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MailTribune.com
  • Nuggets of history on the Fattig homestead

  • Medford resident Myrna Turnbough Bradley isn't laying claim to the 1907 Indian head penny we unearthed last month on our Sterling Creek property south of Jacksonville.
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  • Medford resident Myrna Turnbough Bradley isn't laying claim to the 1907 Indian head penny we unearthed last month on our Sterling Creek property south of Jacksonville.
    But, as one who temporarily lived there nearly 80 years ago, she certainly would have some standing as a prior occupant.
    "Yes, you can keep it," she says with a chuckle. "I was only 11 months old when we started living there."
    That would have been the spring and summer of 1934, in the depths of the Great Depression, when they camped on the southeast corner of our 45-acre parcel. Their tent was just a tomato toss from where our vegetable garden now grows.
    "But I remember the stories my mother told me, that we lived in a tent with a wooden floor," she adds. "My playpen was a piece of plywood with a chicken wire fence around it so the rattlesnakes couldn't get me."
    Judging from the octogenarian's feistiness, a visiting buzzworm would have been soundly thrashed by the youngster.
    She and her sister Georgia Turnbough Blankenship, 78, also of Medford, are the daughters of Vernon "Bill" and Thelma Emmons Turnbough. The Turnboughs lived in Phoenix but worked their Bedrock Mine on the west side of Sterling Creek.
    "They walked back and forth over the hill from Phoenix to the mine on Sterling Creek," Myrna says. "There were a lot of miners camping along Sterling during the Depression. We were in the corner just past your gate."
    "Daddy said those were the best years of his life," Georgia offers. "His ashes are scattered out there."
    The Sterling Creek drainage — the sisters fondly refer to it simply as "Sterling" — was once rich with their ancestors.
    Their paternal uncle Harden Turnbough was born in Sterlingville and lived in nearby Gilson Gulch. Unfortunately, their father and uncle had a disagreement back in the day and never spoke to each other for the remainder of their days.
    The property to the immediate west of ours was once owned by their father's uncle, a fellow name Zeke Calhoun, who crafted jewelry when he wasn't working in the mines or making boxes for Rogue Valley orchards.
    Their grandmother Jessie Emmons lived in a small house that still stands half a mile from the mine. She owned the claim before the Turnboughs began working it around 1930. A carpenter, their father later built a small cabin on the claim.
    "They found nuggets like this above your place," Myrna says, indicating many of the nuggets found were the size of quarters. "They were huge."
    We have not found — nor looked for — any nuggets, but we have encountered some rather hefty rattlesnakes over the past decade.
    And we have found dozens of square nails, broken bottles turned purple by the sun, and other artifacts attesting to the fact miners first flocked to Sterling Creek in the early 1850s in search of gold. Our land is a quarter-mile from where the old boomtown of Sterlingville once sat.
    A few years ago, we found the top of a sun-purpled bottle on our property that was identical to an unbroken bottle found during a 2010 archaeological dig in Jacksonville. That bottle, also a light purple, was an 1870s prescription bottle, according to Southern Oregon University archaeologists leading the dig.
    Another piece of amethyst glass we discovered reads, "June 9, 1903. Portland, Oregon. Kerr Glass."
    The coloring was apparently the result of manganese originally added to the glass-making process. It was used in the 1800s until around World War I, which ended in the fall of 1918.
    Then there is the old marble I dug up when starting our garden. Known as a "doughie," the white, roughly rounded marble hailed from just after the Civil War, per an archaeologist friend.
    As for the old penny, we discovered it with a metal detector near where the Turnbough tent would have been pitched in 1934. The coin was about 3 inches below the surface, indicating it had likely been in the earth for many years.
    A quick Internet check indicated the penny had been minted in Philadelphia, but its provenance beyond that will always remain a mystery.
    Perhaps it was handed out by a Jacksonville banker to a miner as part of a cash payment for gold dredged out of Sterling Creek.
    The year it was minted, my farming grandparents moved from Ashland to the Applegate Valley. Maybe it was among the pennies that passed through their calloused hands.
    And, yes, there is a chance it could have even been dropped by the Turnboughs back in 1934.
    One fact we do know is that it is not a rare coin. In 1907, the Philly mint made 108,137,143 Indian head pennies, the most for any year since it started minting them in 1859.
    You may be able to sell it for 20 bucks today, providing the buyer was not well-versed in numismatics.
    But the real riches we've discovered are not old coins or nuggets. They are in the stories told by people who came before us, stories such as that of a baby girl whose makeshift crib was protected from rattlesnakes by chicken wire.
    Those tales are Sterling silver in my book.
    Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or pfattig@mailtribune.com.
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