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George Nichols’ memories

In the spring of 1853, 1-year-old George Washington Nichols left Missouri in a prairie schooner for what must have been an uncomfortable and bumpy ride for him and his mother.

George was the sixth child of John Mead and Mercy Everett Nichols, both children of Midwestern farmers who had moved to Missouri. Eight years before deciding to “jump off” for Oregon Country, John and Mercy married.

Arriving in Oregon City in October 1853, they settled in the Willamette Valley. Already, most of the best land was claimed, so, two years later, a frustrated John decided to try the family’s luck in Southern Oregon.

On Aug. 31, 1855, he registered a 320-acre claim along a branch of Little Butte Creek northeast of today’s Eagle Point, a branch that still bears his last name.

For a nearly 4-year-old toddler, this was a paradise for George, a boy with a good memory.

He distinctly remembered soldiers coming to the area just a few weeks after the family had settled, warning that there was another war brewing with the Rogue River Indians.

In the ensuing confusion, innocent little George managed to sneak away from his mother. After a few hours of frantic searching, they found George playing with a group of Indian children, all enjoying themselves untouched by adult emotions.

Early in his life he realized how important wild game and fish were to his family’s survival. The area had an abundance of both with no game laws in existence. He remembered once seeing an Indian take 400 salmon out of the Rogue River, and a settler returning from the forest with 16 deer, all taken in a single day.

When he was 16, his father died, and George continued to help the family; raising and butchering cattle for a living and hunting far from home. There were coon hunts by torchlight and hog hunts over the manzanita-covered wilderness that would one day become the town of Medford. He later bragged to a reporter that many times he had driven oxen and cattle across fields that one day became runways for the Medford airport.

George married Eolah Bradley Dec. 4, 1873. Her family crossed the Plains in 1866 and, after one year in the Willamette Valley, they too settled in Southern Oregon, near Eagle Point. George and Eolah had six children, five girls and a son.

In 1903, they moved to Medford, and George opened a meat market with the aim “to sell first-class meat at a reasonable price.” In 1907, Charles Wilbur Ashpole, an acquaintance from Eagle Point and a friend from his cattle business days, joined him. Until 1935, Nichols & Ashpole were a meat market fixture in Medford.

In 1921, George was asked how he made his first dollar. His memory instantly became 6 years old.

“A cowman came to our house,” he said, “and stayed for a week. When he got ready to go, Pa refused to take any money for his keep, so the cowman up and gave me $2.50 for feeding his horse. … I was feeling so good with so much money that when I was playing in the straw the money dropped out.”

Searching every day, it took until the next spring to find it all — all except 50 cents.

“It’s still there,” George said, “and one of these days I am going back to look for it again.”

George was 83 when he passed away in 1935. We don’t know if he ever found that 50 cents.

Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.