Originally printed in the Feb. 5, 2003 edition of the Illinois Valley News
On January 22, 2003 Josephine County had a birthday. There was no big celebration because it has only been 147 years since the county was formed. But it is still older than the State of Oregon which will have a birthday on February 14” .It will be 144 years since the state was created. That means that in 1856 when Josephine County was created, the area was still in territory status. Josephine was the last county created during the territorial period. The next county, Baker in eastern Oregon, was formed in 1862.
To go back to the beginning, Oregon settlers organized a provisional government in 1843 and four counties were formed, however they were then called districts. The Champoeg District began where the Pudding River emptied into the Willamette River and extended south to California and east to the Rocky Mountains. In 1845 the provisional government changed the districts to counties and Champoeg District became Marion County which was to honor General Francis Marion, a Revolutionary War hero.
In 1847 the southern part of Marion County was given the name of Linn County to honor Senator Lewis Linn from Missouri who helped create the Donation Land Act which gave free land to settlers. The next step was the creation of the Oregon Territory on Aug. 14, 1848. Then the southern part of Linn County and part of Yamhill County became Lane County which extended west to the coast and south to California. This was named to honor Joseph Lane, the first territorial governor. Gold was being discovered in southern Oregon, and the gold fever brought a great population explosion to areas south of the Willamette Valley. In 1851 Umpqua County, which was later changed to Douglas, was formed from Lane County. And in 1852 Jackson County, which also extended west to the coast, was formed south of Douglas. Douglas was named for Senator Stephen Douglas who was pushing for Oregon statehood. Jacksonville and Jackson County were named for President Andrew Jackson. The coastal part of Jackson County became Coos County in 1853, named for the Coos Indian tribe and Curry County on the south end was created in 1855 and named for George Curry who was territorial governor at the time.
It was the discovery of gold in the Illinois Valley which caused the influx of miners to Waldo and the south eastern part of the valley, which was called Sailor’s Diggings. This resulted in Josephine County being formed from the western part of Jackson County on January 22, 1856. The name is unique in the state, being the only county named for a woman. Josephine Rollins was born in Morgan County, Illinois in 1833. In 1850 she, her father, Lloyd, and other family members joined a wagon train headed for California and gold. At Fort Hall on the Snake River, they changed their destination to Oregon because their oxen probably wouldn’t make it to California. They spent the winter of 1850-51 in Oregon City and headed south to California in the spring of 1851. Gold had not yet been discovered in Jacksonville or Waldo, so the Rollins party was not searching for gold. However, on reaching the Rogue River, Indians informed them of yellow metal to the west and so they came into the Illinois Valley. There they made the first discovery of gold in the valley, on what they called Josephine Creek, named for Lloyd’s daughter. Stories are recorded that Josephine made pies for the miners and sold them for one dollar apiece. She was considered the first white woman to settle in Josephine County.
They did not remain long in the area and by 1853 she was in Yreka, CA. She married Julius Ort in 1854 at Colusa, CA. A letter she wrote in 1909 from Sonoma, California is in the archives of the Oregon Historical Society, and that is the last record of Josephine Rollins Ort which I have been able to find.