Ralph Fisk Relates Some Pioneer History
Came to Canyon With Father in 1864
After taking in the city of gold, we passed on, taking the only road out of Canyon City, east up the gulch, out of Marysville,
on to Dog Creek close to Prairie Diggins. There we made a permanent camp for the time being, later moving into Marysville.
I went to school there that winter. I and my brother herded horses for the miners that summer along with father's horses and
cattle. We got $3 a head a month. Sometimes we had 100 to 150 head to herd that belonged to the miners. Those days we had
to herd them on the range in daytime, bring them in at night, and put them in a big stockade corral right in town. The stockade
was made with a ditch dug down 3 or 4 feet and big posts or logs 10 to 12 inches in diameter set close together, extending 9 or
10 ft. high above the ground, and a big solid gate locked every night.
A.E. Starr and Birges, a partner of his, had just struck it very rich in gold right almost in the town of Marysville a few days
before we arrived, and the rush soon made it a lively little city. The bunch grass those days was just waving all over the hills
everywhere. You could stake a horse right in town in bunch grass right up to his body.
I remember the first race track made in Grant County. There was a match race made for $25 a side, distance 600 yards, shortly after
we arrived. Judges at both end, start and outcome. The track was made on the ridge west of Long Gulch and east of the cemetery. A
straight track was made. I remember there was a large crowd there, all miners. Lots of betting the day of the race took place, and
lots of gold dust changed hands. As I was a boy just 13 past, I don't remember the names of the horses or the men that made the
race. The track being only half a mile northewest of Marysville and close, most everybody from Canyon City and Marysville were there,
as it was the first sport of that kind that had been pulled off there. The little town of Marysville was then going up like weeds
in a potato patch. Rich gold strikes every day all around it in every direction. There soon was a store, blacksmith shop, saloon,
hotel, restaurant, residences, and butcher shop all running full blast, mostly built of logs as the only lumber to be had at that
time was whip-sawed, a hard process for making lumber. It wasn't long after until old man Dean erected a sawmill on the head of
Little Pine Creek, about a mile southeast of Marysville, and was running full blast. This was the first sawmill in the county.
My father, after looking over the country and situations, the new discovery of rich mines having been struck at Dixie up Dixie Creek
three miles from where Prairie City now stands, came to the conclusion that farming was just about as good as mining, and as he had to
prepare feed for his stock the coming winter, started up the river which at the time was all vacant land - all unsurveyed. A man
could take all the land he wanted, so he located enough for three claims on Strawberry Valley opposite Dixie Creek. He was the first
settler on Strawberry. My father gave it it's name, Strawberry Crk, about the last of June 1864. At that time there were just worlds
of wild strawberries grew all over the valley and pretty large ones, too, and Prairie chickens by the thousands, some sage hens, a
great many wild ducks, coyotes, grey and black wolves in great numbers, fish too many to mention.
My father, having the forethought and experience of a frontierman all his life, brought with him a couple of mowing scythes and swathes
with which he cut several ton of wild clover hay which at that time grew 3 feet high on Strawberry and worlds of it. He used to get
$60 a ton delivered in Canyon City those days. I know, as I helped haul many a ton to Canyon City myself.
The reader wants to remember that in those days the Indians with their war paint, bows and arrows and guns, were on the alert everywhere
in the surrounding country, liable to spring up any place and at any time when least expected, as they were stealing and killing all the time.
Just a few days before our train got to Canyon City, the Indians stole 100 head of horses out of a stockade corral on Dixie Creek belonging
to a man by the name of Overton. Just a half mile up Dixie Creek from where Prairie City now stands. Mr. Overton reported to the miners at
Upper Dixie immediately and a little posse of about 50 miners was got together and went in pursuit, the Indians going with the horses up the
open ridge east of Strawberry Creek - going south. The little posse of miners, with Overton in the lead, overtook the Indians just before
they reached the timber near Graham Creek, and opened fire on them. After quite a little skirmish, Mr. Overton was shot and killed. This
led the men to believe that it was useless to go further, so they put Overton on a horse, tied him and brought him back and buried him on the
side hill close to where China Joe and other chinamen were buried afterwards, as at that time there was no graveyard established here.
So the Indians got away with all that bunch of horses. A short time afterwards, at the mouth of Big Pine Creek - the Smith Bros. ranch now -
but then belonged to Poindexter and Orr, who had a lot of cattle and horses; had a big stockade corral built as I stated before, in which they
put their horses every night with 4 men sleeping around the outside of the corral or stockade. They had something like 100 head of horses in
the stockade. The Indians one night crawled up to the stockade and dug up four of the big posts and got some of the horses started out before
it was discovered. They gave a yell and this stampeded the rest and before they could be checked, about 30 or 40 head had got out and the
Indians got away with them, all going out at the head of Indian Creek toward the Malheur country. Then in 1865, there was a band of Indians
sneaked in and shot one man dead and wounded another while they were asleep in a tent about where the blacksmith stands in Prairie City at the
mouth of Dixie Creek close to the old Peffer house, and got away. A company of about 15 miners was got together and went in pursuit. The two
men were miners prospecting. My brother, Nate Fisk, was in the bunch. As they were riding along on the bottom across the river from the Smith
place where the old Susanville trail came into the river, about 11 o'clock at night, under the rimrocks, they heard what they thought was someone
coming. Being a little too dark to see, they waited until they were pretty close, and not knowing whether it was Indians or white men, gave a
challenge: "Indians or white men". It being the Indians, about 15 in number, they stampeded in every direction, followed by our men. A running
fight ensued as all they could use was their revolvers, as they were running at full speed in every direction everyone trying to overtake their
Indian, and some of them thought they wounded some of the Indians, but it being so dark they were not sure.
A short time after this I was standing in my father's dooryard on Strawberry, and just as the sun was rising, I looked to the east across Strawberry
and saw the Indians driving about 100 head of cattle off belonging to John Calbert - going up the open ridge south towards the mountains east of
Strawberry. Supposing at the time it was Calbert himself taking the cattle out to herd on the hills, until a runner was sent around telling the
cattle was stolen by the Indians. A company of 15 or 16 men were gotten together to follow them. I remember a few of their names: Wm. Axe, Tom
Meadors, Flem Deardorff, John Calbert, Aleck Rodgers, Frank Crim, Nate Fisk, John Douglas, Henry Ruggles, Web Anderson, Butt Cutt, Bob Campbell, and
several others I don't remember, started in pursuit, but by this time the Indians had gotten pretty well over the mountain by the way of the Slide
Mt. trail east of Strawberry. That was the only trail across the mountains at that end of the valley at that time. The company followed them as far
as Logan Valley and on arriving in Logan, the Indian tents or wickiups were so numerous all over the valley that the company concluded they had no
business over there with so many Indians, so they retreated in quick order without being discovered. On their way back, they found where the Indians
had killed two or three head of the cattle and butchered them to eat on the way.
My father built a log house on his strawberry ranch to live in and a big log barn to keep his horses in at night with a huge, heavy door locked and
barred from the inside and 4 to 6 men sleeping in a loft overhead to guard the horses, besides a big stockade for cattle. I remember well that when
we were hauling rails from the mountains to build the fences around the farm, we always had to have a guard go along to stand guard while we were
loading the rails or logs. He never would send any of us to the mountains without a guard along. It was dangerous to be alone those days anywhere.
It was the same with the poor prospector looking for gold. You could hear almost every day of the Indians shooting at someone somewhere close. I
believe there were a good many prospects found in different places, which was covered up by the discoverer, who was killed by the Indians and never
returned to tell the tale. Just as those two prospectors were killed on Murderer's Creek, and others who were searching for the Blue Bucket diggings
After Camp Watson was established on the mountain the other side of Rock Creek with a company of U.S. soldiers in 1865, they kept the Indians pretty
well on the alert that year. Then the Govt. ordered Camp Watson abandoned, and established Camp Logan on Strawberry in 1866, with a company of
Cavalry and a company of Infantry with Col. Otis as commander. Shortly after, a small band of Indians came down Pap Creek in the head of the valley,
and stole several head of horses. As soon as the news reached Camp Logan, Lt. Pike, with a detachment of 20 cavalry soldiers, were on their trail.
The Indians had gone up Pap Creek and at the headwaters of the North fork of the Malheur River, camped for the night. Lt. Pike, arriving on one of the
high peaks, with his field glasses saw their camp fire and, it being late in the evening, decided to wait until daylight, and not being discovered yet by
the Indians, secreted his men out of sight until close to morning. Then they sneaked down close to the Indian camp and waited for daylight. And just as
it was getting daylight, made a charge, rode right into their camp and routed them while sleeping in their blankets. They were so surprised that some
of them didn't have time to get their guns or anything else. After killing several of the Indians before they could get away, the soldiers captured
everything, their camp outfit, horses and all. Lt. Pike, seeing a gun left in camp by the Indians, picked it up by the muzzle and, hitting it around a
tree to confiscate it, it went off hitting him in the groin, wounding him badly. Some of the soldiers made a stretcher and packed him back to Camp Logan,
a distance of about 20 miles. There was about 12 to 15 Indians in the band, but few got away. The soldiers, under the leadership of Lt. Pike, did good
work. In a few days blood poison set in and Lt. Pike died at Camp Logan and was buried there with all military honors, a large crowd of private citizens
along with myself attended the funeral. My mother furnished the necktie and put it on him the day of the funeral in remembrance of the bravery and good of
Lt. Pike. Wm. Armstrong, who now lives close to Susanville on the middle fork of the John Day, was with Lt. Pike. He was the bugler on this trip and at
Camp Logan. Wm. Armstrong is the one who got the privilege from the government to dig up and reship the Lieutenant's body to the Govt. Cemetery at
Walla Walla, Washington about 34 years after.
"Yes, in the early days of Canyon City, I saw a man hanged, and I never want to see another one", said Ralph Fisk here today. "I was much interested in the
letter of R.E. Bledsoe. He mentioned a man by the name of E.H. Kane. It was Kane whom I saw hanged. This was in 1865. Kane loaned a man $200 in gold dust.
This man told Kane that he was going to 'greenback' him; that is, pay him back in greenbacks worth about 75 cents on a dollar. And he did greenback him, and
Kane shot and killed him. That was on what is known as China Alley. There was a string of saloons around there. It was in the daytime when they met, and Kane
shot him six times. He had a trial. A scaffold was erected on the south slope of the cemetery hill. Four scantling were put up and a trap door put on the
platform that was held by the scantling. I do not remember the name of the sheriff but I do remember that a man named Sullens was given $50 to spring the trap.
There was a big crowd there. I was a boy then and to this day I can see that death struggle. That was the way justice was done in those days, and it was done
without much preliminary arrangement. As a result there was very little crime. Kane said from the scaffold that he was glad he shot his man and would do it over
under the circumstances.
In the winter of '65 I went to school at Marysville. There was a woman teacher, Miss Mary Douthit. I remember when Pat Mulcare and Rub Long had a butcher shop at
Marysville. There were maybe 200 people there that winter. Tom Sewell's father was there and M.V. Thompson and Burgess. I remember seeing Starr come to town with
a gold pan heaped high with gold dust and in addition have a big panful.
When I was a boy the road between Canyon City and John Day ran down through the brush. It was all brush and Cottonwood trees, from bank to bank, and the road crossed
and recrossed the creek. Those were the days. When a fellow threw a $20 on the bar, he did not expect any change and he did not get any. Everything was free and
easy and there was very little crime.
This was along in 1863 before I came to Canyon City: It is an account of a battle the miners had with a few Indians on the headwaters of Big Pine Creek, who had sneaked
in and stolen a few head of the miners' horses near Prairie Diggings. A few miners went in pursuit. After overtaking the Indians, had quite a little battle, killing
one Indian and wounding another which they captured the next day. He had one leg shattered pretty bad. He hid in a bunch of brush and fought until he had exhausted all
his arrows. They then captured him and brought him to Canyon City where the miners took a meat saw and cut his leg off, and he got well, stayed in Canyon City all winter
by the miners. In the Spring he skipped out for the Malheur country and was never heard of anymore. He couldn't talk, or wouldn't. The miners used to try to get him to
talk but all they could get out of him was just try to repeat after them what they said.
Another time there were two desperadoes rode into Canyon City and told who they were. After getting tobacco and all ammunition they wanted, they defied their capture and
rode away unmolested. At another time before a road was made up Canyon Creek from John Day, (there was just a trail between the two places) one night a man was going from
John Day to Canyon City after dark, and he had six $20 gold pieces in his pocket, and being afraid he would meet a hold-up man, put three of the twenties in each pocket
and held them in each hand, and sure enough he saw a man step out of the brush and order him to throw up his hands to which he complied, keeping the 3 $20s in each hand.
He held his hands up straight over his head, and the highwayman after searching him and taking a dollar seventy-five cents in silver he had loose in his pockets, told him
to go on his way and not look back. So he did, and saved the six $20s that he held up in his hands.
Those days a man never knew when or what he was running up against. While A.E. Starr was in Canyon one night having a good time dancing until about 3 o'clock in the
morning, he started home and just as he got nearly to the top of the hill between Marysville and Canyon City, two men stepped out and told him to throw up his hands.
Instead of doing so he pulled a big six-shooter and went to shooting. He killed one of them and wounded the other, but he got away. Everyone packed a gun those days.
Starr went back to town and reported and gave himself up. The miners called a meeting, he was tried and exonerated as it was in self-defense. This is the way they did in those
days. Whenever two or more men got into a dispute, the miners called a meeting and appointed two good men to hear the case and they would decide which was right and which was
wrong and that was to be final. There were no lawyers or judges or juries. At that time the people were mostly law abiding citizens and got along far better under the old
laws than they do now under so many new and complicated laws that a Philadelphia lawyer himself don't understand.
As I said before, there were but few buildings in Canyon City, mostly tents but it soon grew as another saw mill was erected by Aleck McKenna up on Big Pine Creek. This was the
second sawmill built in the county. Everybody was then supplied with lumber. The main business was down on the lower street those days. The winter of 1865 was a hard one and
everything had to be brought in by pack train from The Dalles. Groceries went sky high and flour went up to 50 cents a lb. or $25 a sack of 50 lbs. Some of the minters were
almost ready to put on war paint when spring came and pack trains commenced to coming from The Dalles. The snow was very deep between Canyon City and The Dalles which had been blocked
for some time. B.C. Trowbridge was the only man that was raising vegetables to sell them days that I remember. He had to climb up over that steep hill south of John Day on up that
long ridge going to Marysville, there intersected the road going from Canyon City out by Marysville, past Prairie Diggings, on up the river to Dixie Creek where Prairie City
Old man Ingle brought the first threshing machine into the John Day country.
The first mile track for racing was built on top of a hill west of Canyon Creek where George Gundlach later had a farm. They had a good many races there and large purses were
hung, which brought a great many good horses there to compete, mostly long distance horses. Horses came from everywhere. I recall 'Old Basket' from Willamette Valley was there
with horses named "Whalebone", and "Old Doc Wilkes". 'Old Beanham' from the Big Bend had "Old Dock Linsey". Baker City had a nice Bay horse there - "Dasher". Dasher and Old
Dock Linsey ran a single dash of the mile which was the prettiest and most exciting race that I ever witnessed. Johnnie Austen rode Dock Linsey. They were both blood Bays and
looked just alike. They got an even start when the drum tapped and they ran neck and neck all the way around and came under the wire at the judges stand with Dock Linsey only
winning by 18 inches. There was lots of money changed hands on this race. There were some trotting races, also. The next mile race track was built on the hill north of McHaley
farm near Prairie City. The first race that took place was a match race, $100 a side. "Stay With 'Em Jack" by Nick Thornton, and an Indian horse from Umatilla ran. It was a single dash of
a mile and won by the Indian horse. The race was run on Christmas Day and there was a foot of snow that fell the night before.
The next mile race track was built at Mt. Vernon where they helf some good race meetings. I remember there is where I beat J.J. Cozart's blacksmith trotter stallion three five-mile
heats with "Old Applejack", a blue mountain colt my father raised. Sproul afterwards bought him and took him to California, and afterwards made the best half mile on record at that
time. And here at Mt. Vernon track was where old man Hamilton made a match race with a man from Heppner for $1,000 a side, to run 600 yards on a straight track six weeks later.
"Blue Mt. Belle" by Hamilton against a mare named "Premium", the race won by the latter, by about 6 inches. The owner of "Premium" bought Blue Mt. Belle after the race.
The next mile track was built on the Galbraith Ranch west of Prairie City. Here they had a good many races, hung some good purses. Horses came from everywhere. One 4th of July had one
$1,000 purse single-dash of mile free for all. It was won by Blue Mt. Belle. After this a mile track was built across the river south of Prairie City where the best races that were ever
run in the county took place. They held the district fair there for three years. Then the half mile track was built at John Day and the district fair and race meetings held there ever since.
Now the next race track will be on the old trail or wagonroad leading from The Dalles to Canyon City, a distance of 200 miles, when the pony express for a purse of $1,000 takes place
June 8, 9, and 10th to bring back a remembrance of the days of old and the days of gold on Canyon Creek (62 Days Celebration).