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As It Was: Kay Atwood Traces Rogue River Canyon History

In the 1970s, historian Kay Atwood of Ashland, Ore., spent three years getting to know the people born in one of the most isolated regions in Southern Oregon.  In 1978 she told their story in the book titled “Illahe: The story of Settlement in the Rogue River Canyon.”

Atwood wrote, “The major portion of this forty mile stretch of the (Lower) Rogue River and surrounding country is accessible only by trail, water and a few unimproved roads.  The canyon remains an uninhabited, wild place.” 

Atwood discovered that “simple family trees became tangled webs of relationships and intermarriage, complicated by a limited number of potential marriage partners.”  For example, two early settlers accounted for eight wives and thirty children.

Atwood wrote, “The world of the Rogue River from Agness to Grave Creek is different now, carved apart by logging roads; the silence broken by power boats and airplanes … seasonal fishermen, hunters, and backpackers.  Much of the land is managed by federal agencies.  Almost no one has chosen to share the placer-miner’s heritage.”

Upon her death in May 2014, regional historian George Kramer said, “It's hard to write about Southern Oregon without citing Kay Atwood.”

Sources: Ashland Tidings, Rosebud Media, 28 May 2014, ashlandtidings.com/archive/southern-oregon-historian-writer-kay-atwood-dies. Accessed 14 May 2019; "Illahe." OSU Oregon State University, Oregon State University Press, 2011, osupress.oregonstate.edu/book/illahee/intro. Accessed 14 May 2019.

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.