Tales from the Grubby End
On a recent road trip to Redding, Calif., then west from there to the Pacific Ocean along Highway 299, I visited Trinity River gold rush country, important to us because the region attracted large numbers of Oregonians with gold dust fever from 1848 to 1851.
This included an unknown number of residents from Yamhill County and the small settlement that would one day become Newberg.
Example: Sebastian Brutscher, who gave Newberg its name, worked the gold fields outside Yreka in the spring of 1851.
Example: Richard Everest and son William, 12, left in August 1848 and came back a year later with $3,000 in gold. That's $90,000 in today's dollars, but a small fortune back in the day.
For William, the fever lasted for another 30 years, as he traveled to Idaho, British Columbia and Northern California to see if he could strike more riches. William used his money to start a commercial hops business, operate his own saloon, brew his own beer, even build and manage a race track on the property where the 99W Drive-In is today.
Two popular horses seen frequently at the tack were "Wynooski" and "Dollar Hide." Historian Kenneth Munford of Oregon State University tells of others of local interest who caught the fever:
Alphonso Boone, grandson of legendary frontiersman Daniel Boone, came west in 1846. He went to California with sons George and Alphonso and died there. The sons returned to Oregon to help operate Boone's Ferry near Wilsonville.
Samuel Brown, founder of the town of Gervais, returned to French Prairie with $20,000 in profits and built the Sam Brown house, an old stage stop still standing.
Lyman Latourette was a pioneer teacher and merchant in Oregon City. After returning from the gold fields he helped open the school that eventually became Linfield College.
Dr. Robert Newell, who drove the first wagon over the Oregon Trail to the Columbia River in 1840, led 39 men to the gold rush in 1849. He returned to plat the town of Champoeg.
Joel Palmer, co-founder of Dayton, caught the fever in1848. He returned in 1849, became superintendent of indian affairs, purchased land for the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation, then built a mansion-sized house in Dayton. Today, it's a restaurant.
A related side note: There is some evidence to suggest that John Sutter once visited Ewing Young at Young's cabin in the West Chehalem Valley.
Keep in mind, the Gold Rush was first triggered in January 1848 at Sutter's Mill along the American River east of Sacramento. Part of the Everest strike happened near this location.
The Gold Rush is an important event in the history of Newberg. In parlance of that day, the "pay dirt" brought back by local residents represents the first of two 19th century events that provided real money and economic clout for our town.
The second was the financial resources the Quakers brought with them when they began arriving in the 1870s. We'll discuss this in a future column.
When word of the Sutter's Mill discovery finally reached Oregon in August 1848, an estimated 4,000 people, mostly males, left their homes and families and headed south.
If this doesn't sound like much, this was approximately half of the total population of both the Oregon and Washington territories.
Some, like the Everests, used the sea route (out of Portland) to travel to the gold fields.
Most however opted for the long and difficult journey down the Applegate Trail to near Ashland, where they crossed the Siskiyou Pass into northern California.
Then it was on to the Siskiyou Trail to Redding and then west to connect with the Trinity River and beyond. Three weeks was needed to make the trip.
Ironically, both John Sutter, on whose property gold was discovered, and James Marshall, a failed Oregon farmer who picked up the first nugget at Sutter's Mill, died penniless.