affording splendid opportunities for ambush. A short time before this, a party coming from California had been attacked on this summit ridge by the Indians, and one of them had been severely wounded. Several of the horses had also been shot with arrows. Along this trail we picked up a number of broken and shattered arrows. We could see that a large party of Indians had passed over the trail traveling southward only a few days before. At dark we reached a small opening on a little stream at the foot of the mountain on the south, and encamped for the night.
On the morning of the 26th, we divided our forces, part going back to explore the canyon, while the remainder stayed to guard the camp and horses. The exploring party went back to where we left the canyon on the little trail the day before, and returning through the canyon, came into camp after night, reporting that wagons could be taken through.
Lindsay Applegate, "Notes and Reminiscences of Laying Out and Establishing the Old Emigrant Road into Southern Oregon in the Year 1846," Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society, March 1921, pages 16-17. Originally published in the West Shore, 1877.
See also Daniel Toole's excellent memoir of his 1846 passage through the Canyon.
Thence crossed Umpqua Mountain on the 'Jedediah' trail over desperately abrupt ascents and descents to Levens' Station on upper Cow Creek, which would be utterly impossible for wagons.
Another camp was made near and explorers sent out in two directions. Uncle Jesse, who had been chosen captain, took Harris--known as 'Black Harry'--to examine the practicability of Cow Creek itself, downstream, for it looked like the right direction and not too bold. Father and William Parker went up Cow Creek to attempt an outlet into a canyon, because they headed near each other, and on that scout discovered the famous 'Umpqua Canyon' choked with logs, timber and underbrush, with not even an Indian footpath; but decided that force enough could clear it up in two weeks and make it passable for wheels. Uncle Jesse and Harris reported Cow Creek Canyon too long and so barricaded with rocky points that no work now available could make it passable for wagons. Of course his discovery is at present used by the 'Oregon & California,' or, rather, 'Southern Pacific.' So the Umpqua Canyon plan was adopted and became afterward the stage and emigrant route until the present--1895.
Elisha Lindsay Applegate, quoted in Reese P. Kendall, Pacific Trail Camp-Fires, Chicago 1901, pages 134-135
"Talking of old times, Uncle," we said, "you came in pretty early, didn't you?"
"Well, I guess it was in 1846," said he, in a plaintive, slow voice. "We came over the Plains, the old lady and I, from Illinois. We had a pretty good ox team, and we got through safe. . . ."
"Which way did you come into Oregon?"
"By Klamath Lake and Rogue River. The worst piece on the whole journey was that Rogue River cañon; you know where that is?
"Yes, Uncle, came through it at a sharp run on the California stage a month ago."
"Well, there warn't no stage then--no, nor road either. You know it is about eight miles long, and I calc'late you might go a quarter of a mile at a time on the bodies of the horses and oxen that had died there. No man got through without leaving some of his cattle there. Tell you, sir, when you once got into the place, seemed like there was no end to it, and you jest got to face the music, for there warn't no other way."
Wallis Nash, Two Years in Oregon, 1882, pages 198-199
We traveled up the South Umpqua [in June 1846] till we came near the foot of the Umpqua Mountains, where we met a party of eight or ten immigrants coming from California. I think they consisted of a Mr. Hess and his family, who afterwards settled in the lower end of the Chehalem Valley in Yamhill County, and Hess's son-in-law, John Chamberlain, who settled on the Little Luckiamute in Polk County. They had some cattle with them, and a lot of Mexican horses. They said the Indians had killed one of their cows at the creek just across the mountains. This creek has ever since been called Cow Creek. They informed us it was about ten miles across the mountain, and that the trail was very rough and difficult. They said that while they were crossing the mountain, the Indians had wounded one of them with an arrow, and had run off one of their pack horses down the steep mountainside into a wooded thicket where they dared not follow them.
They said a wagon road never could be made across the mountain; that it could scarcely be crossed with pack horses, and that any party, in crossing, would be constantly in danger from the Indians.
Having been forewarned by these unfortunate travelers, and taking every precaution against surprise, we crossed without either accident or incident worthy of note to a small branch of Cow Creek. The trail by which we crossed, on leaving the valley of the Umpqua, passed up a deep gorge, or canyon, for about two miles and then turned up a ridge to the right, which we followed to the summit. While crossing, we could see from the trail on the heights that the deep cut of the canyon we had left seemed to extend entirely through the mountains. So we lay by a day, to examine this canyon, and see if a road could be made through it.
Captain Applegate, W. G. Parker, B. F. Burch and myself went up the branch of Cow Creek that flows from this pass on the south side of the mountain to its head and down Canyon Creek, flowing into the Umpqua, until we came to the trail by which we had crossed the mountain the day before. We found the grade for a road much better than we had expected, but with some very steep places.
The Canyon was very bushy, so much that we were frequently compelled to clamber over masses of vine-maple and other bushes which grew so densely that a man could not crawl through among them. And there were great quantities of logs and boulders choking up the pass, which would have to be removed in opening up a road.
While we were floundering in the thickest, deepest, darkest and most impenetrable gorge of this canyon, where we felt sure no human being, either civilized or uncivilized, had ever been before, we were suddenly almost stupefied with amazement by finding a leaf that had been torn from a printed book. The penetrating enterprise of the press had entered this wild pass in advance of us. Finally, we accounted for the presence of this unquestionable evidence of civilized refinement in this wild and lonely place by concluding that it must have been borne hither by the winds, from the California Trail upon the mountainside far above.
That evening we returned to camp on the south side of the mountain, by the trail on which we had crossed the day before. We made our report to the rest of the company, and all of us together gravely and carefully discussed the feasibility of making a wagon road through the canyon, with its probable cost, and the time it would take to accomplish it. We had no difficulty in arriving at the conclusion that it could be done, and was a better place for a road than we had hoped to find, but the other questions were not so easily, nor satisfactorily, settled.
* * *Early the next morning I was ready to start into the canyon, but there were only four men ready to go with me. We struggled through the worst ten miles for a road I ever saw. On careful examination, we concluded that with a few days' work, employing the whole available force of the company, the canyon might be put in condition that the train could pass through it.
The next morning [traveling north months later, in October 1846], when we were about ready to start, Jack Jones and Tom Smith of Oregon City came into our camp. Jones had gone into the Willamette Valley with Captain Applegate, and now in company with Smith had returned to meet us with a few beef cattle. They came to our camp just as we were about ready to start. The people were anxious to hear anything from the place of their destination, and about the condition of the road they must travel. So they gathered around the two men and began to pour in volleys of questions from every side.
Smith had interests at Oregon City and was very much opposed to a southern route into the Willamette Valley, as it was generally supposed by the people at the Falls of the Willamette that such a road would have a tendency to damage the property and importance of that place, which it was thought would be the great commercial and manufacturing center of the Northwest, and those who had settled in the village feared that a rival might spring up farther south. He told the emigrants that they could only go about six miles farther, when they must stop; that it would be impossible for them ever to go through the Umpqua Canyon with wagons.
Smith depicted the insurmountable difficulties before them in such graphic terms that the people seemed to be stunned with amazement, bordering on despair. With my utmost exertions and the most encouraging arguments I could employ, it was three o'clock in the afternoon before I could induce them to move from this camp, and then they would go only about two miles when they camped again. The next day I could only prevail on them to advance about three miles. A great many of them, especially of the children, were sick, and the whole company seemed to be stupefied and almost overwhelmed with despair.
I induced them to move again a short distance when we came to the dreaded, and [I] must say dreadful canyon, where we really could go no farther without first having made a road through this formidable gorge. I spent two days in a fruitless endeavor to get a party to go with me, on foot, through the canyon. No one would go. Finally I emphatically called the company to attention, and told them that I was going through the next morning. If some of them would go with me, we would see what must be done on the road to put it in a condition to admit of the passage of wagons. When we should have ascertained what work was necessary, I would come back and we would raise all the force we could to go and do it so as to get the train through if it were possible. If no one would go with me, nor make any effort to get through the mountain, I should go home, I said:
"I will not stay, idly, here and see you all perish, because you will not put forth an effort to help yourselves. You all know, just as well as I do, that nothing can be done without trying to do it. You all know as well, too, that if you lie idly here, winter will soon be upon you. Your provisions are now nearly exhausted, and yourselves, with your wives and children, will starve to death, and be buried under the snows of the winter. Now you can do as you please. I mean just what I say. I shall start into this canyon early in the morning. Will you go with me? Will you help me to make a way for the deliverance of these helpless women and children? If you will, I will stay with you, and work with you to the last. And I have reason to hope that we may succeed. If you will not, then I must leave you to your fate, and seek the settlements as soon as possible. Settle with yourselves tonight what you will do."
We returned to camp and made our report, giving it as encouraging a turn as we truthfully could. The next day every able-bodied man that could be spared from camp went resolutely to the task. They had been resting now for several days, and when they roused themselves up and went to work, they did it with an earnestness and energy that produced very satisfactory results.
We worked through the canyon in four days, and concluded that it would not be possible for us to get the wagons through on the road we had made. There was a swift, rocky creek running through the canyon, which was a serious difficulty that we could neither remedy nor avoid. In many places it was shut in between high, perpendicular walls of rock, where there was no other possible place for a road except in the channel of the stream, sometimes for a distance of fifty yards to a furlong in a place. The bed of the creek was, in many of these places, a slick, smooth rock, pitching down at a steep angle, or with an equally steep dip to one side, over which the wagons must be steadied and let down with ropes.
There were several short bends in these narrow places which were very difficult to get through, and in some of them large boulders blocked up the channel, where the strait was narrow and bluffs abrupt, so that a wagon could not by any means pass around them. We had not the time nor the means to blast them out of the way, and in some places it would have taken us weeks to have removed them in this way if we had been possessed of the necessary drills and fuse for the purpose. In such places we were compelled to throw in logs and brush with earth and stones to fill up and bridge over the boulders. And by the same means we were sometimes compelled to level up the dip of the bedrock in the bottom of the stream.
There was not much water in the channel of the creek now, but it would take only a few hours' rain to raise it to the swimming stage, when it must necessarily be impassable, and such a flood would be certain to disarrange and wash away much of our temporary bridging and filling. The winter rains were now beginning with little showers, which soon increase to steady rains of a week or more without intermission, and continue from the latter part of October till the last of March. There were a few places where the creek was pretty deep at low water, but its general course was so swift that it soon ran down when the storm ceased, and as yet there had been nothing more than sprinkling showers. We could see that delays were dangerous.
We were compelled to stop and fix many places as we came to them. When a wagon stopped, all behind it were compelled to stop, for it was impossible for one wagon to pass another. Some of the rear wagons were as much as a week in getting through to the Umpqua Valley. Some of the teams could get a little browse in places in the canyon, and some of the men brought their teams out to grass in the evening, and returned to their wagons in the canyon the next morning.
A young man, the son of Alonzo Wood, died and was buried in the canyon. Just after the young man died, the wagon containing the corpse was upset in a deep hole of water. A hive of bees, which the old gentleman had successfully brought thus far on the long journey in the rear end of this wagon, was submerged, and all the bees drowned.
The Umpqua Valley circa 1910.
At one place, some thoughtless person set fire to a dead fir tree by the roadside. The flames ran up the tree for more than a hundred feet, and continued to burn and to drop coals and firebrands upon those who came behind. A coal from this burning tree fell upon the neck of a sick child of Isaac Zumwalt, a boy four or five years old, when no one happened to be present. The child was too weak to remove the fire, and when the mother returned to the wagon, she found her child badly burned on the face and neck, with the fire still roasting the flesh. The child recovered, but he was badly scarred. But what was most singular about it, a blistering, eruptive disease seemed to be settled in his face, which would frequently break out, and from which he never could be wholly relieved by the best medical skill.
It would not, perhaps, be interesting to enter into a detailed account of the sufferings of the people and their misfortunes and adventures in passing this canyon. But there was a company or two behind us who suffered here much more severely than we did.
Levi Scott, 1888, as told to James Layton Collins, From Independence to Independence, unpublished typescript by Dean Collins 1967, SOHS 994.15.1, pages 96-97 and 142-145
About the middle of November  the rains did set in, which greatly increased the hardship of man and beast. As to Mr. T. and myself, we had to wade through mud and water by day, and at night make our bed down on the wet ground. Sometimes it would rain so hard that we would be compelled to get up and fold up the bedding, and put it under some pieces of oilcloth I had saved from the wagon cover, to prevent it from becoming thoroughly wet, as there was no opportunity for drying, and there we would stand by the fire until morning. From the time the rains commenced, until the 29th of November, we did not know what it was to be dry day or night. At length our party reached the Umpqua Mountains, and some of them succeeded in getting their teams three miles in one day. Some of the teams were so weak that their owners did not attempt it with their wagons. Those who made the first day's drive found it impossible to take their wagons any farther. They packed through whatever they could on horses and mules, and some of their strongest oxen. The men who had hauled for us could help us no longer. Bur Mr. T. hired a man to pack the best of our clothing, two blankets, one buffalo robe, and one small store of provisions through the mountains. We stayed by the balance a few days, it raining on all the time, but here we had a partial shelter. No opportunity being presented of sending anything more across, or rather through, the mountains, and learning that there was danger of the creek in the canon becoming so deep that it would not be possible to get through it, we resolved to leave all and escape. Mr. T. took his gun and some ammunition, and a piece of dried beef, and I two tin buckets. * * * And we set out accompanied by our greyhound Prince David that had accompanied us all the way from the States. We waded through mud and water four miles, and our way so hemmed in that we could not avoid it. We passed our families encamped on the road, there being no access to any other place. Wagons were scattered along, many of them with the property of the owners still in them; cattle were lying as they had fallen, many of them dead, others dying. Such distress could hardly be imagined. After pursuing our way four miles, we came to where Canon Creek occupies the entire width of the canon for the distance of three miles. At this place we were overtaken by a man and his wife whose tent we had passed in the morning. They were both in bad health; he carried their child, and she a small bundle under her arm and a frying pan on her back, suspended by a rope passed through the handle and round her neck. This family lost everything else. They and ourselves now entered the creek, a very rapid stream, the bed exceedingly rocky, and the water from two to four feet deep and rising, for the rain that was falling was melting the snow upon the mountains. We fell several times and could not have got along at all if we had not used sticks. Except when I fell, I do not remember to have been in the water more than waist high. Mr. T. went before me, and when it seemed too deep for more to venture, he would wade about until he would find a place more shallow. Before night we got to where the canon again widens, but we had still seven miles to travel before we got out of the mountain, and at least three to the place of general encampment. At this point we found Mr. Cornwall encamped; we stayed by his wife until morning in our wet clothes, without even a blanket to lie down upon. Mr. C. was in no condition to render us any assistance, except to spread a bed quilt over some poles to protect us a little from the rain. The next morning, after taking a very slight breakfast, we, with several others, continued our journey over steep and slippery hills. This day we waded Canon Creek twenty-eight times, and at last reached the South Fork of the Umpqua River, the place of general encampment, thankful that Canon Creek was no longer in our way, though our situation was still a melancholy one.
Nancy M. Thornton, "Letter from Oregon," Palmyra Weekly Whig, Palmyra, Missouri, October 7, 1846, page 2
OVER THE MOUNTAINS.POLK COUNTY, June 25, 1846.
Whilst on the one hand we learn, with regret, that the company of road hunters which started from Polk county has returned unsuccessful and discouraged; on the other, we are cheered by the intelligence that another party from Champoeg county is forming, and will soon be prepared to start, under the command of an able and experienced pilot.
When all are impressed with the conviction, strengthened in many instances by painful experience, of the vast importance of obtaining an easy and safe road to the Willamette Valley, by a southern route, and thus avoiding the numerous and heart-breaking difficulties of the Columbia, it will afford us no small gratification to be enabled to give the names of the patriotic little band, who inspired and directed by the public safety and welfare of their country engage in this arduous and praiseworthy undertaking; that the hopes and wishes of the community will be with them there is no doubt; that there is great probability of success is the opinion of the oldest and most experienced of our mountaineers and trappers; that they will richly deserve our praise and gratitude no one will for a moment question, and we have no hesitation in venturing our belief that all interested (and who is not?) will manifest the same, not merely in empty plaudits, but in a manner demonstrative of the value at which their exertions are estimated, as well as to testify that those who render valuable services to the state, when she needs it, shall not labor without reward.
Oregon Spectator, Oregon City, June 25, 1846, page 2
Mr. Lee--In your last paper, I see that you have noticed the return of the road company party that left Polk county a few weeks ago, and stated that they have returned "unsuccessful and discouraged." It is true they returned, but not discouraged. One of the party turned back before reaching the Calapooya Mountain, and three others soon after crossing it, but Maj. Harris, Capt. Scott and son, Benjamin Burch, Wm. Parker and Mr. Bogges continued some seventy miles further--found nothing in the way of a practicable mountain road, and they were prevented from going on only by the hardships of having to stand guard every nightly; they therefore returned to increase the number of the party, and were successful in procuring the following named energetic and persevering men, viz: Capt. Applegate, Robert Smith, Lindsey Applegate, David Goff, Ben. Burch, John Owens, J. Jones, W. Sportsman, B. Ausburn and Mr. Goodhue. By the addition of these men, the party is sufficiently strong to insure safety against the attacks of Indians, and to greatly lessen the hardships of the trip. The party left the Rickreall on the 22d inst. in fine spirits and high hopes of bringing the next emigration in at the head of the Willamette valley. They left with a firm determination never to retrace their steps--never to abandon the noble and philanthropic enterprise, until they shall have found a good wagon road, if such a thing be possible.
Oregon Spectator, Oregon City, July 9, 1846, page 3
The public mind has been happily put at rest, in relation to the welfare of Captain Jesse Applegate and party, by the arrival of intelligence, at Fort Vancouver, recently, to the effect that he had succeeded in discovering a most admirable road for the emigration--one much more direct, and in every respect more preferable than the old one. We trust to be able to speak more at large in relation to this important circumstance hereafter. Captain Applegate struck the old trail in the vicinity of Fort Hall in time to turn the bulk of the emigration, which are now coming on under his guidance; indeed it is altogether probable that the advance wagons have already entered the head of the Valley.
This achievement is a great piece of public enterprise on the part of Captain Applegate, and we hope that he will be rewarded accordingly.
Since writing the above, Mr. J. M. Ware, from the States, has arrived and informs us that he came in company with Captain Applegate--that the wagons, numbering some two hundred and fifty, will probably arrive in about two weeks. We regret to state that Mr. Wm. Trimble, from Lowe, was killed by the Pawnee Indians, in moving through their country.
Oregon Spectator, Oregon City, October 1, 1846, page 2
We encountered nothing of special note until we reached the entrance of the Umpqua Canyon [around October 15, 1846]. Before starting into that seemingly impassable barrier it was decided to lay over a day and give our lean, jaded oxen a rest, as it was said the canyon was nine miles through, and none of us had the slightest idea as to what kind of a road it would be. It was probably a good thing that we did not, for we all decided after passing over it that it was the worst road that wagons had ever traveled over. Bonaparte crossing the Alps with his army, so much lauded in history, in my judgment was no comparison, as he had no wagons.
The first day we made the ascent, and camped with the oxen chained to trees. Remember they were all corralled the night before without food of any kind. Next day we crossed a plateau of some length, and from that we passed down the steepest hill, or rather bank, that wagons were ever known to pass. Bear in mind that we were in a jungle of trees and bushes, and could only see a short distance in front or behind, so that if you had to stop for hours you could have no knowledge as to the cause of detention. My team was about the middle of the train of 50 wagons, so when this bank was encountered it took a long time to get down. As each wagon would pass down, those behind would move forward the length of a team and wagon. Finally I came to the jump-down, and now will come one of those pioneer incidents that will seem hard to believe, especially to those who have been brought up in a level country, and have seen no bad roads, nor anything else very bad. The wagon in front of me had in it a man who had been sick 20 days with typhoid fever, without medicine to relieve his suffering; in fact, he seemed at death's door, as he could not raise his hand to his head, and could not speak above a whisper.
Under such circumstances it looked frightful to send a helpless man, almost unconscious, down such a frightful precipice; but it had to be done; so we hurriedly prepared for the adventure. We rough-locked all the wagon wheels, and, to make sure, a man got on each hind wheel. Halfway down this precipice a ledge of rock projected just perceivable to the first that passed down, but so many wagons and so much stock had passed, forcing the dirt below from the rock, there was at the time this wagon reached it a perpendicular fall [of] almost two feet. With all precautions arranged, and the men on the hind wheels, we made the start, and got along all right until we encountered the rock, when, from some unaccountable cause, the front wheels rose up and went off the rock and the hind wheels rose up and went crashing down the bank. Of course, the men on the wheels let go. The wagon struck bottom side up, smashed the wagon bows with such a crash that no one could suppose anything could live underneath. When it landed someone yelled out; "There, he's killed." We all rushed down and removed the wagon box and bedding, and, strange to say, we found our fellow-traveler still alive. On examination it could not be discovered at the time whether he had sustained any bodily injury from his aerial flight or not. Much quicker than it takes to write it, the wagon was righted, the sick man placed in it, and it passed on out of the way for others. The man recovered and lived.
Whilst in this turmoil and excitement, a large ox came along packed with blankets and other things belonging to the traveling outfit. The old fellow seemed to take in the situation, and appeared to be very careful, being poor and weak. When he came to the projecting rock his limbs gave way and down he came, pack and all, and rolled over and landed in the creek below, unable to rise. We rushed to his assistance; all hands gave a lift, and when we got him on his feet he moved on, if not a wiser ox a much wetter one.
No other mishap occurred here, to my knowledge, and a little before night the party were all down, and moving down Canyon Creek, strung out single file. Much of the route was in the creek. When night came on we bivouacked in this lonely, dismal canyon, the poor oxen chained to trees, this making the third night without food of any kind. Our first rain fell that night, and from the manner it came down there was plenty where it came from. My recollection is that it was now the middle of October, and it may be truthfully said that the commencement of the rainy season in Oregon was the commencement of the tug-of-war for our weary, hungry party. After a long and almost sleepless night, morning came. We made an early start, as there was not much to cook. There was not a scrap of anything to eat in the wagon for the little family that was left in my charge. But on we go, pell mell down this creek, shut in on each side with precipitous mountains, the sides of which were covered with dense timber, with dense growth of underbrush along the creek, and a narrow, winding path cut out, following the tortuous meanderings of the stream. But fortunately about 3 o'clock the third day we emerged from this mountain prison. The rain had ceased falling and the sun gave additional enchantment to the scene, and there was plenty of grass for the almost famished stock. Canyonville, quite a flourishing town, is located on the same ground that our original camp was located. It would seem that all ought to be happy, and perhaps those fortunate enough to have something to satisfy the inner man could be so; but your scribe was not so fortunate, having eaten nothing since the day before, with no prospect for anything in the future. I must say that the prospect for me and my dependents (a woman and two small children) looked gloomy, indeed. What made it more so, the party that had preceded us to open up the way and make it passable, had nothing at this same place, only what they killed in the shape of game, so there was nothing to be had in that line. But next morning at the break of day I arose and took my gun and went forth to seek game, as our only chance was the rifle, and I had a good one. There was no chance of purchasing anything from those who still had a little, and I thought there was nothing in standing and starving without making an effort. So down the creek I went, to where it emptied into the South Umpqua River, waded the stream full waist deep and up the side of a mountain I went. Soon I noticed fresh deer tracks. It has been 52 years since I saw those deer tracks, yet I remember the thrill of joy that send through my weak and hungry body. A little further on I saw a deer, and if ever a man shot for meat, it was I. At the crack of the gun I saw I had the game. I prepared the carcass to carry to camp. Then I crouched down and got the deer on my back, but I found, owing to my exhausted condition, it was impossible for me to rise with it. Looking across the river, I saw a man going toward camp on his pony. I yelled at the top of my voice, and he heard me, and came and carried my game to camp on his pony. When the news spread through camp men came from all directions for a share of the meat. I must confess I hardly knew what to say, consequently I said nothing. When the deer was dressed I threw down the knife and said: "Gentlemen, if any of you think that you need that meat more than I do, help yourselves." After I threw down the knife, I went to the tent, and after a short pause they walked away without touching the meat, all knowing that I had the widow and children in my care.
The last day's march out of the canyon was the worst for the destruction of property. In fact, everything that could possibly be dispensed with was thrown away. The route was strewn with articles, all valuable to the owners, if they could have been preserved. Extra wagons, various kinds of tools, farm implements were abandoned, the owners being glad to escape with their lives. One Mr. Wood had brought a hive of bees safely this far, but the wagon conveying them upset in the creek, broke the hive to pieces, and the bees all drowned. His hive of bees cost him a great deal of trouble, as he had them to feed and water during the long journey. Had he got them through he had an offer of $500 for them.
Another company that came through the canyon, a day later than our company, fared worse, if possible, than we did, for the rain had swollen the stream to almost a swimming stage. One of their number, Judge J. Q. Thornton, wrote a journal of the trip. In the canyon he lost everything save what he and his wife had on their backs. When crossing the stream for the last time he looked back at his wife. She was stemming the tide holding hight above the wave a silver-tinseled bonnet which she had preserved from the wreck. The thought struck him, he said, of the ruling passion strong in death.
Tolbert Carter, "Pioneer Days," Transactions of the Thirty-Fourth Annual Reunion of the Oregon Pioneer Association, 1906, pages 75-79
Wednesday, October 21--The time from this to Monday, 25th, we were occupied in making 5 miles from the foot of Umpqua Mountain and working the road through the pass, which is nearly impassable. Started through on Monday morning and reached the opposite plain on Friday night after a series of hardships, breakdowns and being constantly wet and laboring hard and very little to eat, the provisions being exhausted in the whole company. We ate our last the evening we got through. The wet season commenced the second day after we started through the mountains and continued until the first of November, which was a partially fair day. [This was the same 1846 "wet season" that trapped the Donner Party in the Sierras, hundreds of miles to the south.] The distance through: 16 miles. There is great loss of property and suffering, no bread, live altogether on beef. Leave one wagon.
"Diary of Virgil K. Pringle, 1846," Transactions of the Forty-Eighth Annual Reunion of the Oregon Pioneer Association, 1920, page 298
We were carried hundreds of miles south of Oregon into Utah Territory and California; fell in with the Clamotte and Rogue River Indians, lost nearly all our cattle, passed the Umpqua Mountains, 12 miles through. I rode through in three days at the risk of my life, on horseback, having lost my wagon and all that I had but the horse I was on. Our families were the first that started through the canyon, so that we got through the mud and rocks much better than those that followed. Out of hundreds of wagons, only one came through without breaking. The canyon was strewn with dead cattle, broken wagons, beds, clothing, and everything but provisions, of which latter we were nearly all destitute. Some people were in the canyon two or three weeks before they could get through. Some died without any warning, from fatigue and starvation. Others ate the flesh of cattle that were lying dead by the wayside.
After struggling through mud and water up to our horses' sides much of the way in crossing this 12-mile mountain, we opened into the beautiful Umpqua Valley, inhabited only by Indians and wild beasts. We had still another mountain to cross, the Calapooya, besides many miles to travel through mud, snow, hail, and rain.
Tabitha Brown, pioneer of 1846, letter of August 1854, quoted in "A Brimfield Heroine--Mrs. Tabitha Brown," The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society, June 1904, pages 200-201
In regard to the remainder of the emigration, who are coming in by Messrs. Applegate and Goff's recently explored route, we can obtain no satisfactory information, further than they are as yet a considerable distance from the head of the valley. We have understood that several families have abandoned their wagons, and come in with pack animals; likewise, that two or three parties have started out, with provisions, &c., to meet the emigration.
"The Emigration," Oregon Spectator, Oregon City, October 29, 1846, page 2
Leaving Rogue River, we passed through a hilly, barren region and about the first week in October  we reached the famous Umpqua Canyon. The teams were poor and jaded with the long, weary travel. Many of the people, especially the old and sick, needed rest. We camped a day there before any of our company entered the canyon. That day Father prospected the road in advance, and said that it was desperately bad: A great deal of it very miry and badly worked up by the advance train which had but recently passed over it. Father took Lorenzo Byrd from driving the loose stock to help with the wagons. He killed and distributed a beef among the masses with the request that they would drive his loose stock with theirs.
After a day's rest we entered the canyon with our wagons and teams. The rest of the company decided to stay in camp another day. We started, but on that miserable road we made little progress. When camping time came we estimated our day's travel at three miles. In the afternoon, however, the face of the sky was overcast with dark, portentous clouds, and sad for us as it began to rain. Before night [October 28?] our poor stock were drenched with rain and had nothing to eat, except a little browsing. Next morning we attempted to advance, but our road soon entered and followed directly in the channel of the creek which drained the canyon. That cold mountain water soon chilled our poor oxen, and several of them fell down and died. We found it necessary as soon as we reached a little opening in the canyon to camp there. There we remained several days, during which time we lost a good American horse and all of our oxen, except three head. One yoke of oxen disappeared in the yoke and we never got a trace of them.
The day after we started the rest of our company broke camp and followed after us. They made one day's journey, then their teams gave out and most of the oxen died. What a terrible predicament that left us all in, still so far from the settlements and left without means to transport our baggage. The misfortune fell with crushing force on some of the company. Two old men died on the spot, but most of the people rallied their energies and resolved to take their way on foot to the Willamette Valley. We remained at our camp until most of our company had passed by us on the march, and a forlorn procession they made. Many women and children on foot, and some women as well as men with heavy packs on their backs.
In the meantime Father had been entirely through the canyon, ten or twelve miles distant, and returned to our camp. Having cached two trunks full of books and sent forward our tent and some bedding by Mr. Byrd and Mr. Chrisman, we prepared to join the forlorn procession moving on toward the Willamette. Mother, yet weak from her mountain fever, was placed on Jude, our fine saddle mule, with little sister Laura, the babe, on her lap. As we had to cross the cold mountain stream Father often led Sister Narcissa and Brother George. Sister Elisabeth and I were old enough and strong enough to keep step in the march on foot. And in that plight we passed through the canyon. A short distance from the exit from it, we overtook quite a number of our company. They were in camp resting and making the best possible preparation for finishing the journey. The grass was becoming good from the recent rains, and that was a boon for our remaining livestock. While we were there Father made arrangements with Mr. Campbell, and by joining teams they brought his two ox wagons out of the canyon. And he gave one of them for help to haul the other, as by that arrangement he was able to save his library and transport the rest of our baggage. He also brought out the family carriage with his mules.
Joseph A. Cornwall, "A Historical Sketch of the Family of Rev. J. A. Cornwall in Arkansas and on the Plains to Oregon," 1900, quoted by Dale Morgan, Overland in 1846, vol. I, 1968, page 786
October 29. — We were now about to enter a pass in the Umpqua Mountains, which Applegate thus describes in the Oregon Spectator, Vol. ii., No. 4. — "A pool of water, about fifteen feet in diameter, occupies the dividing ground between the waters of the Rogue River and Umpqua. There is from east to west about twenty yards of land between the mountains, which rise abruptly to the height of fifteen hundred feet. The descent each way from this point is very gentle; that to the south is about three miles, and conducts by a good way to the open country; that to the north is about twelve miles in length. For three or four miles there is sufficient space of level ground, and but little work required to make a good road; but below this the stream increasing in size by the entrance of affluents, and the mountains closing in upon it, the road must descend in its rocky bed, made more difficult by some large stones and short falls; or be graded along the side of the mountain, which, having loose soil or decomposed basalt, can be done with the greatest facility. These last two or three miles, when the hills recede, and leave, by frequent crossing the creek, a bottom wide enough for a road the remainder of the distance."
This description of the pass of the Umpqua Mountains was published by Applegate after we arrived in the settlements, with a view of still keeping up the delusion, and so to entrap future emigrants. But he had verbally communicated to us the same description, when he met us on the 8th of August.
We were now about to leave our encampment, and enter a pass thus described. We had long since learned by unhappy experience that this man's veracity could not be relied on. In addition to this, Messrs. Brown, and Allen, and Jones, who had passed through it, affirmed, that we would find this so far from being a truthful description of the pass, that there was too much reason to fear many cattle would perish upon this "very gentle" descent, and that most of the wagons would be lost upon this road, which "conducts by a good way to the open country." I beg the reader, when perusing these pages, to bear in mind the fact, that if I at any time err in the smallest matter, or make any mistakes (for I will not suppose myself infallible), there are many persons in every part of Oregon, who, having been in either the company in which I traveled, or in the advance companies, are prepared, from personal observation, to correct the mistake.
The information of Messrs. Brown, Allen, and Jones filled us with new consternation, notwithstanding we had become accustomed to each day bringing some fresh evidence of Applegate's delusions. But we entered upon the road, and, after immense toil to man and beast, encamped on the mountain at sunset, only three miles from our last camp. The whole company were extremely exhausted, as well as the cattle. Mr. Hall did not get his team into camp until after dark. We had traveled, therefore, but three miles, over a road which Applegate says is "a good way," and the descent of which is "very gentle!" We remained in this camp several days.
* * *November 4. — Having at various times upon the journey from Ogden's River, thrown away my property, I had little remaining, save our buffalo robes, blankets, arms, ammunition, watch, and the most valuable part of our wardrobe; and fearing that we would yet lose the most of this, Mrs. Thornton selected the more expensive articles of clothing, and I packed them into two sacks. I succeeded in hiring a man to carry these upon his horse. We finally determined that, on the morning of this day, we would make an effort to pass the mountain. We were very weak, in consequence of the want of sufficient and healthful food. The road was very muddy, and the rain was descending in the gorge of the mountain, where we were, while the snow was falling far above us upon the sides. There was a close cañon, some few miles ahead of us, down which we would have to wade three miles in cold mountain snow-water, frequently above the middle. Considering Mrs. Thornton's weak and feeble condition, it was extremely doubtful whether she would not perish in it. My own powers of endurance were such as the reader may easily imagine. Mrs. Thornton, myself, and Prince Darco [Thornton's greyhound], started early on the morning of this day, I carrying my rifle, revolver, large knife, some ammunition, and a morsel of food in my shot-pouch. We struggled forward, wading cold mountain streams, and through mud up to the knees. We passed many cattle that had perished, their bodies lying in the road. We also passed many wagons that had been abandoned, in consequence of their proprietors finding it impossible to take them over. We passed the only wagon that Josiah Morin had attempted to take through from our encampment of October 29. We found it upon a road of which Applegate says, that, "For three or four miles there is sufficient space of level ground, and but little work required to make a good road." We passed household and kitchen furniture, beds and bedding, books, carpets, cooking utensils, dead cattle, broken wagons, and wagons not broken, but, nevertheless, abandoned. In short, the whole road presented the appearance of a defeated and retreating army having passed over it, instead of one over which had passed a body of cheerful and happy emigrants, filled with high hopes and brilliant expectations, and about to enter a land of promise.
Upon approaching near the entrance of the close cañon, we came to where many most miserable, forlorn, haggard, and destitute-looking emigrants were camped. Some of the men looked as angry and fierce as tigers, under the influence of their justly excited indignation and wrath against him who had thus jeopardized the lives of their families.. Some of the men appeared to be stupefied by their misfortunes. One of them, a Mr. Smith, had lost everything, and he appeared to be overwhelmed. His wife had on a coarse and tattered calico dress. She was thinly clad, and the covering for her head was an old sun-bonnet. Her child was not in a better condition, while that of her husband was, perhaps, even more pitiable. They had not a cent of money; though had it been otherwise, it would not have purchased food, for there was none to be sold. In addition to this, they were so weak, in consequence of want of food, that it was believed they would scarcely live through this journey. I remonstrated with this hapless fellow traveler, persuading him that it would be better for him, and his wife, to perish in the cold snow of the cañon, than to await a more miserable death by starvation at that place. He seemed to see at once the folly of remaining there, either to brood over his calamities, or to heap harmless anathemas upon the head of his betrayer. He immediately took up his child, and about a pound of food, and desired his afflicted and almost helpless companion to follow him.
A relative of his of the same name, had been standing at that place a few days before, counseling with some of the party, as to the means of escaping their present danger. As he was thus anxiously deliberating, death summoned him away, and he fell dead in a moment, leaving a poor widow with with seven helpless and almost starving children. I was informed that they had nothing for food, but the flesh of the cattle that had just perished. How deeply must that bereaved wife and mother have felt this agonizing affliction. If she viewed her present afflictions with any other than the eye of Christian resignation and faith, she must have experienced a double calamity, and one without compensation. Every event seemed to conspire against her; and it may be that wearied with present misfortunes, and exhausted with the almost certain prospect of more, her hold upon life, aside from a sense of duty to her children, had well nigh departed, and she was ready to go for relief and repose to the quiet grave. She may, in following the corpse of her husband to his last resting-place, have heard no voice of comfort issue from it, or have received no lesson of instruction, and learned no new fact, except that the light of his eyes was forever removed from her sight. If, however, these calamities were regarded by her with an eye of faith, she discovered gracious purposes in this combination of afflictions, having a tendency and an aim directed and controlled by a Great and Good Being.
A Mr. Brisbane had also died here, and I was informed that a child had died at this place; so that there was indeed a dark accumulation of sorrows casting its sad shade over this memorable spot.
Reluctantly leaving our unhappy fellow-travelers, we proceeded on until we came near the entrance of the cañon. I greatly feared that Mrs. Thornton would perish in it. In order that she might have as much warmth and strength as possible, I proposed, with well-affected cheerfulness, that she should take shelter under a large fir-tree that afforded a partial protection from the falling snow and rain, for the purpose of resting a little and taking some food, a small amount of which I had carried in my shot-pouch. She affected to be very cheerful and courageous, and desired me to take out our dinner. This I did, determining to avoid eating any of it myself, in order that she might profit by my economy, and thus preserve as well as possible her remaining strength. But when the little store was taken out, she did not "want to take food," — she did not "feel well." I knew from my own sensations, that a half-famished person would not "feel well." And I knew that she greatly needed food. I was also convinced that her real motive in declining to eat, was one of compassionate regard for my own necessities. I saw in a moment her purpose, and while my heart was touched with her generosity and unselfishness, I said, with seeming cheerfulness, "Come now, little wife, none of your tricks upon a traveler. You know that I am a man of my own head. If you do not want to eat, yet I want you to do so; and that is just about the same thing, for you and I are one, you know. Besides, when we were married you promised to obey me, and all that sort of thing. Don't you remember?" A pleasant smile covered her face, like sunshine breaking out from a cloud, and she replied that she believed she did remember having promised something very much like that. She accordingly took the food; but I observed in a short time that she had contrived to avert her face, and when I managed to get a glimpse of it, her tears were falling like great rain-drops. Upon finding that her weeping had been discovered, she laughed at the mouth and cried at the eyes, like the sun half in view and half concealed by a cloud, and said, "Well, you might take a little food, if it was ever so little; so you might, and then I would not feel so sad."
The pass in the Umpqua Mountains is a depression which, speaking from memory, is about two miles wide at its entrance. It soon narrows to about one mile, where the mountains rise to the height of about 2000 feet on each side. Although it is a depression, there are many very steep and dangerous hills to ascend and descend. It is also seamed and cut up by drains that carry off the waters from the mountains on each side. A dense forest of immense fir-trees, oaks, arbutus, prunus, cornus, yews, dogwood, hazel, spiraea, and castanea, covers the mountain with its thick foliage and branches. We were now standing under the close boughs of a fir-tree, at a place where the sides of the defile came very near together, leaving only a very narrow gorge, called a cañon. This is a Spanish word, denoting a very narrow, rocky defile in a mountain, having sides perpendicular, or nearly so, with a stream of water running through it during the whole or a part of the year.
The cañon, which appears to have been rent asunder by some vast convulsion of nature, is about three miles long, having the whole of its width occupied by a very swift stream of cold snow-water, varying from one foot and a half to four feet in depth, and running over a bottom covered with boulders from four inches to five feet in diameter. The rocky walls on each side are in many places perpendicular; in others they recede so as to form an angle of about forty-five degrees with the plane of the horizon. Every object in view seems to be formed on a grand scale. The rocks, when not perpendicular, are rude and rugged, and seem to have been piled up in a most irregular manner. Huge masses, abrupt in form, and hoary with the mosses which ages have collected, tower up into mountains, the sublime height of which constitutes an impassable barrier. Through this narrow passage the cold mountain torrent dashes along, three or perhaps four miles, when a little valley, at first only a few yards wide, begins to open out, and at length expands to about half a mile. Through this valley the stream flows in a serpentine course, so that the traveler is obliged to ford it forty-eight times in the distance of about three miles, when he finds himself upon the open plain, on the north side of the mountain, and distant about twenty miles from where he first entered the pass.
Mrs. Thornton and myself at length left the partial shelter of the fir-tree, and entered this stream with a "rocky bed, made more difficult by some large stones and short falls." We each had a long stick in our hands to support ourselves, and to prevent the water from sweeping us into deep holes. Prince Darco swam down the stream, contriving frequently to rest himself by holding by his forefeet to the side of some rock. Mrs. Thornton, upon suddenly descending into the cold snow-water, above the waist, was much chilled, and I thought at first that she would perish. I chafed her temples, face, and wrists, and she revived. In the first moment of consciousness, she bade me not be alarmed, saying that she was yet worth two dead women. After proceeding down about three-fourths of a mile, we halted to rest a little upon some rocks, where the water was not more than eighteen inches deep. Even this was a relief, in fact, a positive refreshment, compared with our condition in the water up to the waist. We resumed our journey, and at length Mrs. Thornton began to lose all sensibility upon one side. I supported her as well as I could, but at length she complained of indistinctness of vision, and soon became totally blind. I need not say what were my feelings in that moment of the heart's bitterest anguish. I could not, for all the world, have carried her dead body out of that cañon. The thought, therefore, of her dying in that place, and under the circumstances which then surrounded us, had in it something peculiarly horrible. Her lips were thin and compressed, and as white and bloodless as paper; her eyes were turned up in their sockets; her head fell back upon my arm. and every feature wore the aspect and fixedness of death. I rubbed her wrists violently, chafed her temples, shook her, and called aloud to her. At length she revived, and with returning life sight was restored. She still complained, however, of partial insensibility on one side. But we hurried forward as well as we could; and at length, in great exhaustion, and almost chilled to death, we emerged from that cold mountain stream.
As we passed through this disastrous cañon, we saw a great many cattle that had perished, and were lodged against and among the rocks. A short distance from the place where we left the narrow gorge, we came to the tent of the Rev. Mr. Cornwall. He had already passed the cañon, but such was the toil endured by the oxen upon Jesse Applegate's "level land," "good way," and "gentle descent"; and such was the chilling effect of the water, that the oxen nearly all died the following night. He was, therefore, now in a totally helpless condition.
Mr. Cornwall was in no condition to afford us any shelter under his tent. It was literally filled with others as helpless and distressed as ourselves. But the privilege of standing at his fire, was, in itself, a favor that made us feel grateful; and its warmth, when contrasted with the cold and suffering occasioned by the waters of the disastrous cañon, made us, for the time, comparatively happy.
There were several men about the fire. Among them was the Mr. Smith, whom I had persuaded to attempt the passage. He got through, with his wife and child, and although almost exhausted, still he was now far more happy than persons generally are under circumstances much more favorable to happiness and comfort. We made a large fire, and dried our garments as well as we could, by standing about in the open air, and under clouds, that frequently reminded us that they had not yet parted with all their contents.
I still had a morsel of food in my shot-pouch, and also a very small quantity of the very best tea. Mrs. Thornton prepared our little supper, and although it was neither so good as it might have been, nor yet quite so abundant as was particularly desirable just about this time, still it was something, and we were certainly very grateful for it. After all the occupants of the tent had lain down to sleep, I obtained the use of a chair, and a little bench about four feet long, having a back to it. This seemed like a very rapid multiplication of comforts. I placed them before the fire, and sitting down upon the chair, I had Mrs. Thornton recline upon the bench, with her head and shoulders upon my arm, where we slept until morning, when she declared she had never enjoyed a better rest.
November 5. — We resumed our journey, and after wading Cañon Creek thirty-nine times, we were enabled to avoid it by clambering along the side of the mountain. We at length emerged fully into the open plain, and about noon arrived at the place of general encampment, on the left bank of the Umpqua River. Here I found the wrecks of all the companies who had been induced to enter upon a road along which our wagons were lying in scattered fragments, upon the side of the hills, upon the tops of the mountains, and along the rocky glens, and the almost impassable cañons, which marked this disastrous cut-off. Some of the emigrants had lost their wagons; some their teams; some half they possessed; and some everything. Here were men who had a wagon, but wanted a team; there, others who had a team, but no wagon. Mr. Humphrey was the only man who, so far as I have since been able to learn, got to this point with a whole wagon and a complete team. All looked lean, thin, pale, and hungry as wolves. The children were crying for food; and all appeared distressed and dejected.
J. Quinn Thornton, Oregon and California in 1848, pages 214-226
On the morning of November 4th[, 1846], my wife and I determined on making an effort to pass through. We were very weak in consequence of the want of sufficient and healthful food. The road was muddy and the rain was descending in the gorge of the mountain, where we were, while the snow was falling far above on the sides. There was a close canyon, some few miles ahead of us, down which we would have to wade three miles in cold, mountain snow water, reaching frequently above the waist; considering Mrs. Thornton's feeble condition, it was very doubtful whether she would not perish in it. My own powers of endurance were such as those who had the good sense to keep the old traveled route may well imagine when they call to mind the fact that our food and other supplies had been laid in with the idea that we were destined for Oregon City, and the settlements by the way of Walla Walla and The Dalles mission, and not by the way of Goose Creek, Humboldt River Valley, the Antelope Mountain Desert, Black Rock Desert, and the Sacramento Valley in California, to say nothing of other deserts and mountains to be encountered before setting your faces toward Oregon.
On the morning in question, at an early hour, Mrs. Thornton, myself, and our greyhound, Prince Darco, resumed our journey, I carrying my rifle, revolver, large knife, some ammunition, and a morsel of food in my shot-pouch. We struggled forward, wading cold mountain streams and through mud up to the knees. We passed many cattle that had perished. We also passed many wagons that had been abandoned, and among them the only one of Josiah Morin, which he had attempted to take through with bed clothing from our camp of Oct. 29th. We also passed household and kitchen furniture, beds and bedding, books, carpets, cooking utensils, broken wagons, and wagons not broken, but abandoned because it had become impossible to take them through. In short, the whole road presented the appearance of a defeated army having retreated over it, leaving behind whatever had been found to so encumber it as to retard its flight.
J. Quinn Thornton, "Occasional Address," Oregon Pioneer Association Transactions 1878
Our latest intelligence concerning the emigrants who are on the southern route, comes to us from some gentlemen who have recently arrived in this place, after having "packed" into the settlements. At the time of their departure from the wagons (about twenty days since), which number altogether, as we are informed, only eighty, some few of the first were this side of the Calapooya Mountains; the most of them, however, were still engaged in crossing the Umpqua mountains. They had experienced considerable suffering, from exposure and hard labor, and bravely surmounted numerous difficulties. We regret that Mr. William Smith died instantaneously--probably occasioned by over exertion--in the kanyon of the Umpqua mountains.
"The Emigrants," Oregon Spectator, Oregon City, November 26, 1846, page 2
THE EMIGRANTS--SOUTHERN ROUTE.--We have no further information to give concerning the emigrants on the Southern route, excepting that which is contained in the following letter, received a few days since:Settlement of the Rickreall,
November 30, 1846.
Editor of the Spectator:--I have just arrived in the settlements of this valley from the Kenyon in the Umpqua Mountains. I left the people suffering beyond anything you have ever known. They must perish with hunger unless the people of the settlements go to their relief with pack horses and provisions, and bring them in. They will have property with which to pay for such services. if they are not brought away they must perish. Before I left, they had already commenced eating the cattle that had died in the Kanyon. At least one hundred head of pack horses should be taken out immediately. I implore the people of this valley, in the name of humanity, and in behalf of my starving and perishing fellow travelers, to hasten to their relief.
In haste, I am sir, yours, &c.We have understood that a considerable band of horses have been sent out from Champoeg County, sufficient probably to bring in all or most of the emigrants.
J. QUINN THORNTON.
Oregon Spectator, Oregon City, December 10, 1846, page 2
[We are] glad to state that all [the immigrants on the southern route have] arrived safely in the [settlements excepting four] families, who have concluded [to remain with their] property until spring, in the [Umpqua valley on] the northern side of the Umpqua River. We are informed by some of the immigrants who have reached here that accounts of their condition have been exaggerated; and they ascribe much of their detention to their own mismanagement and delay. Of ninety wagons, which were all that were upon the southern route, fifty are this side of the Umpqua mountains, including twelve that had reached the first settlement at the head of the valley.
Oregon Spectator, Oregon City, February 4, 1847, page 2 Text in brackets was printed on paper now missing from the original newspaper, reconstructed with the aid of quotes in J. Quinn Thornton's response, below:
For the Oregon Spectator.
MR. EDITOR--I have read an editorial article in the Spectator of the 4th instant, in which I could not fail to observe that you had been so far led astray by the rash, not to say willful, misrepresentations of thoughtless or designing and interested persons, as to make no less than seven incorrect statements in the first eleven lines of an article of thirteen. I am thus particular for the purpose of showing how many inaccuracies may be crowded into so small a compass. The article in question, when analyzed, will be found to contain nine averments, viz:
1st. That "all the immigrants" "excepting four families," have arrived in the settlements." This is incorrect. Mr. Duskins was, it is believed, among the last persons who returned with direct intelligence from the families "in the Umpqua valley." When he left, there were five or six families--one consisting of Messrs. Geddes and Nye, the Rev. J. A. Cornwall's, Mr. Kennedy's, Mr. Croizen's and Mr. Hall's. There was also the family of one whose name is not now remembered--believed, however, to be Davis or Wood; making in all about thirty souls.
2d. That the "four families" excepted had "concluded to remain with their property until spring, in the Umpqua valley." This also is incorrect. They had not "concluded" to remain. They remained because the hard hand of necessity was upon them. As well might it be said of the unhappy man who is being led to execution, that he has "concluded" to be hung.
3d. That those who had arrived in the settlements have "ARRIVED SAFELY." This also is incorrect, if anything is meant by the expression "arrived safely" beyond the simple announcement of the fact that many of the immigrants, after traversing a country dangerous in consequence of the hostility of the savages, have at length arrived in a very enfeebled condition to which they had been reduced by hunger, cold and nakedness. In addition to this, it may be affirmed that almost every man (perhaps indeed, everyone) who came into Oregon by the southern route is, in a pecuniary point of view, ruined by doing so. Do men arrive "safely" who lose their wagons, teams, tents and clothing; and who freeze their feet, and come in looking like famished wolves?
4th. That accounts of the condition of the immigrants "have been exaggerated." To exaggerate this account, it is feared, would be a difficult task. It is probably one which could be accomplished by those only who are the sources of your information. It is a fact well known among the immigrants that as early as the 14th of November last, an ox that had become too lean and too much exhausted to be able to go any further, and which had finally died in the kanyon of the Umpqua mountains (supposed, I believe, for some time, to have belonged to Rice Dunbar) was found with its hindquarters skinned and carried away. By whom, and for what purpose, was this done, if it was not done by some unhappy father who saw his children famishing for want of food? It was to this circumstance I referred in my communication of Nov. 30th, in which I observed that the immigrants previous to my leaving the disastrous kanyon had commenced eating the cattle that had died in it. I did not, indeed, see the ox skinned or eaten, as before mentioned, but the fact was not questioned while I remained at the kanyon, nor was it ever denied until improper and unworthy motives suggested the idea of keeping the people of the valley in ignorance of the extent of the sufferings of the immigrants. I did not, in stating the fact in my appeal to the people, in behalf of the sufferers whom I had left behind me, intend to censure any one of the gentlemen who had been instrumental in leading us upon that most unfortunate road. Much less was it my purpose to express any opinion at that time whether it would be proper to advise future immigrants to travel that road. This question I did not believe ought to be discussed while any of the immigrants remained in circumstances of so much suffering. And I must be permitted to say that had I been instrumental in placing a multitude of men, women and children in such a situation, I would have eaten my bread in bitterness until I had rescued them, instead of attempting to amuse the public mind either by speculations with regard to the practicability of some other route, or by wickedly attempting to produce the impression that accounts of the condition of the immigrants "HAVE BEEN EXAGGERATED." I say wickedly, because I believe that, had not some persons, influenced by improper motives, succeeded to some extent in producing this impression, all the immigrants would by this time have been in the valley. As circumstances now are, there is much reason to fear that the coming spring will reveal a tale of the sufferings of those in the Umpqua valley that will make sick the heart of every man who has one.
The sufferings, then, of the immigrants have not "been exaggerated." Indeed, I doubt whether the half has been told. By the very last intelligence we have of those "who have concluded to remain," we learn that an estimable old man, and his wife and grandchild, had subsisted three days upon three mice.
5th. That much of the detention of the immigrants is to be ascribed to "their own mismanagement." How did it come to pass that all the good managers traveled the old road, many of them arriving in Oregon City as early as Sept. 13th, with their property; while all the mismanagers took the route indicated by Messrs. Applegate and Goff, losing all their property and arriving in the settlements in December, looking more like the shadows of ghosts than the substantial forms of living men? Mr. Applegate met the company in which I traveled August 8th, a few miles on this side of Fort Hall. Although among the first of my company to get in, I did not arrive until Nov. 29th; while others who had entered upon the old road only about forty-eight hours before Mr. Applegate arrived at the point where the old road to Oregon turns off to the right from the California road, arrived Sept. 13th--two and a half months earlier.
6th. That much of the detention of the immigrants is to be ascribed to their WILLFUL delay--for in no other sense can the word "delay" be understood when read in the connection in which it appears. If those to whom you refer as being the source from which you derive your information, and whom you describe as being "some of the immigrants who have reached here," mean to speak of themselves only, nothing will be objected to their making themselves as odious as they desire. But if they intend to be understood as speaking of other immigrants than themselves, then a regard to truth and justice constrains me to pronounce their statement to be untrue in all its length, and depth, and breadth.
7th. That the averments made under the last three heads rest upon the authority of "some of the immigrants who have reached here." I am not careful to know what motive prompted "some of the immigrants who have reached here," thus to slander their fellow travelers. I hope, however, that it does not spring from that base and mean spirit which characterizes a class of individuals known by the expressive, though not very elegant, epithet of "bootlicks."
8th. That ninety wagons were "all that were upon the southern route." While I can affirm that ninety wagons were not "all that were upon the southern route," I will not take upon myself to say certainly what was the precise number. Relying upon memory, an attempt will, however, be made to approximate to it. Seventy-five wagons had been turned into the new road previous to the company, in which I traveled, coming up. In this company, if I am not mistaken, there was eighteen wagons. Mr. Lard and his son-in-law had two wagons. James Savage had one. I have been informed that the company of Messrs. Brown and Allen contained eighteen wagons. This would make one hundred and fourteen. I may have made some mistakes as to precise numbers, but I do not doubt that many wagons have entirely escaped my memory.
9th. That of the ninety wagons affirmed to be all that were upon the southern route, "fifty are on this side of the Umpqua mountains, including twelve that had reached the first settlement at the head of the" Willamette valley. But where are the forty wagons making the difference between fifty and ninety? It is answered that they lie in scattered fragments upon the sides of hills, upon the tops of the mountains, and along the rocky glens and the most impassable kanyons which mark the disastrous "cut-off," leading us, as I am of opinion it did, as far south as lat. 40 north latitude. And where, too, are the twenty-four wagons which make the difference between one hundred and fourteen? It is answered that Gov. Boggs, having two wagons, William Boggs one wagon, Mr. Lard and his son-in-law two wagons, and James Savage one wagon, disappointed as to the distance down Mary's river [i.e., the Humboldt River], the quality of the water, and the quantity of grass along that stream, became alarmed, and believing that it would be periling the lives of their families to leave the California road and take that indicated by Messrs. Applegate and Goff, determined to go directly into the Mexican settlement. This determination was precipitated by its being believed that the point at which the road turns off to lead to Oregon by the way of the Black Rock was only about sixty miles from the sinks of Mary's river.
Of the eighteen wagons, of which it is believed the company of Messrs. Brown and Allen consisted, nothing definite has been heard. But it is feared that all have been cut off by the savages.
I do not desire, nor do I deem it necessary at this time (if indeed at all) to examine into the merits of the southern route as compared with the one in the north. This is entirely beside the purpose in view--that of repelling a gratuitous slander resting upon the authority of "some of the immigrants who have reached here."
I am, sir, respectfully yours, &c.
J. QUINN THORNTON.Feb. 15, 1847.
Oregon Spectator, Oregon City, March 4, 1847, page 1
From the best information I have been able to obtain, there appears to be no very serious obstruction in the way, until the road reaches the Umpqua Mountains dividing the waters of the Umpqua and Klamath [sic] rivers. There is a defile passing through the mountains, cutting it to its very base, and opening a passage that might be made quite practicable for loaded wagons. The distance through this passage is about 18 miles, about 12 of which is quite a passable road, and the remaining 6 miles almost wholly impracticable in its present state; in this defile there is a pool of water about fifteen feet in diameter from which two small streams take their rise, one running into the Umpqua, and the other into the Klamath River. In that portion of this defile called the "Kanyons," the road runs in the bed of one of these streams for the distance of 3 miles, and large loose rock and a long and exceedingly narrow passage. The emigrants reached this point just as the fall rains set in, which raised these two streams and obstructed the passage to such an extent that many oxen were left dead in the Kanyon, and many families were left without teams, and had it not been for friendly aid they must have perished. Had these emigrants reached this defile and passed through it before the rainy season came on, they would have suffered much less. They were, however, some ten days too late.
Peter H. Burnett to James M. Hughes, March 1847, quoted by Dale Morgan, Overland in 1846, vol. I, 1968, page 688 A later passage in the letter reveals that Burnett considered Klamath and Rogue as synonymous.
The Umpqua mountain divides the waters of Rogue river and Umpqua, and is much more formidable than the Calapooia, being a much higher, rockier ridge, and over it, it is impracticable to make a wagon road.
The road passes through a chasm which cuts the mountain from side to side to its very base. As this pass has been a place of much disaster to some of the immigrants, and is of itself a natural curiosity, it requires a minute description. A pool of water, about 15 feet in diameter, occupies the dividing ground between the waters of the Rogue river and Umpqua; there is from east to west about 30 yards of land between the mountains, which rises abruptly to the height of about 1500 feet--the descent each way from this point is very gentle--that to the south is about three miles--conducts by a good way to the open country; that to the north is about 12 miles in length--for three or four miles there is sufficient space of level ground, and but little work required to make a good road; but below this the stream increasing in size by the entrance of affluents, and the mountains closing in upon it, the road must descend in its rocky bed, made more difficult by some large stones and short falls, or be graded along the side of the mountain, which, having loose soil or decomposed basalt, can be done with the greatest facility these last two or three miles, when the hills recede, and leave, by frequent crossing [of] the creek, a bottom wide enough for a road the remainder of the distance. The party employed in opening the road, being in want of the necessary tools, and scarce of provisions, were unable to make this road properly, and attempted only to make it passable with as little labor as possible. On the level ground it is made crooked in going round logs and trees, and the banks at the crossings of the creek are left too steep, and at that part of the pass properly called the kanyon, the road is taken along the side of the hill, about a mile, when it descends into the creek by a hill so steep as to require the greatest care to prevent wagons from upsetting. The difficulties of the road were much increased by the rains commencing about the time the first wagons were crossing the mountain. The failure of some of the weaker teams so discouraged others, that several wagons were left on the south side of the mountain, their owners thinking it impossible to take them through the pass. But nearly a month after the commencement of the rains, and at a time when they were falling, one of the largest wagons on the road, with 800 or 1000 lbs. in it, was drawn through the pass, and could easily have reached the prairie on this side on the second day, had not the heavy rains which fell during its passage so swollen the little creek that runs down from the pass, as to endanger the wetting the goods at one of the last crossings.
"Road to Oregon," Oregon Spectator, Oregon City, March 18, 1847, page 1 Attributed to Jesse Applegate.
The party that went back the southern route [in 1847] consisted of thirteen persons; the spring was late, which caused us some trouble in crossing streams, swales and mountains. We passed through the Umpqua Canyon where the emigrants of  saw such hard times, as graphically described by J. Quinn Thornton in his book on Oregon. We found many carcasses and wagons, pieces of wagons, crockery and everything that it was possible for emigrants to have on a trip of that kind, which strewed the highway and byway and especially at camping places. Indians had carried off all they wanted of this plunder; still there was a great deal left along the road to show what they had endured and suffered on that short road of a little over twelve miles.
Samuel A. Clarke, "Pioneer Days: A Third Article Relative to the Adventures of Joseph Watt," Oregonian, Portland, September 27, 1885, page 2
The party returning to the States by the Southern route had passed through the kenyon and were camped at the head of it on the 14th of May. They were in good health and spirits and gratified with the trip, as we learn by letters from them.
Oregon Spectator, Oregon City, June 10, 1847, page 2
Nothing of importance transpired in passing through the Rogue River country [in 1847], although there was a good many Indians with us most of the time. We got through the Canyon with but little trouble, although it was such a bugaboo to the emigration the year before.
Thomas Smith, Wilbur, Oregon 1884, Mss 806, Oregon Historical Society Research Library
By a few days' labor [the emigrants] so far improved the road through the Umpqua Mountain that 8 of the wagons came the whole distance to the prairie, on the north side, in a day (mark that!), and the remainder had but a mile or two to travel on the following morning.
Jesse Applegate, Oregon Spectator, Oregon City, October 14, 1847, page 2
T. [October 19th. In about one m. we crossed the river and left it after following it about 50 ms. in all. Passed among the bluffs and camped after a distance of abut 12 ms. Some of the Indians are yet following us. Their room is better than their company.
W. 20th. Upon leaving camp we soon came to a fine creek. Then bad roads ensued (rough hilly and sideling) but by night we were in a valley with good camping ground at hand. Distance 8 ms.
Thurs 21. Today we had bad roads and reached a good camping ground at dark. Distance 9 ms.
F. 22. We today made about 8 ms. farther and camped at the entrance of the Umpqua Mtns. During the day we followed a creek and passed several fine pieces of grass.
S. 23. Today we entered the worst roads we ever traveled and made only 6 ms. by dark.
Sun. 24. Continued over these horrible roads and dark found some or most of the company in the timber. Only 5 wagons got through. The rest had to keep their animals over another night without feed. Distance today 5 ms.
M. 25. This morning after 1½ ms. of toiling over these horrible roads they all reached the valley after upsets, breakdowns and losses of various kinds. 2½ ms. today.
T. 26th. This morning we moved about 2 ms. down the creek (or one branch of the Umpqua River) and camped for the day to wait for those who were back after lost cattle, broken wagons &c. Last night was rainy but today is clear.
W. 27. Last night was another showery night, but today is clear. The rainy season appears to have commenced & today we made about 4 ms. down the river.
Lester Hulin diary 1847, Southern Oregon Historical Society MS 485, folder 1
MORE IMMIGRANTS.--By the subjoined letter it will be seen that another company of immigrants have arrived in the valley by the Southern route--making a surprisingly short trip--having left the States the 22d of last June. "The almost impassable Kanyon" is certainly being redeemed.
POLK COUNTY, OREGON,DEAR SIR--I have the pleasure to announce to you the safe arrival by the Southern route of a fourth company of immigrants of 20 or more wagons. This party left St. Joseph on the 22d June and being in the rearward of so large an immigration fared but badly until they took the S. route.--Finding on it abundance of feed, their teams rapidly recruited, and upon their arrival here were in fine condition. [Apparently the previous season's heavy rains encouraged a lush growth of grass for 1847's emigrants.] From the best information I can get they have made the most saving trip that has ever yet been made from Fort Hall, having lost but four animals on the road (which were stolen by Indians.)--The party kept up no guard, and it is remarkable they lost no more; a woman was wounded in the arm by an arrow. So terrible had the kanyon been described to them that they were expecting daily to arrive at it until they came into the settlements, and declare there is no kanyon on the road. They brought with them 80 sheep.
Nov. 16, 1847.
Here are some interesting particulars relative to the arrival of the last companies on the Southern route, received too late for insertion in our last paper.
A company of 16 wagons, under the direction of Mr. Gordon, left the forks of the road on the 27th day of August, bound for California. They met the party of Com. Stockton, who advised them to keep the Southern route to Oregon, until they arrived at the Sacramento river, and by descending it they would avoid the Sierra Nevada. They followed his advice, but after laying by one week at that river examining the country, they concluded it would be safer to follow the road to Oregon. While lying at the Sacramento a party of 11 wagons passed them on their way to Oregon (the party of Mr. Davis); they did not overtake this party, but they arrived in the Willamette valley on the morning of the 25th of October, being two days less than two months on the road including all stoppages and lying a whole week in one camp. The small party starting in behind and getting through before them having made the trip much sooner.
Oregon Spectator, Oregon City, November 25, 1847, page 2
[May] 9th 1848 Movd 13 Miles
through the umpeaw Mountain
Bad Road through the
Canyan Crossed the
Canyan Creek 65 times
in Six Miles this is
the worst Place in
10th Movd 20 Miles and
Campt on the South
Side of the Mountains
Between Rogue River
and the umpeaw
Bad Road hilly and
Diary of Andrew Jackson Poe, 1847-1858, volume 3
After crossing the south Umpqua [in April 1849], we enter the Umpqua mountains, and pass through into what is called a "canyan." We enter this canyan at the mouth of a small river, and travel up this mountain-bound stream, crossing it some 25 times, and lastly traveling in its bed a short distance, when we fall in upon the head of another small river, leading south. Following this stream down a few miles brings us into a handsome little valley. It is a hard day's drive through this canyan.
Benjamin Cleaver, "Correspondence of the Telegraph," letter datelined Oregon City, March 4, 1850, in Alton Telegraph & Democratic Review, July 26, 1850, page 1
We organized at Oregon City and set out on the 1st of May, 1850, for the gold mines of California. Our route lay up the Willamette Valley, sometimes on traveled trails, sometimes on trails of our own making. Nothing of importance, or even of much interest, occurred, except such as romantic youth experience in passing through so beautiful and diversified a country as the Willamette Valley, until we came to a canyon through which we had to pass from the Umpqua to the valley of the Rogue River. The distance through was about twelve miles. The trail led up the winding creek, which it crossed dozens of times. Often it followed the tortuous rocky bed of the creek for hundreds of yards at a time. We entered the canyon about 8 o'clock in the morning, and so difficult was the passage that we did not get through until 5 in the afternoon. Our horses, of which we had fifteen--a riding animal for each one of us, and five more to pack our equipage--were very much fatigued. We were exhausted, for we walked nearly the whole distance, and often were compelled to lift our pack horses, almost bodily, up the many steep ascends which we met in the trail. When we came out of the canyon we saw a creek (Cow Creek) ahead of us, and to our left as we passed out at the base of the low hills on our right. As soon as we could descend we made our way to the creek and made camp in a beautiful grove of white and black oak trees which grew on the flat near the creek, which was wide, yet shallow, at the numerous riffles.
S. K. Johnson, quoted in O. W. Olney, "Captain Benjamin Wright," Sunday Oregonian, Portland, September 27, 1885, page 3
On our arrival at the north end of the great Umpqua Canyon [in January 1851], where Canyonville now stands, we had some difficulty with the Indians. We had late in [the] afternoon killed a fine buck and made camp late. Built large log fire, all hands roasting venison. One man by name Charley Johnson had a fine piece roasted and sat on one of the wagon tongues leaning back against the box of the wagon to eat his supper when he was shot at by two Indian arrows, both striking in the wagon not more than four inches from his head. We all seized our guns and sprang into the dark but could not hear nor see anything of them; was not disturbed any more that night.
Canyonville circa 1940.
The next three days was spent in getting through the Canyon, which was in a state of nature with the exception of some logs and brush had been cut out. There had not even been any grading done, and the travel on the north end had to go the most of the way in the bed of the creek, occasionally meeting obstructions in the bed of the creek [that] we could not pass over in way of falls or large boulders where we had to ascend and descend over some of the steepest points that it ever had been my lot to witness before. At the south end of the Canyon we went into camp to restore teams and dry our clothing. I do not think there was a man in the company had a dry garment on him. We had, all hands of us, to get in the creek, and a great many times to lift the wagons over boulders and other obstructions that it was impossible for the teams to pull over.
John A. Cardwell, Cardwell's Emigrant Company, 1879
[In February 1851 or 1852] "I was greatly disappointed when we did strike the . . . 'Great Columbian Trail,' for I had expected to see a wide beaten road, but, on the contrary, it was by no means so well defined as a sheep track, though now and then there were marks of wheels. Soon we overtook a cattle train from the Columbia, with three or four wagons drawn by oxen. The manner in which the Oregon men got their two-wheeled wagons through streams and mountain passes is truly wonderful. When the trail gets so bad the oxen can no longer draw the laden wagons, it is the commonest of incidents to 'hump' their load, piece by piece, for perhaps half a mile, where even a perambulator would be in danger. The indomitable perseverance is wonderful. Sometimes they are compelled to hew a way through the forest, now to construct a corduroy road over the morass. It is done without a grumble. At first I used to be surprised to see the mark of only one tire along the sloping crest of a precipice, and, in spite of the cattle tracks accompanying it, imagined it must be a wheelbarrow, as the idea of taking a wagon along a slope at an angle as sharp as the roof of a house seemed incredible. Yet such was really the act, for I found out afterward that it was quite usual for these energetic voyageurs to uphold by main force the outer wheel of the wagon while the inside wheel alone touched the ground for long distances at a time along the edge of the precipice, and where else it must have consigned every wagon and its oxen to destruction."
* * *In our last installment of an unidentified English writer's account of following early trails in Oregon, we left the heroic party on the "great Columbian trail." The narrative continues: "There was, however, one part of the trail we had yet to pass which even those hardy men dreaded. This was the 'Great Canyon Creek.' Indeed, so much was said about it by all the travelers we met or overtook that it became my bête noir, and I longed, yet feared, to arrive at it. . . . After three days traversing this devious trail, much intersected by streams that caused great delays in fording, we came to a halt on the prairie close to Canyon Creek which was represented, as far as I could see, by a gloomy mountain range. On this prairie we found several horses, mule and cattle trains camped. It is usual to attempt this dangerous pass in company with other parties so that each can render the others assistance when required."
The party stayed over on Sunday, the day of rest, and "Long before daylight on Monday everybody was up, getting breakfast and making preparation for the start and taking advantage of every minute of daylight, which is absolutely required for the passage of the Great Canyon. My heart beat faster with anxiety as our party, having the least encumbrance, led the way into the deep gloomy mountain gorge which is the mouth of the canyon. A rapid stream ran at the right hand, but as we advanced the mountain sides got higher and more precipitous and seemed closing in upon us. At last we came to a dead standstill, for there was an end to terra firma and before us lay nothing but a deep stream, fiercely and noisily tearing along, throwing its spray over the huge boulders which studded its bed and appeared above its current. 'Hello!' sang out one of ours to those behind, 'which way now?' 'Right away up stream' was the reply. Right away up stream! I began to believe in the Canyon Creek. It was evident there was an end to equestrianship for some time to come, so dismounting we drove our animals into the water and followed ourselves, and thus half-swimming, half-wading, our painful journey began. How am I to describe the scene that ensued? As I have said, our party was the lightest, having neither pack animals nor wagons, yet we had quite enough to do to push on, for the rapid stream was very irregular and, now and then, a deep pool occurred into which man and horse would flounder. But whenever a halt took place the cry was forward! Staggering, tumbling, scrambling and splashing, on we pressed. Now a pack mule or horse would fall under its load and drown ere it could be released. Load and animal were left to lie together. Then a wagon would break down and the wreck and its contests were abandoned--for, with hostile Indians at hand, no one cared to linger. The pass must be accomplished before nightfall, so as vehicles and animals gave out, the struggling, fighting, tumultuous and desperate crowd swept over them."
"Following an Old Trail," Oakland Tribune, January 4, 1940, page 15; also "A Dangerous Pass," Oakland Tribune, January 14, 1940, page 91, quoting an 1862 issue of Leisure Hour
At the [north] end of the valley, at the mouth of the dreaded canyon, we found Joe Knott waiting for wayfarers [in the spring of 1851], and that was the outermost post of Oregon civilization, only planted there at the intimation that the California travel had money in it.
Climbing the Umpqua Mountains consisted of wading through Canyon Creek over a hundred times, at crossings, and marching up against the current for a goodly distance, with an occasional abrupt climb of one to four feet of rocky ledge, where the wagons and their loads had to be lifted bodily over the obstructions.
S. A. Clarke, "Overland to California in 1851," The West Shore, Portland, August 1, 1879, page 2
It appears that the Oregon mines are a reality. The Sacramento Transcript of May 15th says:
"We are informed by Gen. McCarver, who has just arrived from Oregon, that at least one-half of the people of the Territory have left the farms and towns, and have gone or are going to the mines. . . . At the last advices there were at least a hundred wagons and several hundred miners waiting at the canyon between the Umpqua and Rogues' River valleys, on account of the high water. So soon as the stream falls they will pass through."
"The Oregon Gold Mines--A Reality," Weekly Wisconsin, Milwaukee, July 2, 1851, page 5
The streets of Oregon City and Portland are, at the present time, filled with pack animals and wagons, which are continually loading up and pushing off for the mines. . . . At the last advice there were at least a hundred wagons and several hundred miners waiting at the canyon between the Umpqua and Rogues' River valleys, on account of the high water. So soon as the stream falls they will pass through.
"The Oregon Gold Mines," Fort Wayne Times, July 17, 1851, page 1
It had been a tiresome day of travel [southward in May 1851]. Since dawn we had climbed Umpqua Mountain, descending through the terrible gorge of Canyon Creek, which stream we forded lengthwise, three miles, at one time, and crossed in all one hundred times. Our wagons had been lifted up the minor precipices that the stream threw itself over. At noon we reached the beautifully wooded summit of Umpqua Mountain; then, following the sun towards the evening we went down, and down, winding out upon the ridges and into the hollows, following smoother acclivities, and early in the afternoon camped beside a rippling stream upon as beautiful a prairie as stock ever grazed on. Our tired beasts were turned loose and gave way to exuberant frolic. Sober oxen bellowed and made pretense of play; cayuse ponies vied with sedate team horses in antics among grasses that almost hid them, in which they lay and rolled with perfect realization of equine and bovine luxury.
Our tents were being pitched where rushes offered a luxurious bed; our fires were kindled for the coming meal; all was rest and jollity. The terrors of Umpqua Canyon were an oft-told tale that had preceded the journey; something we had apprehended, but now, the great mountain was behind us and the dreaded bugbear of the journey was no more.
S. A. Clarke, "On the Klamath," Sunday Oregonian, April 5, 1885, page 1
Our tents were pitched and fires made to cook a meal, for the mountain travel had been wearisome [in early June 1851]. Canyon Creek came down its deep ravine for weary miles and had to be crossed over 90 times. At one place it leaped a rocky ledge with the greatest ease. It was a delightful little waterfall, or cascade, but it chanced that our only way up was to lift our wagons bodily over that same ledge, which was useful as teaching a lesson in the law of gravitation. It was easy enough to descend the south side, and it seems we were closely followed by another party, wherein were some young fellows who celebrated their climb through the canyon by firing guns and pistols, and uttering all sorts of whoops and yells. Down in the valley below their discordant sounds told of war. We imagined that some party following us was ambushed on the mountain and fighting for life, so we all rushed to arms, and were trying to face the music as bravely as possible when the advance guard came in sight and relieved our fears.
S. A. Clarke, "In Southern Oregon," Sunday Oregonian, February 10, 1895, page 6
[In June 1851] Canyon creek came down its deep ravine for weary miles and had to be crossed over 90 times. At one place it leaped a rocky ledge with the greatest ease. It was a delightful little waterfall, or cascade, but it chanced that our only way up was to lift our wagons bodily over that same ledge, which was useful as teaching a lesson in the law of gravitation. It was easy enough to descend the south side, and it seems we were closely followed by another party, wherein were some young fellows who celebrated their climb through the canyon by firing guns and pistols, and uttering all sorts of whoops and yells. Down in the valley below their discordant sounds told of war. We imagined that some party following us was ambushed on the mountain and fighting for life, so we all rushed to arms, and were trying to face the music as bravely as possible when the advance guard came in sight and relieved our fears.
Sunday Oregonian, February 10, 1895, page 6
My agency . . . is naturally divided into two districts, the Rogue River & the Umpqua district, separated by a high range of mountains known as the Kenion Range, nowhere as yet passed by carriages except through the Kenion, a passage by this time well known on this coast, but by no means a difficult one in the dry season. Another practicable route has been lately discovered E. of the Kenion by Major Kearny under the guidance of Jesse Applegate Esq.
Indian agent H. H. Spalding, August 25, 1851, Microcopy of Records of the Oregon Superintendency of Indian Affairs, Reel 11, Instructions and Reports 1850-1855, page 45.
With our train [in 1851] was a man whose eccentricities afterward made him well known to the early settlers of southern Douglas county. When introducing himself he would say, "I am Charles W. Beckwith of York state." His vernacular was of the down east Yankee. No one was ever known to tell a story or make a statement so extraordinary that Beckwith could not exceed it by something that had come under his personal observation, mostly "back in York state."
Beckwith settled upon the land that is now owned by J. A. Worthington east of Canyonville and many of the Baron Munchausen Beckwith stories are still current in that neighborhood.
Beckwith was nervous or energetic in his movement and had a peculiar manner of driving his ox team. His near wheel ox was named Colonel--an old brindle ox that seemed to be discouraged with life in this world and was in no hurry to arrive at his destination in Oregon. Beckwith would walk up to the leaders of his team, then turn around and walk rapidly back and give Colonel a cut of the whip in the flank, saying, "Gee up, Carnel behind here. What you about?" This he would repeat hundreds of times a day, and in doing so walked about one and a half times across the plains.
He became noted for his Yankee tricks in securing advantages, so on the morning we started through the canyon he was off in the lead, out of his turn, saying that the road would be so narrow that other teams could not pass him, so would be obliged to help him through. At that time the road or trail followed the creek from the south end to the summit, crossing small streams many times, through heavy timber.
Our train had not advanced far until we came upon Beckwith with his team stuck in the mud. "Carnel" was hopelessly mired and refused to make an effort. There was a lot of unprintable language indulged in, not complimentary to Mr. Beckwith. "Carnel" was pulled out of the mud, and his train got around Beckwith some way and made him take his proper place among the hindmost teams. I would say here that by arrangement, in our train, each family took their turn in leading. The last I remember of the poor old "Carnel" he was lying beside the trail. A yoke of oxen was no doubt supplied from other teams to help the Beckwith family through.
Our train made fair progress until we arrived at a point where the south end of the Hildebrand grade connects with the old road. There we passed over a ridge on the north side of the creek, then down a steep hill in the bed of the creek. At this hill ropes were attached to the wagons, with men holding, to prevent the wagons running onto teams or overturning. On reaching the creek bed our route lay right in the bed for one and a half miles, the slope of the mountains coming right down to the water on both sides. Now, do not imagine that the creek bed was a smooth, pebbly bottom. On the contrary, it was covered with boulders from the size of a pumpkin to a haycock. I recall that the lead teams, on being let down onto the creek, moved right on without reference to those behind.
It was about four o'clock in the afternoon that our teams left the creek's bed. We had then made about five miles. At this point we met some men who had come up from Knott's station near Canyonville, to help us through the canyon.
I might say that somewhere on Rogue River an Indian boy about my age had joined our train and had attached himself to me and that during the day one wheel of my light wagon had passed over his foot and I had him ride in my wagon. One of the men, seeing me, a boy, driving a yoke of oxen, thought it a chance to help, took my whip and started Bill and John at a faster gait than usual. The result was the wagon was overturned before he had made a hundred yards and my Indian boy friend was rolled into the creek.
At this point I was sent ahead with the loose stock, arriving at the north end of the canyon after dark. A part of the train had come through and were camped just across the bridge south from Canyonville.
I don't remember where I slept that night, but I am sure I was supperless, but found friends next morning who gave me breakfast.
By noon of the second day our teams had arrived at camp after passing the worst ten miles of road between the Missouri river and civilization in Oregon, for here we found the first house in Oregon.
Some of my readers know of the conditions of this canyon road for the last fifty years--changes that have been made costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many of you know of the improvements that are being made at this time that will be completed within the year, costing over two hundred thousand dollars. When paved it will only be a thirty-minute drive with an automobile over one of the finest scenic roads in the world.
We arrived at Canyonville September 20.
George W. Riddle, History of Early Days in Oregon, 1920, pages 28-30
We left Oregon City four days later, (about September 25th, 1851) in company with Mr. Joseph Goodwin who also fitted up an ox team bound for Yreka, California. The names of the party were: Farmer, Quinn, Henry Klippel, Joseph Goodwin and Fox. Farmer's wagon was loaded with blacksmith's outfit, iron, etc. Goodwin's with billiard table and saloon fixtures both considered necessary adjuncts in a few mining camps at that time. Nothing transpired worth mentioning until we passed through Umpqua canyon. Farmer's wagon being heavily loaded, broke an axle which was replaced by another made out of a fir sapling, and answered its purpose for about two miles, when it twisted off; this occurred twice more which made our journey through the canyon consume five days and necessitated the driving of our cattle out to grass. Mr. Farmer ordered me to remain with wagons. A drizzling rain or mist prevailed continuously; there never was any sunshine! Finally we pulled out and arrived at Goodwin's camp about noon of the fifth day.
Henry Klippel, Medford Enquirer, February 9, 1901
Oct. 27th 1851
The canion of the Umpqua mountain is 2½ miles east of south of my house. (I broke one wheel of my wagon in the Umpqua canion and lay there 2 nights. The canion is very narrow in many places 2 wagons cannot pass. The mountains are 6 or 8 thousand feet high on each side and very steep. It is 12 miles through and the worst road of the same length in the world.)
Journal of Isaac A. Flint, accessed 2/3/2016
The trail of the canyon [in November 1851] was extraordinary in all its features. To this day remnants of the old trail may be seen, and an old pioneer even, should he take a retrospective glance back to the times when trains and herds and wagons too were conveyed along the dismal channel, must be constrained to remark with the renowned James II--and with as much force--Est-il-possible! Eleven miles of incessant struggle brought us out to the south end of the canyon, where now stands the dwelling of the Hon. Hardy Elliff.
O. W. Olney, "Thirty-Four Years Ago," Oregonian, Portland, January 10, 1886, page 3
[In the spring of 1852] we located on a claim near Canyonville, in Douglas County. We would have gone farther south, but the road through the "Canyon" seemed too formidable for our one yoke of oxen, and we were compelled to stop. The twelve miles of road immediately south of Canyonville follows a swift mountain stream, and in those days was but little more than a "pack" trail..
William M. Colvig, "Annual Address," Transactions of the Forty-Fourth Annual Reunion of the Oregon Pioneer Association, 1916, pages 342-343
The route through the Canyon (so called) is chiefly traveled, except in high water, when an arduous mountain trail is used. Passing from the scenery which I have described [in late May 1852], the Canyon has little of interest for the eye, or comfort for the body. Its difficulties are deep mud, steep hills and frequent crossings of the creek on a bed of rocks, angular and uneven. The crossings, I was told, are seventy-three, besides a mile or two directly in the bed of the stream. The distance through is twelve miles, and is rode at this season of the year without difficulty in four hours. A man not used to such roads would think it impassable for wagons, and I suppose it is so, drawn by horses. They flounder in the mud too much, but ox teams perform it daily. Four or five pair of oxen will drawn through ten to fifteen hundred pounds.
Nathaniel Coe, "The Territory of Oregon," Steuben Courier, Bath, New York, September 8, 1852, pages 1-2
A new post office has been established in Canyonville, at the mouth of the Canyon--C.E. Chrisman, Postmaster. The mail is to be carried to this place after July 1st, 35 miles beyond Winchester.
Oregon Weekly Times, Portland, June 26, 1852, page 2
Umpqua Kanyon.--On Monday, Aug. 9th, [1852,] we entered the famous Kanyon. It is a deep, long gorge, or pass, through the mountains which divides the Umpqua from the Rogue's River Valley. It is said to be at its best estate, and is bad enough even now. The general course is from north to south. We pass up the channel of a creek for about nine miles, until we reach the summit, and then gradually descend.
Crossing a Creek.--We crossed this creek about ninety-seven times, and traveled many hundred yards directly up the rocky bed. By 2 o'clock we were fairly through, and glad enough to be delivered. Paid 75 cents each for a poor dinner in a rum-shop. This we thought decidedly better than starvation. Our course now lay more to the west again, some six miles, until we crossed Cow Creek, after which we resumed a southerly direction, over a very mountainous route to Grave Creek, where we camped amid vermin and vice enough to alarm our fears. The Indians of this vicinity are not to be trusted. Our horses fared badly. Next morning they were missing, and it was nine o'clock before we were ready to start. Our real toils now begin. The waters of the Kenyon had softened our horses' hoofs, and the gravel of the road had worn them very tender, so that they could scarcely travel at all.
"Journal of Rev. W. Roberts," Christian Advocate and Journal, April 23, 1853, page 62. Rev. Roberts was traveling from north to south.
So we started after noon [in June, 1852] to go through the canyon; we were to cross the creek 102 times in 12 or 14 miles, and it must have been a fearful drive to go through with oxen and heavy wagons. We found it hard enough with saddle horses. . . . We pushed on to get to Mr. Knott's hotel and sawmill at the north of the canyon, at the west side
of the mountains, at a little town called Canyonville. We got to Knott's just before sundown. . . .
Doyce B. Nunis, ed., The Golden Frontier: The Recollections of Herman Francis Reinhart 1851-1869, written 1887, published 1962, page 41
We started in May  from Independence, Mo., and came by the southern route, coming into the Rogue River Valley. I remember we came through a big canyon between the Cow Creek country and Canyonville. We took the bed of the creek for 13 miles, and we certainly had some pretty rough going. In places we would chain the wheels and tie a heavy tree to the back of the wagon to act as a brake. In those days they did not shoe oxen, and our cattle had such tender feet that they could hardly travel. We finally got completely out of provisions. My father came out to meet us in the Rogue River Valley. We settled at Canyonville. I can remember so plainly in those days the smoke of the Indian fires was always in sight.
James C. Fullerton, quoted by Fred Lockley, "In Earlier Days," Oregon Journal, Portland, May 30, 1913, page 9
Elk River skirts the northern side of the valley, cutting off spurs of the Calapooya Mountains. The North Umpqua passes more centrally through it, and the South Umpqua flows along the base of the Umpqua Mountains.
Over these mountains no very comfortable road has yet been found and opened. The route by the Kanyon, so called, is chiefly used, except in stages of high water, when a rugged mountain trail is taken. Passing from the scenery which I have described, the Kanyon has nothing of interest to the eye, and certainly its passage has little of comfort for the body; yet the traveler has one comfortable, and very frequent reflection; when his horse has floundered through a mud hole, passed over a place of pointed, uneven rocks, or toiled up an acclivity, he feels gratified that one less obstacle is to be encountered. I commenced to count the crossings of the creek, but lost my count between 40 and 50. A packer said there are 73 crossings, besides traveling a mile or two directly in its bed. We followed up Kanyon Creek nine miles, thence down a small creek three miles to the valley of Cow Creek. Notwithstanding the unpleasantness of this passage, there is no real difficulty in riding through it at this season of the year, when it is very good for "the Kanyon." It is only four hours ride.
N. Coe, "Umpqua and Rogue River Valleys," Weekly Oregonian, Portland, July 3, 1852, page 2
On our way to the mines [in October 1852] we passed through what is known as the Canyon in the mountain spur that separates the Umpqua country from the Rogue River country. People now passing through this canyon scarcely appreciate the difficulties attending the passage which then existed. The canyon is formed by two streams, both heading in a small pond or lake at the summit of the mountain; the one that flows northward is called Canyon Creek. It was then crossed eighty-four times by the road. The other stream flowed southward and was crossed by way of the road over sixty times. In the rainy season, and especially when the mountains were covered, or blockaded with snow, the passage was almost impossible. The passage was strewn with the wrecks of wagons and the bones of horses and mules. Subsequently, Congress made an appropriation of $40,000 for a military road through this mountain gorge. This money was faithfully expended by General Hooker. The distance through the canyon is about nine miles. General Hooker built the military road on the side of the mountain. In quite a number of places you can sit in the stage and look down into a nearly perpendicular and sunless abyss hundreds of feet in depth. Large sums of money have since been expended by toll corporations to keep this military road passable and in repair.
Memoirs of Orange Jacobs, 1908, pages 68-69
The Rogue River Valley lies south from the Umpqua Valley, and is separated from it by the Umpqua Mountain, and a succession of mountain ridges and narrow valleys. This mountain is high, precipitous, and rough--it is heaved up into high peaks, with intervening low gaps, through one of which a wagon road has been made, and with a small appropriation from government, judiciously applied, an excellent road might be made.
John M. Forrest, "Description of Oregon," Weekly Oregonian, Portland, September 25, 1852, page 1
The winter of 1852 was severe. At one time we had over 20 travelers staying in our house who were trail-bound, not being able to go through the 12-mile canyon. Mother kept two kettles over the fireplace all the time, one filled with boiled wheat, the other with venison, so our guests had plenty to eat, even if there wasn't much variety.
William M. Colvig, quoted by Fred Lockley, Oregon Journal, Portland, May 12, 1927, page 16
Mr. Hardin presented petition of John Butch, and 379 others, praying for charter for plank road through the canyon.
"Oregon Legislature," Oregon Statesman, Oregon City, February 5, 1853, page 1
The canion of the Umpqua mountain is 2½ miles east of south of my house. I broke one wheel of my wagon in the Umpqua canion [in 1853] and lay there 2 nights. The canion is very narrow in many places 2 wagons cannot pass. The mountains are 6 or 8 thousand feet high on each side and very steep. It is 12 miles through and the worst road of the same length in the world.
"Golden Gate to Columbia River on the Bark Keoka: Isaac A. Flint's Journal," Oregon Historical Quarterly, March 1962, page 52
(Public Act--Chap. 9.)
An act for the Construction of Military Roads in Oregon Territory.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the following sums of money be, and the same are, hereby appropriated, for the construction of military roads in the Territory of Oregon, to wit: for the construction of a road from Steilacoom, on Puget Sound, to Fort Walla Walla, twenty thousand dollars; and for the construction of a road from the mouth of Myrtle Creek, on Umpqua River, to Camp Stuart, in Rogue River Valley, twenty thousand dollars; the said roads to be constructed under the direction of the Secretary of War, pursuant to contracts to be made by him.
Approved, January 7, 1853.
"By Authority," Daily Intelligencer, Wheeling, Virginia, June 7, 1853, page 2
The only means of crossing this range is secured by taking up the bed of a stream that has its source exactly at the summit, and within a few feet of where another stream forms and makes it way down the opposite declivity. This stream at times is full and turbulent, and for many days places an effectual barrier upon travel; at others its bed is almost dry. Fortunately the latter was the case when we passed up its rocky and uneven way. Its course is tortuous in the extreme, and the rocks on either side are precipitous and wild. It fell to the fortune of our valiant Lieut. Pismire to have command of the rear guard. As we ascended this canyon [in the summer of 1853] several of the boys in the advance deemed this a proper place for an ambush, and the lieutenant a proper person to capture and scalp. They accordingly secreted themselves in the thick, hanging brushwood that grew everywhere in abundance and waited the approach of the little party that brought up the rear.
On they came, wholly unconscious of a lurking foe, until of a sudden up sprang the ambuscade, fired a pistol or two, shouted wildly, and made a dash for the brave lieutenant. He only fancied a surprise, and proposing to make his lines of retreat perfect wheeled his horse and fled down that precipitous way as fast as the conditions of the road would permit, but not fast enough to elude one of the assailers, who, bounding over a point of rocks, struck the stream below him and commanded him to halt! So frightened was the poor dupe that he mistook the man for an Indian and proposed not only to surrender, but to pay ransom for his life in the property of his clothing, his arms and his horse. The conditions were accepted and possession given before he so far became sensible enough to see the joke, and he was obliged for the balance of the day to plod his way on foot, up and down mountains and through mud, his captor refusing to restore the price of his ransom without securing his scalp.
"An Indian Campaign," East Saginaw Courier, Michigan, April 16, 1864, page 1
On seeing us start [in August 1853] the Indians started in the same direction we were going, expecting, no doubt, that they would be able to head us off by the time we reached the divide in the canyon, which was about three miles distant from the south end. Many of the Indians were on foot, some were mounted on ponies, but we were confident that we could beat them to the divide, as our path was free from brush and good, while theirs was through the brush. We made as fast time as good, strong horses could carry us, the loose horses following closely after the bell.
On reaching the summit we felt sure that we had beaten them, but as it was dark in the timber, were not certain. Going down the steep and tortuous trail to the bed of the creek, in which now lay our way, we followed it for two miles. It was walled in by perpendicular bluffs on both sides. The ride was a rough one, as the creek was filled with boulders, many of them of considerable size. I called back to Patrick, and he answered, "All right." At this moment the Indians had arrived at the summit and set up a hair-lifting yell of rage and disappointment. We lost no time, but pushed on at full speed, and emerged from the creek. The road there crosses it 68 times, the crossings being usually made on a walk, and came out at the north end of the canyon (Canyonville) and warned the settlers, who until now knew nothing of the outbreak. They hastily "forted up," and put out a strong guard up the canyon.
MILITARY ROAD.--Maj. Alvord of the U.S.A., who has been appointed by the Executive of the United States to survey and open the road from the mouth of Myrtle Creek, Umpqua County, to Camp Stuart on Rogue River, has gone to the southern portion of Oregon for the purpose of commencing operations, and will, no doubt, push the work forward with all possible dispatch.
Sacramento Daily Union, August 18, 1853, page 2
Major B. Alvord, U.S. Army, is ordered to construct a road "from the mouth of Myrtle Creek, Umpqua Valley, to Camp Stuart, Rogue River Valley." He accordingly left this place on the 6th inst. for the place of beginning .We are not able to state anything relative to the starting point, any further than [that] it is in Umpqua Valley. What significance the mouth of Myrtle Creek has obtained, we are not advised. We have not heard of there being a military post established there, but we believe the law contemplates building a military road.
Oregon Spectator, Oregon City, August 19, 1853, page 2
The last twelve miles of the disturbed section passes through what is known far and wide in this quarter [in September 1853] by the name of "the canyon." It is a very deep and narrow gorge, and is the only means of passing from the Rogue River country into the Umpqua. It has a road through it which one would think it a great achievement for a mule to get through on safely, but what was my surprise, to meet about half way through, a twelve-pounder cannon making its way along with considerable facility, by the aid of eight stout mules, and a company of mounted men, who were escorting it to the seat of war! Getting through the canyon after some six hours of as hard walking as one could well have, I came into the Umpqua, where there is no further danger from the Indians.
Letter of September 21, 1853, New York Herald, November 9, 1853, page 6
Major Alvord and suit [sic] arrived here today, for the purpose of surveying a military road between Stuart's Creek and Myrtle Creek.
Letter from Jacksonville dated August 29, 1853 to the Yreka Mountain Herald, quoted in "The Indian Hostilities," New York Daily Tribune, October 10, 1853, page 6
In southern Oregon, the Rogue River-Umpqua Valley route was surveyed by Major Benjamin Alvord, assisted by Jesse Applegate, during the fall of 1853. Approximately $5,000 was spent on this survey, the primary purpose of which was to find a passage avoiding the Umpqua Canyon. Failing in this, Alvord resolved to spend the remainder of the appropriation in improving the road through the canyon and the nearby Grave Creek Hills. Construction contracts were made with the Applegate brothers, Jesse and Lindsay, and with Jesse Roberts, all local residents.
W. Turrentine Jackson, "Federal Road Building Grants for Early Oregon," Oregon Historical Quarterly, March 1949, page 7
Had it not have rained, we would have reached our destination in ten days from Salem. It was an arduous task to get the carriages along, and frequently required the twelve mules and all the men that could get round to get one of the wagons up the hills. The men did exceeding good service, and for four days were constantly at the wheel. In the Canyon, they were for the greater part of two days in mud and water, and quite a number of the men were afterwards taken sick in consequence of the exposure thus incurred.
Letter from Lt. August V. Kautz to Governor George L. Curry, September 9, 1853
THE MILITARY ROAD.--A private letter from the south says: "Major Alvord is camped on Myrtle Creek, with his command. He has made a reconnaissance of [the] canyon and eastern route, and commences the western or Cow Creek route today. I think the canyon route will be preferred. Major A. informed me that he expected to get the work under contract this fall."
Oregon Statesman, Salem, September 20, 1853, page 2
THE MILITARY ROAD.--Maj. Alvord was surveying the canyon route on the 15th, assisted by Jesse Applegate, whose extensive and intimate knowledge of the country has enabled him to render the party much service. Maj. A. thought the canyon route would be adopted.
Oregon Statesman, Salem, September 27, 1853, page 2
During  Major Alvord, U.S. Army, made a reconnaissance, in order to determine the line of the military road from Myrtle Creek to Rogue River. Assisted by Jesse Applegate, he examined these different routes, one east of the Umpqua Cañon, one following Cow Creek, and the Cañon itself. The route through the Umpqua Cañon was finally adopted, and the contract for building the road was let to Jesse Roberts for the distance through the Umpqua Cañon, and to Lindsay Applegate for the portion through the Grave Creek Hills. The road was to be completed by June 1854, and the work was duly performed with the money available from the appropriation by Congress--fifteen thousand dollars.
Elwood Evans, History of the Pacific Northwest: Oregon and Washington, 1889, page 423
Road Through the Canyon and Grave Creek Hills.Major Alvord has completed the survey and location of the military road from Myrtle Creek, Umpqua Valley, to Jacksonville, Rogue River Valley. He enjoyed several weeks in explorations of the eastern and western routes, proposed to avoid the Canyon, but has chosen the latter as best overcoming the elevation. Fifteen thousand dollars remaining of the appropriation will be employed in improving the road, five thousand upon the Grave [Creek] Hills and ten thousand upon the Canyon. These are the chief obstacles in the road and if overcome or improved, the route will be quite practicable. The contract was given for the section of the road through the Grave Creek Hills from Mr. Rice's to the crossing of Cow Creek, to Lindsay Applegate. The contract for the portion through the Canyon to Jesse Roberts. The work is to be completed by June next.
The completion of these improvements will reach the route to enter Oregon over the southern road, leaving the emigrant road at the Soda Springs a very inviting one.
Jesse Applegate accompanied Maj. A., and rendered very valuable service.
Oregon Statesman, Salem, November 8, 1853, page 2
It was reserved for the Canyon to outdo everything else that I ever saw in the shape of bad roads--the worst I ever saw was good when compared with it; it is bad enough always, but perhaps ten times worse when I passed through than usual. The Canyon Creek which runs through it this way from about the middle [traveling north] was booming high from the incessant rains of Saturday and Sunday, and the snows from the mountains; trees had fallen across it where the road runs in the narrow bed for a mile, and no way to get round, the rocks on each side being perpendicular and only room in the passage for the water to run--the stream was rising and after I got through this narrowest pass I was still obliged to cross and recross the stream every half and quarter mile--and it had got so high that I dared not ride it, so I drove my mare through and crossed on logs--it was so rapid that when it struck her side it washed her down every time till I thought she was about gone--but recovering she still made the land--the last time it swam her. But I am through safe and am well and comfortable. I could hardly sleep last night; the moment my eyes closed it seemed my mare and I were struggling among the rocks on the mountainside and in the foaming waters. How thankful I feel to the good lord for this merciful deliverance.
T. F. Royal, February 28, 1854 letter to his wife Mary Ann Royal, SOHS MS161, folder 1
[February 27, 1854]
I entered this dismal chasm, this dark and dangerous and much-dreaded Canyon quite early in the morning, expecting to encounter difficulties greater than I had ever met before in traveling--but little did I imagine that the reality as I found it lay before me. I was told the first part was the worst. True, with its deep mud holes, logs, broken bridges, mule steps sidling, steep and rough, it was bad enough to be the worst, but it was good when compared with the last half of the road.
It was about noon when I first entered Canyon Creek, which rises some 2 miles before you reach the middle of the Canyon. At first it was a small stream, though bold and rapid. I had no fears of this little noisy brook--but I did not think of the facts, that this is only the head of a stream, the windings of which I must now follow, crossing and recrossing
The road was now beautiful when compared with what I had just passed--so on I went cheerfully and rapidly thinking I will not make a whole day's trip of this 12-mile canyon as travelers generally do, for I am over the worst now and it is quite early. I did not expect to get along so well.
True, all this while I observed the creek was getting deeper at every crossing, but this suggested nothing to my mind, only that the increase of water must be caused by the many little tributaries that I was constantly crossing.
At length we--I mean Spotty and I, for she, poor creature, had the worst of it--At length we came to the point where they say we have to enter and travel downstream in the bed of the creek for a mile--it was downstream, sure enough, "with a vengeance." The stream was not only rapid and boisterous, but it was muddy, so that it was impossible to see where the holes and rocks were, consequently the process of wading down it was not a little frightful and a good deal more dangerous. But for all this, we were getting along pretty well--one careful step at a time--one step at a time--oh what a careful animal this is, thought I--if she blundered along like some horses, she would soon plunge me into these furious waves--Now we are safely past this cragged point, and around this pile of rocks, and down these crazy falls--and through this foaming surf?--no, not for three quarters of a mile yet--for I can see the whitecaps as far down the stream as I can look, and that would be a great ways only that the creek is so crooked and narrow and the walls so high. Anyhow I could hear the roaring of the waters at the other end where they rush out of this crevice if they were not so noisy here. But, stop, what does this mean--well I may stop, for I can get no farther--but there's nothing like trying--but certainly this can't be the road--though it is impossible for it to be anywhere else--how do they pass this drift, and these large trees across this narrow pass, oh, I see they do not pass them at all, for they have just floated and fallen here, that large tree I see is just fresh torn up by its roots and in its fall mashed these others down with it into the stream & these old logs, floating down, have lodged against them. But I had better be contriving some plan to get through or over this pile for there is no getting round. The water is now to the girt and rising I must be quick about getting out of this or I will be helped out. No quicker said than done; I dismounted onto a floating log--and Spotty, brave as Selem, at the word of command bounded over the first tree, but the bridle rein was so short she jerked me with her, but as it happened I fell across the saddle and soon righted up--or righted down rather, for she was just in the act of crawling under the next tree which lay just high enough above the water to let us pass close to the bank by being very humble, and submitting to a good hard squeeze such as we would not like to have repeated often.
Now, the way is clear--at any rate as clear as could be expected among these rocks in this muddy water, and in this dark, almost subterranean passage under this dense forest. on a rainy day.
But not so clear after all--worse & worse! Here is a four-foot fir log, 8 feet long. just whirled in here crosswise and wedged in between the rocks as tight as if it had grown there. The flood is rushing underneath it, strong enough to draw a horse under if he should stumble and fall--the water is now up to my mare's breast--and the top of the log is about 18 in. above the water--Now what shall I do? This log can't be moved; neither can it be jumped. The rain is increasing, and the torrents come rushing more wildly and furiously from above. To go back against this current and over the logs already crossed would be almost if not quite impossible, and I would be afraid to stay in this dreadful place 15 minutes longer. The thought here occurs to me; i.e, one of the thousand thoughts that here rushed to my mind is this--I have often said that I never have been in a place yet so completely closed up but that by the blessing of God I got out somehow, But what shall I say now? But this was no time for idle speculation--all this time I was acting as well as thinking, for ere I was aware of it I was on top of the log, pulling at the bridle as if I expected Spotty could jump this log too and she poor creature was turning her head back upstream to signify that she could now go no farther--"This is a leap I cannot make." But the third time I pulled on the rein: as if nerved up by a consciousness of our extremity, she put forth all the strength she had and made the desperate leap--she however only succeed in getting her forefeet on top of the log--but with another desperate effort she got her body on--and now here she was--her forefeet hanging below, and her hind feet above and could not of course touch bottom with either, so as to help herself in the least--now how to get her off I did not know unless the water should rise high enough to wash her off. After resting a moment, she made another struggle and by getting her hoofs into the bark of the log she tumbled herself off on the lower side.
After righting up all safe we turned downstream again to see what next, when suddenly I heard a loud yell behind me--I turned and saw three men who had just rode up to the log and had hailed me to know how I got over but they could not hear what I said but supposed I had come up thus far and had turned back.
As it happened they had an ax with them and soon cut down the log enough at one end so as to get their animals over and from this on I had company, but the water and momentum of the creek was now increasing at every crossing and finally became so dangerous we dare not ride it again. So we took off our saddlebags & blankets &c., turned the horses loose and drove them through--every time we thought our horses certainly were about gone they would catch on the rocks with their forefeet and hold on as long as they could--but in spite of their struggles the watter would dash them off and send them tumbling down into the brush. They however finally all got over safe, we following at every crossing on logs and drifts carrying our loads. This was cruel & frightful, but it could not be helped. Praise God for deliverance.
[March 28, 1854]
One month ago this morning I passed here going on down to conference, glad that I had escaped the horrors of the Canyon. I must now enter it again. Hope it is improved.
It was about 8½ o'clock when I entered and just 12 when I got out. How changed! When I went down it took me a whole day hard work to get through, now it is a good wagon road nearly all the way--about 20 hands having been to work on it constantly ever since.
The creek is now a clear little brook instead of a deep, rapid, muddy, dangerous stream. The logs and brush and trees are cleared out of the road, and the clouds from the sky--it does not look like the same place.
After getting through, I tied my horse and retired a short distance from the road and knelt in prayer--after returning thanks to the Lord for preserving me amid the dangers of this place carrying me safely through and back again--I said, now Lord, as thou hast so wonderfully protected me, and brought me safe through the trying scenes of this place, so wilt thou bring me safely through the more trying scenes which I may have to pass through this year. I was enabled to believe he would.
Thomas Fletcher Royal Journal #3, Southern Oregon Historical Society Research Library MS 161
Maj. Alvord, from Fort Vancouver, passed through Salem on Friday last, on his way south to inspect the work done on the military road from Myrtle Creek to Rogue River Valley. Of the $20,000 appropriated by Congress to survey and construct this road, $10,000 was set apart to be expended in making a wagon road through the canyon of the Umpqua Mountains, which, if reports prove true, has been done, to the great improvement of travel in that section of country.--Statesman.
Oregon Spectator, Oregon City, May 25, 1854, page 2
making appropriations for the completion of
Military Roads in Oregon Territory.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled: That the following sums of money be and the same are hereby appropriated for the completion of military roads now in course of construction in Oregon Territory, to wit: for the completion of the road from Astoria to Salem the sum of sixty thousand dollars; for the completion of the road from Myrtle Creek to Camp Stuart the sum of thirty thousand dollars; and for the completion of the road from Myrtle Creek to Scottsburg thirty thousand dollars, the said roads to be completed under the direction of the Secretary of War.
June 1854, Joseph Lane papers, Lilly Library, Indiana University
Military Road South.
Major B. Alvord, of the army, has just arrived in our city from an inspection of the military road in Southern Oregon. He reports that it will be completed in about ten days. The appropriation has been expended in improving the road from the mouth of the Umpqua Kanyon to the summit of the hills south of Grave Creek. It was located over new ground, avoiding a majority of the vexatious crossings in the Kanyon, and the steepest portions of the Grave Creek Hills. A good practical wagon road is opened, but the travel by pack mules over it this spring has made it very rough. On the 20th of May, a wagon with a load of 3,000 pounds passed through the Canyon [sic]. It contained iron castings for a mill in Rogue River Valley. The people of Scottsburg are opening a wagon road from Winchester to that place, and by August it is believed, wagons will travel between Scottsburg, Jacksonville and Yreka. Oregon Times.
Umpqua Weekly Gazette, Scottsburg, June 23, 1854, page 2
Correspondence of the Weekly Gazette.
Messrs. Editors:--Having read several communications in the Gazette relative to the course pursued by Lieut. John Withers and Jesse Applegate in locating the military road from Myrtle Creek to Scottsburg, I venture to submit a few facts concerning the expenditure of the appropriation to construct the road from Myrtle Creek to Jacksonville.
Maj. Benj. Alvord was detailed to survey and locate the above road, and on the suggestion of the Secretary of War, Maj. Alvord employed Jesse Applegate to assist him. Gen. Lane and Gen. Adair had recommended Jesse Applegate to the Department as admirably qualified by his extended knowledge of the country and scientific attainments for such a service. Although the military road was located on the old and usually traveled route, yet the survey cost little less than five thousand dollars, or one-fourth of the whole appropriation. It seems almost incredible that so large a sum should have been squandered in locating and surveying a road only about 80 miles in length, but it must be recollected that the work was performed under direction of an officer of the army, and that the money belonged to Uncle Sam. The large company of men employed by Maj. Alvord "to drive the enemy from the route" must have drawn heavily upon the funds which should have been expended in the construction of the road. After the completion of the survey only about $15,000 remained to construct the road; $5,000 of this sum passed into the hands of Mr. Lindsay Applegate on a contract to complete the road through the Grave Creek Hills. What were the precise terms of the contract with Mr. Applegate is not known, but everyone who has passed over the new road during the past season must have been at a loss to conceive how a contract could be so worded as to obligate the contractor to do what Mr. Applegate performed and to do no more. If the road was to be cleared of timber a width of thirty, or even twenty feet, it most assuredly has never been so completed. The track was neither graded nor cleared of stumps, rocks, or other impediments--indeed, in the estimation of persons living on the route, who have enjoyed the best opportunity for knowing the facts, not more than $1,200 was ever expended by Lindsay Applegate under the contract for which he obtained $5,000. It is not the purpose of the writer of this communication to declare who is the most guilty in this odious transaction--suffice it to say that a large part of the appropriation intended for the construction of a road leading from Umpqua Valley to the mining regions was squandered, and Maj. Alvord and his adviser, Jesse Applegate, and the contractor, Lindsay Applegate, should each and all be held responsible for the manner in which that money was expended.
When Col. Mansfield, the Inspector General of the Army, passed over the road last August, his attention was called to the scandalous condition of the work, and the people were promised that the whole affair should be investigated, and that justice should be administered to the parties in fault. Under a Democratic administration these things ought not to exist; sober-minded, honest, well-meaning Democrats will be led to believe that "all is not sound in Denmark," when all the appropriations of public money in this section of Oregon are placed under the control of leading and influential Whigs, to be squandered among their favorites and relatives. The undersigned regrets that information, from a reliable source, should not have reached Gen. Lane in time to have prevented the last appropriation from passing into the same hands. We cannot believe that the Department at Washington have acted advisedly in this matter. It must be recollected that Gen. Lane is far removed from his constituents, and cannot be presumed to know of all that transpires here in his absence. Although it is said that reliable Democrats forwarded intelligence to Washington of the conduct of Maj. Alvord and Jesse Applegate in the construction of the road to Jacksonville, yet we are of the number who refuse to credit such a report. We still think the whole affair will admit of a satisfactory explanation, and that this appropriation is the last to be expended in Oregon under the supervision of Whigs during this administration.
Umpqua Weekly Gazette, Scottsburg, December 23, 1854, page 2
Hardy Elliff, Esq., proposes to construct a good wagon road through the Big Canyon for $2,000, and gives $500 towards its completion himself. We understand that about $500 more has been subscribed in the vicinity of Deer Creek. The other $1,000 should be subscribed as soon as possible. Let not the citizens of Umpqua Valley be backward in this matter. With the exception of the Big Canyon, we have an excellent wagon road from this place to Jacksonville. We are satisfied that Mr. Elliff will make a good road if the money can be raised, and competent judges inform us that $2,000 is a very reasonable price for the work.
Umpqua Gazette, Scottsburg, June 16, 1855, page 2
This celebrated and never-to-be-forgotten "Canyon" (by those who have passed through it) we shall not attempt to describe, except to say that "the road" is the worst specimen of that name we have ever traveled over, and trust we may never see its like again. A portion of it is emphatically a canyon--a portion a mountain of unusual steepness, and the rest an unfathomable mud-hole, infinitely worse than the "slough of despond" as described by Bunyan. Portions of broken wagons, broken ox yokes and fragments of destruction to property are scattered along the way, from one end to the other, called 10½ miles in length--but which is a hard day's journey to get through it.
"Trip to Southern Oregon," Weekly Oregonian, Portland, June 23, 1855, page 2
NEW ROAD.--It is proposed to construct a wagon road from Umpqua to Jacksonville, Oregon, through the Big Canon. The cost is estimated at $2,000, one-half of which has already been subscribed.
Sacramento Daily Union, June 23, 1855, page 2
[In late summer 1855] we came to the Cow Creek canyon, but the military road had not been built, and we had to travel the old road in the bed of the creek for miles. It was very rough and rugged and the hills were steep. We had traveled one day to put up camp. Next day we started, but in going up a steep hill one of the oxen stopped and trembled and we thought he had got poisoned. We cut up some sliced bacon and he didn't object to eating it and licked his tongue out for more. We gave him some more bacon and still he wouldn't go. Finally we hired another team which got us through the canyon, but we concluded it was only a trick of the old ox, as he had been raised on bacon and that was all he wanted.
Matilda Sager, A Survivor's Recollections of the Whitman Massacre, 1920, page 35
When we got to Cow creek [in October 1855, at the beginning of the Rogue River Indian War], near the Umpqua canyon, we stopped, turned out our teams, and made preparations to camp for the night. The Indians came up and asked us if we were going to stay there all night. We told them yes. In a short time they started on, saying they were going to camp a mile or so below.
As soon as they were out of sight, I told the teamsters we would hitch up and drive through the canyon during the night.
But as we had already driven some forty miles that day over a rough and rugged road, our stock was tired, and the teamsters refused to hitch up their mules, declaring there was no danger, and it was only a "scare"--they didn't believe the Indians were on the war-path.
I tried to reason with them, showing our utter inability to protect the family in case of an attack, and told them that Linville and I had planned, long before reaching Cow creek, to go into camp there, and let the Indians pass us, believing we were going to stay there all night; for, if they knew that we were going to attempt to go through the canyon that night, after traveling as far as we had that day, they would never allow us to escape; that our plans had worked well thus far, and if we remained where we were, I didn't believe there would be one of us left to tell the tale.
Still they refused to move an inch.
Linville stopped the argument by picking up a shotgun and saying that if they didn't hitch up and push on through the canyon, he would save the Indians some trouble, for the teams should go, "danger or no danger." This argument proved effectual, as I had in the meantime got hold of another gun. So we hitched up, and pushed on into the canyon.
This canyon is some ten miles long, and separates what is known as "Cow Creek country" from the south Umpqua.
In the days of which I am writing, this canyon was a terror to teamsters. It used to take three or four days to get a wagon through it. To give the reader some idea of what this canyon was at that time, I will relate a story that was current in early days.
Some packers, while passing through this canyon, found a hat lying on the ground. One of them raised it up and found a man's head under it. The head exclaimed, "Put that hat back, there is a d----d good mule under me yet!"
I don't vouch for the literal truth of the above, but it was not uncommon to see a whole pack train mired down, the packers unloading and carrying the cargoes to less miry ground, then helping the horses or mules out and repacking them, only to repeat the performance many times while going through this pass.
Lieutenant Joe Hooker, later known as "Fighting Joe Hooker," afterward expended some $90,000 of government money in building a military road through this pass, and, contrary to the general rule, he did a first-class job for the money expended.
All through that long, weary night we moved on, over rocks and through mud and water. Toward daybreak we came out at what is now Canyonville--then there was only a "hotel" there. Men, women and children were "give out," as were our mules and horses. Stripping off saddles and harness, we sank down on our blankets to rest, and slept till we were awakened about ten o'clock by a horseman, who came dashing through the canyon. He stopped and told us that the Indians had killed everybody between Jacksonville and the other end of the canyon, and burned all the houses.
George Hunter, Reminiscences of an Old Timer, 1889, pages 104-107
Between Umpqua and Rogue River valleys there rises a cross-range known as Umpqua Mountain that has formed one of the most formidable obstacles to travel from the beginning. From Roseburg the roads were passable until they reached this mountain. There they entered a canyon, climbing its ravines, occasionally surmounting small precipices and fording somewhere near a hundred times a foaming creek that rushes down its chasms. It is a beautiful place to study nature in by day, at one's leisure, but might affright an ordinary soul by night, with only clouds to deepen the heavy blackness of its grand old forests.
. . . It was rather a debatable land, this Umpqua Mountain and its canyon, because it formed the divide between the scenes of war and peace. There was no reason why Indians should not lie in ambush where a thousand hiding places offered them security, and slay and plunder at their own sweet will.
True, there was no ostensible reason why Indians could not occupy the canyon and ambush unhappy wayfarers, but there happened to be known to the whites who were intimate with their life and traditions, a scrap of history that was probably preserved from the records of the Hudson's Bay Company. It is well known that Indians fear any spot that has been a scene of carnage and the dead. They never pass where a battle has been fought and their dead have lain. Very fortunately for the whites, such a tradition attaches to the Umpqua Canyon. The story is worth preserving, as a bit of legendary lore, that once upon a time the Hudson's Bay Company took exceptions to the continual robbery and treachery perpetrated by these savages and gave them a thorough whipping in a battle fought in this terrible pass. The Indians lost many killed as well as wounded. They recognized from that day the Hudson's Bay Company as their masters and were glad to make terms with them, but this discomfiture made them more savage than ever towards other whites. As a result of their superstitious ideas they found some other trail through the Umpqua Mountains, where they need not run the risk of meeting the ghosts of their friends who were slain in battle. . . .
Their road lay for three miles up the bed of the creek and then went back and forth in continual crossings of the stream. At several places, rocky ledges crossed the ravine, over which the water leaped in cascades, and up which the rider had to clamber as he could.
"The War of '55," Sunday Oregonian, Portland, March 4, 1888, page 1 Such an encounter between the HBC and the natives is apparently otherwise unknown to history.
I am sure you will remember the morning of October 29, 1855, when we received orders to break camp at Roseburg, and make a forced march to assist in the battle of Hungry Hill, then raging, with the odds, owing to their superior situation, in favor of the Indians. When, in going through the "Big Canyon," a distance of eleven miles, we forded the creek twenty-two times. There were no bridges, so our horses had to swim frequently.
Sam Hansaker, "Reminiscences of Rogue River War," Roseburg Plaindealer, September 5, 1904, page 1
[Hiram] Smith's farm, or "place," is four or five miles south of the old "Hardy Elliff" station, at the southern end of the "Big Canyon," and is on Cow Creek, which, rising in the Cascade Range of mountains, passes by Hardy Elliff's and, running first westerly, thence northerly, and thence again easterly, makes a complete circuit of a spur of the Cascade Range through which the "Big Canyon" is a passageway, and empties into the South Umpqua River, seven or eight miles northward of Canyonville, at the northerly end of the "Big Canyon." Formerly, when all the travel was by wagon road, it passed up the westerly side of the South Umpqua River, from Roseburg to the crossing of the South Umpqua, four or five miles from Canyonville, and there followed up Canyon Creek to Canyonville, where it entered the "Big Canyon," and followed up Canyon Creek, which flows through the canyon, a distance of twelve miles, to Hardy Elliff's.
Canyon Creek rises in the canyon at a point about two miles northward of Hardy Elliff's. The grade of the canyon is not difficult for a wagon road, but the narrowness of the defile in some places, the swampy and boggy character of the creek in others, the precipitous mountains adjacent, and the dense forest excluding the sun's influence for a very large portion of the year, made the "Big Canyon" difficult of passage for a large portion of the time. A toll road was established through it by a private corporation some years after the time of which I write [the fall of 1855], but did not improve the opportunities of travel materially, though it at one time entered somewhat into the state's politics. The O.&C. Railroad, that has since been constructed as far south as Ashland, on Rogue River, does not pass through the "Big Canyon," but, crossing South Umpqua north of the mouth of Cow Creek, follows up that stream many miles westward of the "Big Canyon." The following are the names of the settlers on Cow Creek, south of the canyon, in 1855: Hardy Elliff, Stephen [Mynatt], ------ Smith, ------ Turner, [John W.] Redfield, who lived at the crossing of Cow Creek and about a mile from Smith's place. All these had families.
Francis M. Tibbetts, "An Indian Outbreak," Sunday Oregonian, Portland, May 30, 1886, page 2
October 31[, 1855].--This morning the road lay through a nearly level and very fertile valley to Roseburg, where I saw Major Martin, the elected commanding officer of the volunteers. He informed me that the troops were now fighting with the Indians near the Umpqua cañon and that he intended to join them on the following morning, with two more companies at present in camp at Canyonville. He kindly proposed to escort my party through the cañon, and I accepted his offer.
We continued our course up the valley of the South Umpqua River and encamped with the volunteers near the northern entrance of the Umpqua Cañon, at Canyonville, which consists only of one house and a barn. The road followed the stream for the greater part of the way, and the valley, although narrow, was settled and much of it apparently very fertile. The hills on each side were lightly timbered with oak and fir. Several specimens of a hard variety of talcose slate were found during the day. The distance traveled was about twenty-six miles. In the evening a dispatch was received from the battlefield, stating that the troops were greatly in want of food and powder and urging on the reinforcements. In the night it rained.
November 1.--This morning we followed the volunteers through the cañon, a difficult pass through the Umpqua Mountains. Two small creeks head near the divide and flow, one towards the north to the south fork of the South Umpqua and the other towards the south to Cow Creek. The bottom of the gorge is exceedingly narrow, and the precipitous sides, covered with a thick growth of trees, rise at least 1,000 feet above the water. We found in the cañon a species of yew tree which we did not notice elsewhere west of the Cascade Mountains. The ascent from the camp to the divide was 1,450 feet, and we were compelled, after crossing the creek about thirty times, to travel part of the way in its bed. A few resolute men might hold this defile against an army, and it is wonderful that the Rogue River Indians, who are intelligent, brave and well armed with rifles, have never, in their numerous wars, seized upon it and thus prevented the approach of troops from the Umpqua Valley. This pass is about eleven miles in length, and communication through it is sometimes interrupted by freshets. The road over which we traveled was constructed in 1853, by Brevet Major B. Alvord, United States army, and it is the best route known through the Umpqua Mountains.
Lieutenant Henry L. Abbott, Reports of Explorations and Surveys, to Ascertain the Most Practicable and Economical Route for a Railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, Washington 1857, page 107
November 1. --This morning we followed the volunteers through the cañon, a difficult pass through the Umpqua mountains. Two small creeks head near the divide, and flow, one towards the north to the south fork of the South Umpqua, and the other towards the south to Cow creek. The bottom of the gorge is exceedingly narrow, and the precipitous sides, covered with a thick growth of trees, rise at least 1,000 feet above the water. we found in the cañon a species of yew-tree which we did not notice elsewhere west of the Cascade mountains. The ascent from the camp to the divide was 1,450 feet, and we were compelled, after crossing the creek about thirty times, to travel part of the way in its bed. A few resolute men might hold this defile against an army; and it is wonderful that the Rogue river Indians, who are intelligent, brave, and well armed with rifles, have never, in their numerous wars, seized upon it, and thus prevented the approach of troops from the Umpqua valley. This pass is about eleven miles in length, and communication through it is sometimes interrupted by freshets. The road over which we traveled was constructed in 1853 by Brevet Major Alvord, United States army, and it is the best route known through the Umpqua mountains.
Lt. Henry L. Abbot, Reports of Explorations and Surveys, to Ascertain the Most Practicable and Economical Route for a Railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, 1857, page 107
Headquarters Fort BaileyCapt. Buoy
Nov. 10th 1855
Will move with his entire command as soon as practicable for Camp Elliff near the south end of the Canyon and there remain until further orders. You will leave a sufficient force at this place until relieved by Capt. Keeney.
You will use your best exertions in keeping open the road from the crossing of Cow Creek to the northern end of the Canyon.
You will furnish the families that are unprotected en route from Cow Creek to the northern end of the Canyon with a sufficient number of men to render them safe. In chastising the enemy all is left to your discretion provided you take no prisoners.
You will erect such winter quarters as you may deem necessary. You will allow two dollars per day each as extra compensation to soldiers in your company that you may employ in erecting the same.
Upon Thursday next [the] 15th day of Nov. you will hold an election in your company for Major of the Northern Battalion of the Southern Division of the Oregon Mounted Volunteers. You will send the result of said election under seal by a special messenger addressed to the adjutant [remainder not filmed]
Oregon State Archives, Yakima and Rogue River War, Document File B, Reel 2, Document 679.
We are now in the Canyon, and in a little [while] the worst mud I ever did see. When we will get through God only knows, but I have hopes of getting through in two or three days. I started through in advance this morning to get supplies & expect to get the Indians through by night. The wagons will probably be detained for several days. Lieut. Underwood sent a detachment of twenty men in the Canyon to remove the obstructions which were thrown in the road during the winter by high water. There was also a slide from the mountain of a ledge of rocks, completely blocking up the Canyon, which will require some time to remove.
Indian Agent George H. Ambrose, March 3, 1856; Microcopy of Records of the Oregon Superintendency of Indian Affairs 1848-1873, Reel 14; Letters Received, 1856, No. 99. Ambrose was escorting the Rogue River Indians from their ancestral lands to the coastal reservations.
[February 4, 1856]. In passing through I found some heavy obstructions. The high water during the forepart of the winter had thrown in large drift logs & a slide from the mountains had filled up the channel of the creek, all of which required to be removed before wagons could pass. . . .
George H. Ambrose, Microcopy of Records of the Oregon Superintendency of Indian Affairs 1848-1873, Reel 14; Letters Received, 1856, No. 165.
[Spring, 1856.] The canon was a narrow place where a little stream ran through the Umpqua mountains down into the valley. A man in passing through the canon had to follow the bed of the creek all the way, for it was solid rock on each side, and was from fifty to five hundred feet high, and about eight miles in length. The night before I got there it had rained heavily in the mountains so the creek was booming through the canon like a mill race. In places the water would come halfway up on my horse's sides and it would be all he could do to keep on his feet. At the mouth of the canon where it enters into the Umpqua valley, it turns to the right and pitches down over the rocks like a whirlpool. Just above where it turns down the hill is the old crossing, and about ten feet above they had started to build a bridge and had three bents put up about ten feet apart, with an approach on each side about six feet long. They had two planks two by eight inches lying side by side across the framework. When I got there I saw that it would be almost impossible to ford the stream, so I did not know just what to do as I was afraid to stay there long. I got off and tried to lead my horse across the bridge on the planks but he would not budge a foot. I tried quite awhile to get him onto the plank, but it was no go. Then I thought I would try riding him over and as soon as I got on him and started him he walked straight across the bridge. I think I was scared ten times as bad as the horse, for I don't think I drew a single breath while crossing. In the center of the bridge it was fifteen feet down to the water.
Life and Adventures of E. S. Carter, 1896, pages 76-77
[March] 4th  Tuesday, the weather still continues fine for the season, during the night our cattle deserted us passing thru the canyon & crossing South Umpqua, a distance of twelve miles. Some few of them took the other end of the road, finding it impossible to collect the cattle in time to move. I took the Indians in advance & went through the canyon before night in order to obtain supplies [in Canyonville] of which we were getting quite short. In passing through I found some heavy obstructions the high waters during the fore part of the winter had thrown in large drift logs & a slide from the mountain had filled up the channel of the creek, all of which required to be removed before wagons could pass which was accordingly done by Lieut. [Charles N.] Underwood who sent a detachment in advance for that purpose, the persons who were sent in search of the missing cattle returned with all but four head.
[March] 5th Wednesday, the Indians remained in camp today at the mouth of Canyon creek awaiting the arrival of the wagons about three or four oclock in the evening they made their appearance. The cattle very much jaded & tired as no forage could be had. I secured the best pasture I could find & turned them in that. An Indian girl died this evening. We were now a distance of eleven miles from our camp of the evening of the third, being occupied two days in making it.
Diary of George H. Ambrose, in "The Takelmans' Trail of Tears, 1856," Oregon Indians: Voices from Two Centuries, Stephen Dow Beckham, ed., 2006, pages 228-229 Ambrose was conveying the defeated Takelma Indians from the Rogue Valley to the Grand Ronde reservation at the close of the Rogue River Indian War.
The road from [Canyonville] leads through the big canyon. It crosses the creek some thirty-six times, and at one place follows up in the bed of the creek for one and one-fourth miles. . . .
William H. Byars, "Pioneer Day Pony Express Rider Led an Eventful Life," undated Roseburg News-Review article, DAR scrapbooks vol. 18, RVGS. Byars is describing the route through the Canyon as he rode it on his mail route 1856-1858.
About ninety miles south of Winchester [it's about 30 miles], on the road leading to California, is the Great Cañon spoken of. It is a narrow pass between two large mountains. The road passes up this creek a distance of twelve miles; there has been a vast amount of money expended in making this road, and it is now barely passable for teams; the attempt to make the trip from California to Oregon with wagons was never undertaken until 1854--the travel, and all the produce taken from Oregon to California, overland, previously, had been by means of pack animals.
A. N. Armstrong, Oregon, 1857, page 49
In the Umpqua valley there are a few hills where the work would be difficult, but it is thought that these may be avoided and a good location obtained to the Umpqua cañon. This pass, a serious obstacle to the construction of a railroad, leads through the Umpqua mountains to Rogue river valley. Its summit is 2,000 feet above the sea. An ascending grade would be required of 207 feet per mile for 7 miles, with some heavy rock cutting, and a descending grade of 192 feet per mile for 2 miles. By side location the latter might be greatly reduced. It is possible that an examination of Cow creek cañon might have developed a more favorable route.
Reports of Explorations and Surveys, to Ascertain the Most Practicable and Economical Route for a Railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, 1857, Extract 4, Capt. A. A. Humphreys, "Report upon the Progress of the Pacific Railroad Explorations and Surveys," page 30
In 1853 [it was apparently 1857-58] the government of the United States undertook the construction of a military road through the southern part of the territory Lieutenant Joe Hooker--afterwards General Joe Hooker who fought the "Battle in the Clouds" at Lookout Mountain, Tennessee--was assigned to the work at Canyonville. I remember him quite well. He spent most of his time that fall in playing "seven-up" for the drinks at the hotel bar, while the boys were busy up in the Canyon.
William M. Colvig, "Annual Address," Transactions of the Forty-Fourth Annual Reunion of the Oregon Pioneer Association, 1916, pages 342-343
General, then Lieutenant, Joe Hooker located the present road through the big canyon in Douglas County [in 1858]. The old road followed the bed of the creek for over a mile through a deep gorge.
William H. Byars, "Date Believed Wrong," Oregonian, Portland, March 17, 1915, page 8
Colonel Hooker had charge of an appropriation secured by General Lane, while a delegate in Congress, for the road from Scottsburg to Camp Stuart. A previous appropriation had been made and a wagon road was built from Scottsburg to Roseburg. This road Hooker changed in places and improved. He changed its location over "Roberts' Hill" and took it out of the creekbed up in the big canyon.
W. H. Byars, "Few Changes in Half Century," Oregonian, Portland, December 7, 1915, page 10
. . . when I hear a man say that a good road can be made through the Canyon and over the Grave Creek hills at a comparatively small expense, it seems to me that he is either ignorant of the route or selfishly blinded and prejudiced against our Crescent City road. . . . I really believe that it will take from thirty to forty thousand dollars to make a good wagon road through the Canyon, and at least ten thousand dollars more to continue it over the Grave Creek hills. Now, if this is comparatively small expense, why has it not been done? When the money to make the road through the Canyon has to be raised by stockholders, there will be a failure.
"Waxsaw," Waldo correspondent, Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, February 6, 1858, page 2
I arrived at [Roseburg] on Monday last; found the roads pretty good--streams considerably swollen, but not difficult to cross. The Canyon is not passable for wagons, as the driftwood is washed into the road in several places, and almost all the gravel and small rock washed away, leaving the large boulders and uneven bedrock to impede travel. Both the bridges at the north end of the Canyon are gone.
"Editorial Correspondence," William G. T'Vault, Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, March 13, 1858, page 2
The roads from southern Oregon to the north are in bad traveling condition, and before wagons can pass the Canyon it will require much work.
Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, March 27, 1858, page 2
CRESCENT CITY.--The Herald of March 24th has the following local intelligence:
A gentleman who arrived a few days since from Oregon informs us that the late severe rains which caused a flood in almost all the streams were very destructive to the wagon road between Scottsburg and Jacksonville. The portion of it through the cañon is entirely washed away and destroyed, so that it is impassable, and it will require an outlay of several thousand dollars to repair it so that it will again be practicable for wagons, if indeed it can be made so at all.
Sacramento Daily Union, April 5, 1858, page 3
During the winter of 1857-58 plans were made to concentrate the next season's road building endeavors in the Pacific Northwest on the roads in southern Oregon which it had been impossible to improve during the previous season due to the intervening distance. Two labor parties, organized in San Francisco, were dispatched to the mouth of the Umpqua aboard steamer the first week in April. Both roads were under the immediate supervision of Colonel Joseph Hooker who had resolved to accomplish improvements by hired labor, with special contracts let to civilians for bridge building. On the Camp Stuart road, from twenty to forty workers concentrated their labor at Umpqua Canyon, eleven miles long. The road through this canyon, the artery of travel between the Pacific Northwest and California, was impracticable for wagons and unfavorable for horsemen. Much of the route was relocated; the vertical walls were blasted away to make a road bed at places where the banks of the stream had previously served. After the removal of sizable mud deposits that had accumulated during the rainy season, permanent improvement of the drainage in the lower part of the canyon was provided by culverts. Contractors were in the meantime building bridges and improving the most southern section of the road out of Jacksonville northwestward toward Cow Creek. This route was now described as an excellent road, sixteen feet wide with timber cleared from thirty to sixty feet; it was practicable for a six-mule team.
W. Turrentine Jackson, "Federal Road Building Grants for Early Oregon," Oregon Historical Quarterly, March 1949, pages 19-21
THE MILITARY ROAD.--The work on the military road from Scottsburg to Camp Stuart is progressing rapidly, under the efficient superintendence of Col. Hooker. Through the Big Canon the road is already nearly completed one half the distance--the other half, however, being the south end, is by far the most difficult part of the work. Col. Hooker informs us that he intends to double the force at present employed upon the work, and he has no doubt of being able to complete the road this season.
Through the Grave Creek Hills the work is being performed by Mr. Hardy Elliff, who has contracted to build that portion of the road for the sum of $8,000. His work, as far as finished, is unexceptionable. We may congratulate ourselves upon the prospect of a good thoroughfare from this to the northern portion of our state.--Jacksonville Herald.
Oregon Statesman, Salem, July 27, 1858, page 2
JACKSONVILLE, O.T.--The Sentinel, of August 7th, has several items of interest, including one congratulating its readers upon soon being able, by the Western telegraph, to furnish news to Northern Oregon:
Cañon Creek is reported as doing well. News from Galice and Sucker creeks speak well of those places. The bars on Illinois River are being worked to better advantage this summer than usual; we have not heard a single miner working on it complain of poor pay. Josephine Creek is said, by the oldest miners on it, to pay as well this as any other year, though it has been worked seven years.
The cañon, which has always been the "Alps" between Northern and Southern Oregon, is now being improved, and great hopes are entertained of the "sunny South" having an opportunity of sending some of her superfine flour and other supplies so much needed to our northern neighbors and fellow citizens.
The Grave Creek Hills, heretofore so annoying to travelers, have nearly disappeared under the superintendence of Thomas Elliff.
Sacramento Daily Union, August 14, 1858, page 1
April 3, 1858 Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville
THE MILITARY ROAD SOUTH.--The military road from Scottsburg to Camp Stuart, in Jackson County, is a work of considerable importance to the Territory, and particularly to the southern portion of it. At a recent session of Congress an appropriation of $60,000 was made for the purpose of completing it, and during the past summer the work has been progressing under the immediate superintendence of Col. James Hooker. We learn that it will be finished about the first of December, when it will compare favorably with any road of similar length in this Territory or California. Much praise is due to the superintendent of the work, Col. Hooker, for the energy and faithfulness which he has devoted to it, and for the excellent manner in which the work has been performed. The Big Canyon, always a bad road, and in winter impassable except on horseback, can now be traveled at any season of the year with ease and safety, and that portion of the road lying through the Grave Creek Hills has been vastly improved. A fine bridge is also being constructed at Roseburg, in lieu of the one which was washed away last winter. The present one is so elevated as to be beyond the reach of the highest water. A buggy can be easily driven over the whole extent of the road, and it is anticipated that a line of coaches will be placed upon it the coming summer.
Oregon Statesman, Salem, October 12, 1858, page 2
MILITARY ROAD.--The military road from Jacksonville (O.T.) to Scottsburg is now in excellent order, as we learn from the Jacksonville Sentinel. The Grave Creek hills have been leveled, the cañon improved, and the whole road repaired so that heavy freighted wagons can pass with less difficulty than has heretofore been experienced.
Sacramento Daily Union, October 22, 1858, page 1
Cañon (can´ yon), originally a tube, and hence applied to mean a deep gorge with high steep walls. Comparatively few cañons and cañadas are to be found in that portion of the United States east of the Mississippi, but they are abundant in California. The Spaniards place the accent on the last syllable of cañon (can yone´), but in ordinary American usage the accent is on the first syllable. It is frequently spelt "canyon" and "kanyon."
John S. Hittell, "Variations of the English Language: Californianisms," Daily Alta California, San Francisco, June 17, 1859, page 4
Passing over about sixty miles of this kind of region, we reach the famous cañon about which so much has been told, and which has for years been the great hindrance to travel between the Umpqua and Rogue River valleys. It is about twelve miles in length, consisting of a narrow gorge between high mountains and through which a small stream of water flows in each direction from the highest point, situated two or three miles north of the southern end of it. The rise and descent is very gradual, and the whole distance is a perfect copse or jungle of trees and brushwood, through which the pioneer explorers were several days in forcing their way. A portion of the wagon road is rough, and some two or three miles of it is at present very muddy, but it is neither bilge water, a sewer or quagmire that people cannot go through, or teams either, if they only think so. The road can be made a good one with little expense, and I presume Umpqua County will attend to that next summer.
"Overland to Oregon," Daily Alta California, San Francisco, December 25, 1860, page 1
HORSE KILLED.--During the late storm the California Stage Company were obliged to leave their wagon at Canyonville and send the mail and passengers through the Canyon on horses. On one of these trips a horse loaded with mail matter fell from a precipice and was instantly killed.
Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, December 7, 1861, page 3
May 31, 1862 Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville
"I remember," says Judge [William M.] Colvig, "when the Western Union built its telegraph line through the state in 1862. At first no poles were used wherever a forest tree was available for wires, and trees were very plentiful. I recall that there were not a dozen poles used in the Canyon mountains; there for a distance of twelve miles the wires were strung from tree to tree. Before that news generally was ancient history before it reached us, and it certainly relieved the monotony of pioneer life when news started coming with the swiftness of the lightning's flash."
Copco Volt, September 1923
ORDER FOR ROAD LEASE.--It is (this 4th day of February, 1863) ordered by the Board of Commissioners of Douglas County, Oregon, that the following described portion of the County Road, running through the Canyon, in Douglas county, Oregon, to wit: commencing at a point on said road opposite the sawmill near Canyonville, and running south to a point on said road opposite Hardy Eliff's house, at the south end of said Canyon--be leased according to the provisions of an Act, entitled "An Act providing for the working of public roads and highways," passed by the Legislative Assembly of the State of Oregon, and approved October the 15th, 1862; and that the County Clerk cause this order to be published in the Oregon Sentinel (a newspaper published at Jacksonville, Oregon) for four successive weeks; and that sealed bids for leasing said road will be received at the Clerk's Office, in Roseburg, Douglas County, Oregon, until 4 o'clock P.M., of the 14th day of March, A.D. 1863. The number of gates may be two (2), but persons traveling the whole length of the said leased section of the road shall not [sic] be required to pay but one toll; said road shall be a good and substantial road of clay or gravel, or both, with good and sufficient drainage; and wherever necessary, good and substantial bridges, at least twelve feet in width, and covered with plank not less than three inches thick, with substantial banisters not less than three and one-half (3½) feet high, with a center track ten (10 feet in width;--said road to be cleared of timber and stumps for fifteen (15) feet in width, and of standing timber for twenty (20) feet, and a grade of not more than one foot in ten; also, turnouts fifteen feet wide and forty feet in length, and not to exceed three hundred (300) feet between each other. These turnouts must be in sight of one another, if by so doing the distance may be less than three hundred feet between turnouts. The section of road herein specified to be kept in good repair at all times.
When the said road shall have been completed for two miles north from the summit of the Canyon, the lessee will be allowed to collect half-tolls, and that said road be completed within eighteen months from the date of such lease.
I hereby certify that the above is a true copy of an order passed by the Board of Commissioners of Douglas County, Oregon, at their February term, 1863.
In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and official seal, at Roseburg, this 10th day of February, A.D. 1863.
R. H. DEARBORN, County Clerk,
Per A. R. FLINT, Deputy.
A MELANCHOLY OCCURRENCE.--Governor Briggs has favored us with an account of the following fatal accident: On Saturday last, a wagon containing a man and his wife and infant child, while ascending the big hill in the Canyon, was turned over, throwing the occupants violently down the hill, instantly killing the child in its mother's arms. The mother and father were slightly injured. Our informant had forgotten the name of the family. They were from California, bound for the northern mines.
Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, April 8, 1863, page 2
Canyon Road Company.
NOTICE is hereby given to the stockholders of "The Canyon Road Company" that there will be a meeting of said company, held at the office of S. F. Chadwick, in Roseburg, Douglas county, Oregon, at three o'clock, P.M., on Monday, the 11th day of May, A.D. 1863, for the purpose of electing Directors, and transacting the general business of the Company.
GEORGE C. BRIGG,March 24, 1863.
S. F. CHADWICK,
I. D. HAINES.
Members of said Company.
Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, April 18, 1863, page 3
Notice to the Public.
THE section, from the Summit to the Half-Way House, of the Canyon Road, will be open, ready for travel, on the 20th day of Sept. 1863, from which time toll will be collected.
By order of Canyon Road Company.
CHADWICK, Secretary.Roseburg, Sept. 2, 1863.
Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, September 9, 1863, page 2
THE CANYON.--Those who a few years ago labored from five to twelve days to thread the labyrinth of the Umpqua Canyon with a wagon and team, can appreciate the fine thoroughfare the enterprising Canyon Road Company have just completed.
In years to come our children, passing over the fine road through the Canyon, and wishing to recount some of the exploits of their illustrious sires, will point far below from the whirling coach and exclaim, "my father once went through that place."
Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, July 16, 1864, page 2
As we are leaving this valley, to go to the Umpqua, we pass through the celebrated kenyon, 12 miles long--a mountainous gorge with a stream running through it--no habitations--heavy timber on either side--road just wide enough for teams to pass. In '53, we crossed this mountain stream over 40 times in going through the kenyon; but now there is a splendid turnpike road the entire distance, and the stream is bridged at every point. At the mouth of the kenyon, some enterprising "Yank" has dared to dam the rapid torrent and made it subservient to his wishes in grinding grain and sawing lumber.
J. W. Case, "Letter from Oregon," Richmond Palladiium, Richmond, Indiana, October 26, 1869, page 1
FATAL ACCIDENT.--Canyonville, Nov. 4.--About 8 o'clock this morning Mr. Eli Durbin was coming through the canyon with his six-horse team, and on a heavy downgrade the team became unmanageable and jumped off the grade, injuring Mr. Durbin so seriously that he died four hours after the accident. The grade was very narrow and the road crooked. Mr. Durbin was a man esteemed and beloved by all who knew him.
Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, November 6, 1869, page 3
The family of Eli Murbin, who was killed last Fall while driving a team through Umpqua canyon, have sued the Canyon Road Company for very heavy damages.
"Brief Items," Sacramento Daily Union, April 28, 1870, page 2
Canyonville is near the outlet of the only pass which has yet been discovered through the mountains between the Umpqua and Rogue River valleys. It is about thirteen miles in length. It was discovered in the early settlement of the country, and the first wagons that passed through it followed the bed of the creek. The remains of the first road are seen in many places, and portions of Gen. Hooker's road, constructed by order of the government, are still in use. The present is a toll road, well built, and kept in good order. It runs along the level of the creek for a considerable distance--a beautiful, sparkling, transparent stream, one of the numerous affluents of the Umpqua. In every pool the speckled trout sail in and out, heedless of the presence of enemies, and on log and rock turtles crowd up to sun themselves. There is art again to deface nature. A sawmill, pioneer of civilization, is devouring these magnificent firs and cedars. Beyond is an attempt to make a farm in a canyon. The style of [the] buildings is unique. The sidehill plow is not yet introduced on this farm.
The road now ascends from the creek by easy grades, hugging the huge winkles of the canyon's eastern side. Turning inward we penetrate new solitudes, terminated by thicket, or cascade, or barrier of rock. Then, by an abrupt angle, we are carried outward, and hang over an abyss upon a shelf cut out of the precipice. The tops of the lofty firs are far below us, yet near by. Thick-set and moveless, they look like a plantation of young trees, till the next step gives back a streak of light reflected from some buried pool hundreds of feet below, or a waterfall sends a murmur, softened by distance, to your ear. Below, around, above, nature reigns in thicket and forest, crowning the heights with lofty firs and cedars, upon which the slant rays of the morning sun are shining. The effect of this light is magical. It is like that produced upon a man in the recesses of a cavern, gazing out upon a sunlit scene. Magnitude is an element of grandeur. The Big Canyon has magnitude.
A. L. L., "Excursion to Southern Oregon," Oregonian, quoted in Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, June 24, 1871, page 1
The greatest canyon at the head of the Umpqua Valley south is a marvelous work of nature. It is at least ten miles long, and the mountains on each side, all the way, average some hundreds of feet high, heavily timbered on the highest point. The road is very narrow in some places, the inclines are steep and precipitous, but good horses and a competent driver gives an assurance of safety. I passed through this canyon by moonlight; it presented an aspect of wild, natural boldness and grandeur that was solemn and impressive.Hugh Small, "Jackson County," Democratic Times, Jacksonville, September 23, 1871, page 2
I left Roseburg at 10:30 p.m. on September 28[, 1871], six hours late because the rain delayed the stage: it had to flounder through the Umpqua mud. The canyon pass of Umpqua is the only link between the Umpqua and Rogue River valleys. Some twenty years ago, before this road was built, travel via the pass was the terror of emigrants headed from California to the Willamette. They often needed five or six weeks to struggle through the thick forests. [After the route's first year, 1846, the Canyon typically traversed in one day.] Traces of the old trail were visible yet: I noticed several jumbled heaps of logs where emigrants had cut their way in virgin timber. Dark forests still blanketed the slopes on both sides of the narrow pass. Several times near us a prowling panther screamed its characteristic scream, like that of a child. The horses, scenting the panther, were scarcely to be restrained. The stage jolted along as if about to break to bits.
One bright day, seven riders entered this pass--to a most interesting encounter with a panther. They rode at ease, smoking pipes, guns on their shoulders, talking eagerly, suspecting nothing amiss. A huge panther sprang out of a tree and onto the rump of a mule on which a rider was sitting comfortably. The situation suddenly changed, as you can imagine. Nobody thought of shooting; they clubbed at the beast with their guns, shrieking, while the mounts pranced and reared, kicked in all directions, snorted, and tried to bolt. The clubbing drove off the panther. In a leap it disappeared into a thicket. Now the riders remembered their guns as guns and fired a volley into the thicket. The volley obviously never touched the panther; it was seen moments later on the mountainside, bounding across a clearing and making good its escape. It must have been starved to have launched that attack, the like of which has never occurred hereabouts.
While the civil engineer was telling that story, we emerged from the shadowy pass, happy to have encountered in its confines no such adventure with the panther we heard scream.
Frederic Trautmann, translator, Oregon East, Oregon West: Travels and Memoirs of Theodor Kirchhoff 1863-1872, pages 141-142
The Canyon, as fancifully imagined in Picturesque America, 1874.
William Cullen Bryant, ed., Picturesque America, or, The Land We Live In, 1874, pages 426-428
The merchants of this county are making arrangements to again ship their goods to Crescent City. This is caused by the bad roads to Roseburg. If the road was worked a little on the Grave Creek hills and in Douglas County, all the commerce of this county and three-fourths of that of Josephine would go to Roseburg, as it is the natural outlet. Good loads of produce could then be hauled at all seasons of the year to Roseburg.
The present condition of the roads in Douglas County is a disgrace to any civilized community. Let us have better supervisors and then we will have much better roads, and more Oregon commerce.
"A Growl at Our Roads," Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, April 4, 1877, page 2
The coach is crowded, but we are fortunate enough to secure an outside seat. Several passengers climb to the extreme top rather than go inside, and there they perch until we reach Canyonville, though they are sometimes in imminent danger of losing their heads by contact with the intersecting telegraph wires, which occasionally hang alarmingly low over the great highway.
Now we are on the Canyonville toll road, a ten-mile thoroughfare, constructed with infinite labor and expense through mighty mountain gorges, where for long distances the way is barely wide enough for the prancing team, which goes tearing ahead in the darkness, the stagecoach candles sending forth a glare of cheery light for a little distance, beyond which the gloom is rendered all the denser by the contrast. You cannot see the leaders' heads, which at every turn (and there are many hundreds) are plunging into gaps like Erebus, where black Cimmerian darkness holds high carnival with the reigning ghoul of Night. On, on and on we go, bounding, crashing, plunging at a breakneck speed; for the stage line, without which this whole country would be like a huge demijohn with the cork driven home and hermetically sealed--the stage line, which brings many a resident who curses it his only chance for a livelihood, is on short time in its transits now, and we are half an hour behind.
Eleven o'clock and Canyonville.
Abigail Scott Duniway, "Editorial Correspondence," The New Northwest, Portland, August 7, 1879, page 2
The party of railroad surveyors who came here a short time ago to run lines in the big canyon south of this place are pushing the work ahead as rapidly as possible.They have a force of ten men at work. They commenced work at the summit of the Canyon Pass, and are running both sides. It is rumored that they had to abandon the west side as impracticable, on account of the abrupt character of the small streams that put into Canyon Creek on the west. In these streams the gulch or canyon is very deep and the mountains shut in so close on either side that a train could not make the curve necessary, unless the road be cut into the mountain at great expense or cross lower down on trestle work, which would be many feet higher than any ordinary work of such character. The east side is apparently not so rugged and broken, and no doubt is entertained but a good line will be found on this side for the road. The summit of the canyon is 1360 feet above this place and the distance on the present traveled wagon road is nine miles; this would make the grade a fraction over 150 feet to the mile, which seems to make it doubtful whether Canyonville will get a depot near enough to hold the business provided the road is built through the Canyon. Your correspondent has been offered a lot free in the prospective new town by four farmers who claim they will certainly have the depot on their farms. There is no definite news as to whether work will be commenced on the extension from Roseburg south this season, but every move that has been made by the company seems to indicate the early completion of its road.
"Canyonville Correspondence," Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, May 14, 1881, page 1
The cañon between Canyonville and Levens' is beautiful. In May or June it is even more attractive, but in this [winter] season one cannot pass through it without pleasure. The road winds its way slowly upward [southbound], and gradually the hills draw closer together. The little brook, closely hugging the road, foams along over its rocky bed, and suggests possibilities of glorious trouting if one but had the time to cast a fly. The pines, scattered at first, soon range themselves in serried ranks on the hillsides, and the winds sweeping through their branches come down laden with fragrance. As we pass along, the hills rising before us seem to close entirely, barring further progress, but as we draw near the road with its attendant brook makes a sharp turn to the left, and all is clear again. Now the road is over a grade, blasted out of the side of the hill, the broken rocks shattered by giant powder thrown hundreds of feet below to the bottom of the cañon. We look down from the stage, and far below, like a ribbon of silver, the brook gleams in the sunlight. A false step on the part of the horses and down we would go, but horses and harness and driver are good, and at last the danger is over, and the summit is reached. The driver braces himself in his seat, grasps the lines with a firmer grip, speaks a word of cheer to the horses, and away we dash down the mountain. No need to crack the whip; the weight of the stage will carry it down all too rapidly unless the brake is held firmly. All the six horses know that they must hasten, and with willing feet they cover the road. Now around a sharp curve, then down a steep incline, along a mile of grade, for a moment, apparently, about to plunge over a sharp bank, again a rapid turn, a little level road, the cañon closes in, we cross a rude bridge, and in a moment more emerge into the valley below, and the cañon is behind us.
Rev. R. W. Hill, "Southern Oregon," New York Evangelist, December 29, 1881, page 6
The decision of the Supreme Court in the Canyonville toll road case has wiped away all shadow of right, or pretended right, that Gazely and Fink have been extorting tolls under. The whole road through the Canyon is now by virtue of the decision a "free" public road, and all persons should refuse to pay a single cent of toll, and any attempt to collect it is the same as petty larceny.
"Pay No More Tolls," Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, May 20, 1882, page 2
After crossing the Umpqua the road climbs another range of mountains through Cow Creek Canyon, a wild, picturesque mountain gorge, at the bottom of which tumbles and foams a mountain stream. Within a comparatively short distance the road pierces nine tunnels, the longest of them being nearly half a mile in length.
The Rogue River Valley [and] Southern Oregon, brochure, Ashland Tidings and Newspaper Job Printing Office, 1885
Next day we drove over a hilly country and in the afternoon passed through a canyon 11 miles long. There were many wonderful sights in this canyon--large trees 150 feet high, the roots of which were 100 feet above our heads and almost directly over us on the side of the mountain. Here we found several varieties of ferns, some of them six feet high, and many other wild and beautiful plants the names of which we did not know. This canyon and another piece of mountain road which we passed over several days later reminded us very much of the Isthmus of Panama as it appeared to us 25 years ago. There were stumps of trees cut off 10 or 15 feet above the ground. Many varieties of wild flowers and fruit brought forth exclamations of surprise and delight from our party as every turn in the road exposed to our view some new and interesting feature. Near the lower end of the canyon we passed a saw-mill, the working of which gave us considerable merriment. We suppose it answered the purpose for which it was built, but it was a mere plaything compared with the mills we have seen at home. No doubt they have large ones in some parts of the State. And now we knew the reason the trees were cut so high from the ground--they cannot saw the butts of large trees in these small mills.
I. E. Davis, "To Oregon by Wagon," Pacific Rural Press, August 29, 1885, page 158
DAMAGE IN DOUGLAS COUNTY.
CANYONVILLE, February 6.--Four county bridges in this part of the country were swept away by the floods; one across Myrtle Creek, two on Canyon Creek and one on South Umpqua Slough. All the county and state highways are seriously damaged by washouts and mountain slides. Some farms have been almost ruined by the debris deposited and the sand bars formed upon them. Levens' flouring mill on Canyon Creek was undermined by the rushing water, and is apparently a total wreck. It is now generally conceded that the water was the highest ever known.
Democratic Times, Jacksonville, February 6, 1890, page 2
A. P. Armstrong of Portland came up on yesterday's local to see his mother, who was so severely injured by being thrown from a carriage Tuesday while coming through the big canyon.
"Brief Mention," Roseburg Plaindealer, August 27, 1896, page 3
There was $100 appropriated to pay Rev. Oglesby and party for damages sustained by going over the grade in Big Canyon August 25th. The warrants to be issued for the same when a receipt is signed by all the parties and filed with the clerk.
"County Court Proceedings," Roseburg Plaindealer, September 21, 1896, page 3
Mrs. Minerva Armstrong, who was so seriously hurt in the big canyon last August, and has been under the doctor's care at her sister's, Mrs. Zigler, since that time, returned to home in Jacksonville this morning.
"Brief Mention," Roseburg Plaindealer, October 22, 1896, page 3
The horse show which passed through the valley recently was demoralized in the canyon south of Canyonville one day last week. There were twelve horses, four of which were driven to a wagon without reins, and the balance followed. The latter stampeded, and in rushing by the team frightened them so that they plunged over the grade. A horse was killed, another badly crippled, while one of the men had both of his legs broken. The wagon and its contents were also badly damaged.
"Local Notes," Democratic Times, Jacksonville, August 11, 1898, page 3
Forest fires have destroyed hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fine timber in Cow Creek Canyon. Travel was blocked on the old overland wagon road. One outfit passing through was nearly destroyed, men and horses, by the flames.
The fire in the big canyon above Canyonville did a great deal of damage. Several small bridges were burned, and the telegraph poles of the Pacific Postal Co. destroyed. H. S. French, the lineman, has the wires in working order again, but new poles will have to be put in later. The road is only passable with light rigs, but is being repaired as fast as possible. The fire extended from the old toll gate to Hardy Elliff's a distance of several miles.
"Here and There," Democratic Times, Jacksonville, August 25, 1893, page 3
A Canyonville area map from the January 17, 1903 Oregonian, showing the route of the railroad and the location of the Canyonville mines. The Canyon is directly south of Canyonville.
Everyone here speaks of Cow Creek Canyon as a lonesome, dangerous place to travel. We found all the dire forebodings to be much exaggerated. Where we forded Cow Creek Canyon and where we were told that we would surely have to get out our block and tackle, we went through without any trouble, as the water was only 18 inches deep.
"Outing Held Ideal," Sunday Oregonian, Portland, June 26, 1910, page 50
W. M. Hodson in the Canyon, circa 1908
The famous Cow Creek Canyon, of Southern Oregon and Northern California [sic], was traversed during the day. The roads in this section were boulder-strewn and rough. Of them Mr. [Arthur J.] Hill said: "What roads were not right were left, and what were not up were down, and 50 feet of good road would have been a godsend."
"Long Trip Made in Speedy Time," Sunday Oregonian, Portland, July 17, 1910, page 42
August 28, 1910 Sunday Oregonian. The presence of the railroad tracks in this photo
shows that in this era at least some of the travelers who thought they were in Cow Creek Canyon--instead of Canyon Creek Canyon--actually were. The Pacific Highway, of course, ran through the latter.
From Roseburg the highway leads deeper into the mountains, climbing up past Myrtle Creek to Canyonville in the famous Cow Creek Canyon which, while beautiful and a good stiff climb for eight miles, was not so formidable as we had been led to suppose.
Frank C. Riggs, "Automobile Trip from Portland to Crater Lake Is Well-Paid Feat," Sunday Oregonian, Portland, May 21, 1911, page 52
May 21, 1911 Sunday Oregonian
The motorists of this particular party say that [the] Cow Creek Canyon road is a disgrace to any civilized community, and that an owner will do more damage to a car and tires through this short stretch than he will over three hundred miles of the eastern Oregon road.
"Klamath Roads Are Much Praised," The Evening Herald, Klamath Falls, July 28, 1913, page 4
The commissioners court of Douglas county has decided to grade the Pass Creek canyon between Drain and Cottage Grove and also the Cow Creek canyon, which have long been known as the worst sections of the Pacific highway.
"Local and Personal," Medford Mail Tribune, September 10, 1913, page 2
A great many of the residents of Oakland advised us that we had better not attempt to go any further, as it would be impossible for us to get through Cow Creek Canyon and that some grades were as steep as 42 percent and also that the road was very heavy going. But after our previous experience in the mud, our appetites were only whetted for more hills to conquer, so on we went.
We reached the famous Cow Creek Canyon about dark, and as we had brought mud hooks, we decided that it might be wise to keep them where they could be easily reached in case of necessity. Up to this time we had used nothing but chains on all wheels. Our car seemed working better as it limbered up, the motor having a beautiful purr, and the powerful electric lights threw their luminous rays a great distance ahead. We found ourselves wending our way up the canyon through exceedingly dense timber in this mountainous country, but we really enjoyed the six-mile climb, and after reaching the summit we found that we were only 12 miles from Glendale, which is located in a beautiful spot in the hills.
W. S. Dulmage, "From Portland to Grants Pass Made," Sunday Oregonian, Portland, December 14, 1913, page 54
The remarks of Messrs. Nichols and Alberts followed the reading of a letter from Sam Hill in which he commented upon the impassability of the Cow Creek canyon route. . . . The letter told of spending $200 for auto tires worn out in a trip through the Cow Creek canyon, and advised that the highway follow the line of least resistance.
"Road Advocates of Three States in Convention," Medford Mail Tribune, June 17, 1914, page 1
Mr. Porter of Douglas [County] took Mr. Vawter to task for trying to "hog" all of the benefit from the state highway fund, when Douglas county had already expended $60,000 toward the improvement of the Pacific highway across the Calapooias in Cow Creek canyon, and had not received a cent's worth of aid from the state fund, whereas Jackson County had already received benefit from the fund.
August 30, 1914 Sunday Oregonian
"Josephine Objects to State Aid for Siskiyou Highway," Medford Mail Tribune, February 11, 1915, page 2
Canyonville to Grants Pass--Approximate distance 47 miles. From Canyonville to Glendale (Summit) road is not good, bad hills with high centers. After reaching summit good roads prevail going south. From this point on roads much better. Fifteen percent grade crossing summit. From Wolfsville [sic] to Grants Pass excellent road.
"Road Soon Ready," Sunday Oregonian, Portland, March 21, 1915, page D11
The new road through Cow Creek Canyon in southern Douglas county is completed. The new piece of the Pacific Highway is about 2½ miles in length and eliminates some of the worst grades between Portland and San Francisco.
"A Column of Oregon News Paragraphs," Malheur Enterprise, Vale, April 24, 1915, page 6
May 2, 1915 Sunday Oregonian
The worst situations encountered on the trip were in Cow Creek Canyon, made famous about ten years ago by the escapades of the Doyle outlaws. Here a narrow road winds up a steep grade for nine miles and afterwards descends over another grade where the road is rough. But the worst part of this trip is already a matter of history, for this week a new road will be open for travel.
This new road, built for a contract price of $20,000, cuts 2½ miles out of the Pacific Highway at its steepest points and reduces a 28-percent grade on the old road to an 8-percent grade. By cleverly diverting this new road around a point, the engineers have been able to cut this road on the side of Cow Creek, opposite the old road, without the necessity of building a bridge.
It is said that this new road will be free from slides and that it will open the Cow Creek country to travel all year long. The old road over the hill is not in bad condition but the steep grades make it difficult of mastery. These hills are deceptive. When motorists see them ahead they think they are going to "make them on the high," but before they have reached the top they feel lucky that they have been able to get up on the low gear.
In this connection it is only fair to mention that the people of Douglas County are doing wonders in their good roads work. It has fallen to their lot to tackle the hardest road problems along the Pacific Highway, the Pass Creek Canyon, the Cow Creek Canyon and the Wolf Creek road. A large number of men is being employed in putting these roads in good condition, and the spirit of the Douglas County folk was displayed Thursday when every Tom, Dick and Harry in the county went to work on the road, the day being a general holiday.
"Autos Spin Over Oregon Roads Faster Than Train to Prove State Highways Are in Good Condition Early," Sunday Oregonian, Portland, May 2, 1915, page D6
The nine miles of road from Canyonville to the summit of Cow Creek Canyon were the worst we experienced on the entire trip. Not that the road bed was hazardous, for it was not, narrow though it was. If you have ever been up the old Latourelle hill when the road was rather rough you know about what the Cow Creek Canyon climb is like.
In the center of the climb two and one-half miles of new road have just been completed and will be open for traffic this week, we were told at Roseburg. The grade on this new piece of road is not bad at all, but even after the new work joins with the old there is plenty of hard going.
Of course it didn't checkmate the Buicks and the two star drivers, Murray and Hays, but the writer imagines a weak-lunged machine or even a good machine with a weak-lunged driver would have had more trouble getting over this climb at this season of the year. Later on, when the new grade is in good working order, it oughtn't to give much trouble. When we met machines and buggies coming in the opposite direction or passed them it took some mighty clever engineering in places, but there were no situations that instilled fright even in the hearts of the most nervous present.
Just beyond the summit, the road was found to be rougher than during the ascent. Some of the road opening out before us, however, was good, and at one place four or five miles were fine. The last several miles into Glendale were in perfect condition.
"Best Route Across State Is Advised," Sunday Oregonian, Portland, May 2, 1915, page D7
The former nasty chapter in the Cow Creek Canyon south of Roseburg has been made a thing of the past by a new road that has a good surface and a greatly reduced grade.
"Highway of Three Nations Invites Autos of Tourists," Sunday Oregonian, Portland, June 6, 1915, page 76
The roads through Canyon Creek into Canyonville and Riddle are much better than I have ever seen them, and the new grade through Canyon Creek is a big improvement.
"Pacific Highway Conditions Are Improving," Oakland Tribune, August 13, 1916, page 33
County Judge R. W. Warsters of Roseburg says the first roads to be improved in Douglas county under the state road bonding act will be those in Pass Creek and Canyon Creek canyons. Besides $350,000 to be obtained from the state and federal government, about $200,000 realized from the county bond issue will be expended in improving the Pacific Highway in Douglas county. Work will begin this summer.
"State News in Brief," Eagle Valley News, Richland, July 12, 1917, page 7
A 1919 Model R Hupmobile
ROAD NORTH IS POOR, HUP OWNER STATES
From Berkeley, Cal. to Portland in 34 hours' actual running time, including the ordeal of Cow Creek Canyon [presumably Canyon Creek Canyon], was the record last week of a 1919 Model "R" Hupmobile, owned by D. H. McClure, formerly of Portland, now a produce broker in San Francisco, according to word received by E. W. Milburn of the Greer-Robbins Company, Hupmobile distributors here. McClure was traveling north to visit his mother, Mrs. E. E. McClure of Portland, and hurry was his motto.
Of course, 34 hours isn't a record between Portland and San Francisco, but it is good fast time, and particularly at this season of the year. The car left Berkeley at 3 o'clock Saturday afternoon, and was in Portland at 10:30 Monday night, the run north from Berkeley being made via Vallejo, Woodland and Orland, California.
Orland was the stopping point for the first night. At 7 next morning the car was again en route, and at 10:30 o'clock that night was at Grants Pass, Oregon, 278 miles for the day's jog.
So far the roads had been pretty good, barring some rough going between Dunsmuir and Redding. But leaving Grants Pass at 7 a.m. Monday, McClure and his party soon reached Cow Creek [sic]--and then ran into mud and trouble.
COW CANYON POOR."The road through the canyon is passable, but you have to wallow through mud, or did last Monday, climb up banks, slide over grades, drive through streams and take enough chances to turn your hair gray," said McClure.
"The reason for all this, of course, is the new highway construction work in progress in the canyon. But it is positively a dangerous road to drive over at present. I wouldn't tackle it again until this new construction is finished for a new car.
"In one place we had to drive over a temporary road along the edge of a bank with just about a hand's length between the outer wheels and a 50-foot tumble. It was slippery that day, too.
"In another place we had to get out and build a temporary road for ourselves through the mud with rocks, limbs of trees and anything we could find. At another point in the canyon we got stuck in the mud, and had to jack up the wheels and shove behind before we could get out. We went through without chains, but we passed a lot of cars in there with chains, and all that were stuck.
CANYONVILLE WORST."The worst point is eight miles south of Canyonville. There we had to drive off the grade down into Cow Creek, and then drive up the middle of the stream for about a city block. That wasn't so bad, at that, as getting out again. The only point of exit was up a steep bank, slippery as soapstone. We just did succeed in making it without chains, but I thought we were going to slide back again.
"Altogether, I certainly don't recommend the drive through Cow Creek Canyon. It can be made all right, but the man who tries it is risking his car and his neck, so long as conditions remain as they are at present with this new construction work going on. When that is completed, there will be a fine road through the canyon.
The Hupmobile ran into another bad stretch of mud just south of Drain, but from there north to Portland the road was in very fair condition all the way. McClure and party reached Portland at 10:30 o'clock that same night.
Their speedometer registered 646 miles for the whole trip, and their actual running time, as figured out by McClure, was 34 hours. They average 16 miles to the gallon of gasoline, and this in spite of bucking mud. The only mishap to car or tires on the run was a puncture about 30 miles out of Portland.
McClure says that rather than drive back through Cow Creek Canyon, he will return to California by way of The Dalles, Bend, Klamath Falls and Montague, Cal., over the Central Oregon highway. This road is reported to be in very good condition now.
San Francisco Bulletin, June 28, 1919, page 10
From Wolf Creek north nearly all the way to Cottage Grove is nothing but a stretch of awfulness. There is grade in nearly every possible degree of completion. To drive over this road is the hardest sort of work. There is little rock yet spread, and there will certainly be trouble this winter. However, one is impressed with the excellent design and location of the highway. The grades are wide and the curves are good, and when the roads are eventually completed they will be wonderful.
There have been columns written about the road from Galesville to Canyonville. It is nearly all graded, but is very rough going. There is a popular belief that this road travels down Cow Creek into Canyonville, but this is not true. The real name of the stream is Canyon Creek, and it has been so known for nearly three-quarters of a century. The Southern Pacific follows Cow Creek from Riddle to Glendale.
"Highway to Portland Is 1920 Vision," Oakland Tribune, November 9, 1919, page 48
Good macadam Galesville to Canyonville.
"Report Gives Condition of State Roads," Oakland Tribune, September 4, 1921, page 28
Pacific Highway--Highway 99--in the Canyon, circa 1925.
Pacific Highway through the Canyon circa 1925, Pioneer Bridge in the distance.
Note the view of the brush-filled streambed the pioneers had to penetrate.
Pacific Highway in the Canyon just north of Pioneer Bridge, 1934.
Pioneer Bridge in the Umpqua Canyon, 1939.
A traveler along the new asphaltic-concrete speedway in the Cow Creek Canyon section can still occasionally see a two-wheeled dirt road adjacent to Cow Creek and ploughed under in other sections by the modern highway or the pretzel-shaped nightmare which used to be Highway 99.
"Wagon Trip to Roseburg 73 Years Ago Took Five Days, County Judge Recalls," Medford Mail Tribune, November 22, 1953, page 14
Last revised March 5, 2020