Southern Oregon's Civil War

No battle of the Civil War was fought in Southern Oregon, but feelings on both sides ran high. Backers of the secessionist South, who concentrated in the Jacksonville-Gold Hill area, nearly came to blows many times with abolitionist Union immigrants, clustered in Ashland, Talent and Phoenix, historians say.

"There were episodes of threatened violence here," says historian, author and teacher Jeff LaLande, who will give a talk titled "Dixie of the Pacific Northwest: Southern Oregon's Civil War" at 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 8, at the Ashland Historic Railroad Museum.

The talk commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, which began on April 12, 1861.

Ashland tended to be the settling place of "kindred spirits" from the Oregon Trail who knew a lot of the same people back home in the Midwest, says LaLande, ticking off the family names of Beeson, Helman and Applegate, "the movers and shakers" of Ashland.

Museum director Victoria Law says immigrants from the South were engaged prosperously in gold mining here, while immigrants from the upper Midwest settled into the farming life.

"The war was far away," says Law, "but the feelings were intense and often pitted neighbor against neighbor and community against community. A lot of immigrants came from the South, including a lot of the gold miners in Jacksonville — and they were pro-slavery and pro-secessionist."

One "very ardent secessionist" was William T'Vault of Gold Hill, the first newspaper editor in Oregon and the first speaker of the Oregon House, she says.

"Northern Oregon people called Southern Oregon 'Little Dixie,' " says Law, adding that there was a riot in Roseburg in which secessionists killed nine Union sympathizers.

"There was a lot of speech-making here and threats to tear down each other's flags."

The political parties in 1861, says Law, "were the reverse of now, with the Republicans being the progressive party."

The pro-slavery South was Democratic and the abolitionist Union, home of Abraham Lincoln, was Republican.

Most of the men in Ashland were involved in the war in some way, with many joining the Ashland Mountain Rangers, "the first militia here, formed to protect Southern Oregon from secessionists," says Law.

The Union built Camp Baker in Phoenix so the militia could drill and be prepared for battle, says Law, who has located 59 Civil War burials in Jackson County — only three of them veterans of the Confederacy.

Camp Baker, says LaLande, was a small post, not a fort, and served as a military presence of volunteer cavalry and infantry after the regular army went off to war.

They protected settlers from "depredations" of the Klamath Indians, who began coming over the Cascades after original American Indians here were shipped off to the Siletz and Grande Ronde reservations on the Oregon Coast, LaLande says. A bronze plaque marks the site of the camp today.

"There was fear some locals might prove disloyal (to the Union)," he says.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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