JACKSONVILLE — Legend often has portrayed Kanaka Flat, a multi-ethnic gold rush camp about a mile west of town, as the site of all-night revels and questionable activity. Research by a graduate student, however, suggests the camp was largely populated by men, women and children who may have had stable family lives.
"What's really interesting is dispelling the gold rush myth, the image of the wild and crazy mining camp," said Chelsea Rose, an Applegate resident who is preparing a thesis proposal for her master's degree in cultural resource management at Sonoma State University. "Everything you hear about Kanaka Flat is fights and murders. It was primarily made up of single families."
Rose dug into census records, newspapers and other official documents at the University of Oregon, the Oregon Historical Society, the Southern Oregon Historical Society and Jackson County offices for a preliminary archaeological survey. She walked the flat to look for evidence but has conducted no digs.
Kanaka Flat was named for Hawaiians who inhabited the site along with American Indians and Portuguese, all listed in census records. "Kanaka" in Hawaiian means person, human being or worker. Hawaiians moved to the flat to placer mine after gold was discovered in Jacksonville. Many came from California, some with American Indian wives, said Rose.
"Other than references to a saloon, there really wasn't a town. It was scattered units," said Rose, who has worked on other archaeological projects in Jacksonville. "It was very short lived. By the 1870s references become spotty."
An area just north of the flat had industrial activity including a railroad, brick factory and the Opp Mine early in the 20th century, said L. Scott Clay, Jacksonville's historic preservation officer. Rose was unable to find records on interaction between the flat and the industrial area, suggesting the settlement was gone by the early 1900s.
A lack of water would have discouraged agricultural development. "I don't know what they did for wells. It's always been sort of a subsistence area," said Clay.
Even the exact boundaries of the settlement are hard to pin down. Early descriptions say Kanaka Flat was located where the north and south forks of Jackson Creek meet. But it probably extended for at least a mile west of the creek junction into the area now served by Kanaka Flats Road off Highway 238. That area is flatter and broader, not confined between canyon walls.
"Jacksonville citizens refer to it as wild in the newspapers," Rose said. "It was a multi-ethnic camp. It was easy to scapegoat."
She titles a talk she gives on her findings "A Sound of Revelry All Night," a line taken from one newspaper account.
"These kinds of communities were not the ones written about in the newspaper, so daily life isn't documented. What we see is the people of Jacksonville writing about the flat," she said. Residents of the area were required to serve jury duty, pay road tax or work on roads, and to pay poll tax even though they couldn't vote. They were allowed to patent mining claims.
Census records showed that at least 50 Hawaiians lived in the area from the time gold was discovered in the 1850s until it was apparently abandoned during the 1880s as mining waned. No original buildings remain. Kanaka Flats Road was constructed during the 1950s, when scattered homes were built in the area.
Walking the flat, Rose discovered that mining activity considerably altered the environment. Older buildings may be buried under tailing piles. Ditches to guide water for sluicing have left big cuts in some areas.
One property owner told her his land may be the site of the "pest house," a lodging used during the 1869 small pox outbreak for sick people from town and elsewhere.
Rose would like to conduct digs, but they will have to wait for a future research project, she said.
Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.