Welcome visitors! If you’re visiting Cottage Grove, today’s column is dedicated to you as we glimpse into Cottage Grove’s past. At one time, Oregon was not what you see now. In the days before automobiles, fast food, big box stores, electric lights or even paved roads, there were Indian villages and pioneer settlements right here in the Grove. It truly was the new frontier.
Back in 1987 my husband and I drove into town for the first time. We got settled in the Pine Meadows campground and then came back into town to board an excursion steam train at the Village Green that took us into the mountain foothills.
As “The Goose” chugged deep into the forests on what is now the Row River trail, we got a sense of what it must have been like to be an early settler in this area of Lane County. As we bumped along and listened to the recorded tour, we discovered that the area not only had a rich history in the lumber industry but also in gold mining.
At the turn of the twentieth century, such trains mostly hauled supplies to the Bohemia mining and lumber country. That changed in 1971, when it was announced at a Chamber of Commerce banquet that an excursion train, “The Goose,” would begin tours for visitors. Today, that train runs in Yreka, Calif. on an eight-mile track with breathtaking views of Mt. Shasta.
Many people assume that the early settlers of this area were loggers and miners. But historians tell us that long before the white man came, there were Indians. Before the days of logging and mining, the Calapooya Indians had an established culture and lifestyle in this beautiful valley.
Beverly Ward writes about these very first inhabitants of South Lane County in “Golden Was The Past, 1850-1970.” Her first chapter, “The Indians of South Lane,” paints a beautiful word picture of the early 1800s that the settlers saw when they first entered the Willamette Valley and discovered the Indian population.
“The Calapooya Indians vast domain included parts of Lane and Douglas counties,” she writes. “When the settlers arrived the Cottage Grove area was well populated. The Indians numbered in the hundreds and their villages dotted the banks of the Coast Fork and its tributaries — the Row River, Silk Creek and other small streams.
“The rolling fields in the valley were covered with lush grass. Wild game abounded in the beautiful timbered hills. Steams afforded the Indians eels and the clear waters teemed with trout. When the fall rains came, the salmon migrated to the far reaches of the unobstructed streams to the spawning ground that had given them birth.
“The camas that blanketed the swales, was also an important source of food. The Indians dug large pits in the ground and lined them with rocks. After the rocks were heated, the bottom of the pit was covered with wet grass, then it was filled with camas bulbs and more wet grass … the whole was covered with hides to hold in the steam. Steamed bulbs were dried and stored for future use. They looked like citron and tasted like sweet potatoes.
“The Klamath Indians traveled from eastern Oregon over the rugged Bohemia Mountains to fish in Row River … the place they camped is now known as Wildwood Park. The Indians used long handled spears and dip-nets to catch the fish that gathered in the turbulent waters below the falls.
“The Indians traveled afar to trade. The Calapooyas procured obsidian from the eastern Oregon Indians for arrowheads and they obtained salt, shells, seafood and certain furs from the tribes along the coast.
“On the upper Rogue River was a special Indian meeting place. Here, the Willamette Valley, Eastern Oregon and Coastal Indians gathered to settle their affairs, trade and hold religious rituals and potlatches. Many sporting events were held and these affairs often lasted for days. The Indians liked to gamble and played games of chance and some went home without their shirts!
“The Calapooya Indians adapted themselves to the white man’s ways. They wore clothing like the settlers and the children played together; they learned to speak each other’s languages.
“There was no Indian uprising in the Cottage Grove area. The old settlers can be commended for they treated the Indians better than in many other places.
“But the Indian had to go to make way for the white man. Their numbers gradually diminished. Some moved westward to avoid the encroaching settlers. After the Rogue River War in Curry County, many Calapooya Indians were rounded up and taken to reservations.
“Diseases took a drastic toll. The Indians couldn’t cope with the white man’s contagious diseases. Their traditional practice of sweating themselves in sweathouses, then leaping into the cold streams was deadly when they were ill.
“Samuel Knox, an early pioneer was credited for saving many Indian lives. When an epidemic of measles swept through an Indian encampment on the Row River, Knox visited the Indians and persuaded them to stop using the sweat houses when they were ill.”
The author mentions that the Indians buried their loved ones’ belongings with them so they would have something in the hereafter. One rainy winter, bones, beads, tools and other artifacts were washed out of an Indian burial ground on Row River. She concludes her chapter with this observation: “The Indians have left marks on this land that time can never erase.”
If you want to read more of these stories, I suggest that you pick up a copy of “Golden Was The Past — the stories continue …” You might also check out the Cottage Grove Museum on H. St or the Bohemia Gold Mining Museum on Main St. You will not only learn more of the area’s history but also help support the wonderful work of our historians, the keepers of our past.