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Waves of Wanderers

It’s good to remember, when we walk in the woods and through the meadows, up the mountain and across the rivers, that we step where other feet have trod, that we are a part of the history of these mountains just as were the people who came before us. –Diana Coogle, Applegate author

The Applegate Valley was named after Lindsay Applegate, who was looking for a route to the California gold mines in the 1848. He evidently saw the mouth of the river but, curiously, there is no evidence that he actually set foot in the Applegate!

Nevertheless, the Applegate name stuck, and it’s just as well. It has an appropriately bucolic ring to it, implying fruitfulness and welcome—and two traits that well-capture the spirit of the place.

The McKee Bridge Historical Society is a great place to start your exploration of Applegate Valley history. The organization has created a comprehensive virtual museum with troves of old photos and stories of the Applegate. You can also enlist their History Trail brochure to guide a drive to renowned sites around the valley.

Below are a few significant places to get in touch with the different eras of Applegate Valley history:

Indigenous People

Although the Applegate Valley was the original homeland of the Shasta and Dakubetede, little remains of their presence. Their temporary summer dwellings of light-pole frames are long gone, as are the semi-permanent plank lodges of their winter villages.

A trained eye might be able to see evidence of their fire practices and land-tending throughout the Applegate drainage. But, for the most part, all evidence of the ‘The People of the Beautiful Valley” was erased after the white settlers initiated the Rogue River Wars in the 1850-1856.  Some of their descendants do live on today at and near the Siletz and Grande Ronde reservations

Still, there are a few significant spots you can visit and contemplate this history:

Mule Mountain is said to be named after an ammunition-toting mule that belonged to white soldiers who were attempting an attack on the local Indians. The mule purportedly fell off a cliff—with the ammo— and drown in the Applegate River.

Applegate Lake A pool just downstream of the dam is a site where the Salmon Ceremony was first returned to the Applegate River in the 1980s. This was presided over by Taowhywee, Agnes Baker Pilgrim. “Grandma Aggie” was an elder and member of the Takelma Rogue River Tribe and the Confederated Tribes of Siletz, and founding member of the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers. The event has now been moved to the Rogue River near Gold Hill.

Dragonfly Place: This monument at Cantrall Buckley Park is being developed in honor of Taowhywee, Agnes Baker Pilgrim. “Grandma Aggie” was a “voice for the voiceless” and strong advocate for clean water and Native American Rights. The site features an engraved stone tribute and a gathering area. The next phase of the project will feature native plants and a second installation will be panels containing tribal-verified information, history, traditions, stories, and art.

Acorn Woman Lake: Formerly known as “Squaw Lakes” (now considered an offensive term), this popular Applegate recreation site has been renamed “Acorn Woman Lakes” as part of a federal effort to acknowledge and pay tribute to the indigenous people who hunted and gathered at the lake in the summertime. The lake features walk-in campsites that must be reserved in advance.

“When I came to the Applegate and learned the real history of the major cultural conflicts, I felt I had to do something.  We all have a responsibility to strive for healing.”

—Janis Mohr-Tipton, Applegate community builder

Gold Seekers

In the 1850s, prospectors brought the Gold Rush north from California into the Applegate Valley. In the 1880s-90s, the industry scaled up from small-scale placer mining to large-scale hydraulic mining operations, and then it subsided for a time before surging during The Great Depression. The quest for gold still continues on a small-scale today.

Here are a few sites where you can experience the Applegate’s mining history.

Gin Lin Trail This “history hike” is named after a Chinese mining boss who, in 1881, expanded a hydraulic operation in the area called “Palmer Creek Diggings.” The one-mile loop offers interpretive signage and a viewpoint over the Applegate River. Along the way you’ll see tailing piles and hydraulic mining pipe. Gin Lin hit “pay dirt” here, depositing over a million dollars of gold at C.C. Beekman’s bank in Jacksonville.

Sterling Mine Ditch Trail This trail parallels a ditch that was hand-dug by Chinese workers in 1877 to procure water for hydraulic gold mining in the area. Some relics of that era remain — a tunnel, flume, and headgates. The trail can be accessed from seven different trailheads.

Buncom: A mining camp, supply center, post office and a stage-coach stop—Buncom has been many things. These days, it’s a historical site, ghost town and, some say, ” a state of mind.”

Logtown Cemetery: In the 1860s, this hub for miners featured stores, a meat market, hotel, church, and three saloons. It was eventually abandoned and the buildings burned, but the cemetery remains.

McKee Bridge: Copper mining had a boom in the early 1900s. This covered bridge was built to enable the transport of ore from the Blue Ledge Mine.  It is tied for the oldest covered bridge in Oregon—and also the longest and highest above the water. These days, it’s community-maintained and open to foot traffic only. On hot days, it makes for a cool summer idyll on the Applegate River. Visit the McKee Bridge Historical Society’s Virtual Museum here.

While you’re at the bridge, visit the mortared-stone picnic shelter and cookstoves built by Civilian Conservation Corps workers during The Great Depression.

“Can you imagine being the first person to mine Applegate before anyone else? It had 100,000-years of gold accumulations. You could open a crack and ounces would just fall out. ‑ Local miner Ron Skog

Timber & Ranching

A number of white settlers moved to the Applegate to ranch and farm. Small-scale logging of ponderosa and sugar pine trees was also underway to supply the needed wood for the miner’s sluice boxes, flumes and cabins.

The Applegate had a lot of small, family-owned lumber mills that supplied wood for the railroad ties in demand during the Second World War. These small mills continued through the 40s and 50s. Improvements of roads and transportation enabled larger mills to access higher elevations and stands of old growth were depleted to support the housing boom in the 1970s-80s. By the 1990s, most of the substantial stands had been logged. Those days of intensive logging are over due to legal decisions that dealt with the Endangered Species Act.

The small diameter timber that remains available today is not of much interest to large corporations, though some timber sales remain with the work being carried out by contracted loggers and truckers.

Ranching and farming also continued alongside the timber booms.

Star Ranger Station The old Star Ranger station still stands in front of the current one. The 1911 structure still contains items from the early Forest Service days.

Provolt Recreation Site: Once a seed orchard for Doug Fir timber operations, the area is now being restored as a precious bit of public access river front. The flat “River Walk Trail” parallels the riparian zone and is one mile end-to-end. Chinook salmon spawn here in October.

Plaisance Ranch:  A working ranch since 1858, Plaisance is still producing beef today. It is located in the heart of the Williams Valley, in the shadow of Greyback Mountain. The owner, Joe Ginet, is the great-grandson of one of the area’s pre-Prohibition winegrowers, and is also currently making some of the region’s best wines. The unique tasting room is located in the milk refrigeration room of the former dairy barn.

 Buy their organic, grass-fed beef direct from Plaisance Ranch, or try one of his burgers at nearby Rascals Bar & Grill, a casual joint where you’ll find locals playing pool. Plaisance burgers can also be found at The Lindsay Lodge.

Back to the Land: The Counter Culture Era

The 1970s brought a wave of counter-culture “back-to-the-landers” to the remote Applegate Valley. Many dreamed of escaping the cities and forging a new way of living close to the land.

The commune ideals were self-sufficiency, community—and good times! One commune called Molto Bene butchered their own goats and grew and made their own wine. Another, called the Laser Farm, collected genetically pure seeds to create a seed bank.

While new intentional living communities have formed since then, some of those early communes still exist today.

Trillium was started by Chant Thomas and a dozen friends in 1976 who viewed starting an intentional community as social activism. They restored historic cabins, planted gardens and orchards, and built water systems. The site has served as a community school and wilderness campus and hosted  thousands for workshops, retreats, and gatherings. Trillium continues today, though is in a period of transition.

Nativewomanshare as formerly called Womanshare from the 1970s through recent day. Womanshare was a community of lesbian women looking to escape the patriarchal system and start anew. Since 2020, the land has shifted focus to honoring Indigenous women’s community with Native-led land stewardship, art and culture.

“We are a Land-back project that honors the recent “her”-story of women on land and the even longer history of Takelma and Native women who carefully stewarded the land and waters in the Rogue Valley since time immemorial,” explains co-founder and land steward, Bianca Fox. Fox is a descendent of the Ciboney clan from the Taino.

Nativewomanshare offers Indigenous stewardship training, Native and BIPOC women and two-spirits’ gathering and retreat space, and public education in allyship. Native American and women of color are encouraged to stay updated with the event calendar. Follow on FB: Nativewomanshare,

Wine & Hemp

“Mr. Britt has successfully demonstrated the problem that a first-class quality of wine can be manufactured here.” —Oregon Sentinel, 1866

Improvements in transportation have made the Applegate Valley seem less like the far-flung locale it used to be. A new wave day-trippers, commuters, retirees, and recreationalists have populated the valley and fueled a transition from a commodity-based economy to a land of amenities like wine and other boutique agricultural products.

The newly legal status of marijuana and hemp have also left their mark. Though long grown “under-the-table” in the Applegate Valley, the plants now have a new visibility grown in the open, or behind tell-tale tall wooden fences.

This “New West” changed the ambiance of the valley with new, larger houses built higher on the hillside and luxury cars on the road alongside old farm trucks.

The Applegate’s status as wine country was  solidified in with its designation as its own American Viticultural Area (AVA), but wine has been made in the valley since the 70s. Here is where you can get in touch with Applegate’s winegrowing history:

Plaisance Ranch: During Prohibition, a local winegrower, Joseph Ginet, is said to have quietly made wine for personal use from cuttings he imported from his village in Savoie.  His vineyard was near present-day Sterling Creek Road. Today, his great-grandson tends one of the region’s premier vineyards at Plaisance Ranch in Williams.

Valley View Winery: Established in 1972, Valley View Winery kicked off the Applegate’s modern winegrowing era.  It is now managed by Ann and Frank Wisnovsky’s sons, Mike and Mark.

Troon Winery: The same year Valley View opened, Dick Troon planted Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. Troon Winery still thrives today and is modeling the future with regenerative farming techniques that are piquing interest around the world.