A Champion monument

Named for the family of Champion and Betty Payne, the Payne Cliffs east of Phoenix now are surrounded by orchards.

Not long after Champ Payne put a ring on Betty McCollum's finger in April 1852, he and his 17-year-old bride left Missouri for Oregon.

It was a year, historians believe, when nearly 10,000 people pushed West with their ox teams, some seeking gold in California and others free land in the Oregon Territory.

Places to go

The Payne house still stands in Ashland at 508 N. Main St.

Although the Payne Cliffs, east of Phoenix, are easily visible from Interstate 5, a drive closer will not only give you a better look, it will reveal a spectacular view of the valley.

From Interstate 5, Exit 23, drive east two miles to Payne Road. Turn left, and in a few hundred feet you'll get a good view of the cliffs, or turn right onto Payne Road, and in one tenth of a mile turn left onto Steel Road. Drive to the end of the road for another view.

Remember, off the road is private property.

A Cave Junction newspaper, quoting a Payne descendent in 1984, said that this wasn't Champ's first overland trip across the plains. In 1849, when he was 17, he went in search of California gold with his older brother, James. According to the story, the brothers stayed until 1851 and returned to Missouri after making "a little bit of money."

Champion Turpin Payne and Elizabeth "Betty" McCollum were both born and grew up in Chariton County, Mo. Champ's mother died when he was 4, and his father died when he was 10. Except that Champ and Betty had married in Keystville, Champ's hometown and the county seat, little more is known about their early life.

The newlyweds arrived in the Willamette Valley on Aug. 31, 1852, and within a month they had claimed 320 acres northeast of Harrisburg.

After farming in the same location for nearly 16 years, Champ and Betty brought their seven surviving children to Jackson County and settled east of Phoenix on land beneath the rocky cliffs that still bear the family name.

The Paynes had 11 children in all, but only nine survived to see the 20th century. Their youngest was born when Elizabeth was just about 40 years old.

On the annual newspaper listing of Jackson County's affluent residents, Champ Payne was consistently ranked as one of "Our Wealthy Men," sometimes known as "Our Heaviest Taxpayers."

Their farm, with a panoramic view of the valley, was home to one of the county's earliest commercial dairies, selling milk and home-churned butter.

A 1931 Mail Tribune article remembered "Grandma Payne" as a "thorough believer in diversified farming."

Her garden was irrigated with water piped from a nearby creek in a homemade, somewhat leaky canvas hose. There were the usual assortment of farm animals and, according to the article, annual summer cattle drives to Klamath County, where the Payne's cows could feast in "luxuriant summer pastures."

In 1870, brother James and his family left Missouri and were reunited with Champ in Jackson County, living nearby until 1875, when they moved to Josephine County, east of Cave Junction. There, James helped build the Althouse Church.

Champ Payne retired from farming in the late 1890s, turning over operation of the farm to his son, Champ Jr.

In November 1900, Champ and Betty bought land on North Main Street in Ashland and began to build a house. Within a year, and after spending $600, the house was finished and the Paynes moved in. Betty remained in the house even after Champ died in February 1919. In 1923, she finally sold the house and moved in with Champ Jr. She died in April 1929 and, within days of their 77th wedding anniversary, the couple were reunited in the Phoenix Historic Cemetery.

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.

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