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North Umpqua Early History Pt 2

Posted by Mark Monday, April 12, 2010

Again, credit for the following history and information goes to Mark Hoy who compiled it for the Steamboat Inn.

Here is Part 2 on some of the North Umpquas early personalities:


Zane Grey on the North Umpqua

Charcoal PoolThe spring after Major Mott's death, in 1931, marked the appearance at Steamboat of perhaps the most famous sportsman in America, Zane Grey. During the last half of the 1920s, Grey had split his fishing time between ocean cruises to the South Seas in search of world record marlin and regular forays to flyfish for summer steelhead on the Rogue River in south­western Oregon . At least in part because of Grey's own articles and books, the Rogue River became too crowded to suit Grey's taste. In June of 1932, he stopped to camp in the Steamboat area as a layover on his trip to Campbell River, British Columbia .
Grey's first camp was near the junction of Steamboat and Canton creeks. As was his custom, the camp was part business enterprise, part fishing extravaganza. On this trip, Grey was accompanied by his son, Romer, and his daughter-in-law, as well as a frequent fishing companion, Dr. J. A. Wiborn, and Wiborn's wife. In addition, Grey's secretaries were along (for help on his writing projects) and he rarely traveled without his loyal Japanese cook, George Takahashi, as well as several cameramen and other technicians who worked for Romer Grey Motion Picture Corporation.
Merle Hargis, a Forest Service packer stationed at Steamboat, was asked by his boss to transport Grey's camp equipment up the hill to John Ewell's cabins. Hargis remembers that it took three trips with the six mules in his string to transport all the gear - eighteen loads in all! Afterwards, Zane Grey put his arm around Hargis, thanked him warmly, and gave the packer four half dollars as a reward for his efforts.
Later that summer, Grey and his party moved their camp down to the point where Steamboat Creek enters the North Umpqua River. Across the river was Major Mott's old camp, now occupied by Zeke Allen and a few anglers he was guiding. They all fished the Camp Water, particularly the Plank Pool (now known as the Station Pool), which took its name from the boards which had been laid out from shore to a large rock. The old Forest Service Guard Station was across from Grey's camp, and the plank was used by one and all to secure water for washing and cooking, as well as a convenient platform for fishing the productive pool below.
When Grey camped on the North Umpqua, he was guided by Joe DeBernardi, a resident of the little community downstream known as Glide. That first summer, Romer Grey and his movie technicians constructed several wooden boats in camp, copying the design of boats being constructed at that time on the Rogue River by Glen Wooldridge. Romer convinced Joe DeBernardi to help pilot the boats downstream from Steamboat to Rock Creek while his camera crew filmed the whitewater passage "to provide thrills for his motion picture audiences."
Apparently, the boaters got more of a thrill than they bargained for. According to a news account of the day, several of the boats were wrecked against rocks and "time and again the occupants of the boats were thrown out into the icy waters to battle swift currents for their lives." DeBernardi narrowly escaped death when the boat in which he and Romer Grey were riding was crushed against an overhanging ledge and an oarlock punctured DeBernardi's side. Fortunately, he managed to hang on to the overturned craft until it reached calmer water.
Thus, modern-day river running on the North Umpqua was born. Romer Grey reported that "the Umpqua provided him with more thrills and exciting experiences than any other water he has ever attempted." However, the Grey party repeated the thrilling adventure only one more time, and in subsequent seasons the boats were used primarily to ferry fishermen and guests across the river.
Zane Grey enjoyed his initial visit to the Steamboat area so much that he stayed on until the end of July, well beyond his intended depar­ture date for Campbell River . After another winter cruise to New Zealand , Grey and his party returned to the North Umpqua in the summer of 1933 when they stayed at Zeke Allen's camp. Dissatisfied with Allen's unkempt campsite and some of his fishing methods, Grey moved his camp downstream in 1934 to Maple Ridge, the present site of the Steamboat Inn.
The falls at the innInterestingly, while there is a fishing pool near the Maple Ridge campsite named for Grey's cook, Takahashi, no landmarks on the North Umpqua today bear the name of the famous writer himself. During the 1930s, part of the Mott Water was called the ZG Pool for a time but later reverted to its old name. Grey is reputed to have named the Ledges Pool and several others in the area downstream from Steamboat. The most convincing explanation for the lack of a river memorial to Grey seems to be that while ZG (as he was known) was respected for his power and reputation as a writer, he was not well-loved by other anglers or local residents. When Grey camped along a stretch of water, he considered the fishing pools to be his own private domain. Many old-timers on the North Um­pqua still remember how ZG's assistants attempted to prevent them from fishing their favorite spots before the famous author arrived to cast his fly in the morning.
Then, as now, this high-handed behavior did not sit well with the local flyfishermen. The gentleman's code on the North Umpqua dictated that the first angler to reach a fishing pool could fish through without interruption, providing he did not "hog" the area for an extended period of time. The same code still applies today.
Grey's dislike for the "crowded" fishing conditions at Steamboat probably explains his move downstream to the Williams Creek area in subsequent years. When Clarence Gordon took over the old Mott Camp and entertained a steady stream of well-to-do anglers from Southern California and the East Coast, Grey sought a more secluded fishing camp for his 1935 visit to the North Umpqua .
He found it across from Williams Creek, on the south side of the river. All equipment and visitors had to be ferried across by boat, so Grey was able to control access and maintain his distance from other anglers. His camp was reported to be one of the cleanest and best organized ever seen on the North Umpqua. He even brought the heavy seat and rod apparatus that he used in marlin fishing, so he could practice straining against weights for thirty minutes daily to stay in shape for his battles with marlin that could weigh over a thousand pounds.
Grey's party enjoyed some fabulous flyfishing for summer steelhead during their visits to the North Umpqua. They found that the steelhead were bigger than the fish they had become accustomed to on the Rogue. On the Umpqua, the steelhead averaged six to eight pounds and could sometimes weigh in at as much as fifteen pounds. Loren, Grey's youngest son, had joined the party in 1934 and the next summer he reported catching over one hundred steelhead in less than two months of fishing. Others reported similar totals.
However, Zane Grey became increasingly concerned about the future of the steelhead runs on the North Umpqua . He published just one article about it, hoping to shield the river from the publicity that he felt had ruined the Rogue. In that article he pleaded for wise management of the North Umpqua, decrying the practice by commercial fishermen of placing racks in the river to trap salmon - which incidentally killed thousands of steelhead. He also gave much needed support to a delegation from the Roseburg Rod and Gun Club who appeared before the Oregon State Game Commission and succeeded in having Steamboat Creek, the river's prime spawning ground, closed to angling.
For a man in his sixties, Zane Grey kept himself in remarkable condition since he exercised regularly and never smoked or drank. Photos taken during his visits to the North Umpqua show a vigorous, tanned, and lean sportsman with keen eyes and a distinctive shaggy mop of gray hair. Nevertheless, it was during Grey's North Umpqua visit of 1937 that he suffered the stroke which eventually led to his death in 1939. He never returned to his camp near Williams Creek, and another legendary figure on the North Umpqua passed from the scene.
Fred Burnham was another famous North Umpqua angler whose name is closely associated with Zane Grey's. Burnham married into money after his graduation from the University of California , and his job as a stock broker al­lowed him the leisure to fish all the famous salmon and steelhead rivers of his day. Standing over six feet three inches tall, he was a gifted athlete with ample strength and coordination. He owned property on the Rogue and his prowess there as a fly-fisherman was well known.
After Zane Grey's first visit to the Rogue in 1916, Burnham served as ZG's mentor in the art of fly casting for summer steelhead. Their styles were a study in contrasts. Burnham was the "natural," an acknowledged expert in the sport. Grey, himself a gifted athlete and a semipro baseball player in his youth, struggled as he learned to cast a fly line long distances and never quite achieved the grace that Burnham exhibited. In a sense, Grey was the victim of his self-created image as a record-holding angler. When he failed, he was forced to fall back on excuses, such as failing fish runs or simple bad luck. Burnham and Grey also fished together (or more precisely, in competition) for record-breaking marlin in the South Seas .
It was Burnham who first urged Zane Grey to try fishing the North Umpqua . During his early visits, Burnham stayed at the Circle H Ranch, downstream from Steamboat at Susan Creek . This small resort predated the camps at Steamboat since the road had reached the Susan Creek area at an earlier time. The Circle H resort also offered horseback riding and outfitted pack trips for hunters in the early days.
Burnham was well-known in the area as a skilled fly-fisherman, whose height and strength allowed him to wade areas of the river that lesser men could never dare to challenge. He later transferred his North Umpqua angling trips upstream to Steamboat, where he stayed at the new lodge constructed by Clarence Gordon.


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