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Recent encounters with cougars in Southern Oregon have made headlines. Orval Robertson, an early Rogue River guide, had his own hair-raising encounter with two of the wild cats in January 1919, while working on the Kallen [KAL-len] mine in Josephine County.

Robertson’s job was to monitor the water flowing through the mining ditch. Late one day, he hiked 7 miles to remove a stump that had slid into the ditch. Around twilight he started back to camp. Suddenly he saw the vague form of an animal on the trail ahead.

His heart stopped when he saw a long tail twitching in the snow-a cougar! After a well-aimed rock hit the cat on the nose, Robertson ran for the road to camp. Looking back, he now saw two cats following him. Screaming and waving his shovel, he rushed at them briefly before running again toward the camp. So it went for a few miles. The cats finally cornered Robertson against the powerhouse door.

Only the sudden appearance of the camp dogs saved him. The dogs quickly treed the cougars, which were then shot by Orval’s campmates.

Oregon has one recorded human death by cougar in October 2018. But if not for man’s best friend, Orval Robertson may have become the first.

Source: Robertson, Orval, “The Tail Was Twitchin’ Like a Cat’s,” (As told to Ron Nevera), In: Patchwork: Memories of the Rogue Valley. Grants Pass, Oregon: Rogue Community College, 1975. pp. 46-47; Jepsen, Don, “Bill Proposes Hound Hunting For Cougars,” Mail Tribune, March 21, 2005.

As It Was is a co-production of Jefferson Public Radio and the Southern Oregon Historical Society. As It Was stories are broadcast weekdays on Jefferson Public Radio and are available online at asitwas.org.

A Medford cat show in March 1969.