Historic Resource Study, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, 1984
II. White Men Slowly Penetrate the Southern Oregon Wilderness
E. Gold Mining Begins in Southern Oregon
The first contact with the southwest Oregon coast from the sea was part of a concerted effort to open supply routes into northern California during the Gold Rush period of the late 1840s and early 1850s. Vessels would probe the mouths of coastal rivers and then unload exploring parties and send them into south-trending canyons to see if roads could be opened into the interior. Interest and settlement in southwest Oregon was stimulated by the discovery of gold in the sands of some of the ocean beaches north of the Coquille River, resulting in the establishment of various towns near the mouth of the Rogue River that flourished for two seasons before the boom faded. Miners continued panning the Applegate River sands, pushed up the Rogue, and mined the gravel bars in the ravines of the Coastal Mountains. Packers traveling between the Willamette Valley and Sacramento, while grazing their stock on the meadows of the upper Rogue, also found time to pan gold in the Rogue River tributaries. The Willamette Valley settlers who were supplying surplus crops to the California goldfields were using the inland route mentioned earlier to drive packtrains and cattle across the Umpqua and upper Rogue river valleys over the Siskiyou Mountains to the Mother Lode country.
As surface mining declined in California, prospectors began turning their attention northward, and by 1850 gold fever was spreading into the Rogue and Umpqua river valleys of southern Oregon. New, important discoveries of gold would soon be made in Oregon by adventurers fanning out from the Mother Lode and Trinity Mountain districts. The first major strike in southern Oregon occurred in the Rogue Valley on Josephine Creek in Josephine County in 1851. Either later that year or early in 1852 a more widely-publicized discovery was made by a packer James Cluggage and a miner John R. Pool, who were transporting supplies between Yreka, California, and towns in the Willamette Valley. While attempting to recover some stray pack mules about thirty miles across the Oregon line, near Table Rock, Cluggage turned toward the hills to the west. He followed a stream later known as Jackson Creek, and in an area where the stream left the hills, later known as Rich Gulch, found a strike so rich that the early arrivals were said to have averaged about one hundred ounces of dust and nuggets a day.
News of this gold discovery spread rapidly during the spring of 1852, and hundreds of men joined the modest rush to the Rogue Valley. The new boom town of Jacksonville in the foothills on the western edge of the plains soon became the commercial and transportation center of the southern Oregon goldfields. These discoveries at Josephine Creek and at Jacksonville were followed by many more–at Sailor Diggin’s and at the Applegate diggings in southern Jackson County in 1852; at the Foote’s Creek diggings, fifteen miles west of Jacksonville, and at Willow Springs, five miles north, in the fall of that year; and at Dry Diggings near Grants Pass.