March 2014, Pioneer Profiles: Henry Klippel – “Pioneer, Soldier, Citizen” – by Carolyn Kingsnorth
In the mid-1800s, the promise of gold and free land lured fortune seekers and settlers to the newly formed Oregon Territory. They were soon followed by merchants who amassed their own wealth selling supplies to the miners and farmers. This ongoing series shares the stories of these pioneers and their times.
If you were to walk the streets of Jacksonville in the mid-to-late 1800s, the second most common language you would have heard would have been German. German-speaking immigrants from what is now Germany, Austria, and Switzerland made up over a fourth of Southern Oregon’s population.
Henry Klippel was one such immigrant. When he was five years old, he immigrated in 1837 with his parents and brothers from Wickenheim, Germany to Cincinnati, Ohio. His father died there when Henry was fifteen. The boys and their mother then moved to St. Joseph, Missouri, one of the gateways to the West.
Like many others, the Klippel brothers were drawn to the promise of fortune offered by the western gold fields. Henry and two of his brothers crossed the plains to Oregon, arriving in Oregon City in August of 1851.
Although Klippel himself recounted that he arrived in Oregon “without any incidents worth mentioning,” James Twogood recalled encountering Klippel in the course of that journey as Twogood’s wagon train approached the Cascade Mountains.
“At the east end it was swampy, with big mudholes, and here we came across a stripling of a boy who had been left behind by an ox train. It seems that he was left behind to drive a big ox through that had given out. He had a sack behind his shoulder containing a loaf of bread and a slice of fat pork, and seemed quite happy. Shortly after passing him we heard the report of a pistol, and we knew the ox had mired down and could not get out and that this ended his misery. The boy came on and camped with us that night. We made him a cup of coffee, loaned him a blanket, and he started on the next morning all right—and this was Henry Klippel.”
In Oregon City the Klippel brothers went their separate ways. Henry Klippel worked on a ferryboat long enough to conclude that ferrying was not his forte, and then contracted to drive an ox-team to Yreka, California, for no compensation other than board.
Klippel found Yreka a rich and lively mining camp, and he quickly picked up the basics of placer mining. However, he was less successful than he had hoped, so when
news of the gold strikes on Jackson Creek and in Rich Gulch reached Yreka, he “came with the tide” to Jacksonville. He was 18 years old.
Although Klippel mined with varying degrees of success at many of the camps in the area, from 1852 onward, Jacksonville was Klippel’s home base.
In 1853, Klippel’s mining efforts were cut short by “Indian trouble.” He played an active role in the Indian wars of 1853, 1855, and 1856, coming to Jacksonville’s defense when the Rogue Indians threatened the town. He took part in the 1853 peace conference and participated in the battles of Hungry Hill and Table Rock. Klippel was one of the volunteers who rescued Mary Ann Harris and her daughter Sophie after the 1855 massacre, and he fought in the last battles with the Rogues before their final surrender.
Once the peace was established, Klippel returned to mining. He pioneered quartz mining in Oregon, and built the first stamp mill for crushing rock to extract the gold at what became Gold Hill.
About the same time, he met 18-year-old Elizabeth Ann Bigham, a native of Missouri. She and her family had crossed the plains in 1853, eventually settling in southern Oregon. Klippel wooed her and wed her in January 1860. The couple eventually had six children.
After the wedding, however, Klippel went to Idaho to mine, remaining there for two years. This time, however, he was successful, returning home to Elizabeth with a sizable “poke.” He then took up “whatever offered the prospect of bread or money.” Initially, he tried operating a billiard saloon, but sold out after a year. In 1864, he was in on the discovery of rich cinnabar and quicksilver deposits near the California border. For several years he engaged in the hardware business with William Hoffman. He became one of the backers of a new newspaper, the Democratic Times.
Klippel also entered into a real estate partnership with James Pool, one of Jacksonville’s “fathers,” involving all or a portion of Pool’s
original land grant. (Pool and James Cluggage are credited with the gold discovery that made Jacksonville the hub of Southern Oregon in the late 1800s—see Jacksonville Review, February 2014 issue.) In 1868, they platted a Jacksonville subdivision known as the Pool and Klippel Addition. About the same time, Klippel built a fine, new one and one-half story home for his family at 220 North 8th Street. The house is still standing.
A prominent Odd Fellow, Klippel was a charter member of the Jacksonville lodge. He was also closely identified with the political life of Southern Oregon. When Jacksonville was incorporated, Klippel was elected its first Recorder. He subsequently served as President of the Board of Trustees (Mayor). In 1870 he was elected Sheriff of Jackson County on the Democratic ticket, and in 1872 Klippel was appointed a Commissioner for the construction of the second State Capitol building in Salem. (It burned in 1935.)
Klippel was prominent in Oregon’s Democratic Party and was the “party boss” in Jackson County for more than a quarter of a century. A contemporary described him as “intensely American, loyal to the core…a believer in the largest liberty to the largest number…a born leader of men, an adept in political finesse, alert and successful as a politician.” In 1874 Klippel served as Chairman of the State Democratic Central Committee; in 1876 he was a candidate for Presidential Elector; and in 1880 he was elected County Clerk of Jackson County, a position that he filled for several terms.
Although Klippel ostensibly retired from public office in 1884, he remained active. He entered extensively into stock raising in Lake County plus continued to supervise his farming and mining operations. He also began accumulating wide-ranging real estate holdings. And he served as an Oregon Commissioner for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.
In 1887, Klippel sold most of his properties, and moved with his wife to Medford. On November 2, 1901, he suffered a fatal heart attack. However, once a war horse, always a war horse. During the 1890s, he had been appointed to serve an unexpired term as County Assessor, and at the time of his death, Klippel was an active member of the Medford City Council.
At Klippel’s funeral, Judge William Crowell described him thusly: “Had Henry Klippel lived in some great eastern center of population and influence, he would have been known and honored throughout the land. But in remote Oregon, with lesser opportunities, he was known and respected throughout the state. Given the opportunity, he had within him the elements which make men renowned. His untiring energy; his unflagging fidelity to his friends; his honor and integrity; his sincerity and absolute truthfulness equipped him gloriously for success in larger fields and greater events than the state and locality in which he lived could furnish.”
Posted March 5, 2014