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Legacy as large as a mountain, or rather 2

With today's Our Valley issue focusing on folks who left an indelible mark on our region, a visit with native son Vernon Arnold is in order.

After all, his great-grandfather and grandfather each left legacies a mountain high in the Applegate Valley watershed.

"Not many people have mountains named after them," says the Phoenix resident. "I'm very proud of my ancestors and their legacy. I'm glad they came here in the early days."

That mountain-high legacy includes Arnold Mountain, rising to an impressive 6,642 feet in Josephine County, and Collings Mountain, standing a respectable 3,625 feet above sea level in Jackson County.

The former is named after Ezra Albert Arnold, Vernon's grandfather. The latter is the namesake of Freeman Oscar Collings, Vernon's great-grandfather, who was known by his initials, F.O.

Both mountains are in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

His grandfather was a miner; his great-grandfather a farmer. Both settlers arrived in the Applegate Valley when the state of Oregon was still in diapers.

As the former president of the Southern Oregon Historical Society, Vernon Arnold, 75, is a history buff who enjoys rooting around under his family tree.

"Maybe it's because of my long family history here, but I've always been fascinated by local history," he says.

Born in Medford, he graduated from Butte Falls High School in 1956, studied mathematics and teaching in college, earning a bachelor's degree from what is now Southern Oregon University and a master's degree from Oregon State University. He taught math in Medford schools for a decade, then began working for Rogue Federal Credit Union, becoming chief executive officer before retiring.

But he never forgot his Applegate Valley roots.

"When I was a kid, we went out to the Applegate a lot," he says. "I always looked forward to it."

His father, Melvin Arnold, was born in 1902 on the family farm in the Squaw Creek drainage.

"F.O. was basically a farmer," Vernon Arnold says. "But I did find him listed as a miner in the 1860 census in the Applegate Valley. After he got married, he farmed."

He married a Native American, who hailed from Northern California.

"I knew her," says Vernon, who met her when he was a child. "I know that F.O. was quite a bit older than her, born around 1830 in Pennsylvania. He died about 1905."

The extended family had several spreads in the upper Applegate, including one near the mountain that bears their surname. Collings Mountain is immediately west of the Applegate reservoir created more than 30 years ago.

"A lot of where my ancestors grew up is now under water," he says. "They mined in the mountains during the winter because they couldn't do any farming then."

But they buried their dead year-round.

"They had a cemetery between the house and barn," he continues. "There were 10 or 12 graves there."

Just before Applegate Dam was completed, the graves were dug up, with many of the remains transferred to the Jacksonville Cemetery.

"F.O. was buried there and moved to Jacksonville, where we already have a family plot," he says.

As for Collings Mountain, the name goes back to at least 1900, he says.

"I've gone back to turn-of-the-century maps and it was called Collings Mountain back then," he says. "The Collings family was among the earliest in the Applegate."

The Arnolds moved north from California, settling in the picturesque valley around 1865, he says.

"Ezra didn't like farming but he hiked all through those mountains looking for gold," his grandson says. "One day in 1915, he was walking along and broke open a piece of quartz that had a vein of gold in it."

The find was high on a mountain known as Lake Peak, so named because of its proximity to a small mountain lake.

"He staked a claim and they started tunneling," Vernon says. "They found some gold but they didn't strike it rich. Just enough to keep them interested."

Ezra Arnold worked the claim until he died in 1931. And Vernon's father worked it until he was 80 years old.

For three generations and nearly a century, the Arnolds have worked the claim on the mountain.

"We don't mine much anymore," he says. "It's hardrock mining, pretty tough work."

In 1998, at the urging of the family and others, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names renamed Lake Peak to reflect the Arnold family's long presence there.

The towering legacy to Ezra Arnold is about a mile north of the California border, just inside the Josephine County line.

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