History of the Rogue River

Located in Southern Oregon, the Rogue River begins in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness at Boundary Springs, and flows for 215 miles before emptying into the Pacific Ocean. The river is also nationally recognized for its salmon and steelhead fishing and thrilling whitewater opportunities.


People started to be drawn into the area in the mid 1800’s for a lure of told stories about gold and pelts in the area. The area saw a huge influx of settlers following the passage of the Donation Land Act in 1850, which gave couples 320 acres, and single white men 160 acres, if they lived and cultivated the land for at least 4 years. The area was flooded with thousands of additional settlers in late 1851 when gold was discovered on the Rogue. Over $70 million worth of gold was panned from the Rogue River. For settlers, life in the Rogue Canyon was lonely and difficult. While gold mining operations were extensive, production was minimal. Mining remnants — including pipe, flumes and stamp mills — can still be found today.

The Native Americans who inhabited the land were friendly at first to fur trappers in the area, until a feud started when fur trappers murdered a couple of lone Indians. This began the Rogue River Wars of 1855-1856, but some say it started as early as 1830. This was a war between the US Army and local militias against the Native Americans. Though many different tribes lived in the area they were grouped together as the Rogue River Indians. Given their name as the “Rogue Indians,” the name River of the Rogues was created, which has been shortened to the Rogue River. The war ended gruesomely and the Tolowa and Takelma people were forced onto reservation lands, where many of them died of disease, lack of local and proper food and water, and lack of their culture more importantly. The Rogue River has a very sad and brutal history, but also one of great importance and interest to many who experience the canyon via raft, foot, or drift boat.



Battle Bar on the Rogue River was named for a major battle between Colonel Kelsey’s cavalry of the US Army and the Takelma Tribe during the Rogue River Wars in 1855-56. The Takelma survived on salmon, deer, elk, and beaver in addition to harvested acorns from both the Oregon white oak and the California black oak. They lived in homes dug partly into the earth similar to the Klamath, Shasta and Modoc peoples.

With the opening of the Oregon Trail as well as gold rushes in northern California and later in eastern Oregon, the Rogue River Valley soon filled with miners and settlers consuming natural resources that the Takelma survived on, including entire forests of oak trees. The two groups co-habitated for less than four years. In 1856, the surviving Takelma were sent to live on reservations on the rainy Oregon coast and lost much of their culture and language as they interacted with different tribes.

Zane Grey (1872-1939)

Zane Grey was an author of adventure novels and stories, many of which covered the rugged Old West. Grey exhibited a love for the outdoors and writing from a young age. He began writing and published his first magazine article and novel in the early 1900’s. Grey’s love affair with the West began during his honeymoon in 1905. Throughout his life, he traveled for part of each year to adventurous locations such as the Rogue River, where he kept a cabin that he built himself on an old mining claim. This cabin is still standing on the banks of the Rogue. He was an avid fisherman and no doubt enjoyed the steelhead, salmon and trout fishing on the Rogue River. During his life, he authored over 90 books and was a regular contributor to Outdoor Life magazine. Zane Grey cabin is still a popular stop for travelers down the Rogue River.

The Wild & Scenic Act

The Rogue River is also one of the eight rivers established with the passage of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. The Rogue River has two Congressionally-designated National Wild and Scenic sections — the Wild & Scenic Upper Rogue River and the Wild & Scenic Lower Rogue River.

The Wild & Scenic Lower Rogue River was one of the original rivers designated under the Act. The designated portion of the river extends from the mouth of the Applegate River to the Lobster Creek Bridge, totaling 84 miles. The initial 47 miles are administered by the Medford District BLM, and the other 37 miles by the Siskiyou National Forest. Signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was created to preserve rivers with outstanding natural, cultural and recreational values for the enjoyment of present and future generations. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act also established the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System to protect and enhance rivers that were regionally and nationally significant. Rivers may be designated by Congress or the Secretary of the Interior.

The United States celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 2018. As of August 2018, the National System protects 209 rivers in 40 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. However, this is only a small portion of the nation’s rivers, which flow for more than 3.5 million miles across the country. The nation’s rivers have much to offer: local fish and wildlife, recreational activities and scenery that’s unparalleled in its beauty. They are also physical records of the land and our history, which will educate and inspire people for generations to come.