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Boom Towns Lack Law and Order in Southern Oregon

Drinking, gambling, fighting and cruel practical jokes entertained miners in Southern Oregon’s boom towns of Browntown, Althouse, and Waldo.

These makeshift communities in the mountains between Grants Pass and Cave Junction popped up along a rich gold vein discovered in 1852.  Disagreements usually ended with someone getting shot, whose funeral touched off a chain of drunken fighting between armed men.  There was little order and no law in these wild places, populated with rugged men hardened by Indian fights and wilderness survival. 

As the gold rush peaked in the Illinois Valley, the demand for supplies grew.  However, suppliers were often relieved of their goods, sometimes just for sport. In one case, thieves carried off supplies brought in by a farmer distracted by the gambling tables, which started a chain of thieves stealing from thieves.

A terrified farmer lured into a saloon was accused of cheating and told he faced 10 years in jail.  A mock court convened, and after much solemn whispering and consulting of an old dictionary passing as a law book, the judge reduced the sentence to a $25 fine, the forfeit of the farmer’s produce, and a round of drinks for everyone in the saloon.

Sources: Mackey, William. "History of Old Browntown Daubed With Color." Grants Pass Courier, 3 Apr. 1935, www.jeffersonminingdistrict.com/mining/Althouse-1935.pdf. Accessed 23 Jan. 2017; "Great Gobs of Gold In Southern Oregon." Oregon Gold, edited by Edwin Waters, www.oregongold.net/?s=Browntown. Accessed 23 Jan. 2017.

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.