Local Stories & News

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.

Early Freighting was Often a Hazardous Occupation

Early freighters of Central Oregon were hardy men that managed slow plodding horse or mule teams over narrow, dusty, muddy and sometimes hazardous roads. Freight to Central Oregon came by two main routes. Shipments arrived either from the Willamette Valley over the Santiam Wagon Road or from The Dalles along parts of The Dalles to Canyon City wagon road. When the Columbia Southern rail line was built from the Columbia River to Shaniko in 1900 most freight shipments were to and from the rail terminus at Shaniko. The first roads were not much better that cow paths and passages down canyons were often steep and dangerous. During the dry season the roads were thick with dust and loose material. Cow Canyon grade descending down from Shaniko Flats to Trout Creek frequently had mishaps as rolling rocks or rattlesnakes would spook the horses and off they would gallop. There were recorded instances of freighters being killed by wagons overturning as horses raced out of control down the narrow road bank which was often only a few inches wider than the wheel base of the wagons.

During the wet season travel was particularly strenuous and hazardous. One old time freighter recalled that during a very wet storm he had to pave the roadway with part of his shipment of wool to get the wagons over the ruts and muddy bogs. It also was related that returning freight from The Dalles often included heavy bags of beans bound for Prineville. When a heavily laden wagon became bogged down in the mud the freighters would off load bags of beans to lighten the load and use the beans to fill the ruts. Later in the year plants would sprout from the beans in the ruts and it was a common site to see lines of beans growing along the road.

Other trouble spots along early wagon roads included the grade from Antelope to Shaniko, over Grizzly Mountain pass from Hay Creek to Prineville, and Trail Crossing on Crooked River near Crooked River Gorge.

It was also exciting times when wagons traveling in opposite directions met on the narrow canyon roads. Lead horses were often outfitted with bells to signal to other wagons that they were approaching.

Freighters often spent several nights under the stars as they brought their shipments to and from Central Oregon. They had to weather storms and drought and negotiate road hazards but they were critical to supplying the interior of Oregon with necessary goods.