First Assignment Exhausts Neophyte River Drivers


Monday, Jan. 15, 2018


Laurel Gerkman


3 364

In 1871, Willis White and two companions responded to a San Francisco newspaper ad that read, “Wanted, River-Drivers Rogue River.”

They were placed aboard a ship headed for the remote coastal settlement of Ellensburg (Gold Beach), Ore.  The town had only one store, a saloon, a boarding house, and a sawmill.  The local government was confined to a 10-by-10-foot shack.

On their first day they joined nine other neophytes being given general orientation, including a partial description of a river-driver’s role.

“Phase One” involved traveling 43 miles upriver to the logging site, starting out in a shallow-draft skiff designed to traverse swift running rapids and whitewater 27 miles upriver.  They’d switch their mode of travel at the site to trekking the remaining 16 miles with 60-pound backpacks and climbing over terrain named the “Devil’s Backbone.”

Demonstrating their courage, stamina, and determination, no one dropped out. The men reached the assigned destination, where they learned “Phase Two” involved herding a pile of logs downriver to the mill. 

At the completion of their assignment, their enthusiasm for “river-driving” was exhausted and they opted for employment elsewhere.


Source: Adams, Mike. Chetco. Brookings, Oregon, The Chetco Valley Historical Society, 2011.




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