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Survey Confirms Rogue River Not Navigable by Steamers

An early U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report concluded that it was impossible to make the Rogue River navigable for steamers.

In early December 1878, a young Corps engineer, Philip Eastwick, arrived in Southern Oregon to make a hasty examination of the Rogue to assess its potential.  He couldn’t find a suitable boat, so he delayed his mission for 10 days while he built one.  The boat lasted about a day.  While lowering it over some rapids below Rock Point, the strong current swept it away and smashed it on a rock. 

Eastwick carried on, studying the river on foot for 45 miles to the mouth of the Illinois River.  He obtained a small boat there that took him to Ellensburgh, now called Gold Beach. 

His report provides a detailed description of the Rogue.  He tells of frothing rapids and waterfalls, water churned with great velocity through narrow channels, massive rocks obstructing waterways, and numerous gravel bars.  Along the shores he found crude miners’ cabins and occasionally a primitive farm.

Eastwick concluded that the ruggedness and forbidding character of the Rogue made “any further expenditure for improvement … unwarranted.”

Source: Atwood, Kay. Illahe, The Story of Settlement in the Rogue River Canyon. 1978 edition. Medford Ore.: Gandee Printing Center, Inc, 1978. 227-33. (Citing the U.S. Corps of Engineers Annual Report of the Chief of Engineers to the Secretary of War for the Year 1879, Part II, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1879). Print.

Lynda Demsher has been editor of a small-town weekly newspaper, a radio reporter, a daily newspaper reporter and columnist for the Redding Record Searchlight, Redding California. She is a former teacher and contributed to various non-profit organizations in Redding in the realm of public relations, ads, marketing, grant writing and photography.