While Oregon’s mining industry was not as lucrative as others in the West, during the period of the gold rush, the territory was a significant contributor of gold as well as other minerals. Oregon played its part in establishing the Western states and still ended up ranking 11th in gold production.
The richest gold strikes were in the Blue Mountains in the Eastern Oregon, while a few other were in the southwestern corner of the state. The following are a few of the mining towns that made a difference in the establishment of the State of Oregon.
Baker City, Oregon
Gold was discovered in Baker City in 1861, later leading to the discovery of a quartz mill in 1864. It was the Oregon Short Line Railroad that boosted growth in the 1880s and 1890s. With the advent of the rail, settlers flocked to the area, and the city eventually earned the name of the “Denver of Oregon.” The town was full of not only miners but also ranchers, cowboys and sheepherders.
By the turn of the Century, the city had become the trading center for the area and was the largest city between Salt Lake City, Utah, and Portland.
After the Sumpter Valley narrow gauge railroad came to the area in 1896 and the Transatlantic Railway in 1897, the mining industry continued to flourish for decades, along with the area’s growing timer industry. Once the mines were closed, logging continued the area’s economy on through the 1900s.
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The town of Sumpter was discovered by five men traveling through Oregon on their way to the gold mines of California. However, they discovered gold sooner than they had planned and stayed in what is now known as Sumpter, naming the town after the famous Civil War battle in South Carolina.
The town’s growth was slow but took off as soon as the railroad came to the area. By the time heavy mining machinery was available in the 1890s and the railroad in 1897, the town’s growth took off. By the turn of the century the town had thousands of residents producing millions of dollars in gold annually. Soon the town earned the title of “Queen City” due to the success of the town’s mines.
However, like other mining towns, Sumpter was hit by a fire in 1917 and was never rebuilt to its previous glory. By the time the second world war hit, mining had all but closed in the area, leaving the town to be a shell of what it once was.
Mining first began in Greenhorn after miners first prospected for gold in the area in the 1860s. Mining in the area was composed of placer mines as well as lode gold mines. As time went on, eventually most mining was done via lode mines. Greenhorn was then incorporated in 1903 and thrived through much of the first part of the 20th Century. However, with the onset of World War II and the legal requirements that all mining efforts go towards other minerals, gold mining fell into virtually nothing and never quite recovered after that time.
Canyon City, Oregon
Gold was first discovered in Canyon City in 1862 in the Canyon Creek which flowed directly through town.
Miners came in droves to Whiskey Gulch and other areas of the canyon between the cities, Canyon City and John Day. These individuals came to the area along a wagon road coming through the Dalles along the Columbia River, which later became the Dalles Military Road.
Canyon City was officially platted in 1862 and was established as the county seat in 1864. It was later incorporated in 1891. During the city’s peak, it was said that over 10,000 people lived in Canyon City, a population larger than Portland at the time.
During his visit to the Blue Mountains in 1900, geologist Waldemar Lindgren estimated that approximately $16 million in gold had been mined from just a short section at the lower end of Canyon Creek.
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Gold was first discovered in Granite on July 4, 1862. Because of the significance of this date, the town was originally named Independence. However, the town was later named Granite once the post office was established in 1878, mostly because another town named Independence existed already in Polk County, Oregon.
A. G. Tabor was the first person to stake a mining claim on Granite Creek in 1862, and he was the only merchant in town as the tow was created and served as the first postmaster.
It was estimated at one point in time that over 80 percent of the men living in Granite were miners, which was good at the time when the mining industry flourished. However, that lack of diversity in the employment in the area made it very difficult to recover when gold mining was made illegal with the start of World War II.
In 1851, prospectors traveling through Jacksonville discovered gold, and by 1852, the town had well over 2,000 residents. It was not long until Jacksonville was named as the county seat for Jackson County.
The town grew and flourished until 1884 when the railroad was rerouted through Medford, completely bypassing Jacksonville. Prior to that time Jacksonville was easily the financial center of southern Oregon. As the mining industry slowly began to fade away, Jacksonville did continue to move forward with the introduction of agriculture as an economic factor. The city continued to growth but later did face another hit when, in 1927, the county city moved to Medford.
Galice isn’t much to see today, but it was a thriving mining community during the early gold rush in Southwest Oregon. It is located on Galice Creek near the confluence with the Rogue River.
The creek itself had good placer gold, but the largest mine was actually located well above the creek. The Old Channel Mine was comprised of ancient river gravels that were left “high and dry” millions of years ago. These were worked in many different ways including by hydraulic mining methods. The gravels weren’t actually all that rich, but the by moving large amounts of material allowed the mine to be worked profitably. Other lode mines are found scattered in the mountains around Galice.
Not much remains at Waldo today, but for a time this was a very rich mining area in Josephine County.
The town is located just 3 miles north of the California border. It formed when the mining at Sailor Diggin’s got started and men moved into the area to mine the rich gravels located here. Although most of the mines sit silent now, there is still some gold hiding in the gravels here.
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