Pioneer of the Izee Country

Della Bonham Keerins

By Steve Lent, Crook County Historian

Adella Mae Bonham was born in her grandparents’ home in Salem, Oregon on August 9, 1879. Her parents were Carlos and Dollie Parker Bonham. Her father was a blacksmith in Canyon City until the family moved to Izee in 1888. They homesteaded at what became known as Bonham Junction. A post office was established at their home on Nov., 6, 1889 and Carlos served as the first postmaster. The Bonham brand was IZ and postal officials said add a double EE to make it Izee and the name was accepted.

Adella was commonly known as Della. She grew up on her parent’s ranch at Izee. She met a neighbor rancher Joseph Keerins and they soon grew fond of each other. They were married on April 9, 1902 at her parent’s home at Izee. Joseph was born on Nov. 1, 1861 in Ireland. He emigrated to the U.S. as a teenager and homesteaded on the South Fork of the John Day River with his brother Owen. They had an agreement that who got married first would get the ranch on the South Fork. Joseph was the first to marry.

Joseph and Della began their married life at the Keerins Ranch. Both Della and Joseph were active in the sheep operations of the ranch. Della had patented a homestead claim nearby and they spent some time living on her homestead. Most of their life was spent at the home ranch.

Della was kept very busy keeping records, cooking, cleaning laundry, cleaning and raising the children. They had five sons and one daughter. Della would move to sheep shearing camps to cook for the shearing crews. Most of the shearing was done at Sunflower Flat in the forested region west of the South Fork.

Joseph passed away in 1935. Della lived on for many years and lived at the ranch. She was selected as Queen of the Canyon City ‘62 Days’ in 1953. Later in life she moved into John Day to live with her granddaughter. She became ill and passed away at the age of 96 on June 16, 1976. Both Joseph and Della are buried in St. Andrew Cemetery in Canyon City, Oregon.