Prehistoric Native American Site and Ranching Empire

Catlow Valley in Harney County

By Steve Lent, Crook County Historian

Catlow Valley is located in Harney County, Oregon south of Burns and north east of Lakeview. The valley was once the site of a large freshwater lake during the Pleistocene era. The lake was up to 250 feet deep. The lake was located in a depression known as a graben located between Steens Mountain and Hart Mountain. The lake supported an abundance of waterfowl which attracted Native Americans. There is evidence that it was inhabited more than 8,000 years ago.

Eventually the lake shores receded, and the lake dried up. The waves from the lake created caves along the shore that were utilized by Native Americans and include Catlow Cave and Roaring Springs Cave. Catlow Rim is located along the east face of the valley. Wave cut terraces are present along the edges of the old lake.

Pete French was among the early settlers to come to the area looking for a site to raise cattle. He was soon followed by John Catlow. Catlow was born in England on March 3, 1924. He came to the valley in 1874. He began ranching operations and raising cattle. There was plentiful water from springs and creeks. He married Margaret Finn who was born on May 1, 1852. They developed a large ranch and had three children. John Catlow died on June 7, 1901 and Margaret died on Oct. 18, 1926. They are both buried in the Catlow Creek Cemetery.

The valley was named for the Catlow family. The valley attracted numerous homesteaders at the turn of the 20th century. Almost 700 homesteaders were in the valley by 1916 hoping to dryland farm. Several small post offices were established to serve the homesteaders. Unfortunately, drought and harsh winters led to many of the homesteaders eventually leaving and by 1920 there were only about 100 people living in the valley.

Today the valley is mostly utilized for cattle operations and crops grown are used for winter feed for the cattle. The largest ranch in the valley is the Roaring Springs Ranch which consists of 260,000 acres of deeded land and almost 800,000 of public land grazing permits. There are no post offices in the valley at the present time.