Thomas Doty – Storyteller

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Who Carved His Initials in the Sandstone?

In the 1800s, my great, great grandfather James Berry Rodgers and his wife Martha Jane Mansfield Rodgers settled in an area of Sams Valley in southern Oregon known as Beagle. After love blossomed between them on the Oregon Trail, they were married in 1850 and settled first along the banks of the Willamette River near Alford. Not long after, they moved south to Beagle, building their homestead just over the ridge from Snider Creek.

A few weeks ago I was reading through my notebooks when I came across an entry from 1987: "My father tells me that my ancestors' initials are carved on the rocks where I often go walking ... near Beagle." At first I thought that they must have been carved on rocks at the homestead itself. But I'd been there a few times, and had never seen them. Then I remembered the rocks above Snider Creek where I used to play as a child. I'd saunter over the rocks until I was hot from too much sun, then escape into the shade along the creek. As I mused on this, up popped a childhood memory of old initials carved into sandstone.

So today I went looking for them.

I was expecting the initials to be those of great, great Grandpa James. When I found them, they were hard to make out. But the middle initial definitely wasn't a B. It looked like an F. And the date appeared to be 1908 which was nine years after James passed away. There were also other initials in the same area, and they were even harder to read. I think I need to go back when the light is different, and see how they look.

So who carved his initials in the sandstone if it wasn't great, great Grandpa James? It might have been James Franklin Rodgers, son of James and Martha, born in 1890. Carving initials seems like a great way for an 18-year-old to wile away a summer afternoon. However, there's a mystery. I recalled that there was another son, J. Floyd Rodgers. I checked online cemetery websites and discovered that he was also born in 1890. Huh! Two sons born the same year? With the same initials? An error perhaps?

Well, it appears I need to go storage-unit-diving into boxes of old family records to find a satisfactory solution. Back to the source. This may take a while. Meanwhile, I think it's safe to say that a teenage son of James and Martha carved his initials there in 1908, just over the ridge from the family homestead. Perhaps, like myself decades later, he was drawn to this dramatic formation of sandstone. I like to imagine that after an hour of carving in the hot sun, he climbed down the cliff to cool off in the shade along the creek.

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Images: Photos from my trek on May 9, 2019.


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