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September 25, 2023
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How the County was Formed

Jackson County was created by the territorial legislature on January 12, 1852, from the southwestern portion of Lane County and the unorganized area south of Douglas and Umpqua Counties. It was named for President Andrew Jackson and was the twelfth county created in Oregon.

Jackson County's borders originally ran south to California, west to the Pacific Ocean, east to Lane County, and north to Umpqua and Douglas Counties. In 1853, Coos County was created from the western portions of Jackson, Douglas, and Umpqua Counties. In 1854, Wasco County was created and given all of the land in Oregon Territory lying east of the summit of the Cascades.

In 1855, Curry County was created from the southern portion of Coos County and became Jackson County's neighbor to the west. Josephine County was created in 1856 from the western half of Jackson county. In 1865, Jackson County increased in size with the addition of the southern portion of Wasco County. This increase only lasted nine years, though, as the added territory was used to create Lake County in 1874. In 1885, the legislature annexed four townships (33, 34, 35, and 36 south, range 5 west), including the City of Grants Pass, to Josephine County. Jackson County's boundaries have remained unchanged since 1885. The primary geographical features of the county are two spurs of the Cascade Mountains split by the Rogue River valley, which runs east west.

When white settlement began in southern Oregon, several Indian tribes already lived in the area. Modocs, Shastas, Rogue Rivers, and Umpquas all lived within the present boundaries of Jackson County. In the early 1850s, both the Klickitats from the north and the Deschutes from the south raided and settled in the area.

By 1850, travel along the trails from California to Oregon had resulted in several clashes between whites and Indians. Territorial Governor Joseph Lane met with Shasta Chief Asperkahar in June 1850 to settle differences. The resulting peace treaty was observed for nearly a year by both sides.

Southern Oregon had been explored by American fur traders as early as 1828. Before 1851, however, there is no record of white settlers between Winchester and the Sacramento Valley. Gold discoveries in the Rogue and Illinois River valleys and the relative peace in the area led to pockets of settlement, and by February 1852, there were several hundred settlers in the area.

Although Jackson County was established in 1852, the newly appointed county officers did not organize until March 1853. These officers included three county commissioners, a county clerk, a sheriff, a prosecuting attorney, and a treasurer. The first action of the county government was the creation of election districts and the election of constables and justices of the peace.

Several local governments operated in Jackson County. In 1852, Jacksonville convened a people's court to try and execute a "murderer." This court was discharged after the conclusion of its duty. In 1853, controversy over water and land rights in Jacksonville led to the election of alcaldes (an office of Spanish origin) with unlimited jurisdiction. The citizens later elected a supreme alcalde. Questions were raised about the legality of the decisions rendered by the alcaldes. The legislative assembly passed an act on December 21, 1853, which legalized the actions of the alcaldes and declared them to be bona fide justices of the peace.

Jackson County affairs from 1852 until 1856 were dominated by wars with local Indian tribes. In 1852, the Rogue River tribe fought with militia and volunteers near Table Rock. Although treaties and truces were in effect during the next year, sporadic violence continued. By 1853, the situation had deteriorated so badly that settlers were moving into stockades and a force of 350 men was organized under the US Army to protect them.

A battle in 1853 between the US Army and the Rogue River tribe resulted in hundreds of casualties. The resulting treaty of 1853 moved the tribe to a 100 square mile reservation near Table Rock in exchange for US acquisition of the Rogue River valley. Fort Lane was built this year to house the federal garrison.

By the fall of 1855, antagonism between whites and Indians had intensified to the point that the federal and volunteer force had expanded to 750 men. In October, nearly all Rogue Rivers in southern Oregon (with the exception of the Table Rock band) combined their forces and attacked the whites. The ensuing war lasted until May 1856; hundreds of casualties resulted. By May 19, 1856, the Rogue Rivers had been defeated and were removed to the Siletz Reservation. During the next two years, several small bands of Indians were rounded up and transferred to the Grand Ronde Reservation.

Despite the incessant wars, Jackson County had become, by 1855, the most populous county in Oregon Territory. The Table Rock Sentinel was established this year as the first newspaper published in southern Oregon. The name was changed to the Oregon Sentinel in 1858. Like Josephine County, Jackson County had a significant Chinese population. Moving up with the American miners in 1853, the Chinese stayed in the area until they left to work on the railroads. Gold mining as an economic base was rapidly being replaced by commercial ventures and by the time of the 1859 Fraser River gold strike in British Columbia, most of the prospectors and miners had left.

Source: Oregon State Archives

Historical Maps

1856 Joseph Hutchins Colton map of Oregon

1872 Asher & Adams map of Oregon

1875 OW Gray map of Washington and Oregon

1889 Detailed map of  Oregon,
colored by counties, Rand McNally.

Maps courtesy of
Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps