ONCE THERE WERE TREES AS FAR AS THE EYE COULD SEE—By Joyce Hailicka
At one time, much of Oregon looked the way Butte Falls does today. The vast forests of Oregon did not attract much attention until around 1890 through 1900’s. There were trees as far as the eye could see. Oregon had one half of all the standing timber in the entire Pacific Northwest.
History is like the roots which nourish the tree. Although we cannot see them, we know that they are there. And without the roots there would be no tree. The history of Butte Falls, and how it got its start, is important to who we are today. The only clue to what a person can do is by what men have done before him. The history of our town, as it exists today, came into existence over the last century.
Oregon forests were considered “more trouble than they were worth.” So many trees made the land too expensive to clear. But, by the turn-of-the-century, the forests of Michigan and Wisconsin were extensively logged. Some of the mills in the Mid-West moved into the Southern forests. Others moved out West.
Even before the mills came, the owners started buying up timberlands in areas like Butte Falls. Soon, mills sprung up throughout Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. Lumbering became Oregon’s main industry. Dr. Jeff LaLande gives us the following account of how Butte Falls got its start as a timber community.
No town actually existed in Big Butte Country until after 1900. In the early 1900’s, Michigan-based lumbermen began cutting pine timber on the flats above Big Butte Creek. The mill led to the founding of the nearby town.
By 1910, the Pacific and Eastern Railroad reached Butte Falls from Medford. We were no longer isolated from our neighbors.
For the next half century, the town’s destiny would be linked to the railroad. The fate of the various lumber companies depended on the railway. During the 1920’s, the Wisconsin-based Owen-Oregon Lumber Company extended the line east of Butte Falls. The railroad logged the pine flats all the way to Mt. McLoughlin. The main line carried logs daily to a new mill on the outskirts of Medford.
During the Great Depression, the bankrupted Owen-Oregon firm turned its assets over to its Chicago-based creditors, who formed Medford Corporation in 1932. The new company struggled through the hard times of the Depression, as did the town residents. In 1936, the economy of Butte Falls got a slight boost when the Forest Service built a new ranger station on the southeast edge of town.
World War II brought renewed prosperity to the Pacific Northwest’s timber industry. Recent years have seen much controversy over logging in the Northwest. The region’s lumber industry has also experienced major changes in technology. Butte Falls has had to adapt to these changes.
Butte Falls remains proud of its heritage as a small Oregon logging community.