View of Rogue Valley from Wagner Butte

Fern Valley History, Jackson County, Oregon



Fern Valley, Ore., Jan. 6.  (Special)  The Fern Valley Literary society met January 2 at the school house. One of the most interesting features on the program was an article presented by Fred Robley, a history of Fern Valley, which follows:
      "Fern Valley, in 1862, resembled little the picture which it presents to the eye today. At that far off date it had not even a name, and was all in three large donation land claims. Col­ver's, along Bear creek to the west; Hockersmith's from the present Swingle holdings to the Stevens' ranch and the Miner's claim, from that line to the foothills on the east.
     Instead of the alternate blocks of orchard, alfalfa, grain, Ladino pasture and garden land, the alluvial land of the valley was covered with a luxuriant stand of shoulder high meadow grass, dotted here and there with great spreading oaks. Willows marked the course of the small streams on their way to Bear creek, and at about the west line of the Boyer orchard began a dense, almost impenetrable jungle of cottonwood, alder and willow, and on the drier land oak, all tied together and interlaced with wild grape vines."
Wild Beasts Plentiful
      "Bears, bobcats and cougars stalked in the natural cover, bear being seen as recently as 21 years ago. A good place to keep out of after nightfall and so dark and gloomy that the owls doubtless hooted all day. But land, which could support such a jungle was too valuable to leave to make homes for the wild beasts, and with the entry of the road in 1910 and the building of the Bear creek bridge in the following year, the Colver tract was sold off in 11 separate properties and six new homes were built.
      But the upper parts of the valley had for years been under the plow. In 1862 the Miner claim was bought by the Paynes, Champ T. and his wife Betty, later affectionately known to this generation as "Grandma" Payne, sturdy pioneers, who had made the overland trip from Missouri in 1852, residing for 10 years near Harrisburg in the Willamette.
     The Payne home was on the site of the present Henry home, and the rugged cliffs to the east were known as the `Payne' cliffs. A thorough believer in diversified farming, Mrs. Payne raised chickens and had a flourishing garden, in which she pio­neered in the field of irrigation. A spring was piped to a large tank. In this was placed a home made canvas hose through which the water ran and seeped through the sides. The Paynes were the first dairymen in this valley and among the first in the county. Butter was made and traded at the stores, as this was long before the day of creameries. In the summers the cows were driven across the mountains to the luxuriant summer pastures of Klamath county."
Wheat Main Crop
     "Wheat was the main commercial crop of the valley, following the practice of all new farming land. The natural meadow grasses, once destroyed, never returned.
"From Iowa in 1868 came Mr. Ebenezer Carver, a youth who, following the death of his wife, came to the new country to pioneer a second time. He purchased the Hockersmith claim and lived at the site of the Ferns' ranch buildings. The towering black walnut tree was planted by his hands. He also set out a two acre family orchard.
     Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Fern and their seven children came from Iowa in 1897 and purchased the Carver lands. Mrs. A. B. Fern is the granddaughter of the pioneer, Ebenezer Carver. In addition to wheat, the Ferns planted corn, against the advice of the natives, and raised it successfully, large fields of it. They also raised the first alfalfa on this side of Bear creek.
     Mr. Fern died in 1899 and Mrs. Fern was thus left to care for a ranch of 600 acres with the aid of the oldest of the children, 14 years of age."
Orchard Boom Opened
     "In 1910 the orchard boom was at its height and Fern Valley saw many new plantings. The first commercial orchard was set out by George Alford, followed soon by Hughes, Mrs. Fern, Wards, Henrys, Hensler and Fisher.
     Prior to 1910 a journey from the upper part of the valley was considerable of an adventure, particularly if Bear creek was on its periodical rampage. There were 20 gates to open between Mr. Alford's and Phoenix. In 1910 the new road was graded through coming up the valley. This made possible R.F.D. service. Telephone wires were strung as soon as the road was located. In 1924 the electric line completed the list of rural conveniences. Irrigation was made possible by the completion of the Talent canal in 1822.
     Of the present population of the valley are people from Illinois, Texas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, Montana, Iowa, California, Arkansas, Vermont, Michigan, Washington and Missouri. Also from Austria, Greece and Holland.
     Until 1912 Fern Valley had no school house of its own. The nearest school house was located one mile north and east of the present Gardner place, which was about the center of district No. 8. This district comprised the land between Bear creek on the west, the Billings holdings on the south, the Climax district on the east, and North Phoenix on the north. The second school house was located about a mile west of the site of the first one, at a place called Windy Point, which was said to be well named."
Short School Terms
     "Two terms of school were held each year, the first one beginning in September and ending in November and the second term, also of 12 weeks, beginning in March and ending the first of June.
The older generation was apparently able to absorb in a six months' term the same amount of learning now imparted in a longer term. Moral persuasion was used spareingly, if at all, dogwood switches were easily procured and readily employed by the teachers of the period; teaching was confined to a thorough schooling in the fundamentals, the three R's.
     Equipment was rather crude. Blackboards were painted boards. Erasers were sheepskins on a block of wood. The second building was 18 by 24 with a woodshed connected with it. The school board furnished chalk and ink, the teachers their own switches. The pupils carried water a quarter of a mile in a bucket and drank it from a leaky dipper. On a hot day one of the children would raise his hand and say: `May I pass the water around?' and everybody would get a drink. Towels were minus quantity. Supplementing switches, unruly pupils were sometimes required to maintain a rigid position by holding a pencil on a nail head or knot on the floor."
More Rain Then
     "Windy Point was reached from this side by navigating a viciously sticky gumbo. It seemed to rain more then and there was too much mud for comfort. Then the district was divided in 1912 and the new one was named Fern Valley No. 99. The first teacher was Miss Miller. There were 11 pupils in the school the first term. The latest school census enumerates 40 of school age, of which 22 are enrolled in the school. Under age of 4 years are 20 children, the yougest arriving too late for Christmas and too early for New Year's."