Local Stories & News

Growing Up in Railroad Logging Camps

by Dixie Caverhill Weberg

* Editor’s Note: On our Fall field trip to the High Desert one of our stops was at the Brooks-Scanlon railroad logging camp site southeast of Bend known as BS Tanks. Dixie Caverhill Weberg was on the tour and mentioned that she was born when her father was working at the camp and she had lived at Brooks-Scanlon camps with her parents. Dixie provided very interesting information and other tour members requested that she write about her experiences for our current newsletter.

Brooks-Scanlon railroad logging camp at site known as BS Tanks 1940 This is the site our tour group visited on our field trip and the only visible sign of the camp is a wooden sign describing the camp.

Dixie has graciously written a reminiscence of her growing up in logging camps and provided fascinating photos.
In 1944 I was only three years old, but I can still hear the” foosh” of the steam coming from the black monster as it came to a stop at the water tower beside my parents’ logging camp shack. I loved that sound and would sit on our  porch step every day to greet the smelly locomotive and wave at the engineers. Years later, I learned that they looked forward to waving at me as I looked forward to waving back at them.

My Dad, Grandad and Great Uncles were all timber fallers for Brooks-Scanlon Lumber Company in the mid 20s until the mid 50s and we lived in camp shacks that could be moved by rail from camp to camp. You could have called them early day mobile homes! That same rail train took the fallen logs to the mill in Bend. Now, it is the site of the Old Mill District.

When I was about six or seven our camp was moved from south of Bend to about a mile west of Sisters and all of our approximately thirty shacks were hoisted up by crane and loaded on a train carriage and the whole community was railroaded closer to the trees that the Company wanted to harvest. Moving was an exciting adventure; it was a game to try and pick out our own personal home from all the others as the train rumbled over the trestle above the highway. Our stovepipe was rolling from side to side and we were so afraid it would fall off, but it must have been wired to the roof because it came into the new camp all intact. The shacks were extremely primitive, basically just a wooden oblong box with two or three windows, a wood cook stove and a door. Before my Dad could weatherproof the shack, I woke up one morning to white lines across the heavy quiltmy grandmother had made for me, lines made from snow blowing through the cracks in the wall.

The camps before Sisters had school in a boxcar with a wood stove for heat and one teacher for all grades. There was also a bath house where everyone went for bathing. At the Sisters camp a school bus carried the children to Sisters, only a couple miles away.

Most of the sites at Sisters were set up with two units with one or two runways between. Most of the units had hip roofs added, unlike the flat roofs of the previous camps and the settingwasmore permanent, laid out in an H configuration with wider streets and alleyways. Dad added a kitchen and a bathroom and a covered front and back porch. Others in the community called our home the “doll house” because of Dad’s carpentry skills and Mother’s prowess in decorating on a Crook budget. It was quite comfortable, especially after we got running water and a bathroom. Before that, Mother would heat up water on the wood range and fill a round galvanized tub for bathing.

The outhouse was pretty unpleasant in the cold of winter and it was no fun “running” for water every day. Carrying the water from the standpipe in the alley and wood for the cook stove was my job and my mind would wander as I did these chores . One day, after carrying in the wood I absentmindedly threw the bucket of water over the wood pile. My mother’s reaction to my actions taught me topay attention!

There was a grocery store on site run by Scotty and Peggy Low who had immigrated from Scotland. Their home as right next to the grocery that consisted of two shacks, end to end. One was for canned goods, mercantile and the other was refrigerated for meats, dairy, etc. I always looked for the big yellow cat who patrolled the store for mice when she was not curled up between the goods. The floor had been heavily oiled and there were thousands of tiny holes in it from the cork boots the loggers wore. The combination of odors from the produce, the oiled floors, the scrubbed pine counter and the sweet smell coming from the candy case was enough for any kid to want to run an errand to the store. Scotty and Peggy were so kind to everyone and carried over the grocery tab for some of the customers when things got tight.

Scotty had a wooden leg as the result of a logging accident, so he became the camp grocer and his jovial attitude and prankster ways endeared him to everyone. Our home was directly across from the office and the lawn became a gathering spot for all the kids where we played until almost dark. Hide and Seek and Ollie Ollie Vver were just a couple of games we enjoyed. Parents would call from their porches when it was time for each of us to go home.

Early each work day the men would grab their metal lunch buckets, hard hats, and metal coffee thermoses, step up into the crew bus , or crummy as it was called, and head to the woods. Logging is a dangerous occupation and it was even moreso in those early days. My Grandad lost his leg when awidowmaker fell on himand my Great Uncle wasmaimed for life when a tree rolled over on him. All these woodsmen were very hard working and cautious, but so many unpredictables were lurking in the shadows. Growing up in that simple environment was truly a blessing. All the families looked out for each other. All of our needs were met. If there were fears from outside worldly sources, we kids didn’t know much about it. We felt safe and secure.

The “Ill-Fated” Cattle Drive of 1880

Cattle drives were not uncommon in Central Oregon prior to the turn of the century when the areas major industry was stock raising. Generally The Dalles was the shipping point for the inland cattle and some big cattle drives were made to the rail lines there. But the historic cattle drive of 1880 had distant Cheyenne, Wyoming as its destination. It would go down in history as one of the longest of all drives of pioneer times.In 1880 there was a surplus of cattle in the Central Oregon area and markets were poor in the west. Joseph Teal and his brother-in-law Henry Coleman operated a large ranch in the Trout Creek area in what is now known as the Willowdale area. Teal decided on a big drive of cattle to distant Cheyenne and he talked John Y. Todd, operator of the Farewell Bend Ranch, into taking the lead on driving the cattle across the country. Teal and Todd each herded together 3,000 head of cattle that included their own and those of other pioneer ranchers.

Todd took the lead with his 1,500 cattle and Henry Coleman followed with the Teal herd. There is no written record of that long drive of nearly 1,200 miles or the route they traveled, but it is assumed they made as direct a route as possible to Cheyenne avoiding main mountain ranges. Diseases struck the moving herds and heavy losses of cattle resulted before the arrival at Cheyenne. Teal established a firm at the Cheyenne railhead entitled the John T. & Co. to market the cattle. After arrival at the rail head Todd turned his cattle over to Teal for marketing and returned to his Farewell Bend Ranch on the Deschutes.

Todd failed to get any money for his herd so he returned to Cheyenne the following spring to discover the final chapter of the ill-fated drive. He learned that the cattle had been sent to Kansas to fatten. Many of the cattle had broken through the ice of the Missouri River and were lost. Todd received no compensation from his 1,500 head of cattle nor did he receive any pay for the long overland drive. Teal and Coleman also suffered heavy losses. The catastrophic trail drive resulted in Todd selling his Farewell Bend Ranch and using much of the proceeds to pay back small ranchers that had placed their cattle in the trail herd. Teal and Coleman also left the livestock business at Trout Creek after the disastrous cattle drive resulted in bankruptcy.

Sheep and Cattle War

In the year 1898 the Cascade Forest Reserve was created and during the first two years of its existence this Reserve was closed to grazing. Sheep owners who had formerly used the Cascade Mountains for summer range were forced to look elsewhere for summer range for their flocks. This resulted in a great influx of outside sheep to the Blue Mountains.

Local sheep owners who had occupied the range for years had respected the rights of the cattlemen by staying off range that was grazed by cattle. Cattlemen who had used the foothill range were slow to take radical measures to protect their rights, but the overcrowding of the sheep into traditional cattle grazing areas resulted in a decrease in forage supply.Near the turn of the century cattlemen began to organize into groups known as Sheep Shooters to drive sheep owners back from the range that they called cow range. Their plan of action was to establish a “deadline” across which sheep men were not allowed to herd their sheep. Trees were marked by cutting a saddle blanket blaze fore and aft along a line that ran through timbered country. Notices printed in red ink on cloth posters were tacked on the sheep side of the line.

A typical notice would be similar to the following: Warning to Sheep Men–You are hereby ordered to keep your sheep on the north side of plainly marked line or you will suffer the consequences. Signed Inland Sheep Shooters

Several mass killings of sheep occurred in Central Oregon as a result of the growing tension between sheep and cattle operators. The largest slaughter of sheep occurred near Benjamin Lake on the High Desert in 1903. Sheep were herded off a rimrock and those that survived where shot with the result that nearly 2400 sheep were killed.

The major conflicts came to a close when the Blue Mountain Forest Reserve was establishedby the Department of Agriculture in 1906. The Reserve would soon become the Deschutes and Ochoco National Forests. The government established grazing allotments by 1907 on the new Reserve which controlled the number of livestock that could be grazed and the location of animal grazing.

Murder at Nicholson & Burmester’s Saloon in 1882

It was a cold night in Prineville on December 22, 1882 when a single gunshot fired through the window of Nicholson & Burmester’s Saloon ended the life of Al Swartz. It was a tumultuous time in the local community as the vigilantes had arisen as self proclaimed arbiters of justice. Earlier in the year the group had shot and killed murder suspect Lucius Langdon and hanged his hired man Harrison from the Crooked River Bridge.

Al Swartz had arrived in Prineville from the Salem vicinity about 1880 and established a ranch on Crooked River. He was vocal in his denouncement of the vigilantes for the hanging of Harrison. It was rumored by members of the vigilantes that Swartz was involved in stock rustling. Swartz was in town that fateful evening socializing and drinking at the Nicholson & Burmester Saloon which was located on northwest Main Street. A game of cards was initiated around a table in the saloon and included Swartz, who had his back to a window in the building. The group had been playing cards for a while when the sound of a gunshot echoed through the building about 11 p.m.

The shot had been fired through an open window from outside the building and struck Mr. Swartz on the left side of his neck from the back. He was unable to move and was placed on the floor. He requested that his boots be pulled off and asked for a drink of water. He proclaimed that some “son of a b—–” had shot him. He passed away before a doctor arrived at the scene.

It was determined that the fatal shot had come from a shotgun blast that contained large shot. No one had seen the assailant. A coroner’s inquest was held and it was determined that “he came to his death by a wound inflicted with a shotgun on the left side of the neck by a party or parties to us unknown.” Interestingly the foreman of the inquest was an acknowledged leader of the vigilantes. No one was ever brought to justice for the murder.

Early the next morning two young men associated with Swartz were found dead hanging from a juniper tree on the outskirts of Prineville.

Christmas Tragedy at Silver Lake 1894

A large monument in the cemetery in the small community of Silver Lake, Oregon is a grim reminder of one of the worst tragedies in the State of Oregon. The monument bears the names of 43 persons who lost their lives on Christmas Eve in 1894.

Silver Lake was growing to a prosperous little community by 1894. It was the only established trading post between Prineville and Lakeview and freight wagons and stages regularly stopped at the site. Nearly 150 people lived in the community and it became a close knit group of neighbors. The community gathering place was the Chrisman Brothers General Store. The upstairs portion of the store was called Clayton Hall and was the site of weekly dances that were held on the wooden floors. It was also the site for special occasions and events.

The small community was unincorporated and did not have a fire fighting organization. The crisp Christmas Eve morning dawned with bright hopes for local residents. A festive occasion was planned for the dance hall above Chrisman’s during the evening. Several Rochester lamps with a one gallon capacity of oil were hanging from the upstairs ceiling. There was a large dinner held in the early evening hours and nearly 170 men, women and children were enjoying the festivities. Many of the attendees had traveled many miles to get to the celebration.

After the delightful dinner there were some skits and other events. Then people jockeyed to get into good position to see the stage and gift presentation. There was only one doorway out of the upstairs. 18 year old George Payne began walking from bench to bench to get to the front of the hall and in his haste bumped his head on one of the Rochester lamps. He tried to right it but flammable oil spilled onto the wooden floor. The flames spread and people panicked rushing for the exit. People were trampled in the rush for the door way and other lamps were overturned adding to the flaming inferno.

The door became clogged with people trying to escape and unfortunately would be rescuers from outside the building rushed up the stairs further clogging the exit. The flames spread rapidly and some of the crowd rushed to a small window that led to a balcony. Many crowded through the window to the balcony but the weight was too much and the balcony collapsed. A ladder was placed against the building for others to escape through the window. Attempts to use a bucket brigade to douse the flames was unsuccessful. Many suffocated or were killed by the flames. The roar of the flames silenced moans. The only doctor available was in Lakeview and Ed O’Farrell made an all night dash to Lakeview to get him but they did not arrive until a few days later. The joyous occasion became one of mourning as every family in the area was touched by the tragedy. 43 people died in the tragic fire and it was a long time before residents recovered from the shock. It as one of the worst fire disasters in Oregon.

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.

First Football Game in Central Oregon Played in 1911

Football was relatively unknown in rural Oregon in the early 1900’s but on a clear, cold and crisp day in the Fall of 1911 the sport was introduced to the frontier country of Central Oregon. The rising community of Bend and the long established frontier town of Prineville managed to form the nucleus of two teams.

Both communities managed to put together teams consisting of players with a surprising amount of ability in the game. Some of the young players had come from eastern colleges where the sport was played and they had arrived to start their business careers in the newly booming area.

A group of young men that recently graduated from college and still loving the game got together and arranged to play a matched game of football between the two towns. In December of 1911 the two teams met on a makeshift playing field in Bend. Fans included stockmen, farmers, merchants and their ladies from all over Central Oregon. The two teams played a hard fought battle that resulted in an unsatisfying tie 0-0. Prineville had crossed the goal line once but the play was negated by a penalty.

The players decided that they needed a rematch and a second game was arranged to be played in Prineville. Prineville players learned that there was a former player of merit named Gumm living in Redmond. He had been a star full back at Iowa. He was a practicing attorney in Redmond and was prevailed upon to play for the Prineville squad.

The Prineville squad was sparked to victory with the assistance of the added star player. The immortals of the Prineville team left the field at the end of four quarters with a 17-0 victory. There was a large crowd that attended the game and a festive community cheered both the victors and losers. Prineville had the distinction of winning the first decided football game in Central Oregon.

The first football games captured the interest of sports minded residents of the area and it rapidly gained in popularity. Football was introduced into local high schools after this “first” game that was received with so much enthusiasm. For many years the Crook County high school teams dominated the Central Oregon football fields. As Bend and Redmond grew in population the Prineville team began to lose their dominance until the early 1950’s. But that glorious day back in 1911 when football was introduced to Central Oregon was a milestone in local sports.

Prineville’s First Baseball Team

Baseball was a serious sport in rural America near the turn of the century. It was a game that could be played almost anywhere and frontier towns took great pride in supporting their teams. Prineville was one of the first communities to establish a baseball team in Eastern Oregon in 1890.

Several new members of the community had played baseball in the eastern part of the country prior to coming to Prineville and decided to form a local baseball team to play other emerging communities in Central Oregon. Many businesses would close their doors when a game was being played. Strong rivalries developed among local teams and a game was a major event covered closely by local newspapers. People would come from miles around to cheer on their team. Before and after games general celebrating occurred with social gatherings that included picnics and merriment. The early “wagon gate” parties were fun for all.

The Prineville “nine” played for community pride and wagers amongst fans was common. Surprisingly many small towns had teams including Antelope and Shaniko. Later Lamonta, Powell Butte, Madras, Bend and Redmond had teams. After the turn of the century Prineville boasted of having players that had played college baseball back east, including Hal McCall, the father of later Oregon Governor Tom McCall. Players were well respected members of the community and viewed as local heroes.

Baseball and horse racing were the major sporting activities in frontier Central Oregon until football was introduced in 1911. Shevlin-Hixson and Brooks-Scanlon sawmills in Bend sponsored baseball teams and railroad construction crews also sponsored teams. It was exhilarating for local fans when their team defeated rivals and devastating when they lost.

Community teams began to fade in popularity as the twenties arrived and as high school competition began to emerge.

Prineville Planing Mill Provided Finished Lumber for Many Early Homes

Lumber mills were among the first industrial operations in Central Oregon. Mostly rough cut lumber was produced at small mills for construction purposes. As early as 1878 attempts were made to establish a planing mill in Prineville and included construction of a water ditch to power a planing ill. The mill was located on Third and Claypool and had a series of owners until 1898.

Ed Harbin partnered with John B. Shipp in the operation and sold out to Shipp in 1898. By 1900 the planning mill was one of the most prominent manufacturing industries of Crook County. The plant produced most of the planed lumber for buildings in Prineville for a few years. The mill had a capacity of 15,000 feet of finished lumber and 10,000 sawed shingles per day. The best sawed shingles retailed at $3.00 per thousand at the mill, and finished lumber sold for $15.00 to $25.00 per thousand. The mill produced moldings, sash and wood turning for most ordinary building construction.

In 1905 Shipp partnered with Gardner Perry and built a new planing mill at 4th and Fairview near the present Prineville Swimming Pool. The new plant was steam operated and a 50 horse-power engine was installed. Shipp & Perry added a dry kiln to their operation in 1910. Lumber was off loaded at the kiln and processed through the heated kiln where it was dried before going to the planing mill. The mill had a work force of ten men.

Shipp & Perry operated the mill until 1919 when they sold it to Tum-A-Lum Lumber Company. Shipp was retained as a manager of the operation for a few years and the operation expanded. Eventually the mill was moved but it was the pioneer planing operation in Central Oregon.

Bannock Indian War of 1878 Caused Panic in Local Settlers

The Bannock Indian uprising of 1878 created a tense situation that resulted in many outlying settlers of Eastern Crook County moving to the safety of Prineville and other communities.

The Bannock Indians ranged along the Oregon-Idaho border and were a relatively peaceful tribe until they were confined to Ft. Hall during the Nez Perce uprising in 1877. They had difficulty subsisting on rations from the fort and mistreatment of tribal members led to hostilities in 1878. Chief Buffalo Horn began raiding and killing in western Idaho. Buffalo Horn was killed in a skirmish with the military and the Bannock were joined by Paiutes under the leadership of Chief Egan. The combined forces began a bloody path of destruction that ranged from the Steens Mountains to the John Day Valley.

Settlers began to congregate and fortify sites to repel the raiding Indians. Word of the killings and raids rapidly spread to Central Oregon and outlying settlers in the Post and Paulina Country rushed to Prineville to provide safety for their families. A stockade had been designated in Prineville as a gathering point if the uprising had come to Central Oregon but most hostilities were confined east of the John Day River.

Chief Egan had hoped to get to the Umatilla Indian Reservation and gain reinforcements for the combined war party but the Umatilla’s did not want to become a part of the bloody war and captured Egan and some of his warriors. Chief Egan was killed in an attempt to escape and his head was presented to the military as a peace offering. Without his leadership the raiders began to falter and eventually many of the warriors were captured.

The uprising was relatively brief but resulted in several deaths and the destruction of several ranches. It was the last great show of resentment by the Bannock and Paiute against the white man who had deprived them of their country.

Many of the settlers that had fled to Prineville for protection returned to their ranches but some decided that they would remain near the growing community.