Siuslaw Pioneer Museum

See the history

By Louis Campbell reprinted from FOG DOG (1995)

Their transportation was by dugout canoe. This type of canoe was made from a single large log which was hollowed out by burning and scraping. Some were small, designed for one man, while others were reported to be large enough for twenty or more. Prior to the time of the white man, the tools were mostly stone, bone or shells.

Obsidian (volcanic glass) was obtained through trade with other tribes, as there was no local source. After the arrival of the white man, metal tools quickly were adopted.

The only other battle of which we know involved a tribe from the Willamette Valley. This battle was fought near Mapleton. The Siuslaws killed all the attackers.

There is no record of any battles with the whites. On the contrary, there are many stories of how the Siuslaws were most helpful to white settlers. The first white man to see the Siuslaw area was probably a Hudson Bay trapper by the name of A.R. McLeod. McLeod kept a journal, and described an 1836 trip to where "no white man had been before.” With him were 10 other men. On July 18, 1826 his canoes safely crossed the bar of the "Saxtecan" (Siuslaw) and made camp. On July 20, McLeod "proceeded up the river to the first fork on the left'"' where he erected camp and traded with the Indians. The party remained in this area until the last of July. He appears to be the same Alexander McLeod who established the original Old Fort Umpqua fur station for Hudson Bay's Company in 1832.

The first settler in the Siuslaw area may have been Jules B. Gargnier. Spelling of his name varies according to the source. He originally settled in southern Oregon in 1832, as chief trader at Old Fort Umpqua. When that trading post was discontinued, he and his Indian wife moved to the lower Siuslaw River. They had a son, Jean Baptiste Gargnier.

In 1856, the army built a fort near the mouth of the Umpqua and in November, the brigatine "Fawn" and the schooner "Umpqua" departed San Francisco, bound for Fort Umpqua. They ran into heavy seas and the Umpqua was lost at sea. The Fawn became disabled and drifted helplessly into the mouth of the "Sinsclair" (Siuslaw) and was stranded on a sandbar. At low tide, the survivors tried unsuccessfully to make rafts to go ashore. The next day a lone Indian came and safely took them all ashore in his canoe. (Is it possible that this was our famous "Indian Dan"?) When news of the event reached Fort Umpqua, a detail of men was dispatched to proceed to the wreck with supplies. When they arrived at the scene, they found that the Indians had supplied the "immediate and most pressing needs" and "acted most nobly in this case, evincing a sympathy for the suffers and anxiety to alleviate their miseries.” The only white settler mentioned in the rescue effort was Monsieur Gargnier, (presumed to be Jules who lived "a few miles from the mouth of the river.”

It wasn't until 1876 that the Government opened the valley for settlement, and people began "pouring" in. The Indian village of Osceola was still a long way from becoming the city we know as Florence, but things happened fast after 1876.

The town seems to have been founded by Duncan & Co., who established a cannery, and A.J. Moody, who opened a store. In 1883, a steamer drawing 15 feet of water and carrying 200 tons of freight entered the river. When it left, it carried away 200 tons of salmon and left no doubt regarding the future importance of the new port.