Cattle Empire East of Steens Mountain

John Devine and the White Horse Ranch

By Steve Lent, Crook County Historian

John Stewart Devine was born on Nov. 10, 1835, in Richmond, Virginia. He later immigrated to California. In 1868, Devine decided to establish a cattle ranch in southeastern Oregon. He partnered with W. B. Todhunter to found the Todhunter and Devine Cattle Company. The following summer, Devine and some buckaroos trailed 2,500 cattle from California to southeastern Oregon. Todhunter remained in California to manage their interests there.

Devine selected a site on Whitehorse Creek southeast of Steens Mountain for his ranch headquarters. The location was near Camp C. F. Smith, which had been established by the United States Army in 1866 and abandoned in 1869. A post office was established at this location in 1867 with W. A. Mix as the first postmaster. Mix was among a group of soldiers moving through the area in an effort to relocate Camp Alvord. The post office was called White Horse. The land then was part of Baker County from which Harney County was carved in 1889.

When Devine took up residence at the ranch, he became the first permanent settler in what is now Harney County, Oregon. Devine became a powerful cattle baron, known for his aristocratic manner. He usually rode a white horse as a symbol of the Whitehorse Ranch. Devine enjoyed horse and greyhound racing, breeding some of his racehorses at the ranch. Devine built a large stone and timber barn for his horses. The barn was capped by cupola with a white horse weathervane. He was too busy establishing his cattle empire and never got around to getting married.

Todhunter and Devine cattle grazed widely across the Alvord Basin and into upper Owyhee country until the harsh winter of 1887 killed most of the herd. In 1889, the Whitehorse Ranch was sold to Henry Miller and Charles Lux. At the time, Miller and Lux was the largest cattle operation in the United States.

Devine later moved to the Island Ranch near the present Malheur Wildlife Refuge and then to the Alvord Ranch. He became ill in Sept. 1901 and went to Burns, Oregon intending to have an operation to relieve his distress. He died on the operating table on Sept. 13, 1901. He is buried in the Burns, Oregon Cemetery