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As It Was: Fort Superintendent Becomes Early Douglas County Farmer

In 1920, the journal of the Oregon Growers Co-operative Association reported (in these words), “What was perhaps the oldest apple tree in the state died the past winter near the site of old Fort Umpqua just across the river from Elkton.  This tree was probably planted about 1845 and continued bearing until last year.”

The fort’s superintendent, Jean Baptiste Gagnier, planted apples in compliance with orders from the Hudson’s Bay Company to make the outpost self-sustaining.  The fort, opened in 1836, was the company’s farthest-south outpost.  A present-day landmark sign describes the fort, closed in 1853, as a 12-foot-high stockade enclosing Gagnier’s family dwelling, some stores, “a few apple trees,” and quarters for six employees. 

Historian Jeff LaLande said Gagnier grew wheat, corn, melons, onions, and potatoes and planted an apple orchard, the “earliest such endeavors in Oregon south of the central Willamette Valley.”   A U.S. Survey team reported that in 1841 the fort had 80 acres of cropland and more than 2,000 feet of rail fence.

Gagnier is recognized today as Douglas County’s first resident farmer and merchant.
 

Sources: The Oregon Grower, vol. 2, no. 3, Oct. 1920, p. 10, books.google.com/books?id=pclNAAAAYAAJ&pg=PP178&lpg=PP178&dq=%22The+Oregon+Grower%22+fort+umpqua+apples&source=bl&ots=ukSbqet79P&sig=Q3be5rBtI_2xopTEaCvdMJSH-DE&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi-mdDGzY7. Accessed 7 Dec. 2018; LaLande, Jeff. "Fort Umpqua (HBC fort, 1836-1853)." Oregon Encyclopedia: a project of the Oregon Historical Society, Portland State University/Oregon Historical Society, 17 Mar. 2018, oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/fort_umpqua/. Accessed 7 Dec. 2018; "Fort Umpqua Landmark." Douglas County Historic Resource Inventory Oregon Inventory of Historic Properties, 1 Sept. 2002, www.co.douglas.or.us/planning/hrrc/regions/pdfs/FortUmpquaLandmark.pdf. Accessed 7 Dec. 2018.

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.