Auburn, Pocahontas, James and Wingville, Baker County, Oregon

As gold fever engulfed the country in early 1862, settlers appeared quickly; some settled permanently; some were transient.  To determine which settlement was first or which child was earliest almost demanded stop-watch accuracy.

   Four of Baker County’s first communities included Auburn (the first), Pocahontas, James and Wingville.  They were clustered near the gold-discovery site and attracted miners and, soon, farmers.  Auburn, a product of discovery, became the first center and mines fanned out from there early in 1862.  Roads and trails soon led to the above mentioned and to Burnt River, Baker Valley, Sumpter, and Rye Valley.  A road was beaten toward Umatilla for the supplies necessary for a growing population.  The Creighton Freight road pushed toward Burnt River and the military road to the southwest.

Auburn

   As related elsewhere, Auburn grew rapidly to a population of from four to five thousand.  It had several stores, a sawmill, blacksmith shop boarding houses, livery stable, saloons, and ultimately two grave yards.  It supplied a rudimentary health care, a private school, and a frontier law system.

   All of these would change rapidly as government took form.
   In 1862, gold was discovered on Salmon Creek, Marble Creek, and McCord’s gulch at the foot of the Elkhorn Mountains west of present-day Baker.  Naturally miners moved in.  Among the early ones were David Kelley, Robert McCord, Sam Baisley, and John Bulger.  McCord’s Gulch, Bulger Flat, and the Baisley-Elkhorn mine would commemorate those pioneers.

Pocahontas

  The village of Pine grew on the hillside above the site of the later Pocahontas.

   Soon Pint was split, and Pocahontas grew near the developing foothill road (trail).  That road would become the main route to the Columbia River.

   Pocahontas developed into a community estimated at 1,500 for a short time, and it like Auburn, had several stores, sawmill, the usual blacksmith shop, boarding houses, livery station, saloons, a post office, and a log school with a sawdust floor.

   Joseph Kinnison,  Hibbards, Morrisons, Speelman, Creighbaum, Strother Ison, Jerry Shea, Hardin Perkins, James Akers, Thomas McCurren, Chandlers, Paytons, were familiar names.

   The Auburn Water Company under leadership of W. H. Packwood, Ira Ward, and A. C. Goodrich, built the Auburn ditch to tap the creeks high above Pocahontas.  That was the first major ditch and carried water to the mines at Auburn.  It set a pattern for many later developments to water other mine areas.  (Baker City brags of its fine domestic water system today.  It uses that same high mountain canal.)

   Pocahontas faded as Baker grew to prominence.

Wingville

   Wingville and James developed as farm areas to supply produce for the miners.  Hardy vegetables such as turnips, rutabagas, potatoes, carrots, and grain were especially useful since they could be stored for the long winter.

   James was named for a Reverend James.  The area never attained the status of a village but became a garden spot near Washington Gulch, through which the road passed to Auburn.  A log house there was regarded as a refuge in case of Indian trouble.

   The old school was moved but is still in the community.
   Wingville, a couple of miles north, became a farm center.  It developed a store, Odd Fellows Lodge, church, blacksmith shop, post office, drug store.  Homesteading was the source of land for the developing ranch population.

   The Chandler and Perkins wagon trains contributed to the growth of the area.

   Wingville claims a number of “firsts”:  first child, first plowed furrow, first church, first county commissioner, first district judge, first druggist, first subordinate grange (1874).

   The pioneer Odd Fellows Hall and church are combined in the present grange hall.  Other reminders of early days are the Wisdom barn, which was significant in the development of horse herds, and the pioneer cemetery, the final resting place of many steadfast citizens of pioneer and more recent days.

   The area continues as a significant ranch area.

   In the past ten years, the extensive area from Wingville to the mouth of Pine Creek has seen very considerable growth of farm homes and ranchettes.

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