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Historical Background

Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

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Prospector, Cowhand, and Sodbuster
Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings


Location: Malheur County, on an unpaved road, about 16 miles north of Juntura.

This ranch was the headquarters of Henry Miller's cattle empire in eastern Oregon. In the early 1880's T. M. Overfelt, a pioneer in Oregon ranching, established a ranch on Trout Creek in Silvies Valley. Miller, the Pacific coast cattle king, impressed with Overfelt's capabilities, formed a silent partnership with him. Overfelt, using Miller's funds, conducted a large-scale land acquisition program under the name of Overfelt & Company. In the latter part of the 1880's, when the Government opened the Agency Valley Indian Reservation, in Malheur County, for occupation, the partners acquired the Agency Ranch. The Agency Valley region is still ranching country, but the original buildings of the Agency Ranch no longer exist.


Location: Harney County, on an unpaved road, 35 miles south of Oreg. 78, about 69 miles southeast of Burns.

In 1868 the Virginian John Devine arrived in the Harney Basin, in the southeastern part of Oregon, and laid claim to a range that totaled 150,000 acres of public land and stretched from the Nevada-Oregon line on the south to what is now the Owyhee Reservoir in the north. He located his headquarters at the Whitehorse Ranch and ran some 24,000 head of cattle. His influence and power were great until the catastrophic winter of 1889-90, when more than 75 percent of his stock perished, and he was forced to sell all of his holdings to Henry Miller, the California cattle king. Miller thereupon hired Devine as manager, but the two men did not get along and parted company. Nevertheless Miller presented Devine with the 6,000-acre Alvord Ranch, where Devine lived until he died in 1901.

This ranch, now consisting of more than 25,000 acres, is still an active spread and runs a large herd of cattle. Surviving original buildings include two stone one-story buildings, a creamery and granary-storehouse built in the 1870's, and a large stone-and-frame barn and corral erected about 1900.


Location: Baker County, on an unpaved road, about 3 miles west of Oreg. 7, about 7 miles south of Baker.

In 1861 prospectors first discovered gold in eastern Oregon, along the Powder River. As a result, miners from California and Nevada rushed in and the following year founded the mining town of Auburn. Soon becoming the county seat and having a population of 5,000, the town was the second largest in the State. Miners were at first handicapped by the lack of water, but the Oregon Steam Navigation Company financed the Auburn Ditch, constructed in 1862-63, which allowed the placers to be worked effectively. Within a few years, however, mining depleted the placers, and the population rapidly declined. After 1868, when the new town of Baker became the county seat, Auburn became a ghost town. No buildings have survived.


Location: Grant County.

In 1861 prospectors ran across gold placers at Whiskey Flat on Canyon Creek along the John Day River about a half mile north of the site of Canyon City. Within 6 months nearly 1,000 miners arrived and established the town, which in 1864 became the county seat. By the next year the population was 2,500, but it soon began to decline as the placers became depleted. Fires in 1870 and 1937 destroyed most of the town. Among the few original structures remaining amidst modern buildings are the restored Joaquin Miller Cabin, home of the "Poet of the Sierra," now a museum; and the St. Thomas Protestant Episcopal Church.


Location: Multnomah County, on Sauvie Island in the Columbia River.

This fort represented the second unsuccessful attempt by Americans to found a commercial colony in the heart of the Hudson's Bay Company's Columbia Department. But the men who came with Nathaniel J. Wyeth, in contrast to those who participated in the Astor effort at Fort Astoria, remained in the region. They were the first U.S. citizens to till the soil and establish permanent farms in the Oregon country. In 1834 Wyeth, though disappointed with a previous commercial venture in the region, returned from Boston with 20 men. Some of the party took up farms at Champoeg, in the French Prairie region. Wyeth erected a trading post that he named Fort William on Wappato Island, today called Sauvie Island. Failing in salmon fishing and packing and agriculture, in 1837 he sold the fort to the Hudson's Bay Company, which established a large dairy there. No surface remains of the fort have survived, but the site is marked with a granite stone and bronze plaque, located on U.S. 30, a half mile west of the fort site.


Location: Marion County; the area extending from Champoeg south to Brooks on U.S. 99E.

Although some farming had been done in the Pacific Northwest, at Astoria and Fort Vancouver, in conjunction with the fur trade, French Prairie was the first area that was settled exclusively for agricultural purposes. Etienne Lucifer, who in 1829 arrived at the prairie, in the rich Willamette Valley, was the first of a group of Hudson's Bay Company trappers to leave the company and turn to farming. Other farmers, mountain men, and missionaries soon arrived. By 1841, about 65 American and 61 French Canadian families were residing in the valley. Because of the agricultural successes at French Prairie and other nearby prairies in the Willamette Valley, this region was the main objective of the emigrants traveling over the Oregon Trail, who in 1843 arrived in large numbers.

Champoeg, one of the earliest settlements on the prairie, was the collection and distribution point for produce. Through a series of meetings, several of which were held at Champoeg, in 1843 the prairie settlers organized the Provisional Government of the Oregon Country, the first effective government in the Pacific Northwest. Because of the economic and political success of the community at French Prairie, the independent settlers gained the ascendancy over the British Hudson's Bay Company. This shift in power, plus continued heavy American immigration, helped establish the American claim to the territory north and west of the Columbia River, which Britain had previously claimed.

In 1844 the settlers established the seat of the provisional government, organized at Champoeg, at Willamette Falls. Yet Champoeg continued to grow, along with several new towns in the valley. By 1860 it had about 29 buildings and a population of 180 persons. A great flood in 1861, however, completely destroyed the town, except for the old Hudson's Bay Company grain warehouse, which has since disappeared. The settlers rebuilt the town on a new site on high ground about a half mile south of the river from its original location and renamed it Newellsville, which after 1880 declined and went out of existence. The original site of Champoeg continued to be used as a steamboat landing until about 1912.

In 1901 the State of Oregon erected a monument at the approximate site of the formation of the provisional government in 1843. Gradually the State acquired 159 acres of land in the vicinity and established a State park. None of the early structures remain, but the Champoeg Pioneer Historical Museum in the park contains relics, photographs, portraits, maps, and other items related to the history of pioneer settlement in the Willamette Valley and Oregon. Other early sites in the French Prairie region included the Willamette (Lee) Mission and the Joseph Gervais farm, but no visible remains of either are extant.


Location: Harney County, on an unpaved road, 2 miles east of Frenchglen.

In 1872 Peter French moved from California to Harney County, Oreg., to establish and manage a stock ranch for his business partner and father-in-law, Dr. Hugh James Glenn, the wheat and cattle baron of Jacinto, Calif. The French-Glenn Livestock Company eventually owned 132,000 acres in the county, including 500 miles of wire fence, and ran 30,000 cattle and 3,000 horses and mules. It utilized the railhead at Winnemucca Nev., served by the Central Pacific Railroad, 250 miles distant. In 1897 another rancher killed French, after a long feud. In 1935 the "P" Ranch became a part of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The original ranch house, located near Frenchglen, has been demolished.


Location: Harney County, in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, 35 miles southwest of Burns.

The "Double O" Ranch was founded by William H. Hanley, who about 1870 arrived in Harney County. His 25,000-acre range lay to the west of the Jackass Mountains and Harney and Malheur Lakes, and extended north to Burns. Hanley was active in State politics. In 1941 the "Double O" Ranch became a part of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The only surviving buildings are a log shed, erected about 1878, and several barns built in 1908.


Location: Jackson County.

Early in the 1850's Rich Gulch on Jackson Creek in the Rogue River Valley yielded gold to two California prospectors, James Cluggage and John R. Pool. The town of Jacksonville arose almost immediately. Before long, tents and log cabins gave way to frame buildings and then to brick structures. In 1853, when the town became the county seat, it had a population of about 900. Its early years were tempestuous; Indian attacks and the Rogue River Indian War retarded mining. In 1873 a fire destroyed much of the business section, but the residents immediately began rebuilding. The Oregon and California Railroad, however, bypassed the town in 1884 in favor of Medford, and the final blow came in 1927, when Medford became the county seat.

Today Jacksonville is a well-preserved 19th-century mining town. Still standing and in good condition are about 60 buildings, which represent a broad range of architectural types. Most of them are still being used for their original purposes. The Southern Oregon Historical Society maintains a museum in the former Jackson County Courthouse. The Beekman Bank, built in 1856, is also open to visitors. Because its original equipment has been preserved intact, it is a unique example of a frontier bank.


Location: Umatilla County.

Surveyed and platted in 1870, even before it was designated as the county seat, this town grew slowly and became the cattle and wheat capital of the region. Throughout the 1870's and 1880's it was the assembly point for cattle drives east into Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. When it was incorporated in 1880, the population had reached more than 1,000. By 1889, when the Oregon Short Line Railroad arrived, the population had trebled. Because of the railroad, cattle drives were no longer necessary, and the emphasis in the region was changing from cattle to wheat. Fires in 1893 and 1895 destroyed most of the original frame dwellings, which by 1900 had been replaced with the present brick and stone structures. Today Pendleton is the trading center for an extensive grain, sheep, and cattle area. The annual Pendleton Roundup, a rodeo instituted in 1912, commemorates the early days.


Location: Josephine County, on an unpaved road, about 4 miles east of O'Brien.

In 1851 a group of sailors who had deserted ship at Crescent City, Calif., discovered placer gold on the East Fork of the Illinois River in the southwestern part of present Oregon, about 3 miles north of the California-Oregon border. Oregon's first mining camp, originally named Sailors' Diggings and later Waldo, sprang up to support the 2,500 prospectors who arrived and pitched their tents. Within a year other small mining camps had been established in the vicinity. By 1855 Waldo, then a town of wood, stone, and brick, had a population of 500 and was the largest in the area. The following year it became the county seat. After reaching its zenith in the 1860's, it declined. In 1876 the county seat was moved to Kerbyville, a virtual death warrant for Waldo. Today almost nothing remains of the town.

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Last Updated: 22-May-2005