The strange story of Bourne begins with a town named “Cracker” or “Cracker City” a few miles north of Sumpter on Cracker Creek. The small town renamed itself after future U.S. Senator Jonathan Bourne moved to Oregon and bought the Eureka and Excelsior mines in 1899. Massive lode discoveries of gold and silver brought in $8 million from 1894 through 1916. According to many, Bourne and Sumpter sat on what was called “the great mother lode of the Blue Mountains.” This was supposedly one of the largest unbroken veins of gold in the world.
As Bourne’s mines rose in value, technological breakthroughs made it possible to get much more gold from a promising vein. These new tools and technologies also cost a lot of money - more than many prospectors could afford. By the 1890s, mines like Bourne’s were more valuable to big industrial mining ventures than to small time owners. Mining concerns were springing up on stock exchanges all over the world at this time. Financiers in London were buying mines in Oregon, sight unseen, and making substantial profits.
Many had dreams of striking it rich in the gold mines, and one man - F. Wallace White - took advantage of those fantasies. White moved to Bourne when the mines were already drying up. Rather than mining himself, he brought a newspaper press up the mountain. White produced not one but two newspapers out of Bourne: one a generally honest local periodical for the people of his town, and the other a flagrantly false paper for national consumption.
F. Wallace White’s false paper spun convincing tales of massive gold discoveries, huge construction projects, and endless shipments of bullion. White made his money by offering readers opportunities to buy into this false investment opportunity. With a $7.5 million stock offering, White launched The Sampson Company Limited, with offices in London, New York City, and Bourne. To convince his buyers, White bought up the played-out mines in the Cracker Creek area. He then put on a show for investors at his mansion with its formal dining room and ballroom, and at the mouths of promising-looking mines guarded by burly men with shotguns.
By the 1900s, however, investors started getting wise to White’s schemes. He was not alone in his exploits, as other charlatans were at work in mines across the West. In fact, the whole mine financing industry was having trouble raising capital. Most investors at the time thought that every gold mine was inevitably crooked. After swindling millions of dollars, F. Wallace White fled town, leaving everything behind but his misbegotten money. The law eventually caught up with him though, while he was operating another mail fraud scheme in a different part of the country.
Today little remains of Bourne. Some of the mines are still producing a tiny trickle of gold, and a few residents and buildings remain. Most of Bourne, however, has disappeared back into the forest.
More Bourne Photos
A log cabin in Bourne. (Oregon State Archives, 2019) Enlarge Image
"Dirty Little Rodney's" place in Bourne. (Oregon State Archives, 2019) Enlarge Image