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As It Was: Jacksonville Miner Gains Fame by Enriching Others

In 1854, James Sterling and a partner dipped a sluicing pan into Sterling Creek near Jacksonville, Ore., and captured some gold nuggets.  The two men agreed to keep their discovery secret until they could stake their claims.

Their pact didn’t last long.  Sterling’s partner revealed the secret to a friend, and Sterling, still innocently dreaming of his fortune, stopped on his way home at a local tavern for a drink.  Some say that beer loosened his tongue, and he, too, gave away the gold’s location.  The news spread quickly.  

By the time Sterling went back to stake his claim, it was too late. A crowd of eager miners, including his erstwhile partner, had staked claims up and down the creek, leaving Sterling with nothing.

Sterling never profited from the mining area that became one of the richest in Southern Oregon.  But he did get credit for discovering it.  The creek, the mine, the old town of Sterlingville, and Sterling Ditch, which brought more water into the creek for sluicing gold, are all named after James Sterling.


Works cited:  Haines, Francis D., and Vern S. Smith. Gold on Sterling Creek: A Century of Placer Mining. Medford, Ore., Gandee Printing Center, Inc., 1964; Plymale, W.J. “Discovery of Sterling Mine.” Mail Tribune [Medford, Ore.], 27 Nov., 1903, p. 1.

Sharon Bywater of Ashland, Oregon grew up in Southern California. She taught English literature and writing at Syracuse University in New York, where she also wrote and edited adult literacy books and published freelance articles in local media. Later, she lived in Washington, D.C., where she worked as an international telecommunications policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Commerce. She has Master’s degrees in English and Communications Management.