Southern Oregon University archaeologists and students this month uncovered one of the earliest white settlements on the Oregon Coast, remnants of a small village of soldiers marooned by a shipwreck at Coos Bay in January 1852.
The wreck of the Captain Lincoln and the makeshift village created from its spars and mast, Camp Castaway, was known to historians. But the village had been lost among coastal sand dunes until found this year by archaeologists using coordinates recorded by a surveyor a decade after the wreck.
The schooner, badly leaking on a voyage from Benecia Station, Calif., to Fort Orford, was run aground on the North Spit of Coos Bay to save crew and supplies, says SOU archaeology professor Mark Tveskov, leader of the dig.
Working over a big table of artifacts from the ship, Tveskov points out square, rust-resistant copper nails, many encrusted iron ship objects, barrel bands, 69-caliber musket balls, smaller sidearm balls, percussion caps (to fire guns), glass trade beads (probably from Venice, Italy) and broken glass bottles that once held liquor and beer.
Over the coming year, the artifacts will be X-rayed, scraped and soaked to get rid of corrosion, then sorted and identified, made part of the SOU collection and displayed to the public, Tveskov says. He hopes SOU film and video students can help augment the exhibit with video and Internet elements.
The 35 soldiers aboard the Camp Lincoln were stationed in the San Francisco Bay Area and carried vital food and building supplies for Oregon's first white settlement at Fort Orford, says Tveskov. High seas barred the way into the port at Fort Orford, so the captain, Henry Stanton, let the ship go 50 miles north, where he ran it aground.
The soldiers had to stand by the supplies for four months until rescued by another schooner, the Nassau, for completion of their journey to Fort Orford.
"The ship was taking on water since they left San Francisco and had to be pumped all the way," Tveskov says. "It was in bad shape. They dismantled the schooner and built a lodge from its spars and masts."
They also created an encampment of tents made from sails.
In the 1898 book "The Pioneer History of Coos and Curry Counties," by Orvil Dodge, one of the soldiers, Henry Baldwin, writes, "The Captain Lincoln was a very old and large schooner, of about 300 tons, commanded by a veteran seaman, and about one-half laden with government army stores, such as pork, beans, hardtack and all those delicious luxuries that smell so appetizing and grace the festive tables of Uncle Sam's defenders.
"Toward the last day, the leak was gaining ... a thundering crash was heard, the doomed bark quivered and tall masts, groaning, felt the deadly wound, her deck was rent asunder," wrote Baldwin. "Neptune's flood descended ... breakers roared, water dashed and splashed, men swore." The crew were thought lost at sea, but eventually completed their supply mission to the settlers of Fort Orford.
The settlers of Fort Orford intended to supply Gold Rush settlers in Jacksonville, underestimating the rugged country through which they would have to build a wagon road, Tveskov notes. Settlers soon conflicted with coastal tribes and so the Oregon territorial governor authorized building of a fort. The settlers cozied into Oregon's first coastal town, which soon became Port Orford.
The soldiers of Camp Castaway, as the crew called it, went on to be stationed at Fort Lane near Jacksonville and fought in the Rogue Indian Wars, then the Civil War, Tveskov says. One of the Fort Orford settlers was William Packwood, later a Rogue Indian fighter, member of the Oregon Constitutional Convention and great-grandfather of U.S. Sen. Robert Packwood.
The site of the village was pinpointed by independent archaeologist Scott Byram and by John Cloud of the Bureau of Land Management, using an old Navy Coastal Survey, which had made the still-visible shipwreck a survey marker, says Tveskov, adding that the wreck washed away long ago.
The castaway crew had some interaction with the Coos Indians, and a few projectile points were found in the old village, Tveskov says.
The excavation was done by seven SOU students taking the Summer Archaeology Field School and four members of the SOU Laboratory of Anthropology.
The dig was financed by the BLM's Coos Bay District and Jordan Cove Energy Partners, with assistance from the Coquille Indian Tribe and the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians.
The wreck and village may be read about in detail in "The Pioneer History of Coos and Curry Counties," by Orvil Dodge, 1898, online at www.mailtribune.com/campcastaway.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at email@example.com.