To hear Trixie Wortham tell it, living 100 years is no big deal.

To hear Trixie Wortham tell it, living 100 years is no big deal.

"I'm really not very interesting," says the Medford resident, who turns 100 on Wednesday. "But my grandmother, there was someone you could write a book about.

"Her name was Anne Mary White Adams Finch and she grew up in Kerby," adds the retired history teacher who has traveled the world.

Hailing from Kerby, I have a soft spot for the historic hamlet whose legacy of colorful characters makes it the Mark Twain of Oregon towns.

For those of you who are Oregon challenged, Kerby is in the Illinois Valley some two dozen miles south of Grants Pass. Founded in the early 1850s when gold was discovered on nearby Josephine Creek, the old girl was once known as Napoleon and served as the county seat in those distant days.

Wortham's great grandparents carved out a ranch on the west bank of the Illinois River across from Kerby in May of 1867. Accompanying them was Anne Mary, age 23 months.

About that time a young man named Alfred Adams, after chasing his dreams west across the plains to the California gold fields, arrived in the Waldo mining district in the Illinois Valley. When young Anne Mary came of age, she would marry the miner from Waldo.

They had five daughters, including Wortham's mother, Roxy Ann, who was named for the peak overlooking Medford. (The peak itself was named after Roxy Ann Bowen.)

"My mother was born in 1886 in Kerby where she was raised," Wortham says. "But she got married when she was 15. They married quite young in those days."

Wortham, whose first name comes from a young girl in a popular 1904 novel by Dennis H. Stovall, "Suzanne of Kerbyville," was born in Tillamook where her parents settled after leaving Kerby.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch in Kerby, Wortham's grandmother was widowed. She would later marry a miner named Jack Finch.

"But when she was widowed she was raising cattle and cooking for local miners to make ends meet," Wortham says. "Then she saw an ad in the Post Office in Kerby wanting someone to go out into the mountains to collect rare plants.

"What amazed her was that a bulb no bigger than a small potato was worth 50 cents," she adds.

That was apparently an impressive sum in the days before World War I. Finch would collect seeds from the rare Brewer's spruce and bulbs from plants like Washington and Bolanderi lilies.

And she would discover a plant growing in high altitude rock formations whose scientific name is "Lewisia finchi," named in her honor.

"I didn't get to know my grandmother that well but everything I know about her was that she was a very capable woman," says Wortham, a 1928 graduate of the University of Oregon Journalism School, followed by a master's degree in history from the university in 1933.

"We went to her place when I was about 10 years old, my mother and I," she says. "One of the things I remember was a beautiful full-length mirror in her living room.

"But I know she was tough," she adds. "She carried a gun — she needed to out there in the mountains."

She has an old newspaper clipping, now brown with age, that told of her grandmother's botanical work. Although it is undated, it indicates Finch had been collecting rare plants for 26 years, sending them throughout the United States and Europe.

"Her workroom is the remote ranges of the Siskiyou Mountains of Northern California and Southern Oregon," it reads. "Her equipment is rifle, pack horse, hunting dogs, tent, bedding, pick, shovel, ax, provisions and a knowledge of botany."

A photograph shows Finch wearing hiking clothes and high boots with two dogs of the hound variety standing guard alongside her.

But her legacy was more than botanical.

A Jan. 22, 1928, article in the Sunday Oregonian newspaper told of her successful fight to have a bridge built across the river that can be treacherous come winter.

When she was 10, two family friends drowned while trying to cross the river at Kerby with a wagon, it reads.

"Later, two more of her acquaintances were claimed by the water, then her own father lost his life in the river in front of her house," it continues.

The story, which includes a photograph of her on a horse standing on the new bridge along with several county officials, cited her perseverance is getting the span built.

"People ought to know something about our history," Wortham says. "They should also learn about the rare plants that live here. This Siskiyou area is very unique."

So are its people, particularly a tough grandmother with a love of botany and a granddaughter who lived to be 100.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or at pfattig@mailtribune.com