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A different kind of mining town

Saddle up, pardners! We're headed for a town just big enough for the both of us. Oh, it's quiet and peaceful now, but keep your eyes peeled. Before we're through here, we're expecting a little gunsmoke.

In the late 1880s, Golden was home to nearly 200 gold miners of an unusual breed. When the boys got thirsty for some red-eye whiskey, they had to head for the mining camp on Grave Creek, 20 mountainous miles to the south. There were no saloons in Golden, and liquor and dancing definitely were not allowed.

That came under William Ruble's orders. He was an ordained minister and owned the land where the town was situated. He also owned a mining company in the area. Committed to his faith, he was determined to bring religion to his miners.

A town with two churches and no saloons, Golden quickly became a legend in the mining camps of Oregon.

Ruble built his wooden church in 1892 without a steeple or bell. A wandering carpenter, who traded his skills for a place to stay, added the ornate steeple a few years later.

Old-timers' tales say that the empty steeple was a sore point in a continuing feud between Ruble and Mark Davis, pastor of the other church. Because the Davis congregation met in a schoolhouse, Davis had a bell to call his faithful to Sunday services.

He supposedly told Ruble, "Bats will fly in your belfry and a bell will never hang there."

A few years later Davis was gone and the belfry finally rang with a bell.

But Golden didn't last long. Ruble moved his family to Ashland in 1901, leaving just enough people to keep the post office open until 1920. Gradually, only a few buildings remained.

The church, which had fallen into disrepair, was eventually restored, and it and the townsite were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. In 2006, the Oregon park system took over the property.

The wooden grave markers in the cemetery next to the church sadden visitors to Golden. They wonder how the names could have eroded away so quickly. In fact, no one is buried there. Even the marble stones are only commemorative markers.

In 1972, the producers of the CBS Television series, "Gunsmoke," created the cemetery to add authenticity to the season premiere of the program's 17th season.

On Sept. 18, 1972, just before 9 p.m. during the last five minutes of "The River, Part 2," Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness), steps out of the church onto the steps and congratulates a newly married Pierre, played by Jack Elam.

As the camera pulls back to reveal the entire church, we see that Hollywood has changed its mind, hiding the fake cemetery behind portable trees.

That was probably the only gunsmoke Golden ever saw. With two churches and no saloons, there weren't many gunslingers passing through and not much need for a Boot Hill. In the end, even Hollywood could figure that one out.

Bill Miller is a freelance writer living in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@yahoo.com