Jackson County, Oregon records , 1853-1920

Overview of the Collection

Jackson County (Or.)
Jackson County, Oregon records
1853-1920 (inclusive)
43.5 linear feet, (90 containers, 89 volumes)
Collection Number
Bx 067
The Jackson County, Oregon records comprise the administrative and judicial records of the county clerk's office from 1853 to 1920. The records offer insights into the form and trajectory of the social, economic, and administrative forces that shaped southern Oregon during this period. The records illustrate the rate of migration and settlement; the pace of privatization of natural resources; the growth of U.S. legal systems; the regulation of international and native populations; and the transformation of natural landscapes. In so doing, they offer a unique perspective on the assimilation of this region and its population to U.S. standards of private property, justice, racial hierarchy, geography, democracy, and acceptable social and economic exchange.
University of Oregon Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives
UO Libraries--SCUA
1299 University of Oregon
Eugene OR
Telephone: 5413463068
Access Restrictions

Collection is open to the public. Collection must be used in Special Collections and University Archives Reading Room. Collection or parts of collection may be stored offsite. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives in advance of your visit to allow for transportation time.

Additional Reference Guides

See the Current Collection Guide for detailed description and requesting options.

Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Historical NoteReturn to Top

The Jackson County records, circa 1853 to 1917, reflect the county's unique origins and its administrative and judicial development. The Jackson County records is a digest of the County Clerk's activities and record holdings beginning around 1853, one year after the founding of Jackson County, and ending in 1920. These documents reflect county activities during the era when the city of Jacksonville was the county seat (1852-1927). The region of Oregon Territory organized as Jackson County comprised portions of modern-day Curry, Josephine, Jackson, and Klamath Counties. Thus, these documents reflect the administrative and judicial activities carried out in this vast region of southwestern Oregon.

Frontier Jackson County

Members of various Native American tribes and nations – including the Tekamah and Klamath - controlled what would become Jackson County prior to the mid-nineteenth century. Early in the nineteenth century, Hudson Bay Company employees and recently-arrived Americans tramped a well-worn path through the region as they moved between Oregon's Willamette Valley (to the north) and the California gold fields. Placer gold discoveries along the Illinois and Jackson Rivers in 1851 spurred international and Anglo American gold-seekers and farmers to rush in and to exploit the natural wealth of the valley. Within five years settlers of German, Chinese, Irish, and Anglo backgrounds had extracted $1.5 million in gold and founded the community of Jacksonville. Settlers began to establish farms and ranches in the river valleys. This invasion of miners and farmers into Indian lands precipitated tension and warfare with local nations. Federal and volunteer forces defeated and removed the Tekamah and Klamath as well as other Native Americans to Oregon reservations by 1860.

Jackson County Before and After Statehood (1855-1920)

In January of 1852 the county of Jackson was formed with the county seat in Jacksonville, and in 1853 the first county officers were appointed in Salem. The earliest Jackson County records that are part of this collection date to the March, 1855, County Court session. The first official proceedings of the Jackson District Court, dating back to 1853, were registered in the Commissioner's Journal. Jackson County grew in population and activity during the 1850s and 1860s, when recent settlers established saw mills and flour mills amid wheat farms and ranches. When Oregon became a state in 1859, county government and the court system were streamlined under the state constitution and statutory laws. County administrative and judicial duties increased apace with the growth in population. The County Clerk's office registered land transactions, collected taxes, officiated over elections, and issued licenses like those imposed on residents of Chinese, Hawaiian, and African American descent. The Clerk was also responsible for housing and preserving court documents.

The county's boom period began with the completion of the Roseburg-Ashland extension of the Oregon and California Railway, which opened in 1884. Formerly described as "a hodge-podge society," Jackson County residents decreased in ethnic and racial diversity as a result of the influx of new migrants into the region. This growth also shifted the concentration of population away from Jacksonville and towards Medford (which was situated on the main rail line). In 1927, following popular referendum, the county seat was moved to Medford.

Timeline: 1843Sufficient settlement from the United States supports the formation of the first school districts in Applegate region.1848U.S. recognized the Oregon Territory.1849California Gold Rush.1851Gold discovered in what would become Jackson County.1852California mining and civil codes applied to new settlements in the Jackson River Valley.Jan. 12, 1852Jackson County founded, seat in Jacksonville; Coos County divided from Jackson County.1853The first court of Jackson County – a U.S. District Court – convenes.June 1853First County election.1855County Clerk established in Jackson County.1856Native Americans removed to reservations (such as the Siletz & Grand Ronde).1856Josephine County formed out of part of Jackson County.1858County institutes a gold mining license only for Chinese miners.1859Oregon becomes a state.1862Blacks, mulattos, and Hawaiians included with the Chinese in licensing requirements.1884Opening of the Roseburg-Ashland extension of the Oregon and California Railway.1927Medford becomes the seat of Jackson County (moved from Jacksonville.1941Jackson County records (from the Jacksonville era) donated to the University of Oregon Library.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The Jackson County records comprise a truly remarkable collection of rare materials that document early southwestern Oregon history. The records document everyday happenings of local government in 19th-century Oregon and also offer insight into the form and trajectory of the social, economic, and administrative forces that shaped southern Oregon during this period – changes that have ramifications well beyond the era this collection documents.

The immigrants who rushed to southern Oregon river valleys in staggering number left their mark in county documents in the 1860s and 1870s when they sought legal title to mining and water claims. The significance of full legal control is illustrated by property registrations and by the sheer volume of court cases that sought to clarify property ownership. Elsewhere, the collection's Land Grant titles and tax schedules show how new settlers extracted profits from the region's natural resources through farming and livestock grazing. Indeed, late 19th century residents increasingly valued Jackson County land for its farming and grazing potential. These records show how the acquisition and exchange of real property accelerated, but they also reveal the instabilities of this livelihood. Much of the information about such property comes not just from land sales, but also from mortgages, foreclosures, and sheriff's sales of repossessed land.

On a more personal level, the Jackson County Records provide descriptive snapshots of the material conditions of southern Oregon households in the late 19th century. Documents such as tax assessment schedules, tax protests, "chattel" mortgages, and property litigation offer details on the material culture of average Jackson County households. These documents illustrate what objects were basic necessities (such as a butter churn) and what things were luxuries (such as a piano). They also lay bare the economic insecurities that characterized this period when the nation and Jackson County grappled with periods of economic depression. Residents purchased or leased goods when households could afford them, and they sold or relinquished them during economic downturn.

Scattered across this vast region, new settlers and entrepreneurs in Jackson County needed avenues of transportation. The "road petitions" subseries provides detailed documentation revealing how each successive generation surveyed, plotted, and constructed the roads and bridges of Jackson County with the intent of providing order to the region's natural geography. New or growing communities sought official county permission for roads. Petitioners donated time, money, and muscle-power to the construction and up-keep of roads and bridges – avenues that facilitated the export of agricultural products or the import of the material culture of late 19th century American life.

Settlers transformed the landscape of southern Oregon in other ways, as when they reshaped its animal populations. Although these records are less than thorough, the collection documents a change in animal populations from deer, various wild cats, and wild canines to imported domestic animals. As the human population and its livestocks grew, native wildlife seemed more troublesome and the county offered "bounties" payable for the scalps of animals deemed to be "pests." Over almost thirty years, as these "animal scalp bounties" demonstrate, Jackson County committed itself to funding the exterminating of predatory or competitor animals native to the region.

Indeed, immigration, resource extraction, agricultural pursuits, road building, and town development not only changed the face of Jackson County geography but it also permanently altered traditional economic, social, and political life for local tribes and Indian nations. This collection documents the impact of massive change on area Native Americans but the scope and range of materials are far from satisfactory. The subseries on military affairs is brief, but it illustrates the oppositional and antagonistic approach of American settlers to local Indian residents who asserted control of the same territory. As was generally the case across North America, this tension resulted in armed conflict. County administrative documents offer some glimpse of these tensions and conflicts in the drafting of local men for military service and in the provisioning and fortification of Fort Lane. These documents offer only a shadowy indication of the long-term impact that war as well as the transformation of the region had on Native Americans. Administrative documents list "Indians" among the county residents who received social welfare benefits, and cases from Justice and Circuit courts list Indian defendants who were forced to grapple with a definition of justice that American settlement brought to the region and its residents.

As immigration swelled the population of Jackson County, the need for more government to administer various avenues of growth grew apace. In addition to recording the growing privatization of natural resources, county officials participated in an expansion of local legal systems and law enforcement, in the institutionalization of social services and social controls, and in the refinement of a taxation system that might fund this growth in government services. Administrative documents on social welfare reveal the economic uncertainties that faced Jackson County residents. County residents demonstrated a consistent effort over the course of the late 19th century to support individuals and families – usually white women and children and Native Americans – who had been relegated to margins of economic security. Other county expenses – documented in the form of notes, letters, and warrants – highlight administrative growth of the county. The county clerk managed payments for everything from office supplies to judges' salaries, the boarding of prisoners, juries' fees, and educational expenses.

Jackson County records offer unique insights into the reasons why settlers sought to establish United States' law and jurisprudence in this region. First, law enforcement and the courts provided social order through the prosecution of criminal acts. Criminal cases in Jackson County's courts ranged from crimes against property (e.g. theft) to crimes against persons (e.g. rape, assault, and murder) and the volume of such cases increased along with the increases in population. Second, law enforcement and the courts established legal systems that were familiar to Americans and that applied to all residents, thus enforcing common parameters for economic and personal interaction. For example, this made the acquisition and transfer of property relatively easy for U.S. citizens. Moreover, these property owners were aware of what rights they acquired and how to protect them – as the litigation over claim jumping and the recovery of money illustrates. Third, these legal systems favored citizens of the United States. The county records offer particular evidence with reference to Chinese residents. Similar to other western states and territories, Oregon used laws and litigation to dissuade Chinese migrants from residing in the territory and state. The collection contains a handful of "Chinese licenses" – a head tax levied on these presumed non-citizens – as well as a noteworthy number of legal cases brought against Chinese residents. Finally, county courts and legal customs regulated interpersonal and even family relationships – ranging from contracts to the arbitration of conflicts. Courts and legal officials granted marriage licenses; they designated child guardianship, and they oversaw the dissolution of the estates of those who had died. Moreover, courts arbitrated family disputes that could not be resolved on their own and they presided over a significant number of divorce cases. Indeed, it is here, in court cases related to family issues and marriage contracts, that women residents of Jackson County are most visible – as they sought damages for slander or asserted their right to property and to be free of an errant spouse.

These documents also record arguably the most important administrative function the county undertook: voter registration and local elections. The Jackson County records contain a random assemblage of election returns ranging from 1857 to 1913. While incomplete, these records highlight the political persuasion of Jackson County residents in national presidential, in local elections and on ballot measures – such as the 1909 referendum on forced sterilization. Moreover, these records contain an invaluable collection of voter registration journals from early 20th-century Jackson County. These registration books offer a truly singular picture of the registered portion of the population including their residence, occupation, nativity and naturalization, age, and, occasionally, their voting history and party affiliation.

As remarkable as the precinct registration books are, they are merely one part of this unique and rare collection that traces the establishment of a familiarly American social order in this burgeoning county. The Jackson County records bring together documents that illustrate the rate of migration and settlement; the pace of privatization of natural resources; the growth of particular legal systems; the regulation of international and native populations; and the transformation of natural landscapes. Thus, these records offer a unique perspective on the assimilation of this region and its population to U.S. standards of private property, justice, racial hierarchy, geography, democracy, and acceptable social and economic exchange.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Chattel mortgages--Oregon--Jackson County
  • County government--Oregon--Jackson County--Records and correspondence
  • Court records--Oregon--Jackson County
  • Judgments, Criminal--Oregon--Jackson County
  • Land titles--Registration and transfer--Oregon--Jackson County
  • Police administration--Oregon--Jackson County
  • Public records--Oregon--Jackson County
  • Real property--Oregon--Jackson County
  • Roads--Oregon--Jackson County
  • Tax assessment--Oregon--Jackson County
  • Voting registers--Oregon--Jackson County
  • Wildlife management--Oregon--Jackson County

Corporate Names

  • Jackson County (Or.). County Clerk

Geographical Names

  • Jackson County (Or.)--Politics and government--19th century
  • Jackson County (Or.)--Politics and government--20th century
  • Jackson County (Or.)--Race relations
  • Jacksonville (Or.)