High Desert Community at Summer Lake

Paisley High Desert Community at Summer Lake


By Steve Lent, Crook County Historian

The lush grasslands along the Chewaucan River attracted early livestock settlers. The Chewaucan River heads in the Fremont National Forest and flows through the present site of Paisley and into Chewaucan Marsh before eventually flowing into Lake Abert, which has no outlet. The region was among the earliest used by Native Americans with carbon dated use going back nearly 14,000 years. The area was once a vast inland lake.

John C. Fremont had viewed the Summer Lake area from high on a rim while conducting a survey in 1843. He named Summer Lake for its dry appearance while his expedition was in the snow covered summit of what he named Winter Rim.

The first non-native settler to come to the region was M.M. Gillespie who brought cattle and began the first ranch in 1871. The grasslands soon attracted others and more settlers came to ranch. Winter Rim had pine trees on its slopes and provided ample trees for establishing small sawmills.

The growing population needed a supply center and a post office was deemed necessary. Samuel Steele was appointed the first post master and he selected the name Paisley for a region of Scotland that he had come from. There is some conflicting stories on who named the site Paisley but since Mt. Steele was the first post master it is probably his choice on naming it. A post office was established at Paisley on May 10, 1879. A few businesses began operations in the newly developing ranching center. There had been some small one room schools scattered throughout the area. A substantial school was built in Paisley in 1917 and consolidated many of the smaller schools.

The creation of the Fremont National Forest shortly after the turn of the twentieth century eventually led to a ranger station being located in Paisley. The community was incorporated in 1911. Farming, ranching and timber production were the main sources of income.

A declining enrollment in the Paisley school led to the formation of the Paisley Charter School that allowed out of area students to learn in a rural environment. A dormitory was built to house distant pupils to live in the community. The Charter School was established in 2003. It now has 80 in residence students and another 60 utilize distant learning through the school. The population of the community as listed from the 2010 census as 250. The community hosts an annual Mosquito Festival which features several activities.