The search for gold seems to permeate our family history. On the Bryson side of the family, parts of the family moved to Georgia about the same time as America’s first gold rush near Dahlonega in the late 1820’s. Andrew Madison Bryson
and his wife, Lydia Berrong (Yes, another French Huguenot) moved to Union County, Georgia shortly after the rush to adjacent Sumpter County began. Nor sure if gold was the actual motive as the Brysons seemed to stick to the hills. Even today, Peggy enjoys those north Georgia mountains
The Georgia Gold Rush petered out despite the “Thar’s gold in them thar hills” claim by the local assayer. It’s death knell was the news from California in 1848. Many of the 49’s were from the south that came to places like Hildreth’s Diggins as Columbia was first known.
Peggy still likes hills and we still have the gold connection as the remnants of the miners’ water ditch crosses our property below our house. The abandoned mine down the hill is too spidery and scary to enter.
Back to Oregon.
Samuel seems to have been attracted by the Jacksonville Gold Rush in Southern Oregon in the 1850’s. What kept him there was farming and cattle raising. Great Grandpa Joseph got the gold bug after his historic cattle drive in 1875-6 and shortly after his marriage to Malona Miller, he or both of them removed to the heart of the Blue Mountains gold region and mined in the area for six years. It is not clear if Malona joined him in this endeavor, but I would like to believe so. According to the Min(e)dat(a) website,”The Baker District encompasses the southeastern end of Elkhorn Ridge, southwest of Baker City. It is bordered on the north by the Baker Valley and on the south and east by the Powder River. Parts of the district have been referred to in the past as the Pocahontas, Auburn, and Minersville Districts.” Without becoming experts in Eastern Oregon geography, let be said that these mines lay between Baker City and Unity. It is to this confluence that my Dad’s grandparents were drawn. By the way, there is little that remains of these gold rush towns. The major survivor of the region is Baker City, my father’s birthplace, along with the remnants of gold rich Sumpter and isolated rural hamlets like Unity.
Helen O’ Rourke, my grandmother, was born in 1893 in Portland. Her parents, Frances and Fanny O’Rourke left Michigan and arrived in Oregon by the late 1880’s. There are few public records as to their movements but it is clear that by the 1890’s that they were established in the gold mining camps of northeast Oregon.
During our family RV trip to Unity, we also traveled to Sumpter, Oregon which is also located in Baker County. Unlike the dry Burnt River region, Sumpter lay in the forests of the Blue Mountains. We explored the town and found the ruins of what had once been O’Rourke Grocery Store. The store certainly operated during the Sumpter boom times from 1899 to 1903. It was built of brick and was destroyed by the fire that almost erased the town on August 13, 1917.
The family will continued to live in these gold rush towns until at least 1910 as the location of Cleary in Baker Country is recorded in the census. Cleary does not exist today except as a ditch. My Grandmother must have met Hal Wesley La Porte at that since they were married in Baker City in 1911. She was 18. By 1920 she had three children including Victor Hal, my Father, who also was born in Baker City. By the mid 1920’s, the marriage had ended in divorce and my Father had moved to Portland.
My Grandfather Hal followed the gold. During the 1930’s he finally found a claim worth the trouble. He ended up selling his claim near modern day Prineville, Oregon for some $30,000. This was a princely sum in the Great Depression. My Father claimed that this time was one of the few time in which alimony payments were paid. Whether, the searching for gold was the only option to keep the family going or that is was an escape from being a farmer, we will never know. I think my kids might remember rooting around for geodes near Prineville with their Grandfather.
While gold was the magnet drew together the La Portes and O’Rourkes, it was also partly responsible for their separation.
Time for one more gold as matchmaker story. My Swedish Grandfather and Norwegian Grandmother met in the Montana mining community of Butte around 1916. My Uncle Carl was born in the village of Laguna Beach in 1918. That marriage lasted.