As a former denizen of Kerby who is proud of his rustic roots, I periodically drag the historic hamlet kicking and screaming into this column.

As a former denizen of Kerby who is proud of his rustic roots, I periodically drag the historic hamlet kicking and screaming into this column.

And I smugly trot out the fact my ancestors arrived in the Illinois Valley nearly a century ago. My grandparents sold the Applegate Valley farm they homesteaded and moved to the Illinois Valley in 1920.

But I have been put in my proper place. A Kerbyville smackdown, if you will.

It came from Salt Lake City residents David and Lori Nuffer. Actually, they are pleasant folks not interested in one-upmanship.

Her great-great grandfather was pioneer William Jackson Matthews, an 1856-57 representative to the Oregon Territorial House. Matthews and his wife, Jerusha, lived in what was known as Kerbyville at the time. He later served as a captain in the First Oregon Cavalry Volunteers and as town marshal in Albany.

Both native Oregonians originally hailing from Portland, the Nuffers drove up to my old childhood haunt last month to check it out.

"We are trying to piece together the stories of my ancestors," she said in a telephone interview this past week. "You flesh them out with bits of information here and there."

The trip to Kerby was simply an effort to put a face on the old town, added the piano teacher.

"There was no practical reason for our trip," she said. "But we had a chance to go and be there. We wanted to picture how it must have been for those miners up in the mountains.

"We had no idea it would be such a beautiful place," she added.

"You have the hills with the flat farmland and the river with the green vegetation along it," her husband interjected. "It's a very nice place."

Incidentally, he is a federal court judge in Salt Lake City, so his judgment cannot be overruled, even though it wasn't issued from the bench.

"It was great to get a picture of where they lived and what their life must have been like," he observed.

As one whose mention of his Kerby upbringing has drawn its share of smirks over the years, I appreciate the fact that respectable folks are attracted to the tiny town. Not that there aren't plenty of upstanding Kerby dwellers already, mind you.

Yep, the little hamlet time forgot is finally getting a little well-deserved recognition.

But I have to admit her Oregon ancestry outshines mine. Best I can come up with is my maternal ancestor E.N.Cooke, who was Oregon's second state treasurer, serving from 1862 to 1870. He was the only member of the family ever elected to statewide office.

Nor do we have any federal court judges in the gene pool, although numerous family members have appeared before various judges over the past century-and-a-half.

No piano teachers either, albeit my paternal grandfather is reputed to have been quite a fiddle player in his day, playing barn dances in the Applegate.

During their visit to Southern Oregon, the Nuffers dropped in at the Jackson County Genealogy Library to gather ancestral information. When they mentioned Kerby, Chuck and the friendly JCGL crew suggested they contact me for a local Kerby connection.

"We did find W.J. Matthews in the 1860 census — he was listed as a farmer," Lori said. "We think his farm was probably down by the river."

That would be the Illinois River, where we Kerby kids fished and swam our childhoods away.

"We don't have all the details but we know that Jerusha passed away in Kerbyville in 1860," she said. "We don't know why."

What they do know, thanks to a 1991 book about Josephine County cemeteries by K.W. Phillips, is that she was buried in the Holton Creek Cemetery in Kerby. A photo of her resurrected headstone can be found in the book. Unfortunately, the little cemetery is otherwise dead to history, having been destroyed early in the 20th century.

Matthews served during the eighth regular session of the Territorial Legislature, a period from Dec. 1, 1856, to Jan. 29, 1857. It was during that session, on Dec. 18, 1856, that legislators changed the name from Kerbyville to Napoleon.

Local lore has it that the man behind the name change, Kerby pioneer Dr. D.S. Holton, was a Francophile who figured every Josephine needed a Napoleon. But the name didn't stick, and the old moniker was returned.

The incident reflects the sometimes zany, often challenging life and times that Kerby area miners, merchants and farmers experienced back in the mid-1800s.

"There had to be some crazy people to go out there in those days," Judge Nuffer observed of what drew folks to the rugged region.

Even after more than 150 years, the jury is still out on that one, your honor.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or