Cultural History

LONG BEFORE THE FIRST Euro-Americans entered the Rogue Valley, Native Americans lived in the natural corridor of Bear Creek, fished its waters, and camped along its banks. This area was shared by two tribes: the Shasta ranged along the southern reaches of Bear Creek above what is now Talent, and the Takelma ranged from Talent to the north.

Both peoples lived on processed acorns, camas and other bulbs, and berries, as well as deer, fish, and small game. They moved seasonally to where food was available and also stored food for the winter, which they spent in villages along Bear Creek.

Their first contact with Euro-Americans occurred in 1827, when Peter Skene Ogden led a group of trappers from the Hudson Bay Company into the valley in search of beaver. It wasn't until the 1850's that settlers and miners, spurred by the Donation Land Claim Act of 1850 and lured by tales of fertile land and gold-bearing streams, arrived in large numbers. They then began the process of dispossessing the Native Americans of their lands and eliminating their food sources.

Gold mining operations polluted the streams and killed the fish. Settlers fenced and cultivated the bottom land, depriving the Indians of areas where they had previously hunted and gathered camas and acorns. Small game was over-hunted, and tree-cutting destroyed much wildlife habitat.

The Indians unsuccessfully resisted the loss of their lands and retaliated against frequent incidents of mistreatment in the uprisings of 1851, 1853, and 1855-1856. The treaties that followed each skirmish progressively restricted Native American presence and finally moved them entirely to a reservation on the Oregon coast.

Settlers planted wheat, hay, potatoes, and other crops, and raised cattle, to support their needs. In the 1880's, however, the arrival of the railroad caused major economic change and a shift in agriculture from grains and forage crops to fruit.

Many orchards were planted throughout the valley; early success was achieved with apples, peaches, and pears. These orchards required more water than annual rainfall could supply, so large irrigation systems were developed during the first half of the Twentieth Century. Today, the Talent Irrigation District provides water through canals from Emigrant, Hyatt, and Howard Prairie reservoirs, and the Medford Irrigation District delivers irrigation water from the Rogue River. The production of pears now greatly exceeds that of apples and peaches.

Though the early miners found little gold, Bear Creek has supplied recent generations with the gravel used to construct the highways that parallel it; the ponds along the trail are the result of these gravel operations.

Photo by D.L. Mark.