Josephine County Community Profile
Portraits of Oregon Home Page
Josephine County is located in southwestern Oregon. It was created by the Territorial Legislature on January 22, 1856. It was the nineteenth, and last, county created before statehood. The county was named after Josephine Rollins, the first white woman to settle in southern Oregon.
The county is bordered on the south by California, on the north by Douglas County, on the west by Curry County at the Coast Range summit, and on the east by Jackson County. It is mountainous but has two major valleys and two rivers, the Rogue and Illinois. The 2001 census report lists the population of county at 77,123.
Commercial activity during the territorial period centered on gold mining and supplying provisions to miners. Miners had been active in the Rogue and Illinois Valleys since 1851. By the late 1850s, gold mining was beginning to decline. The principal industries today are lumber, tourism and agriculture.
Several Native American tribes lived in the area from which Josephine County was created. Most had been moved to reservations by 1856. Josephine County residents included a large Chinese population. Most came to the area to work gold claims.
Maps and county historical facts verified through the Oregon Bluebook at http://arcweb.sos.state.or.us and http://bluebook.state.or.us.
(L-R): Katie Wicks, Courtney Toch, Kallie Woolsey
(L-R): Lee Ann McCormack, Courtney Toch, Carol Spellman (project facilitator) Amanda Pickett, Kaille Woolsey, Katie Wicks
Josephine County 4-H Members
As Katie Wicks so eloquently said,
“This was a wonderful project. It allowed me to meet a nice man with an excellent story and amazing talent. It was a great experience that I will carry with me through my life.”
Larry L. McLane: Logger
In the back hills of Sunny Valley, Oregon, I met with Larry L. McLane. Larry has been living in this community all his life. He has been logging since he was 12 years old (the only job for men at that time). His father taught him the finer arts of logging. This tradition of logging has been passed down from father to son in the McLane line.
I learned that there were three types of logging. The first type was logging in the 1800’s with horses, wagons, and crosscut saws. The second type was logging in the early 1900’s with steam yarders, steam engines, railroads, horses, and some farm trackers. The third type of logging was in the mid 1900’s with tractors, caterpillars (cats), chain saws, and logging trucks that are now widely used and more productive today.
Also I learned that loading logs was probably the most dangerous job for loggers on the ground because of the early equipment and machinery. When hard hats were invented they helped save many lives in logging and in loading logs. Also the caterpillars didn’t have canopies on them until the 1940’s, so if a tree fell on the caterpillar its driver could possibly die. Now caterpillars have improved so they are safer. Larry pointed out to me that the early chain saws weighed up to 105 pounds. Now more modern chain saws weigh about 16 pounds or less.
I tried my hand at logging and found it was not as easy as it looked. The strength you need just to move the limbs and set chokers is incredible. The people who log must also be very careful while working so as not to hurt themselves or other loggers around them.
This experience in Portraits of Oregon: Youth Exploring Culture and Community made me realize that people are missing out on a lot of things their ancestors did. People today do not realize how early logging was a hard and trying job and they often forget its role in our history. It is a part of history of how our ancestors shaped themselves and helped shape our country. Learning about our traditional life gives people a better sense of what their forefathers went through.
Based on an interview with Larry L. McLane
By Amanda Pickett, granddaughter
Sunny Valley, Josephine County, Oregon
Darrel Bell: Horse Farmer
In the rustic charm of Sunny Valley, Oregon, I met with a traditional horse farmer named Darrel Bell. Darrel has harvested many memories in 27 years of living in the small settlement that means so much to him. His tradition originated when his great-grandfather decided to drive a team of horses to Missouri in 1859. Although disliking the hard farm work, Darrel learned a very unique trade and was well rewarded with things like his first car, a Model A Ford. Darrel has driven horses off and on for 23 years. While he was still of school age, Darrel, along with his family, was farming their eight hundred and fifty acres. I have learned that a farmer’s wagon and horses could last a long time if properly cared for. A well kept farm horse could be used for about twenty years before being retired and a well-kept farm wagon could last a lifetime or longer. I also learned that even though there were many noises like the creaking of wagons and movement of horses rarely was there any talking done. While I was unable to try my hand at farming, I did get to see every step of the process in Darrel’s old family photographs. I am amazed that there were so many different tools and wagons that were used for horse farming.
The opportunity I have had in the Portraits of Oregon: Youth Exploring Culture and Community project has made me more aware of the importance of remembering and learning about our forefathers. Too often people don’t know what life was like for their great-great-great grandparents and they don’t understand how complex their family’s life really was. I have learned that people often take our modern technology for granted and forget that about four generations ago life was much different and a whole lot better.
From an interview with Darrel Bell by Lee Anne McCormack
Sunny Valley, Josephine County, Oregon, 2003
Memory of Life on the Farm: A Christmas Story
My dad had this team of mules and that’s what he farmed with and he farmed with them from 1943 until 1948, for five years and then he bought the tractor and sold the mules. But anyway, some of our family lived over in the Medford area and every year at Christmas time we would cut Christmas trees to take over to them cause we had some timber land on our farm on a ‘crick’ up here... At our house up there, there was a long, long lane that ran from the house down to the barn, probably, oh maybe a 100 yards long, and lots of times he’d leave the mules in this lane. Well, he cut these Christmas trees and brought them home on a Friday... Back in those days farm families usually went to town on Saturday once a week was all, maybe twice a month is all, you know, not real often, not like today. Anyway, he cut these Christmas trees and brought them down at the house and we were gonna take them in to the relatives in Medford on Saturday, well he leaned them up against the gate there at the end of the lane. Saturday morning when we went out there, the mules had eaten the tops out of every Christmas tree. So you know, they got their little funny things that they do.
April 30, 2003
As told to Courtney Toch
Grants Pass, Josephine County, Oregon
Bob Isham: Goldminer
A tradition that has been passed down on my mom’s side of the family and also in many other families is gold mining. I am very fortunate to be the 5th generation in the Isham family to be born right here in Grants Pass. Being a native Oregonian, I’ve been able to learn many interesting facts about Oregon’s history and also get to tell people about them.
The gentleman that I interviewed was Harvey Isham or just ‘Bob’. His great-great grandfather was one of the first settlers in Grants Pass and his sons were on the charter to name Grants Pass. As a matter of fact, Bob, told me that his grandfather had a moving and storage business on downtown “G” street right across from another man with the last name of Isham, but there was no relation.
Bob told me that he started gold mining on Park Street in 1958. He started on Park Street because there was a gravel plan where they extracted the sand and ran it into a jig to get the tiny gold pieces out so that they could melt them down. He was twenty-eight when he started and learned from his wife’s stepfather and the rest he taught himself.
His father was not much of a miner, nor was his grandfather, but Bob’s great-grandfather was really into it and actually had a claim on Brimstone Gulch in Leland. His great-grandfather also operated the “Dry Diggins” east of Grants Pass, which later ended up as the city dump on the hill where Triangle Tractor is now, Bob told me.
Bob also told me that even though he has done some panning he has mainly mined by a mechanical process with a hydraulic jig. This method of mining uses some panning motions to separate the gold from the sand.
In conclusion, in talking with my grandfather, I have learned many interesting facts about gold mining and about my family’s history. I have a lot more information that my grandfather talked about in my interview.
The Portraits of Oregon project gave me a chance to find out more about mining as I come from 5 generations of miners. My next stop is Greenback just out of Merlin and is an old hydraulic wash site.
From an interview with Harvey ‘Bob’ Isham,
by Kaillie Woolsey, Grants Pass, Josephine County 2003
Richard Stricklan and Buford W. Bottoms
Richard Stricklan & Buford W. Bottoms: Wagon Restorers
“I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I went to interview Mr. Stricklan and Mr. Bottoms. Armed with my video camera, tape recorder, notebook and my lucky mom I entered the barn of Mr. Stricklan. Exuberantly, he jumped right in sharing his knowledge about making wagons. I motioned to my mom to turn on the video camera. I didn’t want to miss anything he said. Thus began my adventure into the world of Stricklan and Bottoms, two men that hold a piece of our heritage. This documentation tells their story.” - Courtney Toch
Watch any western in the movies and the wagons are plodding along over rutted roads or attempting to forge rivers. Wagons, without them, the West would never have been won.
Wagons, horses, and mules were the primary means of transportation in America’s old west. They were the modern day equivalent of pickup trucks.
Wagon manufacturing came into its’ own in the early 1700s. They were manufactured in the east and shipped to places like St. Louis. They were used on the Santa Fe Trail.
In the 1800s, wagon manufacturers moved west, which helped to cut the costs of having to ship them from the east. Wagons were built in small shops and then sent to a Blacksmith to be ironed. Eventually all the manufacturing happened in one place.
Small wagon shops might make one wagon a week. Large companies, like Studebaker, could turn out a complete wagon every seven minutes. In 1904 Ft. Smith Wagon Company in Arkansas built 10,000 wagons. Wagons are like living history books. If they could tell their story, what a story it would be. Hundreds of thousands of wagons were manufactured from the 1700s to as late as 1952 when the Springfield Wagon Company in Fayetteville, Arkansas closed its doors.
Today there are a handful of people who still carry on the trade in a smaller way. Richard Stricklan and Buford W. Bottoms are two of these wagon lovers.
They love what the wagon represents. It was a home on wheels and saw babies born, people die, buffalo, and wild terrain. It provided shelter and security and remains one of the greatest symbols of the American West.
Richard Stricklan said, “ I don’t make whole wagons. I buy an old junker and restore it. I try to find one that’s got all the original ironwork on it. I can do the wood or I can have my friends, Buford or Larry do the wood. . . I’ve been around enough of ‘em so I know what they’re suppose to look like so I can pretty much fix ‘em the way they should be.”
From an interview with Richard Stricklan and Buford W. Bottoms
by Courtney Toch, Grants Pass, Josephine County, 2003.
Winfield Nantais: Wood Carver
On a sunny day in Wilderville, Josephine County, Oregon I met with Mr. Winfield Nantais. The 84 year old Canadian born Oregonian greeted me at the door of his home and invited me inside. The mission of my visit was to be able to view his carvings and ask some questions. I got that and much more.
Mr. Nantais, or Win for short, has been carving his whole life. He taught himself to carve when he was a young boy in Windsor, Canada. It’s a passion of his, a way to relax and take his mind off of things. His life long passion has brought joy to many people. The beautiful hand carved pieces of art are given to the recipient for free. All he asks for in return is a thank you letter, which he places in a binder full of his other thank you notes. One of his more famous letters is from Desmond Tutu, who received one of Win’s carved crosses. Win has a globe that is speckled with red dots showing places where his crosses have been sent. They are around the world in places like Canada, Europe, Africa and the Middle East, just to name a few.
One of the most amazing things to me was viewing his work. His main focus is crosses, but he also makes chains, pliers, figures, puzzles and many with striking detail. Win enjoys challenging himself by making more detailed designs and using variety of different materials, including wood, peach pits, deer antler, walrus tusk and exotic wood like iron wood. All his intricate designs are shaped from a pocket knife, a fine sharp exacto blade and his steady hands.
This Portraits of Oregon: Youth Exploring Culture and Community experience has made me realize everyone has a story that’s just waiting to be discovered. Our community is full of interesting and original people whose experiences may never be heard. If not for this program I might never have gotten to meet Mr. Nantais and learn all the information I did. And many parts of our history would go unnoticed.
Interview and comments based on an interview with Winfield Nantais
By Katie Wicks, Wilderville, Josephine County, Oregon 2003