Sixes River, Cape Blanco

Sixes River, Cape Blanco

by | Feb 21, 2022

Sixes River drains a watershed of about 85,832 acres (34,735 ha) and flows generally west for about 31 miles (50 km) through coastal forests in southwestern Oregon and enters the Pacific Ocean just north of Cape Blanco, about 19 miles (31 km) south-southwest of Bandon and 8 miles (13 km) north-northwest of Port Orford, Oregon. The watershed includes a rugged and remote region of the Klamath Mountains in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest north of Port Orford. The headwaters can be reached from a road that runs east along the river, and the estuary can be accessed through the state park at Cape Blanco. The estuary is approximately 330 acres (134 ha) and the head of the tide is about 2.5 miles (4 km) upstream from the river mouth. The origin of the name Sixes has different accounts. In 1851, the river was called the Sikhs River after the Chinook Jargon word for ‘friend’. However, a more likely source of the name is from the local Kwatami band, who were also called Sik’ses-tene’, which reputedly means ‘people by the far north country’. The spelling ‘Sixes’ was probably used by miners drawn to the Oregon gold rush. The current spelling was used as early as 1855 and published by the U.S. post office for a pioneer community in 1888. The Sixes watershed is located at the northern edge of the Klamath Mountains Province and includes rocks of Cretaceous age from the California Coast Ranges Province and Oregon Coast Range Province. Rocks from these geologic provinces have been juxtaposed by a history of plate tectonics, faulting, and deposition. East-west trending faults divide the Sixes watershed roughly in half. The southern half consists of the older Klamath Mountains rocks and Cretaceous Formations. The Klamath Mountains rocks include the metamorphosed sedimentary and volcanic rocks of the Galice Formation that have been intruded by diorites. This intrusion is the source of the gold mineralization in the watershed. The Cretaceous age rocks are Rocky Point Formation sandstones and siltstones, with Humbug Mountain Formation conglomerates and sandstones. The north half of the watershed is underlain by the Otter Point Formation, a highly disrupted and sheared mélange of mudstone, sandstone, volcanic rocks, chert, serpentinite, and blueschist. These rocks are equivalent to the Franciscan Complex of the northern California Coast Range. Scattered buttes and steep ridges are located where weathering-resistant volcanic rocks, chert, and blueschist are exposed. Tertiary age rocks of the Oregon Coast Range were deposited over the older rocks in the watershed and these younger sediments are weakly resistant to weathering, forming gentle hillslopes.

According to oral histories, the Athapaskan people of southern Oregon and northern California arrived from the north in ancient times, traveling by canoe. Linguists estimate that they arrived in the region about 700 years ago, although the archaeological record dates human occupation of the coastal areas as old as 8,000 years ago, and inland areas 11,000 years ago, presumably by more ancient people. The Athapaskans lived in the valleys on the present-day Rogue, Illinois, Coquille, and Umpqua rivers. They participated in an extensive sociopolitical trade network, and their seasonal rounds consisted of moving to temporary camps. Coastal tribes set up summer fishing camps near river mouths where they caught salmon, smelt, picked strawberries, and hunted. The Coquille people are one of the Lower Rogue River Athabascan tribes, which included the Shastacosta tribe and Tututni tribe. Smaller bands of Tututni tribe include the Kwatami, Tututunne, Mikonotunne, Chemetunne, Chetleshin, Kwaishtunnetunne, Yukichetunne, and Naltunnetunne. The Kwatami band once lived on the Sixes River and in the mid-1800s were governed by a principal chief called Hahhultalah who claimed all the country between the coast and the summit of the Coast Range, from the present-day Two Mile Creek near Bandon in the north to Humbug Mountain in the south. The first contact between the Tututni tribe and Europeans came in the late 1700s when British, Spanish and American ships explored Oregon’s coast. In the spring of 1792, some Tututni met British explorer Captain George Vancouver and later maritime fur traders bought sea otter pelts from the Tututni. With the arrival of settlers, infectious diseases were transmitted, resulting in the deaths of 75% to 90% of the Oregon Native population. In the 1840s, the first wagon trains carrying immigrants started arriving overland to Oregon but the region remained peaceful for some time. Many Athapaskan villages were situated on prime river terraces, land that was coveted by American settlers and miners. During the 1850s, the Tututni game trails and hunting grounds were destroyed by settlers clearing land for farms. The Tututni came under more pressure as settlers and miners were attracted to Port Orford after the discovery of gold in the Rogue River valley. Mining activities heightened the competition for resources and tensions between the Tututni and the Euro-Americans. Armed conflicts finally led to the Rogue River Wars of 1855-1856, in which U.S. troops, volunteer militia, and others fought against the tribes. In 1856, the Rogue River Wars ended when the Tututni and other Rogue River Indians were removed from this area, forced to settle on the Coast Indian Reservation.

In 1856, Patrick Hughes and his wife Jane O’Neil arrived from California. Hughes was reportedly attracted to the Oregon coast by gold mining on the Sixes River where he developed and ran a black sand mining operation. In 1860, Hughes began a dairy and livestock business, eventually acquiring 1,000 acres (405 ha) around Cape Blanco where, in 1898, he built a large two-story house on an elevated terrace immediately south of the Sixes River with a view of the ocean. The Hughes House still exists in Cape Blanco State Park and is a significant work of builder Pehr Johan Lindberg who was born in Sweden and settled in Port Orford in 1882. In 1870, the lighthouse at Cape Blanco was constructed and one of Hughes’s sons was an early lightkeeper there. In 1885, Charles D. McFarlin, a Cape Cod cranberry grower, came to Oregon and planted vines that he brought from Massachusetts. McFarlin was very successful in this work and took great pride in selecting the best strains of berries for propagating. The North American cranberries are a group of plants found in acidic bogs throughout cooler regions. The plants are low creeping shrubs or vines up to 7 feet (2 m) long and 2-8 inches (5-20 cm) high with slender wiry stems that have small evergreen leaves. The flowers are pollinated by bees and the fruit is a berry larger than the leaves of the plant. The berry is edible but with an acidic taste that usually overwhelms its sweetness. Historically, cranberry beds were constructed in wetlands, but today, cranberry beds are constructed in upland areas with shallow water tables. The topsoil is scraped off to form dikes around the bed perimeter. On the southern Oregon coast, commercially cultivated cranberries now account for about 7 percent of U.S. production. Cranberry cultivation in Oregon uses about 27,000 acres (11,000 ha) mostly around the coastal city of Bandon and on the terraces of the Sixes River. Read more here and here. Explore more of Sixes River and Cape Blanco here:

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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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