Local Stories

Barnhouse Story of 1879

August 14, 2017

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Note: Jacob L. Barnhouse and his wife Martha Washington Conger Barnhouse were early settlers in the Mountain Creek vicinity east of Mitchell.  The region was in old Crook County in 1882.  This story was written by a descendant of Jacob and Martha.  It provides an interesting look at what it was like in the early settlement era.  Jacob died on August 12, 1917 and Martha died on August 31, 1922.  They are both buried in Lower Mitchell Cemetery in Mitchell, Oregon.

In 1879, the Barnhouses moved by team and by river-boat to Eastern Oregon.  They traveled by way of horse and buggy down the Willamette Valley to Portland; here they boarded a boat and traveled up the Columbia to The Dalles.  This boat was a stern-wheeler similar to the old river boats of the Mississippi River.  These old boats had provisions for driving wagons onto them.  The Barnhouse family, along with their team and buggy, made the trip of eighty miles in a day.  The following day after their arrival at The Dalles they joined a man who was going in the same direction as they.  They all started the long journey by team on the old The Dalles-Canyon City military road.  The destination: the John Day country of Eastern Oregon. The trail they followed went from The Dalles south to Tygh Valley; east across Sherar’s Bridge, which spans the Deschutes River; southeast to Shaniko and Antelope; then through the Burnt Ranch country to their destination near Mitchell.  It took the travelers a total of eight days to travel through this dry, barren area of huge rim rocks, deep gulches and sagebrush typical of this section of the state.  Of course, there were no places to spend the night along the way; and the little group had to make camp eight different nights at likely looking spots along the trail.

Their journey ended at the Barlow Adams’ Ranch near the old military fort of Camp Watson.  This fortress was built here to protect the ranchers from Indians.  There were a few minor Indian outbreaks in Eastern Oregon, but none occurred in the immediate area of Camp Watson.  The Barnhouses stayed at this ranch for a few days; they then agreed to herd a band of weathers for a year for Barlow Adams.

While herding sheep in a country on lower Mountain Creek, later named for them Barnhouse Basin, they set up housekeeping.  During this first year in their new home, they acquired enough money to buy the improvements for $300.  These improvements included: their house, barn, orchard and garden.  This purchase was made from Lee Smith who later became an old friend of the family.  Orral (the Barnhouses daughter) attended a private school at this time farther down the creek at the William Foppiano place.  After this year was over, they took the band of sheep on shares with Adams for two years.

Orral’s father filed a homestead claim for 160 acres of land, the boundaries of which he thought surrounded his house and improvements. This was done by filing what is known as a pre-exemption claim.  The pre-exemption claim was granted him and he now owned 320 acres.  Later, when the corners were located and the boundary lines run, he found that his house was located outside of these boundaries.  It was therefore necessary for him to acquire the land upon which his home was situated.   The family lived on this place for a total of nine years.  Jacob and his wife Martha Washington Conger Barnhouse were early settlers in the Mountain Creek region east of Mitchell.  The region was part of old Crook county before Wheeler County was created in 1899. .

During these years, Orral attended school at the little mining town of Spanish Gulch.  This hamlet was located in a higher country south of the Barnhouse Basin ranch.  She boarded here and attended school during the winter months.  At this time, this was the nearest place of education.  Orral received the bulk of her schooling here.  However, at seventeen she completed her schooling at Caleb on upper Mountain Creek. It is hard to determine how many years of school she completed; as she moved from school to school, was sick awhile, and the length of the school years varied. It is thought that she completed somewhere in the neighborhood of seven or eight years of schooling.

While living in Barnhouse Basin, the Barnhouses lived mainly from their garden, their orchard and game.  Wildlife in this area at that date was very abundant.  Deer grew fat from the lush bunch grass pasture of the Mountain Creek country.  Orral can remember seeing a few mountain sheep in the region when the family first settled there. The mountain sheep in Oregon have long since vanished.  The trout fishing in Mountain Creek then was excellent in the spring. Salmon came up Mountain Creek and swam into Willow Creek , a little tributary stream.  Jacob used to ride to Willow Creek horseback and shoot the salmon that became stranded in the shallow waters of the small stream.  A few salmon were washed onto the meadow by the high water of Mountain Creek.  The women salvaged these with pitchforks.  The Barnhouses grew all types of vegetables in their garden and many kinds of fruit came from their orchard.  They also had a small raspberry patch.  Their home on lower Mountain

Creek was in a sheltered location and had a much milder climate than the areas surrounding it.  This increased their produce a great deal.

At the Barnhouse place, they killed as many as sixty rattlesnakes a year, on the walks, porch, and in the raspberry patch.  The whole family would wear rubber boots while picking raspberries.  This was done to protect themselves from snake bite.  They killed rattlesnakes on their ranch from March until the last of October.  The snakes were more abundant in July and August.  When a rattler would get under a large rock or in a hole where he couldn’t be struck, the Barnhouses poured boiling water in on him.  This original method never failed to fulfill its purpose.  Luckily, as long as these people lived here, none of them were ever bitten.  The rattlers were so thick in that region then because there had never been anyone there to kill them.

Every year, Indians from the Warm Springs Indian Reservation came through the region and they gathered wool from the barbwire-fences, hunted and secured varied items to use in the winter.  These people came only in the warm summer months in small groups consisting of two or three families.  They always brought with the all of their cayuse horses. A main camp of theirs on Mountain Creek was just above the Barnhouse home. The Warm Springs Indians camped here as it was near a tulle swamp and a good hunting area.  They gathered the tulles from the edge of the water and used the top, fuzzy part of them for the stuffing of pillows and the reeds were used to weave mats.  The women did this and gathered camas from the nearby hills, while the men hunted and smoked venison for their winter food supply.  The Barnhouses were always very friendly with the Indians and on occasion gave them food.  Much horse stealing went on in those days that was blamed on the Indians, but the Indians didn’t ever steal anything from the Barnhouses.

Recreation, outside of hunting and fishing, was very limited.  The ranchers took turns gathering at different ones houses, to dance, sing and in general to have a good time.  They danced to the music of the organ, banjo and violin.  Also, George McKay from Waterman Flat, put on an annual fourth of July celebration and a fair in the fall.  The fourth of July celebration was the bigger of the two affairs, and it always lasted for three or four days.  The celebration was made up of dancing, picnicking and the main attractions, horse racing and horsemanship controls.  The people who attended the celebration camped out in tents near the celebration grounds.  One year, when Orral was about sixteen years old, George McKay gave a ten dollar prize to the winner of a horsemanship contest between the women of the group.  Two married women and Orral entered the contest.  Each contestant was to demonstrate her horsemanship by riding her own horse and each of the other women’s horses.  After mastering a mean horse Orral won the contest and the prize of ten dollars.  This was a lot of money for those days.

 

 

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