Josephine Creek a gold nugget
of county history
By ROGER BRANDT
Special to IVN
Illinois Valley is considered to be where the first gold was discovered in Oregon, but the story of how this happened does not come without its entanglements.
During this year of Josephine County's sesquicentennial (150 years), no celebration would be complete without looking back at this important moment in Oregon history.
The story of the discovery of gold in Illinois Valley began when prospectors in the California gold fields began to migrate northward for new gold discoveries. By 1850, some of these prospectors had made small gold strikes in Siskiyou County in California immediately south of Josephine County.
Although the 1850 strikes attracted some attention, most people agree that the landmark year for mining activity in this region was 1851. This year started with a big gold strike in Yreka, Calif,; and within a couple of months, more than 2,000 prospectors had migrated into the area. Some were from Oregon; others came from California.
Later that year, gold was discovered in Illinois Valley, and from the available information, it appears that the discovery was made almost simultaneously by two groups that came into Illinois Valley from opposite directions.
The group that came from the south consisted of prospectors from California, and they might have wanted to avoid the calamity of the boom camps in Yreka and headed toward Oregon to find gold deposits of their own. They likely came up Indian Creek from Happy Camp, Calif. following the general route of the Jefferson State Byway.
The group that came in from the north was comprised of Oregonians who had been traveling on the Applegate Trail toward Yreka. They reportedly met Native Americans who somehow let them know about the gold in this area. This group came into Illinois Valley following the general route of Hwy. 199 from Grants Pass.
Regardless of who got here first, both groups apparently found their gold on what would later be called Josephine Creek. This discovery is considered by many to be the first mining locality discovered or worked in Oregon.
And for that reason, Josephine Creek is a significant site in the history of Oregon.
To visit Josephine Creek, drive 5 miles north of Cave Junction on Hwy. 199 and turn left on Eight Dollar Mountain Road. This road takes you into the Wild and Scenic River corridor. Look for Josephine Creek in the canyon on the left just before the green bridge over Illinois River.