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Cruel and Quirky History Tidbits of Port Orford, South Oregon Coast

Published 03/16/21 at 4:20 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Cruel and the Quirky History Tidbits of Port Orford, South Oregon Coast

(Port Orford, Oregon) – Death and mayhem are often a little part of coastal history, depending on the town, and certainly quirky bits of any towns' past are found from Astoria to Brookings. Yet one town has some stand-out moments of both. (Photo courtesy Oregon State Parks and Recreation: Tseriadun State Recreation Site, Port Orford)

Port Orford has a particularly high body count at its very beginnings, and some eyebrow-raising curiosities in the mix.

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Initial contact with this part of the southern Oregon coast was quite peaceful, made in 1792 by George Vancouver. However, by the 1850s the U.S. had a bad case of the Manifest Destiny and a wrathful lust for land and gold. Any treaties with local tribes were routinely disregarded, and things came to a head quickly in proto-Port Orford when Captain William Tichenor arrived with nine men in a steamship in 1851.

The problem was they showed up with a cannon and guns, landing right at the native's seaside village – a group called the Qua-to-mah. Tichenor took off back to San Francisco, leaving the men to fend off an angry mob, and this turned into a few days of deadly skirmishes on what is now known as Battle Rock.

That famed, beautiful rock structure was the site of a horrible battle.

All the white invaders managed to sneak away one night, but Tichenor was stuck in Cali with his boat impounded due to debts. Months later, not knowing that his nine crewmen had made it alive to Portland, Tichenor arrived with 70 soldiers and massacred the locals. It was part of the beginning of a years-long war with native tribes.

Wars with natives aren't the only deadly chapters in Port Orford's history.

The J.A. Chanslor, Willapa, the T.W. Lucas and the Alaskan are all names of famous and infamous shipwrecks either right off Port Orford or around Cape Blanco. Many go back all the way to the 1850s. Not many survived most of these; the waters here are notoriously dangerous, though it does not have as many shipwrecks as up around Coos Bay.

Then there's the curiosities of Port Orford's history, including the craze of the Port Orford Meteorite.

By most accounts, the whole Port Orford Meteorite sensation started back in 1859, less than a decade after the town had been founded. It was a Dr. John Evans, a government geologist for the states of Oregon and Washington, who had been exploring the forests a ways from the southern Oregon coast town and came across this particular chunk of interest. He had sent several rock samples along with this one to scientists in New York, and a Dr. Charles Jackson there had concluded it was “like nothing of this Earth,” with a network of metals inside, including mostly iron but nine percent nickel.


South of Port Orford in the '30s, courtesy Oregon State Archives

Evans furnished as good a description of the Port Orford Meteorite location as he could derive from memory alone, but died before anyone could quiz him further. Supposedly about 40 miles east of Port Orford, many went to search for it, and by the ‘40s the Smithsonian Institute had even offered a reward. The search attracted many, including some New Age freaks who claimed to have visions of it. One high profile incident later in the century had newspapers proclaiming it had been found, even featuring pictures of a strange-looking rock. It was not the case, however.

In the early ‘90s, the publication Smithsonian Contributions to the Earth Sciences concluded the entire event was a hoax. However, it seems Evans had gotten hold of an actual meteorite – at least according to tests later run on the original specimen. They suggested not only did Evans do this for financial gain, but he was also not trained to find these things on his own.

Another oddball account that also begins in the 1850s is the legend of the Lost Gold Mine near Port Orford. It starts with a group of soldiers lost in the coast range hills on a scouting mission. As they made camp and later wandered a bit, they found a rich vein of gold near camp. They all collected samples to take with them.

Since none could go back to prospect for any gold until their service was over, one soldier marked the area by setting fire to four trees. It didn't take long for some to return and search for the gold, but they quickly found the four trees were not actually close to the gold and quartz.

For others, however, their opportunity to go back was further delayed by the Civil War. Those that went in search along with others could not find it as well.

To this day, no one has found Port Orford's Lost Mine of Gold.

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Photo courtesy enjoyportorford.com


Port Orfords Head State Park, courtesy OPRD

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Keywords: Oregon coast, Port Orford history, Bandon