Rogue River, Gold Beach

Rogue River, Gold Beach

by | May 16, 2022

Rogue River begins at Boundary Springs at an elevation of 5,320 feet (1,622 m) near the northern edge of Mount Mazama in Crater Lake National Park and drains a watershed of 3.3 million acres (1.3 million ha) while flowing generally west for 215 miles (346 km) through the Cascade Range and the Klamath Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, about 23 miles (37 km) south-southeast of Port Orford and at Gold Beach, Oregon. The Rogue River passes through successively older geologic formations as it flows to the Pacific. Beginning among some of the youngest rocks in Oregon, the pumice deposits from the eruption of Mount Mazama that created the Crater Lake caldera about 7,700 years ago, the river then cuts into the volcanic flows that formed the Cascade Arc. Most of the present-day Cascade volcanoes are less than 2 million years old, and the highest peaks are less than 100,000 years old. The river then flows through valleys where the bedrock consists of layered marine sediments 100 to 60 million years old but these are mostly buried under thick layers of alluvium deposited by the ancestral river and its tributaries over a half million years ago. The river enters the Siskiyou Mountains and flows through some of the oldest geologic formations in Oregon, mostly metamorphic rocks that include altered volcanic flows and marine sediments originally deposited in an ocean trench. Subsequently, these sediments were lithified, folded, and pushed up against the North American continent by plate tectonics, and then intruded by magmas about 350 million to 100 million years ago. The last 10 miles (16 km) of river flows through the bedrock of the Otter Formation that formed during the Late Jurassic or about 201 million to 145 million years ago and is comprised of layered greywacke and black shales with some red and green chert and minor amounts of submarine volcanic rocks. The community of Gold Beach is mostly built on an igneous rock called serpentinite that was formed by low-temperature metamorphism of a magmatic intrusion. The bedrock along the coast is mostly buried by Quaternary dunes and beach sands.

Humans first entered the Rogue River drainage at least 8,500 years ago; however, little is known about these prehistorical people. In historical times, Southwestern Oregon was divided into linguistic groups represented by the Shasta, the Takelma, and the Athapaskans. The Athapaskans are further divided by dialects of the Chetco, Kwaishtunnetunne, Chetleshin near Pistol River, Chemetunne, Tututni, Mikonotunne, Shasta Costa, Yukichetunne of Euchre Creek, and Quotomah. The peoples inhabiting the lower Rogue River were the Shasta Costa near the confluence of the Illinois River, and the Tututni and other groups near the coast. The first recorded encounter between Europeans and coastal southwestern Oregon Natives occurred in 1792 when British explorer George Vancouver anchored off Cape Blanco, about 30 miles (48 km) north of the mouth of the Rogue River, and was visited by canoes. The first European known to reach the lower Rogue River was Hudson’s Bay Company fur trader Alexander R. McLeod, who traveled south from the Coquille River to reach the north bank in 1827. By the 1830s, episodes of conflict with the Takelma tribes led Hudson’s Bay Company fur traders to call it ‘Riviere des Coquins’, meaning ‘river of rogues’, resulting in the present-day name. In 1848, gold was discovered in California which brought overland travel from the Willamette Valley in Oregon south into the Sacramento Valley of California. With this increase in overland travel by miners, traders and travelers came an increase in hostilities between Euro-Americans and Natives. In 1851, placer gold deposits were found in the Siskiyou Mountains at Josephine Creek and soon thereafter in the Illinois and Applegate Rivers, and the main stem of the Rogue River. Within weeks, thousands of gold prospectors were searching for gold in southwest Oregon. In 1852, placer gold was found in the beach sands at the mouth of the Rogue River. Like all placer gold deposits, the concentrations of gold were not evenly distributed. Some stretches of beach were exceptionally productive, while others had only trace amounts of fine gold. The gold recovered was almost always very finely textured and found associated with black sand deposits. Conflicts between Euro-Americans and the Natives over traditional uses of the land and river led to several skirmishes called the Rogue River Wars. These conflicts escalated until early on the morning of October 8, 1855, when self-styled volunteers attacked Native people in the Rogue Valley. It ended in June 1856, with the removal of most of the Natives in southwestern Oregon to the Coast Reservation, which later became the Siletz Reservation.

A small number of pioneers, some of whom were Euro-American gold miners married to native Karuk women from the Klamath River basin, settled along the Rogue River and established gardens and orchards, kept horses, cows, and other livestock, and received occasional shipments of goods sent by pack mule over the mountains. The mouth of the river was called ‘yan-shu’-chit’ in the Tolowa language of the Athabaskan people. In 1853, settlers at the mouth of the river initially named their town Ellensburg after Sarah Ellen Tichenor, the daughter of sea captain William Tichenor, who established the neighboring coastal town of Port Orford. In 1858, Ellensburg was named county seat because Port Orford had failed to finance the construction of an adequate courthouse. On March 25, 1890, the Ellensburg postmaster changed the name of the post office to Gold Beach to avoid confusion with Ellensburg, Washington. In 1883, Elijah H. Price proposed a permanent mail route by boat up the Rogue River from Gold Beach. The Post Office Department resisted the idea for many years but in 1897, the department established a post office near the confluence of the Rogue and Illinois rivers named Agnes to serve as the mailboat route terminus. A transcription error added an extra ‘s’ and the name became Agness. Since then, mailboats based in Gold Beach have been delivering mail to Agness, one of only two rural mailboat routes remaining in the United States, the other is on the Snake River. The supply of gold eventually ran out, and the community subsisted on fishing, primarily for salmon but also steelhead trout, sea urchins, and shellfish. For thousands of years, salmon was a reliable food source for Native Americans living along the Rogue. Large salmon runs continued into the 20th century despite damage to spawning beds caused by gold mining in the 1850s and large scale commercial fishing that began shortly thereafter. Salmon fishing reached its peak in 1908, but the size of salmon runs decreased considerably, despite the construction of fish hatcheries, as a result of overfishing with drift nets, fish wheels, and gill nets, as well as poor logging practices. When commercial fishing ended on the Rogue River in 1935, the town turned to logging as its primary industry. However, during the 1980s and 1990s, the mills closed as environmental regulations, technology, and the market for timber made milling less profitable. The river was historically crossed by ferry until the Oregon State Highway Department finished building a bridge at Gold Beach. The bridge was dedicated on May 28, 1932, and named after Isaac Lee Patterson, the governor of Oregon from 1927 to 1929. Read more here and here. Explore more of the Rogue River and Gold Beach here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2022 (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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