The following article appeared in the March 2012 Talent News and Review
Fort Wagner by Jan Wright
This is the first in a series of articles for the Talent News and Reviews featuring historical landmarks and houses along the streets of Talent. Though there were certainly Native American villages in the Talent area, their exact locations are unknown. The first cabin built in 1852 in Talent belonged to Jacob Wagner, a bachelor from Ohio. A year later Fort Wagner was built around the cabin and covered about an acre of ground. A bronze plaque in front of 226 Talent Ave. commemorates the approximate location of the site of the Fort.
Jacob Wagner took advantage of the Donation Land Claim Act of 1850 in which the U.S. Government offered land that they didn't own to white Americans. By being one of the first to settle here, Wagner got first choice of the fine farming land along Wagner and Bear creeks and settled on what would become the town of Talent. By the time the first large group of emigrants came into the valley in 1853, Fort Wagner was standing strong and Jacob had melons and tomatoes already growing. An unlucky convoy of wagons arrived on the very day that conflict erupted between the whites and the Natives and some were wounded before they had a chance to protect themselves. Fort Wagner was a welcome relief for the wagon train and for those few who had homes already established in the valley.
From the pioneer perspective, they had a right to utilize the environmental resources and bring their form of prosperity and progress to the area. The fort represented their stance and a “digging – in” mentality. One can imagine the long nights of guard duty for the men, straining to hear the slightest noise, waiting for the signal to use their firearms, and the conversations around the campfire which flamed the fears of the women and children. But the need for the fort was short-lived as the new arrivals soon forced the Indians out of the valley or subdued them so they were not a threat any more. For the residents who “forted up” at Wagner’s fort, the opportunity to band together and get to know each other had lasting benefits and altered the usual isolation of the settlers.
The logs from the fort were eventually torn down and used for other purposes, more lands were plowed for farming and the site became obscured. Jacob Wagner moved to Ashland to run the Flour Mill and others moved into Jacob's cabin and, by 1874 tore it down to build a frame house. Stories about the Indian Wars keep the memory of the fort alive but the site was not marked. In 1884 a former resident and visitor to the area went looking for signs of the old fort and found only the mound where the hearth to Jacob’s cabin had been.
In the 1970s, the Lions club sponsored Al Grabner to research the location of Fort Wagner. He was responsible for locating the site and the Lion’s Club for purchasing the plaque. It was first dedicated in 1995. About 2002 the plaque was stolen and the Lion’s Club graciously replaced it with the one that is there today. It is not known why the plaque says 1854 when clearly the fort was built in 1853, but the fact that it is there is the important point and marks the spot where the City of Talent began.
[Because there is more room on my blog I can go into greater detail about the fort and cite some of the sources for my conclusions. I am particularly interested in finding out more about Captain Bradford R. Alden - the military leader who came from Ft. Jones, CA to help build Ft. Wagner on the banks of Wagner Creek in Southern Oregon. Alden came into Oregon 1853, built the Fort, and later was wounded in a battle with the Indians. His wounds were so severe he had to quit the service and move back East to be with his family. He was very disappointed that he had survived the Mexican War only to have his career shorted by an inglorious skirmish with an Indian which prevented him from serving in the Civil War. If anyone has any information or records from Fort Jones that may detail the excursion into Oregon I would be really interested in hearing about it. ]