John Day Residents Interview with Lois Phillips, Jane Primrose, and Merle Brown, manager of Grant County Historical Museum

John Day #2: 4/29/04 – Witnesses/Miners


D: Do you. I was just wondering, could you show me these pictures here? Cuz they look like they’re historic. And could you just say your name and …

L: My name is Lois Phillips.

D: And who are these photos of?

L: This is my husband’s grandmother. And that’s my husband’s grandfather.

D: And who are they?

L: DeLors. That’s Josie DeLor and Alex DeLor.

D: And how far back do the photos go?

L: Well, I have to tell you a story here. This is the original, but she decided that she wanted to touch up his photo because she thought he was such a handsome man. And she had it touched up so really, the two don’t…they look as if they’re from different eras but they were taken at the same time.

D: And what time was that?

L: Oh god, they were probably 18…I imagine 1899, somewhere along there.

D: I was wondering about that…not many people have a…

L: My husband killed that deer in 1949.

D: Did you like him putting it up?

L: Oh yeah, that doesn’t bother me. Cuz I hunt right with him.

D: Oh do you, all right?

L: So that’s no biggie.

D: That’s a big deer. How big was it?

L: He didn’t weigh it. Back then you got a big buck, you got a big buck. You showed it off, but you didn’t weigh it. But it was a big buck. I can imagine it was over 200 pounds. Big. For a mule deer.

D: Those horns alone, yeah.

L: Well, you’ll notice how thick the horns are.

D: Pretty old then?

L: I’ll imagine he was.

D: All right then. Let’s sit down here. So I guess, what was your connection with Doc Hay?

L: My father doctored with Doc Hay. And I would go with him once in a while because I liked the candy. They had the peanut butter centers. They were always wrapped in red wax paper. I was scared to death when I went down there because they always kept it so dark and the smell of the, I guess it was opium, whatever, and I’d hang right on to my dad, I wouldn’t let go of him. But I remember Doc Hay.

D: What did it smell like?

L: I don’t know what opium smells like, but I assume that’s what it was.

D: I just was wondering if there was another description. No other smell like it….

L: Oh, that’s the scanner….


D: So how old were you when you went there?

L: I was probably five or thereabout.

D: And what did you do all day with him?

L: Oh we were there just until Doc Hay felt his pulse and would give him some herbs or whatever to take home and boil, which made my mother kind of unhappy.

D: And what was your dad’s ailment?

L: I really don’t know.

D: So you really just hung out with him when he went to see the doctor.

L: Right.

D: Okay, and how many times did your father go?

L: Oh, the times I went with him, half a dozen times.

D: And why do you think he went to Doc Hay?

L: Well, the whole family went. Medical doctors just weren’t that plentiful back then.

D: So did you ever get treated?

L: Nope. No.

D: And what were, I guess from your perspective what was the store like then?

L: To me it was dark and it was scary. Because Doc Hay sat in kind of a little cage and that just didn’t look, it looked spooky to me.

D: I can see that from a child’s perspective. Even now going in there I can see, it’s pretty dark in there.

L: But that’s the way they kept it.

D: Do you have any other memories? Did you ever meet Lung On too, his partner?

L: I don’t recall meeting him.

D: How were Chinese respected or treated at that time?

L: By then I think they were more respected. Back then there weren’t that many left. But my memory of them. I knew, like Carolyn was telling you about Buckaroo Sam and I don’t remember him too well, I was too young, but what little of them was around, they were very gentle, real, I don’t want to say…they weren’t an aggressive-type person, they were very pleasant to be around.

D: Were they ever out of the store? How far did you have to go to see them?

L: Well, I lived in Mt. Vernon at that time, which is eight miles.

D: And how would you travel there?

L: By car.

D: So what time period was this then?

L: This would be in the 30s. 1930s.

D: So he was pretty much practicing until his death, I guess.

L: That’s what I understand.

D: And did a lot of people go? Did your friends know that you went to see Doc Hay?

L: I imagine they knew that my dad went and some other members of the family went and from my mother’s side. In fact Carolyn found some checks down there, a couple of my uncles and my grandfather that they had been. But like I say there wasn’t that many medical doctors back then here in that…He was good with a lot of people. Some he really helped and others didn’t. My husband’s grandmother, Josie there, she doctored with him for years but he wasn’t able to help her. By the time she got to a medical doctor it was too late.

D: What did she have?

L: Female problems.

D: Was it like ovarian cancer or was it like a fibroid?

L: I don’t know. Back then they didn’t…

D: They didn’t have all that information.

L: Right. They didn’t have all that information.

D: Anything else you want to share about Doc Hay?

L: Well, I can remember my dad telling about catching the suckers in the river and then selling them to the Chinese and then stealing them back and go sell them again. And I’m not so sure but what the Chinese knew what was going on.

D: What do you mean, stealing back?

L: Well, they put…they had to be alive. They put them in a big tub?

D: Oh Carolyn, can I ask you to take your jacket off? I’m hearing this kind of sound. That’s okay. Would you start again telling me about the suckers?

L: Okay, the young boys back then used to catch the big suckers in the river and then they’d bring them up and sell them to the Chinese. They had to be alive. And they would put them in a big tub-like container and then later in the evening or whenever the boys would go back and catch the suckers out of the tub and then turn around and sell them to the Chinese again and I think they got at that time a nickel apiece for the suckers.

D: And so these are little boys then or young boys?

L: Well, mischievous age.

D: Like teenager?

L: No, well, I’d say 10, 9, 8, 10.

D: Yeah. Did they ever get caught?

L: I don’t know.

D: Let’s hope so.

L: I can’t help but think what the Chinese knew what was going on. But they didn’t want to say anything.

D: And what exactly are suckers?

L: They’re what we call a trash fish in the river.

D: So they’re not like eels. They’re like…

L: They look just like a big fish with a sucker-type mouth.

D: And are there any other memories of Doc Hay?

L: Well, just memories of what my father told me. You’ve heard this story, I’m sure, about the young boys after a funeral. You know they put food on the graves and the young boys would go up and eat the food and the buckaroo Sam, he worked on the ranches a lot around the area and then when he was not able…I don’t think he was working at the ranches at this time, but he had a little house down where the Kem Wah Chung building is and he had a fire. Well, he was shunned by the rest of the Chinese because they thought he was possessed with the devil. So my grandparents had a restaurant up town, called the Benson hotel and cafe, and so they took him in and he done odd jobs and especially took care of their chickens. And other duties, you know, around the restaurant. And another thing the boys used to do – they would see Buckaroo Sam go down to the chicken pens and they’d slip around and lock him in because they liked to hear him talk Chinese. And they said he could really rattle it off. It was probably a good thing they didn’t understand. But that was another trick they used to play.

D: They were kind of mean, weren’t they?

L: Well, they were mischievous, yeah.

D: Let’s see…so where did Buckaroo Sam live? Didn’t he live on a ranch? Where did he live? He didn’t live in John Day, did he?

L: Well, he had a house. He lived at the restaurant after he quit doing the farm work or ranching work.

D: And how long did he live, do you know? And any other memories?

L: Well just hearsay. My mother used to tell me…we used to live in the little house down by the old church and he would come down and go through the yard, the front yard and pick up weeds because he didn’t want little missy to get stuck by a weed. That’s what he called me, Little Missy. So he would go down and pick out the weeds out of the front yard. So that I wouldn’t step on them or get hurt by them.

D: That’s very kind.

L: Yes, he was a very kind man.

D: I understand that he really liked kids.

L: Well, he must have.

D: So I guess he always treated you with kindness.

L: Oh very much so.

D: And I guess the kids liked the candy.

L: Oh yes. Yes.

D: Do they make that kind of candy anymore?

L: I don’t know. I don’t think so.

D: Sorry you were going to say something… that the kids liked the candy…

L: Yes, that was one way, that’s usually the only way that kids would go with their parents or whatnot to see Doc Hay is because of the candy.

D: So it was good for business too…kids will still go for the candy. So it sounds like there was never any big trouble. That Doc Hay and Lung On lived in the community and people really respected them.


L: Yes, because they helped so many people. Some they couldn’t, but a lot…he helped a lot of people with their illness or…blood poisoning was I think one of the things he was real good at treating.

D: And what was it like some of the medicine. You said that your mom wasn’t pleased about it.

L: It was the odor cuz you had to boil it on the stove and then strain it and drink the juice.

D: And your dad would do that?

L: Yes.

D: So he must have done some good for him.

L: Yes, I assume so. As I said I wasn’t that old and don’t remember much about it.

D: And I guess he didn’t charge a lot either. That’s probably a reason a lot of people went too.

L: Right.

D: Because those were hard times you’re talking about too.

L: Definitely.

D: Does any other story occur to you?

C: Is there still a Benson alive in Portland?

L: No.

D: There’s a Benson hotel.

L: No, that’s no relation.

C: There was one…

L: My last uncle. He would have been great to have interviewed but he passed away about three years ago.

D: Well, that’s too bad.

L: yes. He would have been a good person to interview. But like I told Carolyn there’s just not many left…

C: Well, Lung On didn’t he have his tourist garage next to the restaurant where your folks were on Main Street?

L: Yes.

C: Where Chessie’s would have been.

L: In that area somewhere.

D: Where is this?

C: Lung On started one of the first…

D: Can you start again?

C: Lung On the Chinese man went to Portland and brought a car back from Portland and he sold it and then he started doing that. And he opened a tourist garage up on Main Street which would have been right next…I think the picture puts it right next to the restaurant (L: The Benson Hotel) that her folks had. And actually he hired local people to take care of the cars and he sold cars and then he’d sit in the back room on a chair. And when people would come in and say who’s the Chinese man? They’d say he’s the boss. He liked being a boss up on main street with the white people as well as being boss…They did have the fire there and the tourist garage burned down. So he went out of the car business so to speak. But he was one of the first ones that brought a car and sold it in Grant County.

L: They seem to have been…

D: Sorry, can you start…

L: It seems like after the big gold rush was over most of the Chinese left. Doc Hay and Lung On were pretty well accepted in the community. I understand Lung On was quite a businessman.

D: He had a lot of money when he died.

C: Actually when Lung On died his estate was worth $48,000.

D: That’s a lot of money back then.

C: Yes. And I understand most of it was reinvesting in property in Portland. Is what they say. And of course, according to the papers he left half of it to a daughter he had in China and the other half to Doc Hay. Well, from the papers that Gordon and those had, you had to wait so many years for her to claim her share and the other half did go to the care of Doc Hay, which Doctor Bob was taking care of him, so they did get that, but the other half after 20 years there was no claim and so the state of Oregon got that estate but to me, it should have gone to the Kem Wah Chung. You know, cuz they are helping now…

D: To the museum…that’s too bad…

C: But Lung On was a wise man but he was a gambler. One of the first letters translated in the building was from…written to Doc Hay to a friend in Baker and the gist of the letters were we still do not have the stock for the store. We got the money together, in other words they had to raise the money, and Lung On went to Portland to bring it back. We don’t’ have it. Horse racing was going on, Lung On lost all the money, we now have to raise the money again. So you see he had a nature more American-wise, I’ll say than Chinese-wise. Cuz Chinese are great gamblers. But he was a shrewd businessman.

D: Well, Chinese are good at that too.

C: And then of course the $23,000 worth of un-cashed checks under Doc Hay’s bed. He wasn’t so bad either.

D: Actually Doc Hay was less Chinese because he didn’t cash the checks.

C: He probably thought they were good longer than he was going to keep them, probably. I don’t know that in early checking days whether there was such a thing as 30 days and they’re no good. (D: Like promissory notes) I imagine you could keep them for years. Cuz a lot of people tucked them here and there rather than.

L: Right. Back then a lot of people didn’t have transportation to get to a bank.

C: That’s true. Yeah. And money, I don’t know whether they paid him in cash, whether it went in the till or if it went someplace else either. We don’t have that kind of an account. But a 50-cent check, that’s unusual for us to write a 50-cent check today but it might have been all that person had and what he paid for is hard telling. But 50 cents for a doctor call wouldn’t have been very much. Today and in these days it might have been what he accepted.

D: Any other thoughts?

L: I don’t believe so. I wish I could be more help, but I wasn’t old enough back then. I remember that especially my uncle Cliff and George and Leonard were good friends with Doc Hay and Lung On and of course with Doctor Bob.

C: I think they even went to their Christmas celebrations. They were invited down to the Chinese Christmas celebrations. You didn’t go unless you were invited. And I know I’ve seen Benson at the Christmas celebration. So your family was special, I would say to Lung On and Doc Hay.

D: What was John Day like at the time? How big of a city was it?

C: How big is it now?

L: Well, see, I lived in Mount Vernon, so.. and coming to John Day back then was a real treat. And many times we’d only come once a month. Because a lot of times we didn’t have a car. Didn’t have transportation.

D: Even 8 miles is a long ways.

L: Right, yep.

D: And I’m wondering if…most of the businesses…how did most people make money?

L: I think probably the ranching was the main business back in those days.

C: After the gold mining ranching became the thing. Cattle ranching and sheep ranching…

D: well, thanks so much.

L: As I say I wish I could have been…

D: Oh no, you were great

C: The thing is she’s talking to somebody whose family actually did things with Doc Hay.

L: Yes, they were….


D: Let me get 30 seconds of the room sound…


D:…I just want to know, what was life like on the farm for you?

L: Well, like Carolyn said we were self-sustaining because we had a garden and we had fruit trees. We had chickens, we had hogs and we had cows. So you got your fruit and your vegetables and your meats, like your bacons and your hams. And eggs from your chickens as well as meat. And your cows for your butter and milk. Like Carolyn said all you needed was some flour and sugar.

D: But what about other stuff? Like, soap or that kind of thing.

L: Well, you’d have to go…well, a lot of people made their own lye soap. Which was, that was irritating to your skin.

C: Yeah, you saved your hog fat and made your soap out of the hog fat.

D: That doesn’t sound like fun. what other stuff did you have to make, your own clothing and all that?

L: Yes, my mother sewed, made all my clothing. Back then, as the years progressed, of course, you could afford to buy a few, especially underwear and stockings.

C: In some places you used to make your own yeast.

L: Right.

C: You couldn’t buy yeast in the store – you kept your own stuff and brewed your own yeast.

L: And the one thing I can remember – I walked a mile from school, regardless. Snow, sleet, rain or whatever and I didn’t think anything about it. But I hated those long dark brown stockings (C: stockings!). I swore when I had a family that I wouldn’t make my daughter wear those things, and I didn’t. But they’re warm. And mothers used to make a garter belt to hold the stockings up.

D: Because it wasn’t like pantyhose.

L: Oh no. We never heard of pantyhose then.

C: I went to school in Brooklyn, New York and I wore long cotton stockings, and a garter belt that held them to my…

L: They were long, brown with kind of ribs (C: Ribs) in them.

C: But they were warm.

L: Yes, they were.

C: And your shoes were high-topped, they weren’t little shoes like you wear today.

L: And you didn’t wear long pants.

C: Nope. No long pants a dress.

L: You had to wear a dress.

D: That can be cold.

L: Especially when the snow’s about a foot deep.

C: Which school did you go to?

L: The Mount Vernon.

C: The Mount Vernon?

L: Um hum. We lived south, where you go across Ingle Crick, across the bridge there. And we lived a mile south, there, along the river. My grandfather used to own all that at one time.

C: Oh I see. Every little school was so far apart and you walked to school back in…that lady, Mrs. Kite? She lived plum up Pine Creek and walked to the school in John Day.

D: She said it was like three miles.

L: If they had horses they would ride horses, but not all the family had horses. Yes, I was thinking about Thelma, she would be a good one.

C: Well, we got her down at the senior center and she talked with us. Uh huh.

L: yes.


D: We’ll just start with asking you your name, if you can start with “I’m” and introduce yourself and what you do here.

J: Okay. I’m Jane Primrose. I’m the manager here at the County Historical Museum.

D: And tell us about…you said you were just working on some narrative?

J: I’ve been sent a part of this winter-writing narrative so that when people come and look at some of the items in the museum they have a bit of the story behind it and maybe it will make it more up close and personal in that manner. We’re starting here with…

D: Can I have you come over here, actually.

J: Starting here with the gold scales and talking about the Gold Rush that began in 1862, here in Canyon City. And actually the first miners were coming through from, up from California. Things had quieted down in California so they were on their way through here to Idaho, where gold had been discovered. And they were just here for the night and one of the fellas took off his long underwear and was sort of panning in the creek and found gold, and that started the gold rush. And there was also a group coming from Portland and heading towards Canyon City, or heading towards Idaho too and they stopped here.

D: Oh, I’m sorry. Carolyn, I’m hearing your jacket again, so. I’m sorry. I made her take it off a couple times…

J: I’ll just go ahead and read some of these then. “When gold was found in Canyon Creek it seemed so plentiful that many of the men stopped right there. It was estimated that within one month more than a thousand men were camped between Whiskey flats and a spot where Canyon Creek flows into the John Day River – a distance of two miles. Mining laws were made up and copies posted on trees up and down the creek. The rapidity of the news of a new mining camp spread through the remote wilderness by June of 1862 people were already on hand to provide for the needs of the miners and to enrich themselves. Mr. Di came from Coos Bay with a small cattle herd. Mr. Sharp came carrying freight from near Portage below the Dalles and brought a stock of goods to pack into Canyon Creek, but the train was attacked by Indians and most of the goods were lost. Mr. Cosart was another early merchant. Saloons and hurdy-gurdy houses appeared out of thin air and were soon running full-blast.”

D: What is a hurdy-gurdy house?

J: Oh, a kind of saloon with the dance girls and that kind of thing. so. Let’s see, this one. “One of the first gold discoveries made near Canyon Creek was on Pine Creek, a few miles east of the present Canyon City. This discovery led to the settlement of Marysville, a small hamlet in its own right. One of the earliest prospectors here was FC Sells, who later opened the first brewery in Canyon City. One of the first ditches in Canyon city were constructed there…was constructed here and a joint stock company was formed. It has been said that the original stockholders earned $10,000 each in the first year. Early miners worked in companies, since there were not enough gold, good claims to go around. Men who had no claims worked for others as day laborers. The first ditch, known as rawhide, was constructed on Canyon Creek and was flumed with rawhide because of the lack of lumber. Other ditches were the Lone Star, which was built by Texans, and the Humboldt, which was used for many years.” And then up on Canyon Mountain we have the Humboldt mine, and the owners of the mine handled giant streams of water through hoses and they would blast away the hillside and then clean the, pull the gold out of the dirt and rock that came out of the hillside. A crew worked along the foot of the black wall, the back wall, the danger point. A giant stream of water would loosen the amount of sand which tumbled down all at once like a pile of blankets. It was doing this work that cost JW Powell his life. A chinaman was washed through the tunnel and seen no more. Several chinamen were killed, but chinamen were cheap in those days. Chinese were paid 25 cents a day. Many of them came here to work the tailings after the first part of the, the best part of the gold was taken out. And the Humboldt mine was worked for about 20 years here.

D: Now, what kind of mining was that?

J: That was plaster mining where they blast away the hillside with a high-pressure water hose and then they sift through the dirt and debris to get the gold out.

D: What other types of mines were there?

J: Well, we do have types of mines, actual cave-type mines up on Canyon Mountain and some of those are still being worked by local people that still hold mining claims. I don’t know that they’re bringing anything out of them. I think it’s more hobby than anything. They can pan in the creek. A couple of the other things are mentioned in the other room. ….let me see…I’m trying to remember which one, let me see. the next type is called amalgamation, and “now that the prospector had accumulated a few pounds of the minerals concentrated, he needed to find a way to clean away everything but the gold. Minerals that can be found with gold are garnet, pyrite, thirotite, mica and many others. Most of these could be panned out if the miner didn’t care that a little gold would be go, would go with them. My adding a small amount of quicksilver or mercury to what was left in the pan and submerging it in water and rotating it, the colors, the colors, meaning the gold, could be picked up by the mercury. If given the chance, the small globs of mercury would surround the gold and trap it in a mass. Then the mercury was scraped onto a knife blade and dropped into a shammy. The shammy was twisted and squeezed until most of the mercury came out, leaving the gold in the fabric. Retorting was the next step in the process.”

D: Isn’t mercury toxic?

J: It is.

D: So what kind of effect did that have on them?

J: probably not too good an effect.

D: Did they use it with no gloves?

J: They may have used leather gloves. I don’t know that in that day and age they knew how toxic it was, so…

D: I would imagine that a lot of people had mercury poisoning.

J: I would imagine that it was a, one of those…

D: So everybody used quicksilver then?

J: I don’t know that everyone did, but some did. For the retorting, “with the excess mercury removed the prospector now had the gold pinned down with small areas still covered with mercury. Removal of the mercury was called retorting. The mercury globs were heated up to about 700 degrees, the temperature at which mercury boils. Gold must be heated to over 4700 degrees before it will boil. Fumes from the mercury were deadly, so it was a process that had to be done carefully. Sometimes the old timers would take a fresh Irish potato, splitting it in the middle and hollowing it out on one side, where they placed the glob of mercury. Fitting the two halves back together, they secured it with wire, making sure it fit snugly. The potato could then be dropped into a campfire and cooked for about an hour. Then the potato was removed from the fire, allowed to cool, and the gold nugget removed from the potato. Remember, not to eat the potato.” Um, let’s see, we can talk about panning. (D: Okay) “Panning is probably the method of gold discovery that most people would be familiar with, and gold pans came in various sizes, ranging from small 10-inch models to large and heavy 20-inch models. Some prospectors used almost anything at hand, from a dinner plate to a frying pan. Besides the pan, a good shovel and a pick were required. A hammer and other tools could complete the minimum requirements.

D: So how big would that be then?

J: That looks like probably, if they’re measuring from rim to rim that looks like that’s probably a 20-inch pan. So. Um. And of course they would pull up the grit out of the bottom of the water and shake it and sift it, and so forth until they had gold left in the, left in the pan.

D: And what’s this here?

J: This is a Chinese wagon, a Chinese medicine wagon. And we have it since the Chinese were such a part of this area and that era of time.

D: Is this like…oh, it’s a sculpture, oh I wasn’t sure.

J: We have probably 10 life-size mannequins that were made by a lady who recently passed away named Cecil Lewis and they represent actual people that lived here in the community. Over here we have the first prospector who discovered the gold that night in Canyon City. Over there in the corner is Joaquin Miller, the famous poet who lived here for a while. We’ve got four old timers here gambling at the table.

D: So who is this? Is this an actual person?

J: I’m not sure if Sing Lee was an actual person or just made to represent the Chinese laundrymen in 1869 in Canyon City. I don’t know if that was his exact name or if she’s just made up a name for the character.


Let’s talk about Placer mining again. I mentioned it briefly earlier. It’s the recovery of gold that’s been deposited in places other than ones in which it originally occurred. “This was, would most likely be in a stream bed or an area once covered by water. Rubber boots were definitely needed. Contrary to popular belief, heavy deposits were not often found in fast-moving streams. Gold, even in tiny bits, is quite heavy and it sinks at the first opportunity. Another good place to look was in the bedrock. Bedrock can be anywhere between a few inches to a foot below the surface gravel and sand. To begin, the prospector would kneel and fill his pan with gravel, then set it in about six inches of water, six inches to a foot of water, and knead the mixture with his hands to break up any chunks. When the mixture was agitated the heavier material moved to the bottom of the pan. Heavy rocks and materials were thrown out, the pan was shaken vigorously, tilted up, down, and in a swirling motion, to separate the excess materials. This is what continued until, hopefully, only gold remained in your pan.”

D: So how much gold…why don’t you start from where gold was discovered and how much gold was mined out and how many miners do you think were in this area?

J: There are estimates that say there were over 10,000 people in this area but we have some local historians that think it was probably closer to 4-5,000 miners in the area. At one time Canyon City was bigger than Portland is. Or than Portland was at the time. There was 26 million dollars of gold taken out of this area.

D: And how many of those were Chinese?

J: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a definite count. I would say probably several hundred. I don’t know, I don’t think as many as a thousand, but…

D: I think there were a thousand a couple of years…

J: There could have been. Yeah.

D: Okay, so you’ve got a lot of objects here.

J: Yeah, we do. We’ve got lots of different things that were used, both in the mines like up on the mountain and we’ve got things that were left from the Chinese who worked here – we’ve got a Chinese shoe made out of wood and leather, a sandal, we’ve got crucibles they used when they were working with the chemical kinds of things. Let’s see, we’ve got, this is an iron mortar that was used to smash stone to break up the stone and the rock to get to the gold that was in it. We’ve got a rocker, a dry wash here, another thing that they used a lot was a cradle or a rocker, and a rocker was a variation on the sluice principle. Faster, harder to build, and harder to work, it looked almost the same, but it was frequently set on rockers so it could be agitated. It was also called “long tom.” It usually took four men to operate it, and took lots of energy and sweat to boot.

D: Would you mind reading that one?

J: I would be glad to read that one. This one, it says “prospecting was not all gold. Many men who came West trying to satisfy their gold fever went home with not much to show for their efforts. The labor was toilsome and onerous. The living conditions were difficult and the cost of living was enormous. Few came, who remembered that they had to eat while they dug for gold. A few established little garden plots along the creeks and grew mainly potatoes and onions. Scurvy was a prevalent disease. Most thought that they would be able to gain wealth in a short time and return to their former homes with riches in hand. All faced hard, all were faced with hardships, trials, inconveniences, and homesickness. They lived without protection from the elements, there were no laws of sanitation, and many suffered from the diseases that resulted because of that. Falling, rolling rocks, the giving away of banks, all caused injuries and often death. Disillusionment, vice, intemperance, homesickness, all tried their stability, while rheumatism, pneumonia, intestinal infections, consumption, delirium tremens, insanity, infectious and contagious diseases all and more made their appearance. Camps were a conglomerate, haphazard mass of invented structures, irresponsibly placed, without zoning laws, and without consideration to anybody. The uniform of the day was grey, striped, hickory, or red flannel shirts, all trousers, high boots pulled over the pant leg and a slouched hat. They worked hard six days of the week and reserved the Sabbath for rest, doing the wash, writing letters home or reading the bible; going to town for supplies, or maybe meeting friends and doing a little gambling. Their menu consisted of beans, bacon, salt pork, potatoes, rice, coffee, dried apples, and salterius bread. A meal out cost a dollar and a half. A little money was reserved for a drink or a smoke.”

D: I think the Chinese are very helpful in growing vegetables out here, because that diet sounds terrible.

J: A very very poor diet. Let’s see. We talked a little bit about the Chinese. The Chinese were also always considered good citizens here, very industrious and as a rule they were very clean. They held every kind of job, from placer miner to bedrock cleaner and others operated restaurants, laundries, and kept general stores. Chinatown burned down, Chinatown in Canyon City, burned down in 1885 and the people of Canyon City refused to let it be rebuilt because…

D: Can you start…

J: Chinatown burned in 1885 and the people of Canyon City refused to let it be rebuilt because of the wooden shacks that would continue to be a fire hazard. At that time there were about 600 Chinese living in John Day. Those from Canyon City joined them there and Chinatown in John Day consisted of three stores, the Chinese doctor, the Joss house, or place of worship, and a gambling house.

D: So what was so different about the wooden shacks then? I mean, wasn’t everybody building wooden shacks?

J: Well, I would think so. Probably the people who had nice homes or something had a different kind of a stove or different lighting or were more careful or something, so it wasn’t quite as much of a fire hazard.

D: So where did the people live then?

J: The Chinese lived down here on what is now Clark Street. Just about a block or so on Clark Street.

D: But after the fire…

J: Then they moved – the Chinese that were in Canyon City moved into John Day, is my understanding.

D: Okay. When was the gold rush over?

J: Most of the really easy pickings were pretty much gone by the turn of the century and after that it was, things were slacked off towards the turn of the century?

D: What do you think was the height of it?

J: Probably, well, we started in 1862 so I would think the height was anywhere 1862 into 1870, and then things started slacking off a bit.

G: They are still mining.

J: Yeah, people are still mining.

G: Sorry, I’m Grace Williams.

D: Is there anything else you want to say because I want to interview Grace too.

J: I talked a little bit over here about the Chinese….and I’ve got one other thing that talks about personal…let me go get something…

D: She’s got this over here.

G: Jane has done all of this, which is wonderful. Putting these signs up and everything. Things the rest of us couldn’t do because we’re all too busy.

J: Chinese came to Canyon City soon after the discovery of gold. They did low-paying jobs and worked cleaning the mine tailings, operating the hydraulic hoses for placer mining, and did other things such as laundry and cleaning the streets of town. Only a few Chinese women seem to have lived here and they worked mostly in the age-old occupation of prostitution. Many Chinese sent most of their hard-earned money home to their families in China. A Chinatown was located on what is now Clark Street, north of the museum here in Canyon City. It consisted of wooden shanties and burned down one night. From that time on, the citizens of Canyon City forbade the Chinese to live here and they built a Chinatown in John Day. The best-known building, Kem Wah Chung, was a business, worship house, and opium den. Doc Hay was well known through the Pacific Northwest for his healing ability using herbs. Lung On, his business partner, owned the first car dealership in John Day in the 1940s and they were a widely respected twosome.

D: And what is this that you have?

J: The other thing, this is out of the recollection of GI Hazeltine. Mr. Hazeltine was one of the first to arrive here in 1862. He spent the winter of 1862 and 63 writing homesick letters to his fiancé in California. He kept careful accounts of his expenses. $3.36 for a sluice box, a rocker iron $1.25. Horseshoe nails 50 cents, gloves for $2.50, boots for $8.50, a


comforter for $2, 100 pounds of potatoes for $16. Beef at 25 cents a pound, a bake oven for $2.75, 50 cents for tobacco, 75 cents for whiskey and cigars, spelt SEGARS, in the fall of 1862 he and his partner, Mr. Middlesworth, decided to build a house. They hired a Mr. Hudson to work on it so that they would be free to continue mining. When completed, it was the nicest on the creek, and cost $350. The house still stands north of the courthouse and as Grace said, she lives in it now. In the spring of 1863, Hazeltine and Middlesworth brought their families and spent the rest of their lives in Canyon City and John Day. And this is an excerpt out of one of GI Hazeltine’s letters to his wife and he…the one thing he refers as his fiancé and the other thing I found says wife, so I’m not quite sure. This is a quote from his letter. “This year will let me out of the mining operation if I do not find a paying visit…”

D: Sorry let’s wait… pretty loud whatever it is…

J: no muffler…okay, this is a quote from GI Hazeltine’s letter. He says “This year will let me out of the mining operations if I do not find it a paying business, I will then try something else. There is an excitement about mining that is hard to shake off. A miner may despond today, and his hopes and anticipations be raised to the highest pitch tomorrow. But I must not philosophize or you might think that I have a small touch of the blues.” George Irving Hazeltine writing to his wife Emmaline on March 3rd 1863 from Canon City, as it was spelled at the time. CANON the Spanish spelling.

D: What does that mean?

J: It’s the Spanish word for “canyon.”

D: Why is it Spanish, I was wondering. That’s unusual, isn’t it. Maybe the Spaniards were here…

J: I don’t think so. The first people who arrived were from California, so they would have more connection with the Spanish spellings and so forth.

D: You were chuckling over that. Why?

G: yes, I was chuckling over that cuz I bought from the Hazeltines. My husband and I did.

D: What does it look like.

G: Well, it’s just up the street, it’s across here by the creek, it’s a large two-story white house, the same thing that they built. And we had to of course build on to it a little bit. But yes, I purchased it for my father to move out from Portland. And he passed on and I lived there too…

D: And you live there now.

G: I live there now, yes.

D: Do you want to just introduce yourself, starting with “I am” and what your connection is to I guess this museum.

G: Oh, I am Grace K. Williams. I was Mrs. Larry Williams. Larry Williams has a ranch in Grant County and I came here as a lawyer to fill in with my first husband. He had to go to war and so I had to come and help. So I ended up practicing law here and taking care of the firm while he…and he was killed. So I have been here ever since. Practiced law here and been the district attorney for 20 years. But I also, compared with this, back quite a few years ago, I can’t remember when it was, I was out of town but I got elected to be co-chairman of the board of directors when I wasn’t here…that was me, that’s my hearing aid.

D: Oh, I thought my equipment was feeding back.

G: I have my hearing aid turned up so I can hear you. But I was, so Ellen Stone and I have been the chairmen until what, a couple years ago. I became a member of the board. Anyway I like to do whatever I can.

D: I was wondering – do you have a connection with Doc Hay.

G: No. (D: You don’t?) No. I came here from Portland, but I came in 1943 and I’ve been here ever since. And I’ve worked with the museum ever since.

D: Okay, then do you know much about the mining that went on here?

G: Well, just what the rest of us all know and learn about it. We also, there are miners, for instance, this old house I have and at my age I don’t like to stay alone so I have an older miner, who still mines, we’ve always said that he got bit by the bug and never quit.

D: So he still mines, then.

G: He still has a mine up on the hill. I still talk to the miners all the time, so there’s lots of that going on around here. People talk about it a lot.

D: So there are miners around here.

G: Yes. They are not big businesses. Well, one of them came in last year, didn’t they and they were here for a while. But I don’t know.

D: What kind of mining is it, what type of mining?

G: Well, either hard rock underneath the ground in a shaft, which on Canyon Mountain is just full of, right in back of us here is just full of shafts with lots of mines. And plus, what’s the other where they, out of the creeks and out of the lands? (J: Pan) Pans. There’s those kinds of mining. But they do both.

D: What kind of mining does your friend do?

G: Well, he has a mine up here on hard rock. His nickname is Hardrock.

D: So he’s like, it’s a tunnel.

G: Yes, they tunnel into the mountains. It’s very interesting.

D: Have you gone into the mine?

G: Well, a little ways.

D: I’d be scared to go all the way in. I don’t know. I don’t like scary places.

G: You can hear Merle talk about it and say how he was working with somebody in one of these, quite a few years ago, and some fellow wanted to go back into this and Merle was standing there, and Merle says he has this feeling, he just turns cold. And he said to this guy you’d better come out of here, you’d better come out. And just after he did everything fell down in there where the man had been standing.

D: Yeah, I don’t think I’m going to go.

G: It happens. It does.

D: And he went back in there.

G: He does it all the time. He has friends who work with him.

D: I should talk with him sometime. That’s interesting. Is he there now? Is he mining today?

G: He’s sitting in my living room. He’s not mining today. He’s been up to the hospital to have his blood checked. You know how people get older? He takes cumidin (?) so he has to have his blood checked all the time. But anyway. That’s. yes, he’s here, he knows a lot about…people come in here and they want to be taken places and go and they do. They do show them around. It’s a good place and she knows.

ALL: they want to know where the gold is. Where’s the gold?

D: Do people actually come up and try to pan for gold here?

J: Oh yeah. We have people come in every season that they want to know where they can pan.

D: What do you tell them?

J: Usually we give them directions so that they’re off the creek up on the forest service, where it’s public land. Because most everything along the creek is private. And so it wouldn’t be kosher to be panning there. But we can point them to forest service land where the creek runs through.

D: And has anybody?

J: They haven’t come back and told us…they didn’t come back and share with us if they did find anything.

G: You realize that these miners, they’re always going to find a big amount, they’re always going to get rich doing it, but that doesn’t seem to be as important as finding it. And they are going to, every few days I hear someone talks about it, oh yes, we better send that off and get it, they’re interesting people.

D: How is Merle doing with it?

G: Oh, he’s doing fine. Not making big money but he’s enjoying it.

D: But he’s making money.

G: Oh they do.

J: I think it’s the hunt as well as the getting rich part.

G: Well, they get gold. I have gold that I wear that he’s found. I have examples of it and so forth around. Little bits of, in fact I find stuff around the house all the time, oh here’s a little bottle of gold I didn’t know about. Lots of gold. But that’s the important thing, although they have other things they’re interested in, silver and copper and whatever. But that’s very interesting.

?: The land isn’t accessible as it used to be.

J: That’s right. You can’t just wander anywhere you want and go look for it.

G: The government’s in on everything now. I know about that, I hear about it all the time. Plenty. Yes, it’s very interesting.

D: Anything else you want to tell me about mining here?


J: I think basically on the mining we’ve pretty much covered what we have and…

G: You’ve seen what we have here.

D: You have a lot. How many people do you get into the museum every year?

J: Well, we’ve been down the last couple of years. It used to be about 1400 a summer but like last summer we were at about 900.

D: People haven’t been traveling as much.

J: You know, and the $2.10 a gallon gas isn’t going to help us this summer either.

D: It’s gone up a lot…


D: So, if you would introduce yourself and say, “I’m”…

M: No more cigarettes.

D: I think it’s dust from the museum.

M: It’s the dang forest burning. I mean, we try to get people in here for visitors and for tourists and the forest is burning. They’re hollering about heat worldwide.

D: do you want to come in?

M: And the thing, our forest is burning all the time. You can’t see the mountains. People come in, tourists like you sneezing.

D: No, it’s from the dust.

M: Well, when they’re burning like that there’s all kinds of weeds and things that people are, come in here and many of them have allergy attacks you know. They don’t come again.

D: I’m going to ask you to say who you are, introduce yourself. And what you do.

M: I’m Merle Brown, called Hardrock, I’ve been a lumber-grater and planer-operator most of my life, but I got hung up here in John Day after the big flood and now I’m mining and prospecting and we’re getting, there’s a lot of gold in here left.

D: Maybe it’s good for Gus to go outside or I don’t know…

M: He don’t hurt anything.

D: It’s not him. It’s Grace saying stuff. Cuz it’s getting on the recording. I don’t mind Gus, he’s quiet. Are you going out? What a good dog.

M: He’s a nice little puppy.

D: How old is he?

M: About a year and a half.

D: Oh then he is a puppy. Okay, so tell me when did you start, how did you get into mining.

M: I think everybody’s got in the back of their mind about gold. It’s not much different than playing the lottery, it’s chance. But I come in here, the winter of ’64 and ’65. They had a big flood and I come in, I was down in San Felipe, Mexico, when, we come back up, I come back up through here and there’s gold here and I don’t know, I made friends with some of the old timers and learned what to do and where to go.

D: They’re still talking. So what kind of mining do you do?

M: Well, there’s only one kind of mining, that’s gold. And of course there’s some other things. We get some pretty good garnets here and…

D: I’m sorry, they’re just so loud. Let’s move down here.

M: I don’t get up too good. I’ll turn around.

D: Want me to push you?

M: Yeah, I think see all this stuff, we got this around here.

D: What I mean by what type of mining do you pan, do you tunnel?

M: We pan some. Especially if you’re prospecting you’ve got to pan. But we also, mainly I’m in hardrock digging along the vein where you hope it pockets and the gold is all along the – quartz quartz rock is what you’re looking for here and it’s a mother of gold and we’ve got a lot of quartz and you might go along and pick out anywhere up to $100,000 and another foot or two where there isn’t hardly any. And you can spend your $100,000 looking for more or quit and go fishing.

D: So you’ve made that much money from mining?

M: Well, you don’t want to go into mining thinking about making money. We mostly give it away for one reason or another or lost it, but we’re getting ready to get into production. We’ve got a lot of material out on the ground and I’m just now setting up a mill to run it through.

D: What does that mean, a mill?

M: Well, you crash and work up the rock until it’s really fine dust and run it through various pieces of equipment and then I don’t know what you do with it – we’ll probably make jewelry of some sort. When gold’s selling for 400, 280 here is about top price, because our gold runs about 800, 850 fine, and so they dock you 15 – 20% there and you can find a guy who will do it for 10% handling fee well you’re pretty lucky.

D: So when will that be up and running?

M: Well, as soon as I get some ambitions (?) I’ve got to move a trommel, a trommel is a big long barrel that turns and the material goes through it and washes it and separates the big rocks out and this is what you then after it goes down to a sluice, ours is free gold, what you’d call, I’ve got some out that runs 17 ounces of gold to a ton but it’s what you call base ore and it’s really difficult to do anything with it because there’s so many other minerals in it and metals that whatever process you want to use why it interferes with what the material is in the ore.

D: So is it dangerous?

M: Yeah, it’s dangerous. You have to drill and blast. And that’s…and then you can have a side come in on you from where you’re working it just depends on your ground. But we do placer sometimes. You can make a little money on placer if you’ve got any gold there at all. Use the suction dredge just like a vacuum sweeper only it’s using water instead of air.

D: What is placer?

M: Placer is gold that the mountain has watered down, it’s gotten into the streams and rolled and there you generally nuggets. And hard rock is gold that’s never moved – I think it’s about 10 times more difficult to get. You keep it either in your sluice or your panning or whatever – you’re never going to get it all. I don’t care what you use, it’s just you work it until it don’t pay to work it anymore and just let that go, but I do have an idea with everybody going organic, that when we’ve got our gold out the material that’s left has got all kinds of minerals left in it that you need for gardening and I’m working with a gardener that possibly their old hay or whatever we can get that make a compost that doesn’t have any chemicals in it and mix it with this cuz this just come out of the ground so it’s pure organic and if we get the organic to mix in it makes a nice seed medium.

D: have you ever had any scares when you were mining?

M: I had one that was real weird. A portal is where you first start underground and I was putting one in for a man and they already had the hole there, all I had to do was one corner, single-jack is a chisel, you probably know what a chisel is, either a wood-chisel, of course that wouldn’t work but like a coal-chisel you cut metal with. And a hammer and you just hammer and turn on your drill and this one corner needed to be shot out and I don’t know, what you do first before you go work in there you take a hammer and you hammer all the walls and when you hit it why your hammer will ring you’ll hit solid rock. And I did that over the whole interior. And here I am, single-jack and I’m in there all by myself and just like somebody run an ice cube up my back your hair stands up, you’re cold and it was such a weird feeling that I got up and got back well, I was only about 10 feet back to where you’re out in the open and you just feel so weird that you know I don’t know what it is. Anyway where I was, about half a pickup load dropped and I cleaned that out and that area, of course I hammered the whole thing again and the area where it fell and I was back in there digging again and here come that ice cube and step back and that time about a pickup load dropped. So I cleaned that up and I went back,


I needed some help putting the caps, timbers in the posts hold a cap and a cap is, well it’s what holds everything else up in the ceiling. Well, I needed some help doing that so I went back and got Gaylord Lambeth he was my helper then and we went out and he hammered it and he said Brown, you don’t need to worry about this, it’s not going to cave in, a long with some cuss words, and he went out and was cutting some more of my timbers that we needed and I was back doing my hole and pretty soon here come the ice cube and Gayorg was out about 100 feet from me, I made a motion across my neck, you know, turn off the saw and motioned come here, and he come over and we were standing there and I said that ceiling’s going to fall and he said now, blankety blank I told you that thing isn’t gonna, about that time another pickup load dropped and of course we’re kind of chuffed. We just stood there and rocks were banging up against our legs, but they were just little ones, you know, and while he was thinking that over another pickup load dropped, the walls and ceiling and all dropped that time. But he’s had similar experience and I’ve talked to other miners, I belong to the Eastern Oregon Mining Association, I’m one of the directors, and there’s two or three guys there that I mentioned this to that you have a, I don’t know, the lord can protect you but the devil has got about as much power on earth as he has. So I don’t know which one is protecting us, we hope it’s the one upstairs of course, but that’s probably the worst, the closest I got to being trapped.

D: That’s pretty scary.

M: Oh yeah, you don’t know. You just feel so weird and other guys maybe didn’t have the ice cube effect, but the feeling that you get when you’re out working alone and you’re in a tunnel and places like that you’re used to policemen and fire engines and street lights and out there of course you don’t have any of that and you develop a sixth sense or whatever it is I don’t know, I just hope that every time I go in that I still got whatever it is.

D: Well, thank you so much.

M: Yeah, I had to come and I took some of these guys around here that went and visited you know, some of the old timers and learned where the section corners are and where mines were and even now you can go anyplace in the mining areas, you know, and if you see an old guy that’s can’t do his work hardly anymore you can get in with him and do some of his work and get some gold and learn and whatever you want to do, you know, there’s mining associations around lot of different places. The chamber of commerce is a good place, and of course the forestry, whichever one is in the area, you want why they can tell you about mines and where to go and who’s mining.

D: Well, that’s all I need, thank you very much.


M: Well, they learned right away, you know, they find a good-size nugget don’t jump up and down and holler and say look what I got, because the white guys would come knock them in the head and take their gold away from them and if they found a good spot that they had missed, well, of course they’d mine it.

D: How do you know that?

M: Well, I know that by, there was an old doctor here when I come that bought gold and we brought some down to sell him one time and it had mercury on it. Well, mercury goes into the center of the gold and you can burn it off the outside, but if you make jewelry out of it later on it will come out of it so we got acquainted with him and he was I think the only Chinese I met around here. He was here when I first come and he told me some and it’s in some of our history, the old papers. Some of those old papers are down in the library too besides in here, but that’s why…there was a law against them having it. But they did one thing…the white guys, this real fine gold panning it is pretty tedious you know, it takes time, and they would hire these Chinese to pan for them, they was good for that. But like up here on the hill, here across from the museum, you see those big piles of rock, a lot of them were hauled out by the Chinese. There’s a here and here there’s a yoke that goes around their neck, they get however many they needed and ropes and drag that out and they also use it to haul water and food you know to the guys working up there because generally that’s a 24 hour operation once that got started.

D: So the Chinese wore yokes around their necks.

M: Yeah, yeah. There’s a couple of them up here, they’re kind of like an oxen yoke, they’re open in front but they fit over your shoulders and have a couple of pegs sticking out each side to hook the ropes or water or basket of rocks and probably less than 2 bits a day, wages were about a dollar a day so they had a pretty hard…one thing about Chinese if they had a claim, however they got it, and another Chinese come along and you know hey, you need any help sure, you come on down and give them use of a wheelbarrow and rock, or whatever they were doing they’d take them right in. But white guys whenever they were working a guy come from New York and say hey you need any help and nope, we’ve got all we need, well where could he go while you’re doing and not our greenhorn out here. It’s a big greenhorn of serpentine, it’s a rock, and they’d tell him hey, you see that bare place up on the hill? Why don’t you go up there and dig. And there was one or two places where the guy did and they got some gold and some place they call them greenhorn hill and that’s the reason they…