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'Golden Crown' was all in the family

The brothers Fattig dubbed it the "Golden Crown," the mining claim located not far from where gold likely was first discovered in the Oregon Territory in 1851.

The placer mine with the royal moniker was near a defunct mining camp called Sabastopol in the rugged mountains immediately west of Kerby.

Consider an article in the Feb. 10, 1934, edition of the Grants Pass Daily Courier:

"Forty nuggets taken in two days from the sluice box at the junction of Canyon and Josephine creeks six miles west of Kerby were brought to Grants Pass Friday by Paul Fattig," it began.

The fellow mentioned above was my father, born in Ashland in 1906. He later became a senior to my junior when I was born. Hey, I may be approaching geezerdom but I'm not quite that geezerly.

I've had gold on my mind since I started working on the articles in today's paper about old, abandoned gold mines. My interest is in those who toiled for the precious metal, not the shiny stuff itself. Not that I would have minded if they had found a nugget the size of a football, mind you.

But let's get back to the short story in the Courier written during the Great Depression, a lean time when gold represented serious money.

"His brother, Charles, has mined property covering about 20 acres for the last eight years with moderate success, until he made a rich find last week," the paper noted.

"One of the nuggets brought here was worth $65 and combined with the second-largest, two of the gold lumps were equal to $107," it concluded. "Beside the remaining 38 nuggets was fine gold estimated at $40."

As one of five would-be inheritors for the 40 golden nuggets, I noticed the journalist did not indicate how many ounces total. I do know that gold was selling at $35 an ounce back in the day. Of course, in today's prices of more than $1,000 an ounce, the largest nugget found by the brothers would, weighing in at nearly 2 ounces, be worth at least $2,000.

Come to think of it, that's serious money in my book today.

Alas, it's a moot point. The family fortune was apparently traded in for cash money and spent long before I and my four siblings were born.

Yet for many years, my family still had a nearly 1-ounce gold nugget taken from that drainage, possibly even from that mine. As the temporary keeper of that nugget, I remember hefting it, thinking about the lure gold has on all humanoids.

Incidentally, after being long pestered by a male family member, I reluctantly relinquished the golden heirloom to his care a little more than a decade ago. He has since given it away, doubtlessly to a lady friend now forgotten. He's a good fellow but I believe a friendly "bat rastard" is applicable in this case. It's a technical term.

In any case, you no doubt noticed the article indicated my Uncle Charles worked the area for eight years with "moderate success." Thanks to having known him and being fluent in journalese, I suspect that means the lifelong bachelor was lucky to eat once a day during that period. Even in his best years, he would have made Abraham Lincoln look like a porker.

Their mining claim was a few miles from the mouth of Josephine Creek, the site many cite as the place where gold was first discovered in the Oregon Territory. Others insist it was first found in what is now Jacksonville while some swear it was discovered initially in the Umpqua River drainage.

As one reared in Kerby and a current resident of the Jacksonville area, I'll happily settle for either the former or J'ville in terms of the discovery's significant and lasting impact. It's interesting that both were county seats when the rush was on. Fact is, Jacksonville was the largest city in the territory when we achieved statehood in 1859, even beating out a place known as "Stumptown" before it became Portland.

Suffice it to say that A.G. Walling, in his 1884 book on the history of Oregon, wrote that gold was first discovered in 1851 at the mouth of a stream a few miles down the Illinois River from what was then Kerbyville. The stream, of course, was Josephine Creek.

"The news of their discovery was immediately communicated to the numerous and populous mining camps of Northern California, and people began to move toward the new diggings in considerable numbers," Walling wrote. "This was the first mining locality discovered or worked in Oregon."

Then there are the lunker nuggets found in the Illinois Valley that have been the stuff of legend. In its Bulletin 61 published in 1968, the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries reported that the largest nugget ever found in Oregon was the 204-ouncer discovered by miner Matthew "Mattie" Collins on a placer claim in 1859 on the east fork of Althouse Creek, a tributary to the Illinois. The big boy fetched $3,500 in 1859 prices, it noted.

I'm thinking that somewhere in my handy-dandy filing system I have the deed to the Golden Crown. A pity the deed is no longer valid, what with that football-size nugget just waiting to be picked up.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.