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History of the Umpqua Basin

The Native Americans were the first people to settle in the region. The Umpqua Basin was the ancestral territory of four tribes, the Lower Umpqua, the Upper Umpqua, the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua, and the Southern Mollala Indians. The Lower Umpqua Indians are a coastal tribe closely related to the Coos and Siuslaw Indians. The Upper Umpqua Indians lived in the interior of the basin, upstream from the head of tidewater along the valleys of the Umpqua river and streams. The Cow Creeks lived in the South Umpqua and Cow Creek drainages, and utilized much of the middle-elevation region of central and eastern portion of the basin. The Southern Mollala lived in the headwaters of the South Umpqua sub-basin.

Fur trading brought the first Euro-American visitors to the Umpqua Basin in 1791 and continued until the mid-1800s.  California's Gold Rush in 1849, and the discovery of gold at Jackson Creek in Oregon in 1852, brought many permanent settlers to the Basin.  Travelers on their way to the gold fields passed through the central Umpqua Basin.  Many of these visitors observed the great potential for farming and raising stock and decided to settle in the Basin.  As the number of settlers increased, the Native American population of the area decreased. Diseases, including malaria, measles, and smallpox, took a toll, as did the Indian Wars of the 1850s and the relocation of many tribes to the Grand Ronde Reservation.

The best agricultural lands were quickly claimed, but other settlers found opportunities mining for precious metals and mercury.  Mining remained an important industry in the Umpqua until the second half of the 20th century. Currently, there are no large, active mines in the Basin.

As the West continued to grow, the demand for lumber increased making logging a profitable industry throughout the Umpqua Basin.  The housing boom after World War II caused further expansion of the timber industry and associated sawmills and plywood mills.  It was during this time that the Douglas County/Umpqua Basin area experienced its greatest population growth, jumping from around 22,000 in 1940 to around 50,000 in 1960.  Currently, the forest products industry directly employs approximately one-fourth of the labor force in the Douglas County/Umpqua Basin area.

In recent history, highway construction has probably had the greatest impact on the Basin's economy and growth.  The Pacific Highway (Highway 99) was completed in the 1920s.  In 1966, the new interstate highway (I-5), was completed. I-5 was a windfall for cities along its path, such as Roseburg, but difficult for the bypassed cities of Yoncalla, Riddle, and Glendale.  To this day, the cities along the I-5 corridor have growing populations and economies, while the populations of many of the bypassed cities are slowly declining.