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MailTribune.com
  • Talent’s home to long list of historic 'firsts’

  • As someone with childhood roots in Kerby, a hamlet deep in the wilds of Josephine County, I've always taken pride in that little burg's historical legacy.
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  • As someone with childhood roots in Kerby, a hamlet deep in the wilds of Josephine County, I've always taken pride in that little burg's historical legacy.
    After all, it was one of the first places in Oregon — I like to think the very first — where gold was discovered. And it was the first county seat.
    Perhaps because I've never quite been able to shed that Kerby-kid outlook on the world, I've always gravitated in my wanderings toward towns with character. Among my all-time favorites are Killarney, Ireland, and Heidelberg, Germany. The village of Chu Lai in Vietnam also offers a special charm all its own, as does Sharm el-Sheikh on the Red Sea.
    Nor can I leave out Chicken, Alaska, if for no other reason than its moniker. Its founders called it Chicken because they couldn't spell ptarmigan.
    Of course, our own Jacksonville, with its colorful legacy and well-preserved old buildings, is one of the coolest historic towns in the West.
    However, as a Sterling Creek-area resident, I am also fond of Sterlingville's legacy. That short-lived mining town no longer exists, yet we frequently find square nails and other artifacts on our property, compliments of the area's inhabitants of yesteryear.
    But longtime Talent resident Bob Casebeer is here to remind those who like towns with character not to overlook the hamlet he calls home. Indeed, the retired college professor and administrator has compiled an impressive list of Talent's historic firsts.
    For instance, he notes, the first water right in Oregon was established by Jacob Wagner on his 1853 donation land claim in Talent.
    Jackson County's first known schoolhouse was built in Talent in 1854, he reports. That would be the same year a white female was born in Fort Wagner, built on Wagner's property in 1853, making her the first to be born in the county, he says.
    There is more, including first in the region to grow wheat, peaches, grapes and walnuts, but you get the gist. Talent was a happening place, he says.
    "All these firsts kept coming to my attention, so I started making a list," says Casebeer, 81, president of the Talent Historical Society. "So far I haven't had anyone complain that I'm wrong."
    His research shows the first formal sermon given in the county occurred in late October 1853 when a wagon train, later dubbed the "preacher train," arrived at Wagner Creek. That's when a Methodist minister named William Royal, and his preacher son Fletcher, held religious services under a huge oak tree, he notes.
    "My family came through here in the preacher train in 1853," Casebeer says of his ancestors. "But they didn't stay. They went on up into Douglas County."
    Casebeer was reared in the small town of Glide on the North Umpqua River. After graduating from Glide High School — hey, Kerby used to have a high school — he went to what is now Southern Oregon University in Ashland, majoring in English. After teaching at the high school level, he taught at the Ashland college and later served as the admissions director, working at the institution of higher learning for 30 years.
    He and his family moved to Talent in 1965.
    "When I first came here, there were only about 1,500 people in town," he says. "Now there are about 7,000."
    Incidentally, the Talent post office was established 130 years ago Tuesday — on Feb. 5, 1883.
    The old town has maintained much of its heritage, thanks in no small part to the creation of the Talent Historical Society in 1994. Its museum at 105 N. Market St. is open from 1 to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
    During its formative years, Talent was known as a progressive place. Back then, the term wasn't a pejorative.
    "Jan Wright (local historian) says Talent was Ashland before Ashland was Ashland," Casebeer says with a chuckle.
    Fact is, in the fall of 1885, Talent opened its new Universal Mental Liberty Hall, which drew an overflow crowd of "freethinkers" to hear Gen. E.L. Applegate wax eloquently on the cause of mental liberty.
    The first woman elected to public office in Oregon was Leta Luke, who became the Talent city recorder in 1912, Casebeer observes. That was the same year residents elected Mayor William H. Breese, a self-described Socialist, he adds.
    "Talent was originally an agricultural community rather than a mining community like Jacksonville, although they started about the same time," he says.
    Perhaps farming gave them time to ponder things such as mental liberty. Those agricultural roots likely were the reason Talent once was known as the Eden District, albeit was ultimately named after A.P. Talent, the fellow who platted the town.
    The subject of name changes allows us to segue back to Kerby, which was once called Napoleon. According to Kerby lore, the proponent of the name was a wag who argued that "every Josephine needed a Napoleon."
    Too bad it didn't take. Napoleon has a bit more gravitas than Kerby.
    Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or pfattig@mailtribune.com.
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