The Early 1800s

Between 1825 and 1843, Hudson Bay trappers were the first white people to travel through the Rogue River Valley. Early settlers and trappers frequently referred to the local Indian tribes as "the rogues" because of their willingness to fight for their rights.

The Applegate Party
In 1843 the Applegate brothers, Jesse and Lindsay, were part of a band of settlers traveling the Oregon Trail from Missouri. The young sons of both men died while crossing the Columbia River on a raft that was carrying all of their belongings. At that point the Applegate brothers vowed to backtrack and hopefully discover a safer, alternate route to Oregon and avoid the treacherous Columbia River.
Lindsay Applegate
Beginning at Fort Hall, Idaho in 1846, they forged a new trail through Nevada, California and eventually through the Rogue Valley. The trail followed by the Applegate party was on the south side of the Rogue River and crossed at Fort Vannoy about 5 miles west of present Grants Pass.

The Applegate wagon train of emigrants in 1846 made the first wagon tracks through the beautiful Rogue River Valley, heading toward the Willamette Valley.

In 1851, Josephine Rollins Ort, the namesake of Josephine County, traveled with a party credited with the first discovery of gold in Southern Oregon. This became the catalyst for a major migration of prospectors seeking their fortunes in Southern Oregon.
The Late 1800's
Gold Mining
In 1852, sailors deserted their ship near Crescent City and started toward the newly discovered Jacksonville gold fields. Before they arrived, they found rich deposits at a location in the Illinois Valley just 25 miles south of the present Grants Pass.

The promise of gold caused Grants Pass to grow quickly. This discovery at "Sailor Diggin's" immediately became an important mining center with a population of several thousand.

The name was later changed to Waldo in honor of William Waldo, brother of Daniel Waldo, a prominent figure in early Oregon history.

In 1858, many miners left for new discoveries on the Frazier River of British Columbia never to return again. Nothing remains today of the many mining towns that sprang up in the Illinois Valley. 

Grants Pass in the 1800's

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Rogue River Indian Wars
The valleys erupted in Indian wars between 1850 and 1857 as regular troops from Fort Jones, California and volunteers fought with the Indians. The final peace treaty was held on the Illinois River near Agness in 1855 prior to the last battle. After this final war, the Indians were moved to the Siletz and Grande Ronde Reservations on the northern Oregon Coast.

Rapid Growth of Grants Pass
The completion of the Oregon-Californian Railroad, along with the discovery of gold, lead to rapid growth, which brought with it tradesman of many types, including miners, farmers, lumberman, and orchardists. Grants Pass became the trading center of the county.

In 1887, Newman Methodist Church (now Newman United Methodist) became the first church built in Grants Pass. The present building, built on the same site, was completed in 1890 under the leadership of Reverend T.L. Jones.

By the 1890's Grants Pass had its own opera house, and the Grants Pass Water, Light and Power Company, which generated power at a dam a few hundred feet west of the present Caveman Bridge. The Rogue River was spanned by the first of several bridges near 5th Street.

Oregon Caves Discovery
In 1874 a local hunter, Elijah Davidson stumbled upon an underground cave system when his dog disappeared into the side of a mountain while chasing a bear. He didn't realize it, but he had discovered what became known as the "Oregon Caves." The first road to the caves opened 30 years later.

Indian Reservation
In 1894, Mary Peters "Indian Mary" applied for squatters' rights for land on which her father, Umpqua Joe, had built a cabin on the hill overlooking Hellgate Canyon. Her father had been an Indian scout during the Rogue River Indian Wars. She received a 25 year deed and formed the smallest Indian Reservation in the United States. Josephine County eventually converted the land into what is now Indian Mary park.