For thousands of years, the Tututni people lived here, and their tribe stretched over the south Oregon Coast and lower Rogue River.
First European visitors
In 1792, George Vancouver, one of the first Europeans to come into contact with these natives, described them as being curious, mild, and peaceable.
However, in 1850, the US Congress passed the Oregon Donation Land Act. This Act allowed white settlers to file claims on Indian land in Western Oregon although no Indians Nations had signed a single treaty.
Captain Wm Tichenor
When Captain William Tichenor of the Steamship Sea Gull arrived in June 1851 and left nine men with muskets and a cannon to establish a European settlement right in their village, the native Qua-to-mah band reacted with hostility. They felt the newcomers were encroaching on their territory; this resulted in deadly conflict between the two cultures.
After the men disembarked with their weapons and supplies, Tichenor sailed south to San Francisco on his regular run. The men climbed a rock at the edge of the beach, set up camp and waited. When natives approached and began to climb the rock, the would-be settlers opened fire. Accounts differ, but, apparently, there were skirmishes over several days. Some natives were killed. One or two of the white men were injured but not seriously.
Captain Tichenor did not return in two weeks as he promised because his ship was impounded in San Francisco due to debts. When tension and numbers of natives increased, the nine men climbed off the rock – known since as Battle Rock – and left in darkness, traveling north on foot. They kept going until they arrived at a settlement on the Umpqua River. When Tichenor did arrive at the rock,he thought there must have been a massacre of his men, though no bodies were found. The nine men eventually found their way back to Portland.
Later in the summer Tichenor delivered another, larger contingent of men recruited in San Francisco who set about building a fort and dwellings that were the beginning of Port Orford, founded in 1851.
In the 1850s gold was discovered in several places along the Rogue River and the coast. Miners went where they pleased without respect for native dwellings, fishing or hunting sites. Mining caused damage to streams and fish runs. Tension mounted and fighting broke out in several places up and down the Rogue, started alternately by whites and natives. Major fighting in 1855-56 was called the Rogue River Indian War and ended with the surrender of Chief John and his band. Survivors were captured and forced to go on foot or by sea to reservations in the northern part of what is now Oregon.
Port Orford served as a receiving port for mercantile and fishing. The Port District was formed in 1911. Port-Orford-Cedar and other logs and lumber were shipped to distant ports. After an up-and-down existence, the port was sold to Gilbert Gable. Later another private party purchased it and the current Port District was established in 1956. After some very good years, both fishing and the timber industry declined.
The same Gilbert Gable became very active as a leader of the State of Jefferson movement which would have had several southern Oregon and northern California counties form a new state. The intention was to better manage transportation systems to aid the regional economy. In December 1941 the effort ended with the death of Gable and, a few days later, the entrance of the United States into World War II.
Today, Port Orford is a small, working fishing town with an active arts community. Residents have a serious resistance to the gentrification many small towns are experiencing and a real dislike of homogenized strip malls and franchised businesses. People here are independent, iconoclastic and protective of the area's untamed charms. Much of the city and its many organizations are managed by hard-working volunteers.
You can visit interesting sites from Port Orford's past, and looking at the many unspoiled views, or exploring the natural, undeveloped areas, it's easy to imagine being one of those people from our history.
(Much of this history was provided by Shirley Nelson, a local author and historian.)