Justice on the Beach

Based on an account by Edsel Colvin’s father Frank Colvin

Dennis Cunniff, Sr., was born in Ireland on March 7th, 1828. He arrived in San Francisco in 1850 and mined at the Feather and Yuba rivers and then on to the Klamath in 1852.

Four years later, in 1856, he married Margaret McAffery Graham. She was born in Ireland on October 27, 1819. She had a daughter named Lizzie Graham by her first marriage.

In 1857 they arrived in Gold Beach (then called Ellensburg) and homesteaded in the area south of Riley Creek. This included the property that is now the Curry County Fairgrounds. They built a log house and Margaret kept books for some of the miners.

Their marriage did not last long. On August 17th, 1860, they signed an agreement to live apart.

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The Woodman

Once upon a time there was a fellow who made his living in Curry County by cheating others. They say he not only sold things that didn’t belong to him but he sold them twice and left the real owner and two purchasers to argue over it. He was clever and always claimed he had bought the items from another party. Catching him was not easy. But then one day he made a mistake and sold a boat to a fellow that had gone fishing in the boat with the real owner. When the new buyer asked his fishing partner why he had sold his boat the man said he had not sold the boat. The Sheriff came and put the con man in jail.

When the judge came to the county there was a trial and the man was convicted. On the day that sentence was to be passed the judge asked him if he had ever engaged in honest work. The man told the judge that he had been a woodcutter for quite a while but it was hard work.

It just so happened that in those days the Curry County courthouse was heated with wood. The county would buy a load of logs and have them delivered in back of the courthouse to be cut into lengths and stacked inside for the winter. The judge told the man he would make him a proposition. He was going to sentence him to one year in the county jail. However, if he wanted to saw the load of wood into blocks, split the blocks and stack them inside the courthouse he could be released early. The man said he would do it.

The load of logs arrived and the man eagerly set to work sawing the logs into blocks. He started at daylight and quit when it got dark. When he had the logs cut into blocks he started splitting the blocks into lengths. He started at daylight and quit when it got dark. Everyone that walked by commented on his long hard hours. Finally, he split and stacked the last block.

The next time the judge came to Curry County he inspected the wood and had the man brought to court. There he told the man that he, along with many others, including the Sheriff himself, was impressed with what he had done in so short a time. And, the judge added, he hoped that the man had learned the value of good honest labor. The man said he had. He thanked the judge for giving him the opportunity. The judge said he was ordering the Sheriff to release him that day and wished him well. Everyone in the courtroom shook his hand. He left town the next day.

Towards the end of September it started to get chilly and the janitor at the courthouse decided it was time to start up the wood furnace. Try as he might, he could not get the split wood into the fire box. Upon close examination it was determined that the prisoner had cut every block exactly 2″ too long . Mistake? Maybe not. …Bill Wallace

The Lost City

On September 8, 1881, the Port Orford Post ran the following story….

“There have recently been discovered near Floras Creek in this county, what appear to be the ruins of an ancient city, built of cut stone. The site of the numerous buildings of the ages gone by are indicated by mounds, in and under which, by making excavations, are found masses of cut stone, bearing quite plainly the marks of the stone cutter’s chisel, and lying as if the wall had tumbled down.

These relics of ancient masonry were first unearthed to view by the storm uprooting a large tree which had grown up on one of these mound-like elevations. Thus the blocks of sand stone were exposed to view, and thus curiosity excited which led to the prospecting of other mounds (of which there are many) in the same locality, in all of which the phenomena were present. Further explorations will be made with a view to throwing more light if possible on this curious spectacle.

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The Vault

by Howard Newhouse

Wedderburn Store - Curry Historical Society

It was a calm, dog day, just after school started in 1944, when this 16 year old lad hiked down the hill from his home in Wedderburn to the Wedderburn Store. My dad, Sewell Newhouse, had an office located in the west end of the old building which had been built by Hume in 1895. When Saturday weather was good it meant we were going surveying, just like we had been doing all summer. School had not separated me from work. Especially when the weather was good and I was available. I’d been at surveying long enough to know that the first order of business was to gas up the 1938 Oldsmobile, so I backed it up to the old glass reservoir pump in front of the store and went in to tell Bud Goudy what I was going to do. He nodded his head in approval and went about his business filling out grocery orders for delivery up the Rogue River in Bob Elliot’s old Rogue River mail boat. I managed to get the whole 10 gallons down the fill pipe and went back in the store and told Bud. He reached for dad’s account and duly noted the purchase. Then I went into the office and into the large back room where the bulk Montgomery Ward oil was stored. The Oldsmobile always consumed a quart of oil per day unless you drove clear out of Curry County, which was seldom.

After a short discussion with dad on what was needed for the day I went on back to the ante room where Hume’s old vault held everything of value, including dad’s transit. We never locked the vault door, for things were only kept there for fire protection. I tried the handle and sure enough, the vault was somehow locked. We were already running late so I was uneasy about going out front and telling dad about the vault door been somehow locked, but I did. After a few words, which I didn’t hear very often, he went over to his desk and rummaged around the papers until he found one of Wakeman’s myrtlewood ash trays. When he turned it over it revealed the combination to the vault. He gave me the combination with instructions to open the damn vault and to get going. I had tried the combination about three or four times when he came into the room. I couldn’t make the combination work. Dad tried it two or three times and had no better luck. He now seriously questioned me on what I had done the last time I put the transit away. I pleaded innocent of tampering with the combination, and that was the truth. I didn’t mention trying to slam the door which never worked anyway since the vault was air tight. That settled the surveying project for the day so I was released to go home and stack wood.

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The Lost Mine of Nugget Tom

In 1871 “Nugget Tom” had a small gold claim in Star Gulch near the headwaters of the Sixes River in Curry County. For a long time he had been wondering if there wasn’t a ledge up above him that all his placer gold had come from. If there was, and he could find it, he would be a rich man, indeed. The only drawback that presented itself, was age. Nugget Tom was getting a little long in the tooth, and mountain climbing in one of the wildest and steepest areas in the Oregon Mountains was a chore he wasn’t quite up to.

Nevertheless, late in the fall of 1871, Tom packed his gold pan, pick, shovel and enough food for a week and made his way slowly up Star mountain at the head of Star Gulch. It was a long and hard job. He hammered and pecked at each favorable looking outcropping. Evening found him high on a lonely mountainside, where he made a dry camp.

The next morning dawned bright and clear, but Nugget Tom didn’t feel quite right. He wasn’t tired, he had slept well as he always did in the mountains, but he didn’t feel right. He had an uneasy feeling that someone or something was watching him. He kept on hammering and pecking along, but every so often he would whirl and look to see if anyone was behind him. He would carefully eye the bushes and other areas of concealment, but he never saw anyone. Tom laughed, and shook his head. He must be just getting spooky. He climbed for a spell and started hammering again. His hammer knocked off a piece of quartz that took his breath away. It was rich with free gold. He knocked off several more pieces and stowed them in his packsack. He felt great, but he still whirled around and looked behind him, for the uneasy feeling wouldn’t go away. He continued to look carefully all around him as he made his way back down the mountain towards his cabin. Tom took a break and sat for a spell. He tried to get ahold of himself and the feeling that he was being watched.

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Arch Rock

A Tradition Tale From Curry County Echoes: Volumn 1 1973-1974

Arch Rock is located approximately thirteen miles south of Gold Beach and one quarter miles from shore. Its prominence has made it a hallmark of Curry County, and it appears on the letterhead and on contemporary county stationery.

The Tolowa Indian tribe in Northern California and southern Oregon used Arch Rock for many of their celebrations. Some of their dances began on the mainland and ended out on the rock.

Coyote plays an important part in many Indian legends. He taught ingenuity, craft and pride, and explained the unexplainable.

COYOTE, BEAVER, BEAR, PANTHER, RACCOON and all the animals joined the People at an important dance. When the sun lay down to sleep, canoes carried everyone to the rock where they continued to dance. As they danced, they sang, except for Coyote, who couldn’t sing and wouldn’t try. The others began to chide him, but being very smart, he quickly went and found two crickets and fastened them behind his ears.

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The Shootout

Stay Away From Her, Or Else! *

Bayview Hotel - Circa 1900. Curry Historical Society.

During the early part of August, 1896, H. W. Fountain, a sewing machine salesman, left Marshfield, Oregon and headed south. He arrived in Wedderburn-Gold Beach and tried to sell some sewing machines before heading on to Crescent City, California. He only intended to stay a few days but he got involved in things other than business. Grant Baxter lived in the area and he thought that May Smith was his one and only, although she apparently did not feel the same way about him. When Baxter heard that Fountain had been visiting May Smith, he got very upset. On Friday night he informed May that if Fountain came to see her again he would kill him. 

The next night the trouble began. Fountain had been out to Alf Miller’s house and picked up his oars to row across the river to Gold Beach. When he got near the Bayview Hotel** he met Baxter and the conversation immediately heated up. Baxter warned Fountain to stay away from May Smith, but Fountain figured it was none of Baxter’s business and told him so. Fountain was armed at the time and ready for trouble if it happened.

Baxter said, “I’ll see you again.” Fountain went across the river, where he told several people that he had been threatened by Baxter. Baxter went into the Bayview and talked the matter over with some others there. He told them that if Fountain did not stay away from May he would do him in. He then borrowed a pistol from a fellow, telling him that he wanted to do a little target practicing. The owner took the pistol back the next morning but Baxter borrowed it again. A little while later, E. A. Bean was getting a shave from Baxter and Baxter told him of the trouble he was having with Fountain. Baxter patted his pants pocket that showed the outline of a pistol, and told Bean that he was ready for Fountain. Later on Baxter obtained some cartridges from Dave Carey. He reloaded the pistol and placed it in his front, right hand pocket. That morning he visited May Smith. Now he had the pistol tucked in the band of his trousers in front and he told her it was for Fountain. He said he was ready for Fountain and would do him in.

Just after lunch the following day, Charles Leon had Baxter cut his hair. He noticed the pistol in Baxter’s pocket. He felt of the pistol and asked, jokingly, if it was for him. Baxter answered in an angry manner and Leon dropped the subject. After the hair cut was finished, Baxter and Leon left the Bayview. Leon heard some shots as he walked away, but he paid no attention to them.

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