Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof

“Negro” Bill’s Cabin

In Oregon on May 24, 2007 at 3:44 pm

Photobucket

While I was hiking in Rich Gulch, in the Jacksonville Woodlands in Southern Oregon, I walked a little ways above the former mining works to the area called Frenchman’s Gulch. It got that name due to the numbers of French families who made their way into the area in the 19th and very early 20th centuries. There are several interpretive signs there which include maps of the area. One small square on those maps is marked “Negro Bill’s Cabin.”

I knew that Jacksonville had at one point been a very ethnically varied town, as many are that attract people due to the possibility of making money. Jacksonville in the 1850s was the biggest gold rush between Sutter’s Mill and the Klondike. There were Jewish families, Chinese and black, though many, most in fact, left after the gold petered out.

I wanted to find out more about this Bill so I contacted the Southern Oregon Historical Society (SOHS) at the Jacksonville Museum and the Jacksonville Woodlands Association.

It turns out that on the original U.S. Land Office mining maps, the cabin was identified as “N/gger Bill’s Cabin.” (Not the preferred nomenclature, Dude.)

Larry Smith, president of the Jacksonville Woodlands Association told me they wrestled with that for a bit, not wishing to be ahistorical but also not wanting to post that word on a sign that would exist without sufficient context. They settled on “Negro Bill’s cabin.”

Carol Harbison-Samuelson, formerly Library Manager and Photo Archivist for the SOHS, was good enough to do some research on this topic.

Our collection includes an 1867 road work book that lists “colored men” working on the roads and the amount they were paid ~ a man named Bill is listed. In the county commissioner’s journal of December 5th of 1877 a request is made to pay, “Mr. William Short (colored) $2.50 for cleaning the court house and county jail.” In the Jackson County census of 1870 and 1880 ~ Mr. William Short (black) is listed as living in the Jacksonville Precinct. In the 1870 census he is listed as 40 years old and in the 1880 census he is listed as being 51 years of age. I imagine he is the same man as “Negro Bill” because the other black men have different names ~ I find only one William or Bill. Perhaps you can get an idea where his cabin was by looking at the census records.

So, chances are not bad that our Bill is the William Short in the 1870 census.

I subsequently checked the burial list of the Jacksonville Cemetery, at Bill’s suggestion, and found the same William Short listed.

Short     William
05/07/1902    City        7     6
WV
Age at Death - 74 years. Colored.

He was born in 1828 in West Virginia, no doubt a slave, and died 74 years later. He was buried in the City section of the Jacksonville Cemetery, in Block 7, Plot 6.

I’m hoping to find out whether this William Short is the Bill who had the cabin and, if so, find additional information about him in the census records, as Carol suggested, and in microfilm of Jacksonville’s numerous old newspapers. If it’s not him, I hope to find out who was and what their life was like.

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