Oregon Trails: Fort Lane

digging into the pastFORT LANE, Ore. — More than a dozen professional and amateur archaeologists are digging into the past near Blackwell Hill, seeking to learn more about a small Army post that was established here in the early 1850s. A grassy clearing not far from the site of the former Gold Ray Dam is where Fort Lane was built during the Rogue Indian Wars. It was named in honor of Joseph Lane, an early Oregon senator and presidential candidate.

“When we first came out here, we had no real sense of where the fort lie on the landscape. So we did have things like–we had information like this map, which was drawn by Captain Andrew Jackson Smith who was the commander of Ft. Lane. And he was a fairly meticulous guy. He drew blue prints of the fort that showed the layout of the buildings and their dimensions and information about them. And so we had where the officers lived, where the enlisted men lived, their kitchen, the hospital. He also drew this image that shows the basic layout of the fort, row of enlisted men’s barracks, the kitchens that they cooked in…And at the end of the parade ground was a flag pole with a crows nest observation,” said Dr. Mark Tveskov, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Southern Oregon University.

The fort was built to keep the indians and miners and settlers from tangling with each other. A treaty was signed in 1853 establishing a reservation across the Rogue River. And Tveskov says that was one of the first indian treaties in the country.

“That reservation lay on the north side of the Rogue River from the mouth of Little Butte Creek down to Evans Creek and the City of Rogue River. So, the position of Fort Lane give you a vista from basically…where Gold Ray Dam used to be, all the way across of that reservation, and of the central part of the Rogue Valley where Medford and Eagle Point and Central Point now are. So it’s a, a nice vista of all that area,” Tveskov said.

You can’t see that far now because of the oak trees that have grown up. But then the Indian War flared up again in 1855. And by 1856 the natives were beaten and shipped north and the old reservation was opened to mining and settlement. And the fort was abandoned. Now there’s little left but foundation stones and a few pieces of pottery and other clues as to who lived here for just a few years.

“We’ve got fingers crossed we’ll find some sort of diagnostic artifact that can not only link us to a building, but also maybe even a person so that’ll be pretty exciting if we can figure that out as well,” said Chelsea Rose, an archaeologist with Southern Oregon University Laboratory of Anthropology.

“I think they just rotted in place. We also have some accounts of squatters back in the later part of the 1800s. There was a gold mine around here someplace,” Tveskov said.

One journal account of an enlisted man says soldiers preferred to sleep outside under the trees in the good weather because the barracks were so bug infested.

There’s not much there to suggest that there was even an Army fort there about 160 years ago. But if you look around you can see mounds that indicate where some of the buildings and other structures were. In a horse-shoe shape open towards Table Rock. Now the state parks department has to decide what they’re going to do with the property. And that’s still something of a mystery.

A marker placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution was stolen from this monument years ago. It has since been recovered, but Tveskov is not sure when it will be replaced.