History of Canyon City

From the Blue Mt. Eagle, Oct. 14th, 1921
Written By: Edwin Hicks

By chance alone was Canyon Creek and it's valuable stores of gold discovered. In the year 1862 a party of gold seekers enroute for the Idaho gold mines chanced to camp along a little creek seeking it's placid way through a precipitous canyon in the heart of the Blue Mountains. A dense growth of brush and Cottonwood trees lined it's banks and pine trees completed the landscape of the remaining country as far as one can see. Although this party did not remain on the creek, news of their discovery spread rapidly, and in the course of a month 300 miners staked claims in or near the vicinity.

Tents were set up at first as a sort of temporary abode, but log cabins soon replaced these crude shelters. The first homes or shacks were not located where Canyon City now stands but were scattered around, being located as near to the claims as was possible and convenient. Of course there were no stores, saloons or hotels at first, but these naturally followed when enough settlers had arrived to justify such enterprises. As might be supposed the first business house to be opened was a saloon, which was located on the sloping tract of benchland near Lincoln Rock. In a short time this tract acquired the name of "Whiskey Flat". Other business houses included a bakery, a store, and a good hotel which were soon opened to care for the demands of the rapidly growing settlement.

More settlers continued to pour in and pack trains arrived practically every day bringing supplies and provisions. Realizing the rapid growth of the population, it was plainly seen that a town must be formed. Accordingly, a committee was appointed at a community meeting for the laying out of a suitable town site. This place, where the town of Canyon City now stands, was chosen and by 1863 fifteen hundred people, most of them miners, had settled on the banks of Canyon Creek. Before many months the greater part of the best paying ground had been worked so the miners devised a plan whereby they might change the course of the creek and work the land on the creek bottom. By building a large flume they managed to divert the course of the creek and for several weeks the stream was held within its timbered bounds. It was not turned back into it's former channel until all the ground had been worked. Unlike most mining towns of this nature, with the lawless class of claim jumpers, thieves, ruffians and the like, Canyon was practically free from these parasites. Murders were very infrequent and bloody affairs which characterized the day were very uncommon. Bearing those facts in mind we might think of the camp as a model one; but this should not be taken too literally as there was the usual amount of fights and petty thefts. Taken as a whole, however, Canyon in the early '60's was far above the average. At this time Canyon was the most important town within the radius of 100 miles and was recognized as a very fertile gold field.

In 1864 a road was opened up between Canyon and The Dalles which greatly aided the business interests of the community. In the same year Grant County was organized and Canyon City was chosen as the County seat. This fact assured the permanency of the town and helped largely to maintain its inhabitants.

A disastrous fire gave the town a staggering set back in the year 1870. The entire business section and a number of private dwellings were destroyed, the total loss being estimated at $275,000. The fire started in the International Hotel as the result of a fefective stovepipe. Pratically all of the buildings were composed of wood, which rendered them easy victims of the flames. Many lives were endangered and daring tales may yet be related to the noble deeds of both men and women on that eventful night. Hardly were the ruins cold before the citizens went bravely to work constructin new and better buildings than those gutted by the fire. In a short time things were again running smoothly, and the tragedy was soon forgotten.

Eight years elapsed before anything else of striking importance occured. At the expiration of this time an Indian scare aroused the inhabitants from their peaceful existence. Chief Egan and his tribe of warriors were being driven by Gen. Howard toward Canyon and a tense excitement precailed for two or three days. All of the women and children were moved to tunnels on the hill overlooking the town and all valuable personal property was also removed to the tunnels for safe keeping. The Indians did not bother, however, but continued North passing through Fox Valley and Long Creek. Things immediately quieted down and peace again held sway.

The spring of 1898 was accompanied by much more rain than usual and a great deal of snow was stored in the higher altitudes. On May 29th a thunder shower occured and within a very few hours Canyon Creek had turned into a surging mass of water. The creek continued to rise and the town was greatly endangered. At midnight the fire bell rant and all the women and children were removed to the residences on Rebel Hill. The men worked incessantly during the night to save the town from the impending catastrophe and their efforts were rewarded for at daybreak the next morning all danger was past and the excitement died away.

On Nov. 11th of the same year a traveling show came to Canyon and gave an entertainment in the town hall. A large number were in attendance and one of the chief features of the performance was the singing of the old familiar song "There will be a hot time in the old town tonight" and there surely was a hot time in the old town tonight. A fire started by some unknown cause aroused the sleeping inhabitants by its shrill messenger the fire bell. Starting from the second story of the Elkhorn Hotel the fire rapidly gained a foothold on the buildings near. A repitition of the fire of 1870 seemed inevitably to follow, and so it did. Dawn found the entire business distract and many homes entirely destroyed. Winter was close at hand and the situation seemed desperate. The surrounding towns, however, came to the rescue and as soon as lumber could be procured, the hammers were again busy and in a short time the town was again rebuilt. Canyon profited by this fire in that its streets were made much wider when the town was rebuilt and better structures were erected.

In 1891 Canyon was incorporated with Prairie City and Long Creek and in the March of that year the first elections were held. Many improvements followed, including the organization of fire troops and a better system for fighting fire was adopted. From this time on Canyon set to work to improve the schools and the standard of living as a whole. Canyon City now boasts of a standard accredited high school and a very good lower grade system. Canyon is also slated as having more fraternal organizations than any town of its size in the state. These outstanding facts of course add prestige to the town and develop in the hearts of the inhabitants a feeling of proudness for the achievements attained. Although the population has dwindled from 1500 to 300 inhabitants, Canyon City is still a prosperous town. The largest newspaper in the county was published in Canyon, and it also has an ice plant and a lumber factory to its credit.

Due to the great number of gold pockets found on Canyon Mt., it is evident that a great store of gold lies hidden beneath its surface. The time may yet come when Canyon Mt. will be mined by huge machinery and other modern devices and yield its priceless stores.

1998 Roxann Gess Smith
All Rights Reserved

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