The Great Land Rush to Central Oregon

One of the last great land rushed for homesteading occurred in Central Oregon shortly after the turn of the century. There had been an influx of settlers in the early part of the century but mostly in the Fort Rock basin, but with the coming of the railroad to Central Oregon in 1911 a major land rush resulted. The railroad lines of Hill and Harriman widely advertised the area as a farmer’s paradise.

The area was predicted to be the next great agriculture empire of the United States and many people desiring to take advantage of this new opportunity to farm the “prairies’ of Central Oregon began an exodus to the area. The peak of the homestead era came in the fall of 1911 when the size of homesteads was increased from 160 to 320 acres.

Within a period of two years homesteaders residences and farm buildings took shape throughout the Central Oregon area. Towns and post offices that are now vanished started developing. The “High Desert” had post office sites such as Rolyat, Imperial, Stauffer, Dry Lake, and Fife. Other sites developed south of Madras including Opal City, Metolius and Hillman (later to become Terrebonne).

The vanguard of the home seekers was generally the heads of families who were often assisted by land locators as their guides. Land locators received a fee for helping new arrivals to find homestead sites. This land rush attracted people from throughout the United States and new immigrants from other countries. New arrivals faced rather stark conditions in the fall of 1911. Settlers soon found the need for water. Water had to be hauled to the drier sites and it would be many years before deep wells were to be drilled. Fortunately the first years of the boom were accompanied by wetter than normal years but it was soon found that growing seasons were extremely short and crop selections were limited. Efforts were made by government agencies to find the most suitable crops but soon drier conditions returned.

Homesteaders were located on nearly every half section of land but it soon became apparent that dry land farming was a precarious occupation and only the hearty few remained after a few years of dry conditions. Many of the early homesteads either went back to the government or were purchased by large ranches and the once populous desert areas that had such promise for the rush of land seekers became grazing land and only a few reminders of the last great land rush remain.

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