Coquille River, Bandon

Coquille River, Bandon

by | Mar 1, 2022

Coquille River drains a mountainous watershed of about 6.8 million acres (2.7 million ha) with at least 26 named tributaries and flows for about 36 miles (58 km) from the confluence of the North Fork and South Fork to the Pacific Ocean at Bandon, about 26 miles (42 km) north of Port Orford and 20 miles (32 km) southwest of Coos Bay, Oregon. The river is named after the Coquille tribes that inhabited the watershed. The community of Bandon is situated at a historical ferry landing on the south side of the river mouth. It was originally settled in 1853 and called Averill, but in 1873, George Bennet named the settlement after his hometown of Bandon, Ireland. The Coquille River has the largest watershed to originate from the Coast Range in Oregon, but the estuary is relatively small with about 400 acres (162 ha) of tidelands and wetlands. Despite the historical diking and filling of many acres of wetlands, creeks, and slough environments, the lower river continues to be an important rearing habitat for coho and Chinook salmon. The coast of southwestern Oregon is typically rugged with a marine terrace about 0.5-4 miles (1-6 km) wide that changes abruptly inland into the deeply incised topography of the Coast Range. Bedrock geology along the southern Oregon coast is composed of complexly folded, faulted, and variably metamorphosed Mesozoic terranes that record a history of oceanic, volcanic arc, and continental margin sedimentation, magmatism, and terrane accretion during the Late Jurassic and Cretaceous on the geological time scale. These terranes are situated inboard of the active Cascadia subduction zone, where oceanic crust is presently being obliquely subducted beneath the North American continental plate. The Cascadia subduction zone generates plate-boundary earthquakes as large as magnitude 9. The Coquille River estuary provides a record of Cascadia subduction zone earthquakes and tsunamis over a period of 6,700 years that dropped tidal marshes and low-lying forests to tidal flat elevations 12 times. Tsunamis inundated the Coquille estuary and deposited sand as much as 6 miles (10 km) up tributary valleys. The earthquakes occurred on average every 570–590 years but intervals between earthquakes lasted as little as a few 100 years to over 1,000 years.

Human occupation of the coastal areas of the Coquille River dates to 8,000 years ago, and 11,000 years ago in inland areas. The ancestors of the Coquille people lived along the banks of the Coquille River inland to Camas Mountain and north to Whiskey Run Creek and south along the Oregon Coast to Floras Lake and Quatomah Creek. The population was divided by language into two major groups, the upper Coquille spoke Tututni, a language in the Athapaskan family, and the lower Coquille spoke Miluk, a Coosan language. Fish traps used on the lower Coquille River have been dated to at least 1,000 years ago. The Coquille people fished in the tidewaters and estuaries using fishing weirs and basket traps and collected shellfish. Some lived in simple lean-to dwellings made of cedar planks, others constructed homes on wood-frame poles out of willow frames covered with sod or grass reeds. There was no major tribal structure as is found in other portions of the country, but rather a number of small village sites, probably extended family groupings of 20-80 members, presided over by a village headman. These village sites were scattered along the banks of both sides of the river and in a few locations along the coast near the mouth of the river. Their environment provided an abundant food supply from the ocean and estuary, the river, and the land. The coastal tribes began receiving Euro-American trade goods by 1700, and first met explorers during the 1770s and 1780s when British, Spanish, and American ships explored the Oregon shoreline in search of sea otter furs and ports of trade. The first recorded European contact with the Coquille people who called themselves the Nasomah occurred in 1792 during the voyage of Captain George Vancouver. No further contact is recorded until 1826 when Alexander R. McLeod from the Hudson’s Bay Company explored the southern Oregon coast as far south as the Rogue River in search of beaver furs. During the fall and winter of 1826-1827, the Coos and Coquille were visited on several occasions by McLeod’s troupe, and soon suffered devasting losses from introduced diseases. Conflicts increased sharply as Euro-American settlers arrived and began farming and ranching which interfered with traditional land-use patterns. A ferry crossing at the mouth of the Coquille River gave rise to a small settlement in the early 1850s. In the fall of 1851, the Coquille village at the mouth of the river was attacked by soldiers from Port Orford. In 1853, the situation got worse when gold was discovered on the beach at Whiskey Run Creek and more than one thousand miners congregated in the vicinity of the boomtown called Randolph. By January 1854, conflicts between the miners and the local Coos and Coquille had escalated and the miners used this as a justification for the massacre of the Nasomah band of Coquilles. In 1856, the Coquilles along with other southern coastal tribes were rounded up by the U.S. Army and forced to march north to what later became the Siletz Reservation.

The Coquille River was a navigable link to the stands of timber in the Coast Range, but the bar at the mouth of the river was a major obstacle for ships. In 1880, Congress passed a bill funding the construction of a jetty on the south side of the river’s entrance that created a deep channel, resulting in a rapid rise in the number of ships entering the river. In 1896, the Coquille River Lighthouse was built on Rackleff Rock at the end of the Bandon spit on the north side of the river mouth. The lighthouse displayed a fourth-order Fresnel lens with an oil lamp light source that could be seen for about 12 miles (19 km) at sea. A footbridge led from the islet back to the mainland spit where the lighthouse keepers‘ dwelling, barn, and cistern were located. The rock eventually became part of the bulwark of the north jetty. In 1936, a large wildfire swept through the surrounding area and destroyed most of Bandon. The lighthouse on the opposite side of the river escaped the firestorm and the lightkeepers reputedly turned the beacon toward Bandon to help people see the escape route to the river. The town soon became bankrupt as a result of the decline in shipping. In 1939, the lighthouse was decommissioned and over the following 37 years, the condition of the structures deteriorated due to neglect and vandalism, and the lightkeepers’ house and buildings were completely removed. Bullards Beach State Park was acquired between 1962 and 1985 by purchase from various owners, including the U. S. Bureau of Land Management. Robert Bullard was an early settler and established a store and post office at the mouth of the Coquille River and operated a ferry crossing. The original 11 acres (4.5 ha) of the light station reserve were included in the park, and the state of Oregon assumed responsibility for the lighthouse. In 1976, a joint restoration effort involving Oregon State Parks and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began with roof repairs, bricks replaced, and the lighthouse received a fresh coat of paint before it was opened to the public. As part of the Bandon centennial celebration in 1991, a solar-powered light was placed in the tower. Future plans call for restoring the lantern room, placing a fourth-order Fresnel lens in the tower, repairing stucco, and installing a replica foghorn. Read more here and here. Explore more of Coquille River Light and Bandon here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2021 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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