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Jackson County, Oregon records

Identifier: Bx 067

Scope and Contents

The Jackson County records comprise a truly remarkable collection of rare materials that document early southwestern Oregon history. The records document everyday happenings of local government in 19th-century Oregon and also offer insight into the form and trajectory of the social, economic, and administrative forces that shaped southern Oregon during this period – changes that have ramifications well beyond the era this collection documents.

The immigrants who rushed to southern Oregon river valleys in staggering number left their mark in county documents in the 1860s and 1870s when they sought legal title to mining and water claims. The significance of full legal control is illustrated by property registrations and by the sheer volume of court cases that sought to clarify property ownership. Elsewhere, the collection’s Land Grant titles and tax schedules show how new settlers extracted profits from the region’s natural resources through farming and livestock grazing. Indeed, late 19th century residents increasingly valued Jackson County land for its farming and grazing potential. These records show how the acquisition and exchange of real property accelerated, but they also reveal the instabilities of this livelihood. Much of the information about such property comes not just from land sales, but also from mortgages, foreclosures, and sheriff’s sales of repossessed land.

On a more personal level, the Jackson County Records provide descriptive snapshots of the material conditions of southern Oregon households in the late 19th century. Documents such as tax assessment schedules, tax protests, “chattel” mortgages, and property litigation offer details on the material culture of average Jackson County households. These documents illustrate what objects were basic necessities (such as a butter churn) and what things were luxuries (such as a piano). They also lay bare the economic insecurities that characterized this period when the nation and Jackson County grappled with periods of economic depression. Residents purchased or leased goods when households could afford them, and they sold or relinquished them during economic downturn.

Scattered across this vast region, new settlers and entrepreneurs in Jackson County needed avenues of transportation. The “road petitions” subseries provides detailed documentation revealing how each successive generation surveyed, plotted, and constructed the roads and bridges of Jackson County with the intent of providing order to the region’s natural geography. New or growing communities sought official county permission for roads. Petitioners donated time, money, and muscle-power to the construction and up-keep of roads and bridges – avenues that facilitated the export of agricultural products or the import of the material culture of late 19th century American life.

Settlers transformed the landscape of southern Oregon in other ways, as when they reshaped its animal populations. Although these records are less than thorough, the collection documents a change in animal populations from deer, various wild cats, and wild canines to imported domestic animals. As the human population and its livestocks grew, native wildlife seemed more troublesome and the county offered “bounties” payable for the scalps of animals deemed to be “pests.” Over almost thirty years, as these “animal scalp bounties” demonstrate, Jackson County committed itself to funding the exterminating of predatory or competitor animals native to the region.

Indeed, immigration, resource extraction, agricultural pursuits, road building, and town development not only changed the face of Jackson County geography but it also permanently altered traditional economic, social, and political life for local tribes and Indian nations. This collection documents the impact of massive change on area Native Americans but the scope and range of materials are far from satisfactory. The subseries on military affairs is brief, but it illustrates the oppositional and antagonistic approach of American settlers to local Indian residents who asserted control of the same territory. As was generally the case across North America, this tension resulted in armed conflict. County administrative documents offer some glimpse of these tensions and conflicts in the drafting of local men for military service and in the provisioning and fortification of Fort Lane. These documents offer only a shadowy indication of the long-term impact that war as well as the transformation of the region had on Native Americans. Administrative documents list “Indians” among the county residents who received social welfare benefits, and cases from Justice and Circuit courts list Indian defendants who were forced to grapple with a definition of justice that American settlement brought to the region and its residents.

As immigration swelled the population of Jackson County, the need for more government to administer various avenues of growth grew apace. In addition to recording the growing privatization of natural resources, county officials participated in an expansion of local legal systems and law enforcement, in the institutionalization of social services and social controls, and in the refinement of a taxation system that might fund this growth in government services. Administrative documents on social welfare reveal the economic uncertainties that faced Jackson County residents. County residents demonstrated a consistent effort over the course of the late 19th century to support individuals and families – usually white women and children and Native Americans – who had been relegated to margins of economic security. Other county expenses – documented in the form of notes, letters, and warrants – highlight administrative growth of the county. The county clerk managed payments for everything from office supplies to judges’ salaries, the boarding of prisoners, juries’ fees, and educational expenses.

Jackson County records offer unique insights into the reasons why settlers sought to establish United States’ law and jurisprudence in this region. First, law enforcement and the courts provided social order through the prosecution of criminal acts. Criminal cases in Jackson County’s courts ranged from crimes against property (e.g. theft) to crimes against persons (e.g. rape, assault, and murder) and the volume of such cases increased along with the increases in population. Second, law enforcement and the courts established legal systems that were familiar to Americans and that applied to all residents, thus enforcing common parameters for economic and personal interaction. For example, this made the acquisition and transfer of property relatively easy for U.S. citizens. Moreover, these property owners were aware of what rights they acquired and how to protect them – as the litigation over claim jumping and the recovery of money illustrates. Third, these legal systems favored citizens of the United States. The county records offer particular evidence with reference to Chinese residents. Similar to other western states and territories, Oregon used laws and litigation to dissuade Chinese migrants from residing in the territory and state. The collection contains a handful of “Chinese licenses” – a head tax levied on these presumed non-citizens – as well as a noteworthy number of legal cases brought against Chinese residents. Finally, county courts and legal customs regulated interpersonal and even family relationships – ranging from contracts to the arbitration of conflicts. Courts and legal officials granted marriage licenses; they designated child guardianship, and they oversaw the dissolution of the estates of those who had died. Moreover, courts arbitrated family disputes that could not be resolved on their own and they presided over a significant number of divorce cases. Indeed, it is here, in court cases related to family issues and marriage contracts, that women residents of Jackson County are most visible – as they sought damages for slander or asserted their right to property and to be free of an errant spouse.

These documents also record arguably the most important administrative function the county undertook: voter registration and local elections. The Jackson County records contain a random assemblage of election returns ranging from 1857 to 1913. While incomplete, these records highlight the political persuasion of Jackson County residents in national presidential, in local elections and on ballot measures – such as the 1909 referendum on forced sterilization. Moreover, these records contain an invaluable collection of voter registration journals from early 20th-century Jackson County. These registration books offer a truly singular picture of the registered portion of the population including their residence, occupation, nativity and naturalization, age, and, occasionally, their voting history and party affiliation.

As remarkable as the precinct registration books are, they are merely one part of this unique and rare collection that traces the establishment of a familiarly American social order in this burgeoning county. The Jackson County records bring together documents that illustrate the rate of migration and settlement; the pace of privatization of natural resources; the growth of particular legal systems; the regulation of international and native populations; and the transformation of natural landscapes. Thus, these records offer a unique perspective on the assimilation of this region and its population to U.S. standards of private property, justice, racial hierarchy, geography, democracy, and acceptable social and economic exchange.


  • 1853-1920


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open to the public. Collection must be used in Special Collections and University Archives Reading Room. Collection or parts of collection may be stored offsite. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives in advance of your visit to allow for transportation time.

Conditions Governing Use

Property rights reside with Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries. Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs. All requests for permission to publish collection materials must be submitted to Special Collections and University Archives. The reader must also obtain permission of the copyright holder.

Biographical / Historical

The Jackson County records, circa 1853 to 1917, reflect the county’s unique origins and its administrative and judicial development. The Jackson County records is a digest of the County Clerk’s activities and record holdings beginning around 1853, one year after the founding of Jackson County, and ending in 1920. These documents reflect county activities during the era when the city of Jacksonville was the county seat (1852-1927). The region of Oregon Territory organized as Jackson County comprised portions of modern-day Curry, Josephine, Jackson, and Klamath Counties. Thus, these documents reflect the administrative and judicial activities carried out in this vast region of southwestern Oregon.

Frontier Jackson County

Members of various Native American tribes and nations – including the Tekamah and Klamath - controlled what would become Jackson County prior to the mid-nineteenth century. Early in the nineteenth century, Hudson Bay Company employees and recently-arrived Americans tramped a well-worn path through the region as they moved between Oregon’s Willamette Valley (to the north) and the California gold fields. Placer gold discoveries along the Illinois and Jackson Rivers in 1851 spurred international and Anglo American gold-seekers and farmers to rush in and to exploit the natural wealth of the valley. Within five years settlers of German, Chinese, Irish, and Anglo backgrounds had extracted $1.5 million in gold and founded the community of Jacksonville. Settlers began to establish farms and ranches in the river valleys. This invasion of miners and farmers into Indian lands precipitated tension and warfare with local nations. Federal and volunteer forces defeated and removed the Tekamah and Klamath as well as other Native Americans to Oregon reservations by 1860.

Jackson County Before and After Statehood (1855-1920)

In January of 1852 the county of Jackson was formed with the county seat in Jacksonville, and in 1853 the first county officers were appointed in Salem. The earliest Jackson County records that are part of this collection date to the March, 1855, County Court session. The first official proceedings of the Jackson District Court, dating back to 1853, were registered in the Commissioner’s Journal. Jackson County grew in population and activity during the 1850s and 1860s, when recent settlers established saw mills and flour mills amid wheat farms and ranches. When Oregon became a state in 1859, county government and the court system were streamlined under the state constitution and statutory laws. County administrative and judicial duties increased apace with the growth in population. The County Clerk’s office registered land transactions, collected taxes, officiated over elections, and issued licenses like those imposed on residents of Chinese, Hawaiian, and African American descent. The Clerk was also responsible for housing and preserving court documents.

The county's boom period began with the completion of the Roseburg-Ashland extension of the Oregon and California Railway, which opened in 1884. Formerly described as “a hodge-podge society,” Jackson County residents decreased in ethnic and racial diversity as a result of the influx of new migrants into the region. This growth also shifted the concentration of population away from Jacksonville and towards Medford (which was situated on the main rail line). In 1927, following popular referendum, the county seat was moved to Medford.

Timeline: 1843Sufficient settlement from the United States supports the formation of the first school districts in Applegate region.1848U.S. recognized the Oregon Territory.1849California Gold Rush.1851Gold discovered in what would become Jackson County.1852California mining and civil codes applied to new settlements in the Jackson River Valley.Jan. 12, 1852Jackson County founded, seat in Jacksonville; Coos County divided from Jackson County.1853The first court of Jackson County – a U.S. District Court – convenes.June 1853First County election.1855County Clerk established in Jackson County.1856Native Americans removed to reservations (such as the Siletz & Grand Ronde).1856Josephine County formed out of part of Jackson County.1858County institutes a gold mining license only for Chinese miners.1859Oregon becomes a state.1862Blacks, mulattos, and Hawaiians included with the Chinese in licensing requirements.1884Opening of the Roseburg-Ashland extension of the Oregon and California Railway.1927Medford becomes the seat of Jackson County (moved from Jacksonville.1941Jackson County records (from the Jacksonville era) donated to the University of Oregon Library.


43.5 linear feet (90 containers, 89 volumes)

Language of Materials



The Jackson County, Oregon records comprise the administrative and judicial records of the county clerk's office from 1853 to 1920. The records offer insights into the form and trajectory of the social, economic, and administrative forces that shaped southern Oregon during this period. The records illustrate the rate of migration and settlement; the pace of privatization of natural resources; the growth of U.S. legal systems; the regulation of international and native populations; and the transformation of natural landscapes. In so doing, they offer a unique perspective on the assimilation of this region and its population to U.S. standards of private property, justice, racial hierarchy, geography, democracy, and acceptable social and economic exchange.


The collection is organized into the following series: Series I: Administration Subseries A: AdministrativeSubseries B: FinanceSubseries C: PropertySubseries D: TaxationSubseries E: RoadsSubseries F: ElectionsSubseries G: Animal ControlSubseries H: Military AffairsSeries II: Judicial Subseries A: SheriffSubseries B: Court RecorderSubseries C: Justice Court Subseries D: Circuit CourtSubseries E: County CourtSubseries F: District CourtSubseries G: Miscellaneous Judicial

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Jackson County in 1941.

Related Materials

Jackson County Commissioners Journal, 1853–1871. Collection number Bx 66 ( WPA Historical Records Survey). Department of Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon.

Oregon State Bar. Oregon’s Legal System – A Media Handbook. [Portland, Oregon:] Oregon State Bar’s Bar, Press and Broadcast Committee, circa 1985.

Works Progress Administration-Historical Records Survey. Inventory of the County Archives, Josephine County, Collection number 17. Oregon Historical Records Project. Portland, OR: Oregon Historical Society, 1939.

Physical Description

90 containers, 89 volumes


Missing Title

A summary or abbreviation of essential information from an original document (e.g., birth, death, or title abstract).
person appointed by the court to manage the assets and liabilities of a deceased person in probate cases. See also Executor/Executrix.
A statement made under oath, usually in writing.
A foreign-born person who resides in but has not qualified as a citizen of the country.
An estimate of the value of property by a disinterested person with appropriate qualifications. It is used in a probate case to establish estate value.
A legal grant of a right, privilege, benefit, or property, usually conveyed by written document. An assignment often transfers property from a debtor to be sold to benefit creditors.
The process of taking or seizing real or personal property by virtue of a writ in order to satisfy a judgment or ensure court appearance.
Typically, an agreement which binds a person to a particular action or responsibility. A bond provides protection against loss or damages resulting from failure to meet duties or obligations. Examples include bonds for county officials and probate administrators.
Civil case
A court proceeding (other than criminal) to determine and enforce rights between parties, provide appropriate redress or compensation, and prevent future violations of rights.
Commitment (insane)
A court proceeding directing confinement of a mentally ill or incompetent person for treatment. The commitment proceeding may be either civil or criminal as well as voluntary or involuntary.
Generally, the transfer of title to land from one person or class of persons to another by deed, mortgage, lease, assignment, or other means.
Corner (land survey)
An angle made between two boundary lines for the purpose of establishing land survey reference points. Specifically, Oregon statutes define the term to include a section, one-quarter section, Donation Land Claim, meander, witness, or any other corner established by the General Land Office or its successor.
Criminal case
A court proceeding in which a person who is charged with having committed or omitted an act against the community or state is brought to trial and either found not guilty or guilty and sentenced.
One who is owed money or other performance of obligation by a debtor.
One who owes money or other performance of obligation to a creditor.
Declaration of intention
A preliminary naturalization statement made to an appropriate court by an alien announcing an intention of becoming a United States citizen and renouncing allegiance to any foreign power.
A declaration by a court announcing the legal consequences of the fact found. It is similar to a judgment.
A person against whom recovery or relief is sought in a civil case or the accused in a criminal case.
Generally, a book containing brief entries describing all important acts of a court in the conduct of each case from inception to conclusion. The term also describes a book with a more specialized purpose such as a bar, civil, criminal, execution, judgment, or juvenile docket.
Donation Land Claim
In Oregon, land granted to persons who fulfilled the requirements of the Donation Land Claim Act of 1850. This act specified that citizens of the United States, or those who filed a declaration of intention prior to December 1, 1850, and had resided upon or cultivated the land for four consecutive years, were granted a specified amount of acreage in the Oregon Territory.
Legal provisions made for a widow from her husband's property to support her and her children. The widow usually received an interest for the remainder of her life in one-third of the land and certain other property which her husband had acquired during the marriage.
The acquired or reserved right of use over the property of another. Examples include road and utility easements.
The comparison and adjustment of the assessed value of property to better conform with real value for taxation purposes. The process is supervised by the county board of equalization.
The total property owned by a person at the time of death. It is distributed according to the terms of a will, if one exists, or by inheritance laws as applied in probate proceedings.
An action to carry into effect the directions of a decree or judgment. Typically, a writ of execution authorizes the sheriff or other competent officer to enforce the decision of the court.
A person appointed by the testator (one who has made a will) to carry out the directions and requests of the will and distribute the property accordingly. See also Administrator/Administratrix.
Ex officio
Powers resulting from holding a particular office but not specifically conferred to an individual. For example, by virtue of office the county clerk serves as ex officio clerk to the county board of equalization.
A legal process which deprives a mortgagor of interest in property, usually as a result of failure to make mortgage, judgment, or tax payments.
A person who buys or receives property.
A person who sells or conveys property.
A person who holds the lawful power and duty to care for the person, property, and rights of another individual considered incapable by reason of age, understanding, or self-control.
Habeas Corpus
Typically, a writ designed to challenge whether or not due process of law (the exercise of established law) was followed in detaining a prisoner. In Latin the term means: You have the body.
Home rule
A provision whereby the state grants authority to counties to adopt charters providing more local discretion with respect to county government organization and practice within certain limits set by the state.
Settlement resulting from the Homestead Act of 1862 and subsequent land laws. The act provided 160 acres of public domain land to settlers who built a home on the land, resided there for five years, and cultivated the land. In Oregon, the act was especially significant east of the Cascade Mountains. See also Patent (land).
An inquiry by a jury called by the district attorney to find the cause of death in certain cases requiring investigation. The coroner participated in the inquest.
An itemized list often containing the estimated or real values of property belonging to an estate. An inventory is usually made by an executor or administrator of an estate as part of the probate process.
A book in which narrative entries of judicial, legislative, or administrative proceedings are recorded in chronological order.
A final decision of a court in a civil case resolving a dispute and determining the rights and obligations of the parties. Typically, a judgment results in a lien on property to recover costs and awards. It may also refer to a decision in a criminal case.
In connection to taxation, the exercise of legislative authority to fix and impose the amount and purpose of a tax.
A charge, security, or encumbrance placed on property resulting from a debt, obligation, or duty.
Meander lines
In surveying and mapping, the border lines of a stream according to its windings and turnings.
Metes and Bounds
Boundary marks or lines of land as described in a survey.
A person who lends money to a mortgagor to purchase property. The mortgagee usually holds legal title to the property to secure the loan until it is satisfied.
A person who borrows money from a mortgagee to purchase property. The mortgagor receives legal title to the property from the mortgagee when the loan is satisfied.
Muster roll
A list of all troops actually present on parade or otherwise accounted for on the day of muster or review of troops under arms.
The process by which a person gains nationality after birth and becomes entitled to citizenship.
Notary public
A person who is authorized by the state to administer oaths and attest to the authenticity of signatures.
A directive issued by the county governing body, often to implement an existing ordinance or law.
The county equivalent of a law. An ordinance is enacted by the county governing body to legislatively address matters not already covered by existing laws, regulations, or ordinances. Typical subjects include zoning, building, and animal control.
According to Oregon law, the division of a unit of land into two or three parcels within a calendar year. See also Subdivision.
Patent (land)
An instrument issued by the government conveying the title of land from the public domain to private ownership. See also Homestead.
Personal property
Property, other than real property, consisting generally of movable or temporary things, including intangible property. See also Real property.
A person who brings an action such as a complaint or suit in a civil case. Also, the plaintiff is the prosecution (typically identified as the " State of Oregon") in a criminal case.
A map of a town, section, subdivision or partition showing the location and boundaries of individual parcels of land subdivided into lots. A plat often shows streets, alleys, easements, and other details drawn to scale.
Premium list
A booklet describing the rules and prizes associated with various categories of county fair competition.
Probate case
Generally, a court proceeding related to the estate of a decedent, whether or not a will is present.
Profile map
A survey strip map displaying the elevation of a road or planned road over the course of its route.
Quitclaim deed
A deed relinquishing all rights of the grantor to a specific property but not providing a warranty against claims that others may have in the property.
see 'township and range.'
Real property
All property of a fixed, permanent, or immovable nature such as land and buildings. See also Personal Property.
The state of an insolvent individual or business in bankruptcy proceedings when the court appoints a person to take charge of all legally relevant assets in order to preserve them for sale and distribution to creditors.
The act of reclaiming property which had been taken for nonpayment of taxes. Redemption is allowed if delinquent taxes and all related interest, costs, and penalties are paid within the prescribed period of time.
A book of public facts. Typical examples include death, birth, land title, probate, and prisoner registers.
A formal expression of the opinion or will of a board of county commissioners or county court.
An acknowledgment and brief description of action taken to serve a writ, notice, or other paper required by a court. A return is also known as a proof of service.
A record of the proceedings of a court or public office. Examples include judgment rolls (case files), assessment and tax rolls, and delinquent tax rolls.
A document stating that the terms or conditions of a judgment, lien, or mortgage have been met and that any property or obligation held is therefore released.
One square mile of land within a township. 36 sections make up one township. See also Township.
Sheriff's sale
A sale conducted by the sheriff or other officer to carry out a judgment or decree of execution or foreclosure issued by a court. Examples include sales to satisfy attachments, tax and other liens, and mortgages.
Small estate case
A probate case with less formal procedures than ordinarily practiced. This type of case is permitted with an estate valued at an amount less than a limit set by statute.
According to Oregon law, the division of a unit of land into four or more lots within a calendar year. See also Partition.
A written command to appear at a defined time and place to testify, usually in relation to a court case.
Tax sale
See Sheriff's sale.
Torrens registry system
A system of land title registration in which all persons with interest in or holding charges on land had the right to have their names registered and indexed. The system was enacted in 1901 and repealed in 1971.
A square tract 6 miles on each side containing 36 square miles of land. See also Section.
Township and range
The coordinates of a township based on its relative location to latitudinal and longitudinal reference lines. For example, the city of Lebanon in Linn County is situated in Township 12 South and Range 2 West which narrows its location to an area 66 to 72 miles south of the Base Line latitudinal reference line and 6 to 12 miles west of the Willamette Meridian longitudinal reference line. Survey related records are often arranged by township and range.
A person who is appointed, or required by law, to administer an estate, interest, or power for the benefit of another.
The process whereby a county relinquishes control of and usually title to public property such as roads, undeveloped subdivisions, and easements.
Warranty deed
A deed in which the grantor promises clear title to property free from any encumbrances or claims.
An order issued by a court requiring the performance of a specified act, or providing authority to have it done. Examples include writs of attachment, execution, and habeas corpus.
The enactment of county ordinances to regulate land use to conform with state land conservation and development laws and the county comprehensive land use plan. Areas are typically zoned for residential, commercial, industrial, or other uses.
Guide to the Jackson County, Oregon Records
Complete Description
Finding aid prepared by Hugh Davidson, Veta Schlimgen, Sarah Hale, and Tanya Parlet
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.
Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Oregon Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives Repository

1299 University of Oregon
Eugene OR 97403-1299 USA