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'Great Flood' impacted Oregon in 1862

Rumor has it that around 1859, before Medford was anything, it rained every single day for several weeks and the water level in the Rogue Valley got so deep that the water ran clear up as high as Foothill Road is today. 

The people who lived here then were mostly in Jacksonville, and the same rumor says that they lost a lot of animals because of drowning.

— Curt K., Medford

We didn't find record of a flood in 1859, but we found plenty of information about the Great Flood of 1862, which hit western Oregon and California, and hit Southern Oregon as hard as anywhere.

The flood was decades before the Mail Tribune's time, so we took advantage of historian Ben Truwe's Southern Oregon History website, where we found transcribed articles and witness recollections of the flood, which occurred between early December, 1861, and late January, 1862.

Heavy rains first descended in the Southern Oregon area Dec. 6, an archive of the Jacksonville-based Oregon Sentinel newspaper said. The flood broke dams and claimed bridges.

In a 1902 Medford Mail article, Fred Barneburg recounted using a canoe to cross Bear Creek to get to Jacksonville for supplies, trudging through mud and water.

In late January, 1862, a more severe flood broke, flooding Jackson Creek and Bear Creek, further inundating Jacksonville, according to a Jan. 21, 1862 article from the Jacksonville Semi-Weekly Gazette. The flood destroyed a flour mill and tannery.

The Gazette article says businesses, farms and orchards were swept away in the flood, which claimed "several hundred" head of cattle, particularly near Butte and Antelope creeks. Walter Gore, only two years old at the time of the flood, still had a vivid memory of his father rescuing two fat hogs from their floating pen in the flood, a story he shared in 1936 with a Works Progress Administration archivist.

The Great Flood of 1862 impacted Oregon, Nevada and California, from the Columbia River to San Diego. It was caused by rapid snow melt and continuous rains. In California, 200,000 cattle drowned and the state went bankrupt. Evidence shows that it was after the disaster that California shifted its economy from ranching to farming.

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