Kerby Jackson in 2010, appearing on NBC to talk about
the mining camp of Buncom, Oregon.
Kerby Jackson is an author, independent gold miner and historian living in Southern Oregon's Rogue River Valley, an area where Zane Grey and Jack London often came to receive inspiration to write their own novels. In addition to being a multi-generation native of the Rogue River Valley, his father's family have been on the North American Continent since the 1600's. He is a direct descendent of Sir Thomas More (lawyer, philosopher, statesman and author of “Utopia”, who was beheaded for treason against Henry VIII in 1535) and of Martha Allen Carrier (supposed witch, referred to by Cotton Mather as the “Queen of Hell”, hanged during the Salem Witch Craze in 1692) and her husband, Thomas Carrier (reported to have been of the two regicides who executed King Charles I of England) . At least three of Jackson's ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War against the British Crown.
Named for the gold rush era town of Kerbyville, Oregon, he is a compulsive student of Oregon history, and in particular, that of Southern Oregon's Gold Rush era. In addition to researching voraciously, Jackson has literally tromped through and mined gold in the same creeks, gulches and hills as the first old timers who came to Southern Oregon in search of gold in the 1850's. He has also sought out and explored the remnants of their early towns, camps, cabin-sites, mines and old trails. Despite this, he actually spent much of his early childhood in Idaho's Lower Snake River Valley. “We lived on the top of a large bluff overlooking a bend of the Boise River that was a stopping point on the Oregon Trail,” Jackson recalls. “I panned my first color out of Grimes Creek and remember digging for square nails and pieces of broken plates in what was left of Old Centerville, which was one of the earliest mining towns in the Boise Basin. I had a great childhood.” Family vacations consisted of camping, hunting and visiting the run-down relics of Idaho's early years. During those years, his love of history and exploring long abandoned settlements developed.
Jackson's literary influences include William Faulkner, Ernest Haycox, Zane Grey, Louis L'Amour and Elmer Kelton.
“One of my great grandmothers was a big fan of Louis L'Amour,” Jackson recalls. “She was the daughter of a professional wolf hunter and trapper, later turned Indian Agent and spent her childhood in a remote log cabin in Wyoming. Her parents were the “real deal”, pioneers who had come West in a covered wagon. She liked L'Amour for his authenticity. My grandmother liked L'Amour too”.
Despite this, Jackson actually points to Ernest Haycox, another Oregon native, as his primary influence in the Western genre. Haycox's novel, “The Wild Bunch”, published in 1943, is his favorite Western and probably did more to influence his work than any other Western novel.
“Like L'Amour and Kelton did,” Jackson says, “I tend to write about the places I've seen and the things I know. While there's some artistic license involved, they are real places and I make it a point to utilize as much factual history and real geography as I can in my fiction. If I say something is there, I want my readers to be able to go out and find it. In the case of 'Vengeance on Althouse Creek', due to the generosity of a mining friend, I've had the opportunity to see quite a bit of the Althouse Country. For example, I have visited the sites of the old camps of Grass Flat, Frenchtown Bar and Browntown, as well as been on portions of the old Althouse Trail that runs up the East Fork. Those trails date back to the early 1850's. I've also visited some of the old copper and chromite mines up on the West Fork of Althouse and we went all the way into the headwaters of Sowell Creek which is close to the California border. While it's not really rough country, was once well populated by miners and it's still criss-crossed with old ore roads and mule trails, it's considered a pretty isolated area and very few people go out there. When I was a kid, that area was still considered to be pretty lawless. Neither the Sheriff's Department, nor the Forest Service would go out there. It had a reputation as a place where people disappeared. My father's mother lived up there in the brush and when my parents first met, my mother was absolutely terrified the first time my father took her out there as she'd always been told horror stories about the place. While that area doesn't have that reputation now, funnily enough, the only time I've ever actually been shot at while out in the hills was out there. Needless to say, it was really the ideal location to set that novel.”
Like his previous novel, “The Troubled Land”, “Vengeance on Althouse Creek”, carries some darker over-tones than most Western novels and at times, seems to hint of something supernatural taking place.
“While I always leave it up to the reader to decide if something supernatural is taking place, or if the character is perhaps a little 'touched in the head', even though you don't see it very often, I tend to think that the Old West and ghost stories are fairly well intertwined. For example, the first people who were out here, the Native Americans, regardless of their tribe, tended to be very spiritual and they believed in the supernatural. Later on, many of the first settlers out here were European immigrants and they brought superstitions with them that were part of their culture. Today, I don't think most people can help but to suspect that a ghost town or an old mine might be haunted.”
“I've been to hundreds of old mines, and of course, old town sites, cabins, shacks and ruined homesteads. There's something pretty peculiar about a place that was once a bustle of activity and is now completely abandoned. I've never been to a single one of these places that didn't feel as if there shouldn't be people around. Even old ore roads and mule trails have that feel to them. You can literally feel the history that took place. You can be miles from civilization and they do not seem so isolated. In fact, you can be a dozen miles from the nearest person and you always have that expectation that maybe someone ought to be coming around the next bend in the trail.”
As a well known mining rights advocate, he has represented the mining community on public issues and been interviewed on mining related topics and mining history by the Grants Pass Daily Courier, Medford Mail Tribune, The Portland Oregonian, ABC, NBC and Oregon Public Broadcasting. He wrote a regular column on local mining history for the weekly newspaper Apple Rogue Times and has also written articles for the Roseburg Beacon, 1859 Oregon Magazine and numerous internet sites.
In early 2013, Jackson showed how far he was willing to take his advocacy of mining rights and actually sued Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and three Oregon State Senators for passing state legislation that attacked mining rights.
He is the author of numerous articles and books, including “Gold Dust: Stories of Oregon's Mining Years”, “The Golden Trail: More Stories from Oregon's Mining Years”, “The Troubled Land” and “The Long Dark Trail”. More recently, he has undertaken a project to edit and re-print historical texts on mining and little known American history.
© Kerby Jackson 2007-2013