On Feb. 14, 1859 the United States admitted Oregon as the 33rd state. News flashed by telegraph to St. Louis and then made way overland by stagecoach to San Francisco. By March 10, the official statehood announcement was sailing north on the ship Brother Jonathan. The news reached Salem on March 15, 1859, 13 hours after the ship had docked in Portland, and a month after the federal action.
The Crescent City Herald of March 16, 1859, reported: "Captain G. H. Staples is at the helm in the predawn darkness as the Brother Jonathan gently noses up to the open wharf in Portland on March 15, 1859. He was bringing wonderful news to the people of the Oregon Territory. Congress [the U.S. Senate] had passed and President Buchanan had signed an act giving Oregon statehood. Since Valentine's Day, February 14th, 1859, she has been the 33rd state in the Union."
A few years later, the sidewheel steamer Brother Jonathan tragically impaled itself on an uncharted rock near Point St. George, off the coast of Crescent City, Calif., on July 30, 1865. The ship was carrying 244 passengers and crew with a large shipment of gold. Only 19 survived the wreck, making it the deadliest passenger shipwreck up to that time on the Pacific Coast of the United States. The ship was named after "Brother Jonathan," a character personifying the United States before the creation of Uncle Sam.
Led by Donald Knight (a 1959 graduate of Medford High School) and under risky conditions, a mini-sub on Oct. 1, 1993, finally discovered the ship on the bottom, two miles from where nearly everyone for over 125 years had thought the ship had sank. The team over time began to bring artifacts back from a depth of 275 feet, and later brought up more than 1,000 priceless gold coins from the 1860s (worth multi-million dollars) with more developments to come, including a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case over who owned the gold. The safe and strongboxes filled with gold coins still remain undiscovered and so tantalizingly close to the coast.