Lake Creek Roots

Florence Thumberg and sister MaudeThumberg house salt creek


Florence (Grandma on right) and sister Maud c. 1900.

The Lake Creek Thumberg homestead that Frederick Thumberg built c 1890 on the Salt Creek Road property.  Photo by Victor Thumberg c. 1950


Lake Creek Roots – by Garry Wilson

“Walking. I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.”  ― Linda Hogan I never had a chance to say goodbye.  We went to see Grandma when she was taken to an old Victorian house in Portland.  My sister and I had to wait outside in a garden by the old house.  In that Victorian garden I climbed the strangest tree.  The seeds were large puffballs hanging like long dead fruit.  When I squeezed one it broke and spilled dust. That night the phone rang and Mother told us Grandma had passed away.  Over the years I visited Grandma’s grave many times but I knew she wasn’t really there.  She was with me and those she loved.  I’m glad I look like her.  It helps me remember her laughter, the twinkle in her eye, her big hugs that made us one.  But it left a missing place too.  What was Grandma’s life like before those precious eight years that I knew her? I collected letters, pictures, and stories, anything I could find she left behind.  I joined and in my search found family I never even knew existed; some of them had the same desire to know more about our Thumberg roots as I did.  We shared out anecdotal stories and memorabilia and piece by piece we began reconstructing their lives. The more I learned the more questions I had and the more I wanted to know.  Why did her parents come to America from Sweden?  What drew them to Lake Creek? What was it like living in the rustic mountains of the Rogue River Valley?    What kind of people led their family into a wagon with young children, all with their belongings, and spend a year migrating across the country with little more than a hope and a prayer of what life would be like in new land they knew little about? We learned that Grandma’s parents, Charles and Ida Thumberg came to America from Sweden on a ship in 1880 along with Charles’ brother Frederick. They moved to Elgin Illinois and then to Lake Creek, Oregon c 1890 when my grandmother, Florence, was about four years old.  While living in the Lake Creek area Charles and Ida’s family had grown to nine children; two boys and seven girls. Through a newly discovered Thumberg cousin we found that we were not the first of the Thumberg family to search for the Lake Creek family history.  Frederick’s son, Victor, after hearing stories of the old homestead from his father, set out to find it in the 50’s.  Thankfully, Victor found it and left a wonderful story for us to follow. I was happy to find Marilyn Maloney, a volunteer at the Lake Creek Pioneer Museum through their web site and enlisted her help in finding the Thumberg history in Lake Creek.  Marilyn thought the name sounded familiar and said she’d ask her friend Maxine Peile if she’d heard of them.  Maxine not only knew of the Thumbergs, her uncle, William Messal,  had been childhood friends with the Thumberg children in the 1890’s and had gone to school with them.  Sometime after the Thumberg’s left, many families had lived in the house before the Messal’s purchased the Thumberg property.  What luck!  Maxine still remembered the stories her uncle told her of the Thumberg family.  She even had pictures of my grandmother and her family visiting William and his family, including Maxine in 1940.  Maxine’s pictures seemed familiar and I got a big surprise when I found the same pictures in my Grandmother’s collection.  Grandmother and her family, including my parents, had taken a trip to Lake Creek to visit William and his family, some of the pictures appearing to be on the Messal property.  I’d been looking at those pictures since I was a kid and hadn’t a clue the significance of them until Maxine sent her matching photos.  I really was itching to put my feet on that homestead ground, to connect in some way with Grandma’s experience growing up in the Rogue River valley. Lake Creek Visit We arrived Sunday June 30th in White City and set up camp at the local hotel just a few miles from Lake Creek.  We met with Marilyn at the Lake Creek Pioneer Museum and absorbed as much history as we could.   Marilyn told us of the beginnings of the old general store in Lake Creek her father and mother had bought in the 50’s.  Back in Grandma’s day the general store was very limited and supplied only chewing tobacco and a few other essentials.   The museum had a great photo of the old Lake Creek school house c 1888 that my Grandmother and her siblings most likely attended.  After a great tour of the Lake Creek Museum and General store Marilyn, my wife, and I headed up Salt Creek road to meet Maxine to see where the old Thumberg homestead had been.  The land was beautiful with Oak Trees, rocky chaparral, dry grass hill country.  Maxine said she’d be waiting for us with her mule, so we thought we were in for some pretty rough country.  Mules and rattlesnakes, this was going to be interesting.  Maxine’s mule turned out to be a Lincoln green golf cart looking like someone long lost from the fairway.  We followed the mule a little further up Salt Creek road and onto the old Thumberg property.  I noticed the little hill behind the picture of the homestead Frederick had built.  It was right behind where the old house had been.  What a beautiful panoramic view of the Lake Creek Valley and mountains above the valley.  The old three room homestead and barn Frederick built had been torn down years ago, but Maxine remembered it well and exactly where it had been.  I wanted to absorb what it must have been like growing up in those hills 114 years ago.  The land hadn’t changed much from the picture Victor took. There was a lone spring near the house, their only source of drinking water.  They may have used Salt Creek for other sources of water as well.  Standing where the porch had been I imagined Frederick’s story of shooting coyotes and deer with his 44-40 Winchester from the very spot I was standing. I asked Maxine what life was like for the kids back in 1890.  She said it probably wasn’t much different than her childhood.  There were plenty of chores but the kids also had time for roaming the hills and hunting for Indian artifacts.  Back then it hadn’t been that many years before the Indians lived in those hills.  I wanted to roam the hills and follow Grandma’s 114 year old footsteps.  But, first I needed to learn more about the rattlesnakes.  How the kids managed to avoid them all those years is still a mystery.  Maxine said the kids rode horses to school in those days and one letter we have said they moved from the area nearer to a school so Frederick’s daughter wouldn’t have to ride ten miles to school by horseback.  Schools shut down back in those days during the worst of the winter because of the snow and distances the kids had to travel.  Apparently schools houses came and went pretty quickly in those days and it wasn’t clear where they went to school. We were so lucky to have met Maxine, someone who actually knew of the Thumbergs and had lived her entire life on the Messal property that bordered the Thumberg property.  She, more than anyone, knew that life; a rugged life for strong people.  In response to my enthrallment with the beauty of the land Maxine reminded me, it isn’t all beauty, and it’s a lot of hard work too.  At 76th years of age Maxine’s hiked the 9,000 foot Mt. McLaughlin. True grit, just like Grandma. The Thumberg property was, and still is, dry hill country; not the plush hydrated alluvial soil of the valley.   There were no water sources large enough to irrigate the land so they probably depended on part of their food supply from other sources.  Perhaps they lived mostly from hunting.  If so, where did they get grain, produce, and other supplies?   Eagle Point?  The old Butte Creek Mill?   Eagle Point might hold some answers.  Then there was the mystery of Annie Peachey. The Mystery of Annie Peachey My mother told me a wonderful story of how she met my father.  My grandmother, married with three children and living in Portland, Oregon, had an unmarried son, my dad, and asked, Annie Peachey Bish, her neighbor, if the nice girl her son married had any sisters.  “Oh yes said Annie, I have just the girl, her name is Betty Lee.   Together Annie and Grandma concocted a plan that would have made Lucille Ball proud.  When Lloyd came home for lunch, as he usually did, he opened the closet door to hang up his coat and out jumped Betty, “Hello Lloyd, I’m Betty, so happy to meet you.”  Two years later I was born and my sister came three years later.  Mom and Dad had a wonderful till-death-do-us-part life together until Dad passed away on their 65th anniversary.  But what I didn’t know, until just recently, was that Annie and Grandma had most likely been friends long ago when they were young girls in Eagle Point and Lake Creek.  Annie had left a diary of their covered wagon trip from Oklahoma to Eagle Point in 1900 and my cousin just told me about it by chance recently.  We were hoping to find the connection between Annie and Grandma in Eagle Point. Eagle Point Visit Eagle Point is a historical town.  The Butte Creek Mill, the curio shop, the Eagle Point Museum, and the old covered bridge and other historical buildings are all lined up on Little Butte Creek, each a gateway into it’s past.  It was easy to imagine Annie’s covered wagon rolling into this little country town in 1901 the family in the covered wagon, streets filled with ladies in Victorian dresses, horses, buggies, and wagons coming to the old mill for trade. We met Helen Wolgamott, the curator of the Eagle Point Museum, at the mill.  She had kindly offered to show us the Mill and the Museum. The Butte Creek Mill is one of the oldest still active mills in the country.  Built in 1872, it’s the last water-powered grist mill, still commercially operating this side of the Mississippi. She introduced us to Bob Russell, the current owner, and I asked him if he’d ever heard of the Peachey’s and told him of the Peachey diary and trip from Oklahoma.  Oh yeah, he said, there were a lot of Peachey’s in the town’s history and in fact the first Peachey family lived on the other side of Butte Creek right behind the Mill.  The Peachey house had burned down but Bob had managed to save a few letters, one of which he copied for us.  We had a great tour of the mill and learned more about the Peachey family and town history.   The Butte Creek Mill has a great web site and video showing the history of the Mill. Eagle Point Museum I was already feeling back in the late 1800’s, but walking through the Eagle Point Museum door was like stepping off the train to Willoughby from the Twilight Zone.  The old days hadn’t faded away they just went to the Eagle Point Museum.  Oh the stories this old town could tell. There were so many pictures of the people who came together and lived their lives there.  So many little towns wither and die but the heart of this little town was still going strong.  The Butte Creek Mill was still grinding the grains from the nearby farms as it had since 1872. The museum had a nice collection of documents and pictures of the town settlers, including the Peachey family.  I have many pictures of Annie and her family from my cousin so it was quite a surprise to see their photos among the early Eagle Point settlers.  Even part of Annie’s diary was there.  The displays included life like figures of people wearing the fashions of the day from Victorian swimming suits to wedding gowns.  Indian artifacts from the time before the settlers came.  A marvelous gun collection including the famous Winchester 44-40, the same rifle my great grandfather fed his family with.  This was a marvelous museum and one I want to visit again.  We were so thank for Helen’s stories and the documents she shared.  Next time we hope to spend much more time there. The Griffin Creek Property From an old picture taken in the 20’s we learned Charles had bought a farm near Griffin Creek.  Written on the photo was, “1920, our visit to our old Griffin Creek place.” It was a picture of two of Grandma’s sisters in the hayloft of an old barn.  Marilyn checked the old deeds in Medford and found that Charles had purchased a farm in Griffin Creek in 1900.  We took the legal description to the Jackson Country surveyor and he located the property just west of the Jackson County Genealogical society near Griffin Creek on Stage Coach Road.   We were anxious to check out the old farm but decided to save that for our next visit.  I did find the property on Google Earth though, which gave us a sense of the area.  In 1900 Grandma was 14 years old and working.  A letter between the sisters spoke of them as teenage girls working in Medford and staying in a single room.  On the weekends they rode their bicycles to the farm.  The girls in the family went to work after elementary school.  Only the boys in the family had the privilege of a higher education, which meant high school back then.  Out of nine children only one of the two boys in the family achieved that.  The other boy died at 20 fishing in the ocean near Vancouver, Canada.  There was more to learn at the Jackson County Genealogical Society. Jackson County Genealogical Society Visit The genealogical society was a gold mine of information about the family.  Chuck Eccleston and others went to work looking for any records they could find of the Thumbergs when they were in Jackson County; a marriage certificate for Maud, Grandma’s sister, which added a big piece to the puzzle of her life; Lake Creek School roster with three of the Thumberg children listed in 1893; Employment records and more.  So many of the records we found were right there in their extensive collection of Jackson County genealogy information.  We got copies of several records and left a more complete search for another time.  Some we will do online since that’s a service they offer.  The Genealogical Society will be a wonderful resource for our future investigations. Conclusions I’ve always had a yearning for the Rogue River country.  I’m a born river fisherman and the Rogue has always been a magical place in my memories.   It was the enchanted country of Zane Grey stories.  It’s where my grandfather and father took me on one of my first fishing trips.  I was made for that river.  It awakens and heals the soul.  When I recently learned that my grandmother had grown up there I had to return; for my memories and to see what I could learn of Grandma’s childhood.  As I walked on the old homestead and imagined the children playing long ago, Grandma was holding my arm.  Be still.  Watch and listen.  We are the result of the love of thousands. How like rivers are our lives.  People come together in a place for a time and then move on just as the waters flow from the vents of Mount Mazama, the cradle of Crater Lake, to Salt Creek, to Lake Creek, to Little Butte Creek and into the Rogue.  Annie and Grandma met and out of that friendship my life followed. I couldn’t be more pleased with our trip and want to thank the wonderful people who helped us learn more about my family in Jackson County.  Many thanks to Marilyn Maloney, the volunteer at the Lake Creek Pioneer Museum, Maxine Peile, Helen Wolgamott, the curator of the Eagle Point Museum, Bob Russell the owner of the Butte Creek Mill, Chuck Eccleston and others from the Jackson County Genealogical Society, and the surveyor who located the old Griffin Creek farm; all so helpful and gracious in helping us in our search.  What I’ve learned so far has just whetted my appetite to learn more.  I’m reading everything I can get my hands on about the history of the area and am looking forward to another visit to that wonderful valley soon.

Note: Story in Lake Creek Newsletter Fall/Winter 2014