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That hungry mouse can unearth history

When you buy an old place, you buy the mysteries of history.

Consider the 1920 vintage cabin Maureen and I purchased in the Sterling Creek drainage south of Jacksonville.

For us, it was love at first sight: a picturesque old cabin, ancient fruit trees with gnarled trunks, beautiful countryside, good neighbors.

But we were also intrigued by the mystery of the lives spent on the land, lives that will become intertwined with ours over time.

We wanted to get to know the folks who left their imprint on the land. We wanted to know their dreams and aspirations, their fears and concerns.

— Did they know my paternal grandparents, who homesteaded in the Applegate Valley?

Was the rusting horse shoe now embedded in the base of the maple tree placed there on purpose?

Did the sweating blacksmith who hammered out those old pick heads we dug up long for an easier life? Judging by the heads presumably broken by hardrock miners, life for many was as hard as rock.

Obviously, the square nails and old pick heads were from the early days before the cabin was built, back when gold miners first came to the drainage in the 1850s.

Perhaps it was a miner who once pored over the good book we found. Published in 1843, The Mount of Olives is a thoughtful volume of sermons skillfully written by the Rev. James Hamilton for the National Scotch Church faithful in England.

Fortunately, the old hardback was damaged by fire, not brimstone. Hamilton's call for living a life of tolerance and compassion should be required reading today.

We've been gathering those questions and relics of the past for 18 months now. But it wasn't until turning to state-of-the-art technology that we've been able to put names to those who walked the land before us.

Although bad things tend to happen when my mouse starts nibbling away at cyberspace, I managed to successfully call up the county Web site at and find our property using the Front Counter Application.

Interesting stuff popped up, including the list of previous owners back to 1943.

There were the Pyles, who bought it in 1971 from the Tarvins. That we already knew.

What we didn't know was it had been purchased by a couple named Earl W. and Mildred E. Rogers in 1954, the folks who apparently sold it to the Tarvins in 1968.

And the Rogers bought it from William D. and Zetta Dunstan, the 1943 purchasers.

Now we were getting somewhere.

I plan to pore over old county documents not available via computer and consult the Southern Oregon Historical Society for more historic records on the property.

But I wanted to be able to talk with a living, breathing person who lived there in the early days.

Unfortunately, a quick check of our electronic morgue by my mouse at the Trib showed that Mildred Rogers died on June 27 of this year in Templeton, Calif. She was 94.

According to the obituary, she joined her husband in advocating organic gardening and had a keen interest in landscape architecture. Perhaps that accounts for the old herb garden near the cabin and the orchard.

The obituary noted they were college sweethearts, having met at Monmouth Normal School, where she graduated in 1928. Both taught in Ashland and Medford schools.

Married for 74 years, they moved south to San Luis Obispo County in California four years ago.

The obituary indicated that her husband and daughter Earline Rogers Ferrell, also of Templeton, survives. He is 96; she is 71.

After a couple of telephone calls, I reached Earline.

Yes, my parents owned that property, she confirms, then adds, But they never lived there.

Her father bought it for an investment, apparently renting it out, she explains.

Rats.

But you mentioned the Dunstans ' I knew a Bill Dunstan who lived out there, she continues.

Bill Dunstan, a student at Jacksonville High School, asked her to come out to the school to watch him and others perform The Pirates of Penzance while she was in high school, she says.

I believe Bill was an only child, she says. His parents were older. He would be about my age now if he is still alive.

Although we have had no luck unearthing a Bill Dunstan who graduated from Jacksonville High School, we have a name.

It'll give the cyberspace mouse something to nibble on.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at