By Frances Juris and Elaine Thompson
Note: This story was written for a Crook County Pageant in Prineville in 1987.
In 1936 I bought the old Crook County Bank building at the southeast corner of 3rd and Main Sts., and for the next thirty-four years I watched the development of Prineville. From that vantage point it was easy to see what n
eeded to be done to make Prineville and Crook County the modern up-to-date community that I envisioned.
I was born in Kansas in 1882, the son of Collins and Addie Rullman Bowman. My four sisters and I grew up in the little town of Wauthena, Kansas.
In 1902 I graduated from Baker College in Kansas. My family had moved to Seattle and I joined them and enrolled in the University of Washington.
During the next few years I went to school and also worked for the Federal Government, traveling all over the northwest–Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington–inspecting timber claims to make sure the government regulations were being followed.
Have you ever heard of the Timber Fraud Scandals of the early 190’s? They were as big as any of the national scandals involving Congressmen and Senators and other high officials of today.
In connection with my job as Timber Claim Inspector, I was called to Washington, D.C. to testify at the trials. Among those indicted and convicted were several prominent Crook County men, including J. N. Williamson, M. R. Biggs, Dr. Van Gesner and John H. Mitchell.
- R. Biggs, a Prineville lawyer, and Dr. Van Gesner, a pioneer physician, served short terms in the Multnomah County Jail where Federal prisoners were held. John H. Mitchell, for whom the city of Mitchell was named, a long-time Senator from Oregon, was convicted, fined and sentenced to jail, but he died before his appeal could be heard.
John Newton Williamson was the only Congressman ever elected from Crook County. In 1904 he built the large house at E. 3rd and Fairview Sts. that later became Mother Dobbs’ Boarding House. Congressman Williamson was also convicted in the Timber Fraud case, but was granted a new trial by the U.S. Supreme Court.
It was my Federal Govt. job that first brought me to Prineville. Like many another travelers, the view of the green valley from the west rimrocks really impressed me, and I made up my mind right then and there that this would be my home.
I graduated from the University of Washington in 1908 and immediately headed for Prineville, much to the dismay of my family as they did not share my enthusiasm for the High Desert Country of Central Oregon.
I was among the young, ambitious men who migrated from the East and Midwest who were not interested in farming or homesteading, but who could see the possibilities for development in this almost unknown corner of Oregon. Lake Bechtell, Asa Battles, Don Graham, Hugh Lakin, Bob Zevely are just a few I remember. We all married local girls and threw our lives and our energies into building Crook County.
Of course, this was when Crook County encompassed all of Deschutes, Jefferson and part of Wheeler Counties, and it was a great time to live here and take part in what was going on.
The following years were good ones. Business was booming and we led active social lives as well. We fellows played baseball–the 1910 Prineville Baseball Team was famous all over the region. Jesse Tetherow, Lake Bechtell, Peg and Horace Belknap and Ray Brewster were some of my teammates. Also, we joined the ladies in playing tennis and croquet, producing plays and attending dances and box socials.
In 1916 Alta Minton and I were married and moved into the house at 522 E. 7th where we lived all our married lives. Alta came to Crook County with her two sisters, Gertie and Laura and their Mother who had married George H. Russell who owned the Keystone Ranch.
Our daughters, Jean and Elaine, were born at home, delivered by Dr. Rosenberg.
I planted fruit trees and always had a big vegetable garden, while Alta raised her beloved flowers near the house. Alta was really good with flowers and she helped organize the first garden club and became a judge at County fairs around the country.
In 1914 I brought the first Model T to Prineville. Adrian Crooks had the first automobile in 1907 and Dr. Chas. Edwards bought a 1911 Cadillac and there were several others, but mine was the first Model T. I really enjoyed that car, it took me everywhere I wanted to go, even up into the hills where I could look for rocks and minerals and fossils, and I could study the geology of the country, my favorite hobby.
Through my studies I became convinced that there was oil in the Post-Paulina country, and, years later, I talked some of the major oil companies, Texaco for one, into drilling up there. Nothing big came of it, but I’m still not sure they didn’t stop drilling too soon.
Even on our family outings I always looked for interesting rocks. My girls tell of one time we were picnicking up Crooked River, and, as usual I wandered off to look for unusual rocks. As Elaine tells it, they heard a whoop and here came their portly father tearing down the hill, his hat going one way, a rock the other, sprinting like he was running for home base on a tight play and yelling “RATTLESNAKES!” They laughed so hard I had to laugh with them, although I couldn’t see that it was that funny.
Along about 1911 things began to slow down in Prineville, principally because the mainline railroads had gone straight south from Madras to Bend, instead of swinging southeast to Prineville. This was a big blow, which was followed in 1914 by Jefferson County seceding, then in 1916 Deschutes County following suit. Prineville had lost its place as Queen City of Central Oregon.
But the City fought back by building the City of Prineville Railway in 1917. World War I took its toll in many ways with a number of young Crook County men being called to the Armed Forces. It also caused problems in securing materials and supplies for all types of construction, including the Railway and the Ochoco Dam which was also begun in 1917.
The principal purpose of the Railway was to provide an outlet for cattle, agricultural products, and most of all the millions of feet of Ponderosa Pine in the Ochoco Mountains.
The C of P Railway was a lifesaver, but it took twenty-five years of hardship and struggle to make it so. It wasn’t until the sawmills came in the late 193’s and World War II brought strong demand for lumber that the Railway began to pay off.
Back in 1915 I served a term as Justice of the Peace and people began to call me “Judge”. Then from 1936 to 1942 I served as Crook County Judge. It was during that time the Courthouse was remodeled and the original steps on the East and West sides were removed.
In my wanderings I found a deposit of clay and built a brick kiln beside the railroad tracks on Lamonta Road near the Roundhouse. The Horseshoe Tavern, E. 4th and Main, was built of these bricks, and originally was faced with different colors of obsidian I had gathered.
When I sold Central Oregon Title to Ralph Brown in 1940, I was able to concentrate my efforts on public improvements that I’d been thinking about for a long time.
For years I had been interested in promoting a transcontinental highway through Crook County. The culmination of my efforts brought Highway 26 through Prineville.
There was a small, inadequate airport at the top of the grade on the left going West towards Redmond. As we entered WWII I could see the necessity for a larger, improved airport, so I helped persuade the Army Air Force to build another airport at its present location. The AAF used the new airport to train flight instructors, who were housed in barracks located beside the Courthouse where the City Hall is now. Two of those barracks buildings are still in use at the Fairgrounds.
After the War, I started to focus all my attention on a dam to impound Crooked River. For years I had watched periodic floods inundate, and ruin, farms and ranches up and down the Valley, as well as the entire west side of the City. I also saw the benefits for agriculture and recreation.
LaSalle Coles and the Ochoco Irrigation District Board joined in the endeavor. It took years of research, writing letters, phone calls and trips to Washington, D.C., but finally, everything came together and the Prineville Reservoir project became a reality when the Dam was dedicated on October 20, 1962. It was the climax of my greatest dream.
As I look back, I remember how proud of my daughters I was. I enjoyed having them bring their schoolmates home. I recall Mary Demaris Wilson and Bun Tackman Gilchrist being among my favorites.
It pleased me that Jean became the first woman to major in Geology at Oregon State, where she received her Master’s Degree. She later got her Master’s in Library Science at the University of Washington.
Elaine chose the field of Education, received her Master’s from the University of Nevada and has taught in Reno schools for years.
I get a kick out of my grandchildren and great-grandson coming to visit us.
All in all, it’s been a good life. I take pleasure in traveling, playing pinochle with my old cronies and occasionally needling the City fathers about some of their decisions I didn’t like.
Never once since that long ago day in 1908 have I regretted my decision to make my home in the beautiful Crooked River Valley.