Summers with Little Napoleon at Peter Pan Camp

Summers with Little Napoleon at Peter Pan Camp

Just before the Great Depression put the brakes on highway travel, Jackson County was filling up with gas stations, auto camps and resorts.

More cars were traveling over better roads, and during the summer families squeezed into their sputtering machines for a quick getaway from the heat. Sometimes they didn't have to go too far.

For the Butlers, summers meant Peter Pan Camp, private cabins at the east end of today's Rogue-Elk Campground on the Rogue River.

"Grandpa John Butler was a great fisherman. He lived to fish," said Barbara Kellenbeck. "So, that's why he built his own cabin right along the river."

It was a small community of no more than seven cabins, where the same people came back year after year.

"I was just a baby when they started taking me up there," said Kellenbeck. "It was a great community. They were all Medford people and everyone had kids to play with. I went up every summer, all through grade school."

Her unemployed grandfather, John Butler, had hopped aboard a railroad train in Harrisburg, Ore., in 1893, stealing a ride into Medford. He spent the rest of his life in the valley as a successful owner and partner in furniture and hardware stores.

"To this day, I still call him a little Napoleon," said Kellenbeck. "He ruled the roost, but he was a neat little guy. He always had P.J. Chewing Gum in his pocket for all the kids."

She remembers riding up to camp in Butler's old Dodge and how it "took all day to get there."

"It wasn't paved," she said. "It was kind of rocky and slow. I can remember saying, 'Aren't we there yet? When are we going to be there?'"

Once at the cabin, little girl Kellenbeck made a thousand and one memories that will last a lifetime.

"The salmon were so thick coming up the river that you could almost walk on them," she said.

"It was a great time because kids had to use their imaginations. There wasn't any TV or computers.

"I can close my eyes right now and still hear the sound of shuffling cards, my grandparents playing pinochle while I was supposed to be sleeping."

There were short walks up Elk Creek for an afternoon swim, or a nature walk with her favorite aunt, Arliene.

"I learned to swing in the little hammock out by the cabin, without falling out," she said. "That was a big deal to me."

John Butler sold the cabin in the mid-1930s, but Kellenbeck has never forgotten the camp.

"The steps to our cabin were still there for years," she said, "but last time I went, I couldn't find them anymore."

Like the mythical flying boy who gave it a name, the Peter Pan Camp is invisible, but still lives on. You'll find it safely tucked away in the brightest corner of your brain. It's that special place where childhood memories will never, ever, die.

Writer Bill Miller Lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at

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