GRANTS PASS (AP) - Before Grants Pass was Grants Pass, it was Perkinsville.
The brief town namesake led a charmed entrepreneurial life, but his wife's loose morals led to his early demise and one of the most lurid episodes in Southern Oregon's early history.
A fraternal organization dedicated to the study and preservation of Western heritage called Umpqua Joe Outpost 1859 Humbug Chapter 73 of E. Clampus Vitus wants to change all that and install a plaque commemorating the old town, its founder and the first ferry across the Rogue River.
Dan Wymer, E. Clampus Vitus historian, said his organization is waiting for the go-ahead to install the plaque near the Taprock Northwest Grill in Grants Pass after obtaining permits from the city to place it in Riverside Park proved too expensive.
"We really think this is important and the history of this area is something we need to remember," Wymer said. "We put up several plaques in Josephine County. We would like to get this one set up, too."
Perkinsville was founded in 1851 by pioneer Joel Perkins. He was no stranger to establishing communities. In 1847, the 26-year-old formed the town of Lafayette in Yamhill County, near present-day McMinn-ville. There, he worked as a millwright, but he had greater aspirations and made several trips to California gold fields to seek his fortune.
According to the Yamhill County Historical Society, in 1850 Perkins married 15-year-old Laura Hawn, the daughter of a Lafayette innkeeper, and took out a Donation Land Claim on the east side of present-day Grants Pass. The savvy businessman also bought land in downtown Portland, established a trading post at Sutter's Fort in Sacramento, Calif., and ran a 100-acre ranch near Los Angeles.
By early 1851, Perkins had built a cabin and stockade on the Rogue River and constructed a ferry near White Rocks Riffle at the river's confluence with Jones Creek.
His reasons are lost to history, but Perkins sold the ferry in June 1851 and moved to Los Angeles, where he and his wife had two children. By summer 1856, they decided to return to Oregon.
According to reports in the Oregon City Argus, one of few newspapers in the state at the time, on July 24, the day after his sixth wedding anniversary, Perkins and his family were staying at a ranch on the Klamath River on the south side of the Siskiyous. Perkins and a man named John Malone, an Irish hired hand who'd worked for him for more than a year, went out to check the livestock.
Malone returned, but Perkins did not.
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When night came and Perkins still hadn't shown up, the owner of the ranch became concerned and Malone offered that his employer must have been killed by Indians. The next morning, Malone and Laura Perkins insisted on taking the stock and continuing on their trip north since Perkins was no doubt dead. A small boy, presumed to be Perkins's adopted son, begged the ranch owner to keep him because he was afraid Malone and Laura Perkins would kill him.
"The boy said he had often heard Mrs. Perkins and the Irishman consulting about killing Perkins while on the road, besides witnessing acts in the absence of Perkins that criminated these parties," the Argus reported.
A search party induced Malone to confess by telling him Laura Perkins had ratted him out.
"He began to curse Mrs. P. as a traitor, and acknowledged the crime," according to the Argus.
Malone said he shot Perkins and beat his skull in with the butt of a rifle, even though Perkins begged for his life and said he had two young children who were depending on him. The plea fell on deaf ears, as Malone told authorities he had fallen in love with Perkins' wife.
Malone was taken into custody at the Jacksonville jail. Laura Perkins was charged as an accessory to murder. On Aug. 23, less than a month after the murder, Malone hanged himself in his jail cell using the chain he was fastened to.
The charges against Laura Perkins were dropped since there was no testimony against her except Malone's confession.
According to the Yamhill County Historical Society, Laura Perkins returned to Lafayette and gave birth later that year. She married at least twice more and had eight more children. She died in Portland in 1921.
In 1865, Perkinsville became Grants Pass, in honor of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.