A Selective Chronology of South Coast History: Origins to 1899

Many of these entries have been adapted from Nathan Douthit, A Guide to Oregon South Coast History, Oregon State University Press (1999) and Douthit, The Coos Bay Region, Coos County Historical Society (2005). Other important sources of information are Emil Peterson and Alfred Powers, A Century of Coos and Curry Coos-Curry Pioneer and Historical Association (1952), Orville Dodge, Pioneer History of Coos and Curry Counties, OR., Coos-Curry Pioneer and Historical Association (1898) and Lionel Youst, She's Tricky Like Coyote: Annie Miner Petersen, an Oregon Coast Indian Woman. Source notes within entries below reference these publications.

15,000-13,000 before present

An ice dam that blocked the Clark Fork River in western Montana, and which had created 2000 foot deep Lake Missoula, burst. Shooting out a a rate ten times the combined flow of all the rivers of the world, over 500 cubic miles of water thundered toward the Pacific Ocean with flood speeds of approximately 65 miles per hour. The ice dam eventually reformed and the flooding sequence may have occurred an additional 40 different times on an average of 50 year intervals.  Huge amounts of soil were stripped from lands east of the Cascades and deposited in the Pacific. Currents and winds eventually deposited massive amounts of sand along the South Coast from the Coos River north to the Siuslaw River, creating today's Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.

10,000 (+/-?) years bp
The earliest radiocarbon dating of human habitation on the South Coast at Indian Sands, (near Boardman State Park) indicate that a human culture developed by this date. Over the millennia, the original people here learned to deal with the climate and geography of the Oregon South Coast.

5000-4000 years bp
Radiocarbon dating of Native American artifacts from Bullards State park excavations. The picture to the left is of tools used by early Native Americans.

The earliest recorded approach by Europeans to the South Coast occurred when Spanish sea captains Juan Rodriguez and Bartolome Ferrelo explored what is now the coastline of Curry County. Cape Ferrelo is the first point of Oregon land named by the Europeans. (see Guide, p 4)

British explorer Sir Francis Drake, with his ship the Golden Hinde, took shelter in the South Cove of Cape Arago. In 1977 a commemorative plaque honoring Drake was placed at South Cove. A replica of his ship (see photo right) entered Coos Bay in 1987. (see Guide, p 115)

Spanish explorer Martin Aguilar explored the South Coast by sea and named Cape Blanco. (see Guide, p 4)

Between 9-10 a.m. on January 26th, a 9.0 earthquake rocked the west coast of the Pacific Northwest. The quake, from the fault line of the Cascadia Subduction Zone, created a tsunami that inundated the bays and sloughs of the South Coast. (see www.pnsn.org)

British Captain James Cook sailed along the Oregon coast, sighting and naming present day Cape Arago. (see Century, p 2 and Guide, p 6.)

The first known contact with South Coast Indians by coastal fur traders occurred when American Captain James Baker's Jenny entered the mouth of the Umpqua River and traded with the Natives for a period of about twelve days. (see Guide, p 6)

British Captain George Vancouver anchored his ships just south of Cape Blanco at present day Port Orford and traded with the natives. (see Century, pp 5-6 and Guide, p 7)

On February 8th, William Clark, wintering at Fort Clatsop near the Columbia with Meriwether Lewis and the Corp of Discovery, reported the existence of the "Cook-koo-oose nation". The photo of his journal entry below says: "I saw Several prisoners from this nation with the Clatsops and Kilamox, they are much fairer than the common Indians of this quarter, and do not flatten their heads." This is the first written mention of the Coos Indians by Euro-Americans. (see Guide, p 8 and Lewis and Clark journals)

Hanis Coos Indian villages at Tenmile Lake were entirely wiped out by smallpox. Some villages around Coos Bay were also depopulated. (see Tricky Like Coyote , p 8)

Hudson's Bay Company's Alexander McLeod explored from the Umpqua River region south through Coos Bay, up the South Fork of the Coquille River (Powers Valley area) to the Rogue River. He was assessing the potential for fur trade in the area. (see Century, pp 9-10 and Guide, p 8)

David Douglas, a British botanist for who the Douglas fir is named, discovered and described the myrtle tree as he found it along the Umpqua River. (see Guide, p 94)

One of America's most important explorers, Jedediah Smith, led an expedition of nineteen men and about 300 horses north from California along the beaches of the South Coast of Oregon to the Umpqua River. They were the first white Americans to travel by land through the South Coast. Due to poor relations Smith's party established with the Indians, all but Smith and two of his men were attacked and killed by the natives at current day Bolen Island at the Umpqua River. (see Century, pp 11-18 and Guide, pp 27-28)

A measles outbreak struck Indian villages on Coos Bay. Native population declined from over 2000 at its peak to about 800 by the time of white settlement in 1853. (see Tricky Like Coyote, p 9)

A party of San Franciscans called the "Klameth Exploring Expedition" established a townsite on the north spit of the Umpqua River entrance they called Umpqua City. That same year a businessman named Levi Scott established a White settlement 26 miles up the Umpqua River that was called Scottsburg.(see Guide, pp 16 and 158)

In October, a two-masted brig named "Kate Heath" became the first U.S. ship known to cross over the Coos River bar and enter Coos Bay. It had mistakenly entered Coos Bay on its way to deliver immigrants and supplies to a new white settlement on the Umpqua. Upper Hanis Coos villagers abandoned a plan to ambush the ship and destroy it when other native leaders talked them out of it.  When word reached Patrick Flanagan about the location of the ship, he followed the beach route south from the Umpqua  to Coos Bay to direct the ship north. Flanagan later decided to settle in south Coos Bay and became one of the most important pioneers of Marshfield. (see Tricky Like Coyote, p 14)

Captain William Tichenor landed a party of men at Port Orford to establish the first White coastal settlement. Later that year a skirmish with Indians occurred at nearby Battle Rock. The sketch below is from Harper's Magazine, 1856. (see Guide, pp 63-65 and also Pioneer History, pp 21-31 and also Century, pp 37-40)

In January, the Captain Lincoln wrecked on the North Spit of Coos Bay. 52 U.S. soldiers from the ship established "Camp Cast-A-Way" on the spit while awaiting rescue. They met and traded with local Indians, and explored what they called "Kowes Bay". Upon their rescue, they brought attention to the area. Miners, settlers, and merchants arrived a year later. (see Century, pp 44-45)

In May, nineteen men led by Capt. William H. Harris and P.B. Marple started the "Coose Bay Commercial Company" and established the first White settlement in Coos County on the bay, calling it Empire City (see photo below). (see Century, pp 45-48) Captain Harris was the first citizen to file a land claim at Empire City: the first land filed upon in the county under any land laws of the United States. (see Pioneer History, pp 131-132 and Tricky Like Coyote, pp 17-19). Awhile after Empire City was established, Mrs. Ester Lockhart was among the first three White women to settle in the county where she started the first school. (see Century, pp 213 and 272-273)

In July, gold was discovered at Whiskey Run beach north of the mouth of the Coquille River. A camp called Randolph was soon established there. The boom town existed only a year or two as stormy weather and heavy seas eroded the black sand beach by 1855. (see Guide, pp 112-113)

The first sawmill in Coos County, most likely to supply the Randolph miners, was built by George Wasson and partners near Bullards on the lower Coquille River. It was powered by an undershot water wheel. A small schooner was also built near Randolph to haul supplies between the mining camp and Empire City. This may have been the first boat building by Whites along the South Coast. (see Guide, pp 112-113)

J.C. Tolman from the Coose Bay Commercial Company built a cabin on upper Coos Bay at a place he called Marshfield after his old home in Massachusetts. (see Century, p 100)

Coos County was officially established by the Oregon Territorial legislature on December 22nd. Empire City is designated at the first seat of county government.

In January about 40 miners from Randolph killed at least 16 Miluk Coos Indians near the mouth of the Coquille River. (see Tricky Like Coyote, pp 21-22)

On July 3rd, the new Coos County Board designated the first official county road. "The Beach Route", as it came to be known, started at the Empire City wharf, also called "The Hollering Place".  After yelling for transportation across to the North Spit, passengers would take a horse drawn wagon up the beach, crossing the mouth of Tenmile Creek, to the Umpqua River. There passengers could get river and stage transportation inland. (see Century, pp 480-481 and Guide, pp 163-165) For several decades, beach travel was one of the few available routes across Oregon because the landscape made road and rail construction difficult. In 1913, Governor Oswald West convinced the state legislature to designate all of Oregon's beach property as public land primarily to preserve a vital north-south transportation link. He could have pointed to the precedence set by the Coos County "Beach Route".

During the summer, Joel Palmer, Superintendent of Indian Affairs of the Oregon Territory, conducted treaty talks with tribes on the south coast. Although virtually all tribes signed the treaty, it was never ratified by Congress. (see Tricky Like Coyote, pp 24-25)

The Rogue River Indian War broke out in the fall of 1855.

Henry Luse and Asa M. Simpson began operation of the first sawmills on Coos Bay by this time: Luse at Empire City and Simpson at North Bend. (see Century, p 426 and also Pioneer History, p 463)

Following the Rogue River Indian War, Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians were held temporarily at a reservation near Ft. Umpqua on the north shore of the Umpqua River. Lower Coquille Indians were removed by ship to Portland and then, in 1859, marched to the Great Coastal Reservation near Yachats. (see Guide, pp 17-18 and Tricky Like Coyote, p 42)

The brig Blanco was the first ship built on Coos Bay at North Bend. (see Century, p 106)

The first lighthouse built on the Oregon coast was constructed on the sandy south beach of the Umpqua River. However it was washed away by a storm in 1861. The current Umpqua Lighthouse, on the cliffs above the river's mouth, first flashed its light in 1894. (see Guide, p 155)

Oregon became the 33rd state on Valentines Day, February 14th.

"The Baltimore Colony", led by pioneer Dr. Henry Hermann, settled in the upper Coquille Valley near Broadbent. (see Century, pp 48-53 and Guide, p 100)

The Port Orford Meteorite was discovered by government geologist Dr. John Evans, but its location was soon "lost" when Evans died. (see Century, pp 504-505)

Coos and Lower Umpqua Indians were removed from Ft. Umpqua to Yachats Prairie on the central Oregon Coast. (see Tricky Like Coyote, pp 33-41 and Guide, p 18)

Henry Meyers platted the first town site in the Coquille River Valley and called it Meyersville. It was later called Ott and finally Myrtle Point when it was incorporated in 1887.(see CB Region, p 31)

Acknowledging the ever-growing ship traffic along the South Coast, the Cape Arago Light on Gregory Point, near Sunset Bay, began operation (see right photo). This was the first permanent lighthouse established on the Oregon Coast. (see Century, pp 119-121)

John Pershbaker established a sawmill and store at Marshfield creating a boom in that area (see Century, pp 100-101).

A huge Coos County fire burned 90,000 acres of old growth Douglas Fir in what is known thereafter as "the big burn". (see Tricky Like Coyote, p 53) The fire caused massive environmental damage. As the land was now deemed unusable for settlers, it reverted back to the state of Oregon.  As the timber regenerated, the land was established as Oregon's first State Forest in 1929.

The Coquille post office was established on July 1st. (see Century, p 119)

The Cape Blanco Lighthouse began operation. It was illuminated in 1875 (making it the longest running illuminated light) and is the most westerly lighthouse on the Oregon Coast. (see Guide, p 68)

The Marshfield post office was established. (see Century, pp 100)

T.M Vowell built a store on a farm owned by Titus B. Willard and began platting the town of Coquille. The town would be incorporated by 1885. (see CB Region, p 31)

The Coos Bay Wagon Road opened, connecting Coos County with the Roseburg and Umpqua River valley areas.(see Guide, pp 88-94)

David Wagner, his family, and other North Carolinians settled the upper south fork of the Coquille River. The Wagners built the "Pioneer House" at Powers. The same year, the Tower House in Empire City was built. These are currently the two oldest structures in Coos County. (see Century, pp 126-127 and Guide, pp 100-102 and 137)

Marshfield became the first incorporated town in Coos and Curry counties. (see Century, pp 101)

The first oyster bed on Coos Bay was planted at the mouth of South Slough by James O'Shin. (see Guide, p 130)

Master ship builder John Kruse of North Bend finished the Western Shore, a three-masted wooden clipper ship that is one of the largest tall ships ever built on the Pacific Coast. (see image above). In 1876 the Western Shore made a record run from Portland, Oregon to Liverpool, England in only 101 days. (see Century, pp 416- 417)


The federal government closed the Great Coastal Reservation. Many Coos, Umpqua, Siuslaw, and Coquille Indians drifted back to their South Coast homelands only to find White settlement everywhere.

The Southport Mine on Isthmus Slough opened. It proved to be one of the most successful mines of the region, producing coal through World War II. (see Guide, p 148) The miners lantern (right photo) is an artifact at the Coos History Museum & Maritime Collection

The first cheese production in the county was going strong on the Anson Rogers farm on the South Fork of the Coos River (see Century, p 341)

Captain Judah Parker started Parkersburg on the lower Coquille River. He built a sawmill and shipyard at the site. (see Guide, p 84)

The Bandon post office was established by George Bennett, a pioneer who had settled the area a few years earlier. The first settlement had been called Averrill but was changed to the name of Bennett's hometown in Ireland. (see Century, p 111)

Curry County's first newspaper, the Port Orford Post, was published.

Congress appropriated money for a jetty at the mouth of the Coquille River.

The settlement known as Dairyville took on the official name of Langlois after the name of an early settler and current postmaster. (see Century, p 443 and Guide, p 74.)

The first salmon cannery on the Coquille River was established near Parkersburg. It was operated by the Gatchell family. The CCHS photo to the right is labelled "A salmon catch on Coos Bay". (see Century, p 443)

The first splash dam in the Pacific Northwest was built by Charles Granholm on the North Fork of the Coos River. (see Dow Beckham, Swift Flows the River, pp 31-32) The photo to the right is of the Aasen Bros splash dam on Middle Creek, Coquille River in 1912.

Charles McFarlin introduced cranberries to Coos County. His new variety soon became a national standard. The CCHS image below shows his first bog on the South Coast located at the North Slough near current day Hauser.

Coquille was incorporated as a city. (see Century, p 119 and CB Region, p 31)

Binger Hermann, son of Baltimore Colony leader Dr. Henry Hermann who had pioneered Broadbent, began service as a U.S. Representative to Congress. He served 16 years as a Congressman and is the only Coos County citizen to ever serve in that capacity. (see www.infoplease.com)

Myrtle Point was incorporated as a city. (see Century, p 116 and CB Region, p 31)

The Louis was constructed in North Bend under the guidance of John Kruse. It was the first five-masted schooner built in the U.S. (see Century, p 411)

E. Westen laid out the town site of Riverton on the Coquille River in the fall. The post office was established the following year. (see Century, p 123)

Ellensburg became known as Gold Beach and a wagon road was completed from there to Coos County.

The "Coos County Pioneer Association" was established on November 5 at Coquille. Judge David Lowe served as first president. This was the founding of the current Coos County Historical Society, the second oldest local historical society in Oregon. Orville Dodge, the association's first secretary, printed the first written history of the region seven years later: Pioneer History of Coos and Curry Counties (see Century, pp 318-319 and Pioneer History pp iii-iv)

The town of Bandon was incorporated. (see Century, p 111)

The first electrical plant was established in the county at Marshfield.

The Sun newspaper and job printing shop opened for business on Front Street in Marshfield. It moved to its present location in 1911. When editor Jesse Luse died in 1944, it was the longest running weekly newspaper in the state. In the 1970s the Sun Printing Museum was established. (see Guide, pp 144-145)

The Coos Bay Creamery Association, later called the Coos Bay Mutual Creamery, was formed on Coos River near the Dan McIntosh Ranch. The photo below of sample milk bottle caps in Coos County is courtesy of the CCHS. (see Century, pp 342 and Coos Bay Region, p 7)

The "Coos Bay, Roseburg, and Eastern Railroad" line connected Marshfield, Coquille, and Myrtle Point....but it never made it to "Roseburg and Eastern" (see Guide, p 148). It did became an important link between north and south Coos County and the first telephone line between Myrtle Point and Marshfield was completed alongside the railroad tracks as well.

Adam Pershbaker started the town of Prosper on the lower Coquille River. The important Emil Heuckendorff shipyard was established soon thereafter. (see Guide, p 83)

The second Umpqua River Lighthouse (the present one) began operation near Winchester.

The Beaver Hill mine opened on the hillside above Beaver Slough and the northwestern end of the Coquille River valley. Dr. Everett Mingus arrived there three years later to serve as the company doctor. (see Coos Bay Region, p 5)

J.H. Timon opened a successful coal mine at Riverton. Some of the first African-Americans to move to the South Coast came to work as Riverton coal miners. (see Guide, pp 84-85)

The citizens of Coos County voted to move the seat of county government from Empire City to Coquille where it remains today. The photo seen below to the right is of the Coos County Courthouse in the 1900's. (see Century, p 119)

The Bandon Lighthouse at the mouth of the Coquille River was completed. It was the last of eight Oregon Coast lighthouses to be built. (see Guide, p 109)

Beaver Hill, an important coal mining community, was incorporated as a city on January 11th. By 1926 it was practically a ghost town and 15 of the 16 remaining voters chose to dis-incorporate the city. (see Century, pp 135-136)
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