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John Craig keyed the work that led to the McKenzie Highway, opening up Valley to Central Oregon; died on its summit as mail deliverer

PHOTO COURTESY OF BOWMAN MUSEUM - Workers building the John T. Craig Memorial on McKenzie Highway pause for a photo.A lonely gravestone marker is located just west of McKenzie Pass along the McKenzie Highway. It is a slab of rock with a bronze plaque affixed that tells a story a history and epitaph for John T. Craig.

John Templeton Craig was a pioneer of the McKenzie Valley in the 1860s. He was part of a road work crew that carved a primitive road up the McKenzie River and over the Cascade Range in 1862. He was hired by Felix Scott, Jr. to assist in the effort as a means to get cattle to the gold fields of Idaho.

Craig became obsessed with the idea of building a useful wagon road up the McKenzie and over the mountains to Central and Eastern Oregon. He was not the only person interested in such an idea. Between 1862 and 1871, at least five companies attempted the job choosing various routes. All failed to complete their project. Craig located his base of operations at what was then known as Craig's Bridge on the upper McKenzie. The site later became known as McKenzie Bridge.

He directed all of his effort to building a road, sometimes on borrowed funds, sometimes with nothing more sustaining than his own determination. He became the president of the first company to succeed in cutting a functioning road across the McKenzie route. In 1871, Craig's company — The McKenzie Salt Springs and Des Chutes Wagon Road Company — filed articles of incorporation. The road was to run from the end of Lane County road across McKenzie Bridge, and over the low pass at Lost Creek Canyon. The terminus would be the Deschutes River. The route led across the lava beds that was about 1,000 feet lower than the Scott Trail.

The road was opened about 1872. Tolls were collected by the company at McKenzie Bride and later at Blue River. Craig was not associated with the company much after the road was completed. In 1877, he was hired to ride the mail between Eugene and Camp Polk. He died of exposure near the McKenzie summit.

On July 10, 1930, a monument was dedicated to his memory by the Oregon Rural Letter Carriers Association. The memorial is located not far from where he died. The monument is also his grave.


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