Indigenous peoples sustained life in southwestern Oregon for millennia before the arrival of Euro-Americans. This segment examines the region’s terrain, vegetation, and climate; the occurrence of floods and fires; what is known of the development of Native cultures; and the disintegration of those traditions in the face of sudden, destructive occupancy of the area by miners and settlers.
A Rugged & Broken Landscape:
Southwestern Oregon encompasses an area stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the High Cascades and from the California border north to the Coquille River. It includes all of Jackson, Josephine, and Curry counties. The region’s rugged landscape has shaped its human history.
Native American Culture: The Ancient Ones:
Current theory suggests a date for human entry into the Pacific Northwest at the end of the last Ice Age between 12,000 and 14,000 years ago. Recent excavations along the southern Oregon coast by Oregon State University archaeologists document settlement in this region as early as 10,430 BP.
Native American Cultures: The Takelma & Other Peoples:
In southwestern Oregon, Native people shared a similar environment and culture that centered on hunting, fishing, and gathering. By the early 1850s, the ravages of war, disease, and reservation life severely reduced the Indian population.
Fire & Flood:
Fire and floods have shaped the region in both damaging and beneficial ways. While floods have inflicted damage to built improvements, they have also rejuvenated streambed channels and fish habitat. Fire, both natural and human-caused, has long etched the mountains and valleys of southwestern Oregon.
War & Removal:
The discovery of gold in the early 1850s and subsequent Euro-American emigration devastated Indian societies. After brutal hostilities, soldiers relocated the region’s Native inhabitants to reservations in the northern part of the state. Poverty and disease took many lives and threatened to end traditional Indian cultures, but in the twentieth century, descendants of these peoples struggled from the edge of extinction to face a new era.