Jim Briner at the Brick Pile cabin.

Doorway to the past

Unlike most doors, the weathered wooden door on display in the Talent Historical Society museum doesn't open into another room.

Yet it offers a portal into Southern Oregon's past, to the historic Brick Pile cabin that once overlooked the Little Applegate River drainage.

Consider the names and initials carved into the door early in the 20th century.

"You can see Ellis Beeson's name here," observed historian Jan Wright of Talent, pointing to the name of the local pioneer family.

"And there is Bill Gleim. The Gleims lived on Wagner Creek Road right across from the Beesons."

Then there are the salty diaries faithfully kept by longtime cabin occupant James "Jim" William Briner, a colorful character who mined, herded cattle, repaired ditches, drank booze and caroused when he went to town.

"Drunk as hell to knight ... had a good time," he wrote on Jan. 29, 1906, in penmanship that staggers across the page.

"Feel tuf today," he added the next morning.

The door and Briner's diaries reflect the rich history of local life a century ago, said Wright, the former director of the Talent Historical Society. Earlier this year, Cathy Beeson Webber of Forest Grove gave Wright the Briner diaries, dated from 1901 through 1924.

"Jim Briner kind of represents the underbelly of society," Wright said of the lifelong bachelor born in 1855. "He never lived in one place for long but Talent seemed to be his home base."

His sister, Lizzie, was married to Emmett Beeson of Talent. The Beesons purchased the homesteaded Brick Pile cabin property in 1900.

After he found a red clay deposit in the area, Briner built a kiln and fired clay bricks to use in building a fireplace and chimney for the cabin, erected in 1903.

However, he made more bricks than needed. The result was a brick pile alongside the cabin — hence the name.

The Siskiyou Mountains cabin, which was later used by cattle ranchers and hunters, was located about a dozen miles as the crow flies south of Medford on the northern tip of Seven Mile Ridge. It was within a stone's throw of the Little Applegate River, where the Cinnebar Trail once crossed.

Although the cabin was burned decades ago, the land on which it was located remains private property surrounded by the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

Donated to the museum by Charlotte Beeson Toon this past fall, the door is made of three rough-cut boards, each at least a foot wide and 2 inches thick.

Many visitors, such as R.S. and R.W.P., simply left their initials. A person whose first initial was "W" signed on in 1920. The brand "JP" is burned into the boards. The door even has the cabin's elevation etched into it — 3,520 feet.

Wright believes the door is the original, making it more than a century old.

It also figures into Briner's diary.

"I killed a rattlesnake 20 feet from the cabin door under an old log," Briner noted on May 9, 1906. "I got in a foot of it before I seen it."

Hailing from Iowa, he arrived in Talent around 1861 with his parents, Lemuel and Diane Houston Briner. He spent most of his adult life as a prospector in the Beaver and Hungry Creek drainages.

Although his initials don't appear to be carved into the door, he seldom neglected carving out a daily diary entry. He covered everything from weather — it snowed 2 inches on Mount Sterling (now Dutchman Peak) on July 1, 1901 — to hunting squirrels for dinner.

On June 6, 1904, he didn't seem too impressed it was voting day.

"Election day — veary cold and windy and dry," he wrote. "Not much to drink. Leave town."

In late summer 1905, he helped cut down a honey bee tree. "We cut Bee tree to day and got a fine lot of honey," he wrote on Sept. 10, 1905. "Lad the Sheep hurder taken dinner with us. Had a fine mutton stew for dinner & I and John changed clothes to day. First time for 3 weeks. Stink O God."

His 1906 diary is written on a Pierce's Memorandum and Account Book, which is about the size of a small checkbook.

"These are designed for farmers, mechanics and all people who appreciate the value of keeping a memorandum of business transactions, daily events and items of interest or importance for future reference," it advertised.

For Briner, a lonely night in the cabin often brought thoughts of the opposite sex.

"Finished my five hundred (split) rails to day and thought I would quit a little early," he wrote on Feb. 23, 1906. "Went to the Cabin. Put on a Pot of Beans, heard Nip (dog) bark. Looked out seen Sheep. Nip run them off and here I sit by a grasshopper stove thinking some of getting married. But who to? That's the hell of it. There is no doubt I could get anybody I want but I dont want anybody."

Three days later he is still yearning for female companionship. "I am going out to the valey to morrow," he wrote. "I am just a bout out of grub. Man cant make rails out of Bull pine with out grub. This is the lonesome dam whole (hole) I was ever in."

He then indicates that he isn't very picky at this point when it comes to female companionship. "He gets lonely quite often," Wright said of the diaries she is still transcribing. "Apparently, he thought he was quite the catch."

Yet Wright, who will be teaching a history class next month at Rogue Community College on historic diaries kept by local residents, found him to be a good-hearted soul.

"The other part about Jim Briner that I find fascinating is that he loved children," she said. "They would come up to his cabin or wherever he was, and he would teach them how to cut rails or how to whittle. It was a big treat for them.

"He was harmless," she added. "He had salty language and salty stories to tell them. But they got a kick out of him."

Briner died on June 30, 1930, in Ashland. He was 74 years old.

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