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Cave Junction and The Illinois Valley

D uring much of the last 5,000 years the Illinois River Valley was inhabited by a tribe of Indians known as the Takelmas. There were actually two tribes of Takelma speaking Indians. The Latgawas lived near the Cascades and along the Rogue River and the Takelmas who lived along the Illinois River. They were collectively known as the Rogue Indians. These 2 tribes were not related to other Indians in the Oregon Territory, but belonged to a speech phylum known as Penutian who had inhabited much of the Oregon Territory until approximately 1500 years ago when other tribes moved south into the region from Alaska and Canada. Life was not as easy in southern Oregon and these two tribes were much fiercer than those of the coastal regions and Willamette and Columbia river basins.

In 1792 first British sea Captain George Vancouver discovered the mouth of the Columbia River and then after meeting Captain Robert Grey of Boston sailing the Columbia Redivivia, Captain Grey sailed into the mouth of the great northwestern river. Lewis and Clark blazed a trail across the newly acquired Louisiana Territory to the coast on the other side of the continent in 1803 - 1806. Their journals and the possibility of free land and fur trade started the westward migration. In 1810, Jacob Astor, the richest man in north America at the time decided to set up a fur trading base on the Columbia and established the town of Astoria. Then in 1824 Fort Vancouver was established at the mouth of the Willamette River. Fur trapping was the major industry of this time.

kerbyJedediah Smith was probably the first white man to enter the southern Oregon Territory. While leading a company of American fur trappers 1828, after crossing the mouths of the Smith, the Rogue, and the Coquille Rivers his party was ambushed along the Umpqua River. Fifteen trappers died. He survived and with three others made it to fort Vancouver. John McLoughlin of the British Trading Company sent an armed force and retreived much of the Smith party's belongings from the Indians.

In 1830 the first wagon train set out for the Oregon Territory. They set out from Saint Louis and made it to the Oregon Territory just before winter set in. John McLoughlin of the British Trading Company sold them food and supplies or they probably wouldn't have survived their first winter. More wagons came the next year and Oregon as an American Territory became a reality.

In 1843 the Organic Act allotted 640 acres of land to every adult male settler and 160 acres per child. This started the greatest migration in human history. The Applegate family was part of the 1843 wagon train and lost three members of their family. Determined to find a safer trail three Applegate brothers blazed a trail off the northern route to California that cut off around Winamuca Nevada, went near the present day Klamath Falls over the low pass to where Ashland currently is located approximately over the Greensprings Road. Their trail then went north along the approximate route of Interstate 5 through the Willamette Valley to Oregon City. The first wagon train came to the Rogue Valley via this trail in 1846 and southern Oregon had it's first American settlers.

On August 14, 1848 Oregon officially became a United States Territory.

Old Waldo About the same time as the gold discovery in California, two sailors jumped ship in Crescent City and discovered gold just south and west of the present community of Takilma. This led to Oregon's gold rush. A settlement around the original gold strike was named Waldo. At one time around 1500 white miners and 1500 Chinese miners inhabited this settlement. This was the original county seat of Josephine County. It was later moved to Kerbyville in 1857 and then to Grants Pass in the 1880's when the railroad bypassed the valley and Grants Pass became the hub of commerce and the major urban center in the County.

In 1850 the Takelma Indians made a treaty with the whites, but with continued anxieties and hostilities they were removed from the Illinois Valley to a reservation at Table Rock in 1853. Two years later settlers from Jacksonville attacked the reservation and the Rogue Indian Wars began. The wars were as much the fault of the white settler's desire for the US Army to buy the wheat and cattle being produced by the local farmers as they were actual hostilities by the Indians. The wars only lasted until July of 1856 when Chief John finally surrendered and the surviving Indians were sent to the Siletz Reservation then later on to the Grande Ronde Reservation. For a much fuller account of the Oregon Indians read An Arrow In The Earth by Terrence O'Donnell, the Oregon Historical Society Press.

Takilma Josephine County was established as a county in the Oregon Territory on January 22, 1856. Named after Josephine Rollins, the first white woman to make this county her home. She came her with her father to mine for gold along the Illinois River.

On February 14, 1859 President Bucanan signed the act admitting Oregon as the 33rd state of the United States of America.

In 1874 while Elijah Davidson was hunting, his dog chased a bear into a cave. This discovery became an attraction and in the 1890's developers opened the caves as a commercial enterprise. In 1909 at the urging of Joaquin Miller and other influential men, President Taft declared the caves a National Monument.

Lumber production took over as the major industry after W W I I. There were reported to be over 30 saw mills in the valley at one time. Lumber production hit it's peak in the mid 1980's and has declined somewhat since then. We currently have only one lumber mill in the valley.

Cave Junction grew up at the intersection of Highway 46, leading to the Oregon Caves, and Highway 199 which connects Interstate 5 with the southern Oregon and northern Californian coasts. The city of Cave Junction was incorporated in 1948. The 1950 US Census counted 283 people. Today there are around 1300 people who live in the city and around 17,220 people in the valley being served. There is no Major Industry now. We have a diverse economy with lumber, wine, retirement, tourism, and small businesses providing much of the area's income.

Cave Junction as the major service center for the area has most every thing else most people need, not everything every one wants. There are 4 financial institutions, 2 super markets, 3 service stations, 2 auto parts stores, a feed store, a building supply, a hardware store that virtually carries almost everything, 2 drug stores, a DMV office, an eye clinic, a people clinic, and 2 of the 3 veterinary clinics in the valley, Chinese, Mexican, Italian and other restaurants, a Dairy Queen, Pizza Deli and micro-brewery.


  • Archaeology of Oregon by Melvin Aikens
  • An Arrow in the Earth by Terrence O'Donnell
  • Oregon by Judy Jewell
  • Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West by Dale L. Morgan

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