Coquelle Trails

Part 2. Historical Accounts, 1826 - 1875

5. The Coose Bay Commercial Company, May 1853 – 1875

American immigration to the study area had three basic facets: businessmen and their families, miners, and farmers.  Of these groups, business and farm families and coal miners were all drawn by free land being offered by the US government. The gold miners had different interests.

After Congress passed the Oregon Donation Land Claims (DLC) act in 1850, DLCs of 320 acres of surveyed public lands became available to white US citizens over the age of 18 throughout the Oregon Territory. DLCs established before December 1, 1850 could be as many as 640 acres in size; 320 acres for "white settler" or "American half-breed" citizens at least 18 years of age (Carey 1971: 253), and the same amount for his wife, "to be held by her in her own right" (ibid.: 482).  This is one of the first federal laws extending equal rights to married women who, by Oregon law at that time, could be as young as 12 years old. From December 2, 1850 until 1855, a man and wife could claim 320 acres and a single person (men and widows older than 18) 160 acres. The lands were free to those who claimed them, and then stayed to live upon them.  During the five-year period the law was in effect, nearly 9,000 persons filed claim to approximately 2.5 million acres of Oregon (Carey 1971: 253), mostly within the Willamette and Umpqua valleys.

The first Donation Land Claim made in the study area was by William Tichenor at Port Orford, and coincidental with his landing at that location with a crew of men on June 9, 1851 (Gurley, et al.: 1962: 16).  Subsequent claims were made in the Coos Bay area by settlements of businessmen in present-day Empire and coal mine developers near present-day Libby in 1853 and 1854; ranchers and farmers in Camas Valley and along the South Fork Coquille in 1854 and 1855; and scattered along the Pacific Coast and along the mainstem Coquille during the same years for a variety of reasons (Map 1), including agriculture, townsite development, and mining (e.g., Dodge 1898: 131-135; Gurley, et al. 1962; Wooldridge 1971: 216, 351; Beckham and Minor 1980: 122; 136-138; 141-143; 176; 235-236).

This law created severe problems throughout the Pacific Northwest between white settlers and Indian residents; who were watching their ancestral homelands being systematically occupied by strangers, and without explanation or compensation.  Glisan noted this disparity on April 29, 1856, while station at Fort Orford during the latter stages of the Rogue River Indian Wars (Glisan 1874: 317-318):

Whilst acts of brutality, between the two races, are usually the proximate cause of most of the disturbances, yet there are predisposing agents behind all of these.  Such, for instance, on the northwest coast, as the donation land laws of Congress, giving away to white settlers – half breed Indians included – all of the most valuable lands in the Territories of Washington and Oregon, without first extinguishing by treaty the possessory rights of the aborigines.


Coos Bay Company (May, 1853 – February 14, 1859)

The Coos Bay Company had its roots in a presentation made in Jackson County in May 1853 by Perry B. Marple, extolling the wonders of Coos Bay and its surrounding area. A company of 40 men was quickly organized to view the new area for possible settlement, and left within a few days of Marple’s presentation (Dodge 1898: 126).  The men became lost between Camas Valley and the Coos Bay, however, and it took them six days to reach a large Indian fishery at the confluence of the Middle Fork and South Fork Coquille, where Casey had led his attack less than 18 months earlier. Here, many of the men decided to return to Jacksonville, and the remaining 19 formally created “The Coose Bay Commercial Company” and continued onward.

William H., Harris, a Captain in the US Army stationed in Tampico during the Mexican War, became one of the most successful members of this emigrant party, and a knowledgeable local resident for many years.  Following in the footsteps and pack trails of McLeod in 1826 and 1827, the group made a leisurely trip down the Coquille River, camping among the Indian families and villlages at Myrtle Point, Arago, Leneve, present-day Randolph, Bullards (possibly), and old-town Bandon for eight days (Dodge 1898: 128-131).

By that point in time it must have been early June. From there the new business venture traveled to Whiskey Run where there was no mention of any successful mining taking place, even though company members were actively searching for coal and gold the entire route. From Whiskey Run the group seems to have followed the path of Jedediah Smith closer than that of McLeod as they made their way to Coos Bay.

The history of this company is well told by three of its participants, Russell C. Dement (Wooldridge 1971: 224-247) -- who was a child at the time, but among the first settlers to arrive, with his family, in the initial Coos Bay Company settlement of Empire City – Esther M. Lockhart (Peterson and Powers 1952: 42-48), and William H. Harris (Dodge 1898: 126-136). Many members of this organization prospered and formed the business, coal mining, logging, milling, and dairy farming foundation of Coos Bay and Coos County.  Both Harris and Dement specifically mention several prominent members of this group, including Harris and Marple, Rollin S. Belknap, Solomon Bowermeister, Dr. D. W. Coffin, John and Mart Davis, A. B. DeCuis, William Dike, John H. Foster, A. P. Gaskell, Charles K. Haskill, William H. Jackson, Joseph Lane, Mathias M. Leam, F. G. and Esther M. Lockhart, James and John McVay, Samuel Moore, Curtis Noble, Dr. A. B. Overbeck, Charles Pearce, A. J. Pence, Jesse Roberts, David Rohrer, Benjamin Rohvin, Billy Romanes, Frank Ross, Henry A. Stark, S. K. Temple, Alex Thrift, J. C. Toleman, and George L. Weeks, and Presley G. Wilhite (Dodge 1898: 132-133; Peterson and Powers 1952: 48; Wooldridge 1971: 228).


Baltimore Colony Settlement (May – July 4, 1859)

The Baltimore Colony arrived in Coos County in 1859, several years after the end of the Donation Land Claim Act – and found large tracts of excellent farming and ranching lands available at reasonable prices.  The story of this group is probably best summarized in Peterson and Powers (1952: 48-53), although detail of the lives and history of the people who formed this organization are woven – and well referenced -- throughout the history of Coos County and the State of Oregon.  The following account is summarized from Peterson and Powers (1952), with brief biographical additions from Wooldridge (1972):

The leader of the Baltimore Colony was Dr. Henry Hermann, who was born and educated in Germany, but emigrated to the United States in the 1830s, locating in Baltimore, Maryland. After a 20-year career as a physician in Baltimore, Hermann decided to migrate to a healthier clime in 1858; particularly along the Pacific Coast. He was joined by his friends and associates, the August Bender family, Harry Pagels, Osterhans, James Burke, H. Finkelda, and Coleman (Peterson and Powers 1952: 48). Hermann met John Yoakam, another early Coos County settler, while on a visit to Roseburg and was taken on a tour of Camas valley, the Middle Fork Coquille, and to Yoakam’s place on the South Fork.  Enthused by what he had seen, he returned to Batimore in 1859, where he published an account of his travels and findings.

Hermann then gathered together a party of successful tradesmen, including a shoemaker, tinsmith, miner, music teacher, cabinetmaker, piano maker, locksmith, ships carpenter, carpenter, farmers, and laborers, with himself as the group’s doctor – but no one with outdoor experience! No hunting, fishing, or even camping skills. The colony included Hermann and his family (including his subsequently famous son, Binger, who served in Congress for 16 years), Henry Schroeder and family, the William Volkmar family, the August Bender family, David Stauff and family, Mrs. Edward Pagels and her three children, Mr. Wilde and family, William Leake, Julius Pohl, and (later) George Stauff and family, and a Mr. Victimier.

The colony selected land near the mouth of the South Fork of the Coquille, between Myrtle Point and Broadbent.  They were joined by a few more families the following Spring, and a few families left for California at about the same time. The remaining families have contributed significantly to the history and culture of Coos County, and now have descendents several generations removed still living here.


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