Reminiscences

by Della Bonham Keerins
March 17, 1964

My father, Carlos Bonham and Dolly Parker met at Uncle William (Billy) and Aunt Lizzie Bonham’s when my father was there on a visit. When my father got back to Camp Harney, where he was working, he sent some nice soap to my mother. My mother wrote a note to thank Carlos for the soap and their correspondence started then. After their courtship Carlos went to Salem to see Dolly and to ask permission of Grandpa Parker to marry her. Grandpa studied for some time and then said, “Carlos, under one condition, you will let her come home every two years for two months or more as long asI live.” The condition was satisfactory and my parents were married on the 4 of July, 1876. They lived at Camp Harney [On Rattlesnake Creek east of present Burns] for two years and their first child, Ida, was born there the 12 of August 1877. My father was shoeing horses for the government at the
time.

In 1878 was the Indian war. [Bannock War] My father had an Indian to do odd jobs for him and one day he rushed in to the shop and said to ‘get squaw out quick, Indian fight.’ Papa and Mr. Rulison went up on the hill that evening and saw the Indians doing a war dance around the fire. They got the women on the stage that night and early in the morning Frank McBean, the driver, took them to The Dalles. From there they went by train to Salem to mama’s folks. Papa and Mr. Rulison stayed at Camp Harney that winter of’‘78. In the spring of ’79 my father and mother went east to Wisconsin to visit papa’s people. On their return they came by ship from San Francisco to Portland, visited with mama’s people in Salem and then to Canyon City, where they settled.

On August 9, 1879 a second daughter, Della Mae, was born in Salem at the poor farm where mama’s parents lived.  (I don’t know whether they owned it or just ran it, anyway, I was born there.) My father had a blacksmith shop in Canyon City. On October 30, 1881 my sister Lottie Frances was born and she was the first baby delivered by Dr. Ashford. In 1886 our house burned and hardly anything was saved. Mama’s nephew was living with us at that time and was learning the blacksmith trade from my father. He went upstairs to get his new suit to show papa and mama and laid his cigarette on the foot of the bed and it must have dropped off and caught the paper on fire. He had put his new hat on mama’s head and that was all he got of his new suit. Mr. Southerland was just finishing his new house, so we lived there till we moved so we could go to school, Papa had taken up a homestead on the South Fork of the John Day River in 1886 and he had a Chinese to take care
of the place. A Mr. Lewis and son, Willard, built one big room with a fireplace and we came over in the summer and stayed for a while. In 1887(?) was the hard winter that killed everybody’s stock. John Hyde brought his cattle down to the Keerins ranch and asked Joe if he could put his cattle inside for the night, as he wanted to take them on down the river.

Joe said “we will feed them, John, as long as there is any hay.”  The next morning the cattle and sheep were all piled together dead. Everyone else’s livestock was dead too.  In 1888 on the 9 of August we moved to Izee. I have lived here ever since. The Lewis’s built two bed rooms, a dining room, a front porch, and later a small post office on the end. A Mr. Atherton built us some pigeon holes for both letters and papers. Before when anyone went to Canyon City they would bring mail and put it in a big box in our house and people had to sort out their own. When papa decided he would take the post office if they could get one, but the first name they sent in was rejected so he went to Canyon City to send in a different one. The clerk, Minnie Swand, said, “What is your brand, Mr. Bonham?” He said, “IZ” She added EE and said, “Let’s send it in,” so when it was accepted Izee had a name. The Duncan brothers were our stage drivers for several years and they also put a string line telephone from Canyon City to Izee. The telephone was in the post office for several years for the public to use. We Bonhams kept every one that came along free until Joe Combs and Bill Hanley came to buy some cattle and stayed all night with us. The next morning they asked my father how much they owed him and he said “not a thing…” They told him that he couldn’t do that and why not hang out a shingle and charge overnight guests. Papa thought about it for a while before he could make up his mind. He finally put out a sign that said “Meals 25 cents” and we had plenty of travelers. Volney Officer liked to come and watch papa in the shop and one day when we called them for dinner papa told him to come and go eat. Volney said, “You know, Mr. Bonham, I don’t have 25 cents” and papa told him that the sign wasn’t for his friends or neighbors, just for the travelers coming and going, so Vol came and ate with us.

Papa had his shop and we kept the travel and post office. Mr. Campbell from  Mitchell put in a saloon but he didn’t stay too long. The boys were too much for him. Then a brother and sister, quite old people, put in a store, and were there close to two years. Lee Miller then put in a store on a  larger scale and kept most everything we would need. He was here several years and then moved to Paulina. When Lee passed away his son, Lyle, ran the store for years.

On the 2 of August, 1893 my youngest sister, Myrtle, was born. Aunt Lizzie and cousin Dr. Ashford and wife were all there for the occasion. Aunt Lizzie stayed till mama was up. Sister Ida and I did the washing for the baby till mama was strong enough to be up. My sister Lottie and I were the “boys”. Papa had so much shop work getting the people’s machinery ready for haying so we milked the cows, went to bring them in, sawed and chopped wood, watered and fed the saddle horses. One summer we milked 13 cows. We didn’t mind rain or shine. It took us all day to go to Canyon City with wagon and team.

One evening we rode bareback for the cows we had to go down a little steep place, Lottie riding in front as usual.  We had to lean way over to get under the brush when Lottie got through she raised willows that pushed me off over the horse’s tail on to the ground– did she ever laugh.

I married Joseph Keerins on April 9, 1902 at my parent’s home in Izee. We lived here in the old house, which was built in 1885-86. In 1903, January 28, Gratten David was born in the Cresap house in Canyon City. My mother and husband were with me. None of my children were born in a hospital. Sam was born in the Hackney home in John Day (later the McHaley hotel). Mrs. Hackney had roomers and boarders. Joseph was born in a restaurant in Canyon City.  My mother was running the  restaurant during court week. Bonham was born down the river in the house papa bought.  Bonham was born in the old house. Mary was born at the same place, but in the new house. Bob was born in Izee in the house that is here now. I wanted to have one born in Izee anyway.

It took all day to go to town and back with a team, now we can go in an hour. My husband hauled the wool to The Dalles for several years and brought back the supplies. When Pease and Mays put in a store in Shaniko, the train brought the things from Biggs Junction, so they didn’t have so far to go. We sheared our sheep about 8 miles from the ranch at Sunflower. We had three bands most of the time but some years there were four. I cooked for the crew and had help most of the time. My sister Myrtle helped me for 7 or 8 years.  We would be gone from home for 3 weeks and I always said that was my vacation.  We bought our supplies in large amounts for one year (1,000 lbs of four, 12 sacks of rice, 100 lbs of brown beans, 100 lbs of white beans, and everything else in proportion. We had Chinese herders and we had a Chinese cook. He did just plain cooking. We had rice every night for supper. When Mr. Stein, a Jewish peddler, came to stay all night Jim Lee would go out and holler, “Pork chops, pork chops” at him. Mr. Stein had real good stuff and the men bought a lot.

RanchThe Keerins brothers coming from Ireland about 1879 or 1880 to the United States were from Killina, Rahan, and Kings County, Ireland. Pat stayed in Ireland, Owen, Matthew, Mike, John, Lizzie, Dave and Joseph all came together to California. Owen and Joe came to The Dalles, Oregon by boat, then to Grant County. They came to Fox, stayed there for the winter. It was too cold and they didn’t like it too well any way. In the spring they started out to find a place to settle down. Joe herded sheep that winter for Mr. Thomas below Mt. Vernon. They had already laid claim to the ranch where we are still living. In the spring Mr. Thomas started them out with a band of sheep on the shares. Joe herded the sheep and Owen worked on the ranch. They built a log cabin in 1880.  In 1885 and 86 they built a 3 bedroom house with a fireplace.  That was the house I lived in until 1920 when they built the present house for me. In 1881 Matthew and David came to Izee. The boys all lived together until Matthew was killed by a tree falling on him in 1898. Owen was married to Adeline Harrison and they had one boy and one girl—John Dewey and Stella. Joe and David bought Owen’s share in the place and Owen and his wife went to Weiser, Idaho to live. They returned to Izee and lived on the old Harrison place on South Fork and later bought a place on Morgan Creek.

The “Ill-Fated” Cattle Drive of 1880

Cattle drives were not uncommon in Central Oregon prior to the turn of the century when the areas major industry was stock raising. Generally The Dalles was the shipping point for the inland cattle and some big cattle drives were made to the rail lines there. But the historic cattle drive of 1880 had distant Cheyenne, Wyoming as its destination. It would go down in history as one of the longest of all drives of pioneer times.In 1880 there was a surplus of cattle in the Central Oregon area and markets were poor in the west. Joseph Teal and his brother-in-law Henry Coleman operated a large ranch in the Trout Creek area in what is now known as the Willowdale area. Teal decided on a big drive of cattle to distant Cheyenne and he talked John Y. Todd, operator of the Farewell Bend Ranch, into taking the lead on driving the cattle across the country. Teal and Todd each herded together 3,000 head of cattle that included their own and those of other pioneer ranchers.

Todd took the lead with his 1,500 cattle and Henry Coleman followed with the Teal herd. There is no written record of that long drive of nearly 1,200 miles or the route they traveled, but it is assumed they made as direct a route as possible to Cheyenne avoiding main mountain ranges. Diseases struck the moving herds and heavy losses of cattle resulted before the arrival at Cheyenne. Teal established a firm at the Cheyenne railhead entitled the John T. & Co. to market the cattle. After arrival at the rail head Todd turned his cattle over to Teal for marketing and returned to his Farewell Bend Ranch on the Deschutes.

Todd failed to get any money for his herd so he returned to Cheyenne the following spring to discover the final chapter of the ill-fated drive. He learned that the cattle had been sent to Kansas to fatten. Many of the cattle had broken through the ice of the Missouri River and were lost. Todd received no compensation from his 1,500 head of cattle nor did he receive any pay for the long overland drive. Teal and Coleman also suffered heavy losses. The catastrophic trail drive resulted in Todd selling his Farewell Bend Ranch and using much of the proceeds to pay back small ranchers that had placed their cattle in the trail herd. Teal and Coleman also left the livestock business at Trout Creek after the disastrous cattle drive resulted in bankruptcy.

Sheep and Cattle War

In the year 1898 the Cascade Forest Reserve was created and during the first two years of its existence this Reserve was closed to grazing. Sheep owners who had formerly used the Cascade Mountains for summer range were forced to look elsewhere for summer range for their flocks. This resulted in a great influx of outside sheep to the Blue Mountains.

Local sheep owners who had occupied the range for years had respected the rights of the cattlemen by staying off range that was grazed by cattle. Cattlemen who had used the foothill range were slow to take radical measures to protect their rights, but the overcrowding of the sheep into traditional cattle grazing areas resulted in a decrease in forage supply.Near the turn of the century cattlemen began to organize into groups known as Sheep Shooters to drive sheep owners back from the range that they called cow range. Their plan of action was to establish a “deadline” across which sheep men were not allowed to herd their sheep. Trees were marked by cutting a saddle blanket blaze fore and aft along a line that ran through timbered country. Notices printed in red ink on cloth posters were tacked on the sheep side of the line.

A typical notice would be similar to the following: Warning to Sheep Men–You are hereby ordered to keep your sheep on the north side of plainly marked line or you will suffer the consequences. Signed Inland Sheep Shooters

Several mass killings of sheep occurred in Central Oregon as a result of the growing tension between sheep and cattle operators. The largest slaughter of sheep occurred near Benjamin Lake on the High Desert in 1903. Sheep were herded off a rimrock and those that survived where shot with the result that nearly 2400 sheep were killed.

The major conflicts came to a close when the Blue Mountain Forest Reserve was establishedby the Department of Agriculture in 1906. The Reserve would soon become the Deschutes and Ochoco National Forests. The government established grazing allotments by 1907 on the new Reserve which controlled the number of livestock that could be grazed and the location of animal grazing.

Murder at Nicholson & Burmester’s Saloon in 1882

It was a cold night in Prineville on December 22, 1882 when a single gunshot fired through the window of Nicholson & Burmester’s Saloon ended the life of Al Swartz. It was a tumultuous time in the local community as the vigilantes had arisen as self proclaimed arbiters of justice. Earlier in the year the group had shot and killed murder suspect Lucius Langdon and hanged his hired man Harrison from the Crooked River Bridge.

Al Swartz had arrived in Prineville from the Salem vicinity about 1880 and established a ranch on Crooked River. He was vocal in his denouncement of the vigilantes for the hanging of Harrison. It was rumored by members of the vigilantes that Swartz was involved in stock rustling. Swartz was in town that fateful evening socializing and drinking at the Nicholson & Burmester Saloon which was located on northwest Main Street. A game of cards was initiated around a table in the saloon and included Swartz, who had his back to a window in the building. The group had been playing cards for a while when the sound of a gunshot echoed through the building about 11 p.m.

The shot had been fired through an open window from outside the building and struck Mr. Swartz on the left side of his neck from the back. He was unable to move and was placed on the floor. He requested that his boots be pulled off and asked for a drink of water. He proclaimed that some “son of a b—–” had shot him. He passed away before a doctor arrived at the scene.

It was determined that the fatal shot had come from a shotgun blast that contained large shot. No one had seen the assailant. A coroner’s inquest was held and it was determined that “he came to his death by a wound inflicted with a shotgun on the left side of the neck by a party or parties to us unknown.” Interestingly the foreman of the inquest was an acknowledged leader of the vigilantes. No one was ever brought to justice for the murder.

Early the next morning two young men associated with Swartz were found dead hanging from a juniper tree on the outskirts of Prineville.

Christmas Tragedy at Silver Lake 1894

A large monument in the cemetery in the small community of Silver Lake, Oregon is a grim reminder of one of the worst tragedies in the State of Oregon. The monument bears the names of 43 persons who lost their lives on Christmas Eve in 1894.

Silver Lake was growing to a prosperous little community by 1894. It was the only established trading post between Prineville and Lakeview and freight wagons and stages regularly stopped at the site. Nearly 150 people lived in the community and it became a close knit group of neighbors. The community gathering place was the Chrisman Brothers General Store. The upstairs portion of the store was called Clayton Hall and was the site of weekly dances that were held on the wooden floors. It was also the site for special occasions and events.

The small community was unincorporated and did not have a fire fighting organization. The crisp Christmas Eve morning dawned with bright hopes for local residents. A festive occasion was planned for the dance hall above Chrisman’s during the evening. Several Rochester lamps with a one gallon capacity of oil were hanging from the upstairs ceiling. There was a large dinner held in the early evening hours and nearly 170 men, women and children were enjoying the festivities. Many of the attendees had traveled many miles to get to the celebration.

After the delightful dinner there were some skits and other events. Then people jockeyed to get into good position to see the stage and gift presentation. There was only one doorway out of the upstairs. 18 year old George Payne began walking from bench to bench to get to the front of the hall and in his haste bumped his head on one of the Rochester lamps. He tried to right it but flammable oil spilled onto the wooden floor. The flames spread and people panicked rushing for the exit. People were trampled in the rush for the door way and other lamps were overturned adding to the flaming inferno.

The door became clogged with people trying to escape and unfortunately would be rescuers from outside the building rushed up the stairs further clogging the exit. The flames spread rapidly and some of the crowd rushed to a small window that led to a balcony. Many crowded through the window to the balcony but the weight was too much and the balcony collapsed. A ladder was placed against the building for others to escape through the window. Attempts to use a bucket brigade to douse the flames was unsuccessful. Many suffocated or were killed by the flames. The roar of the flames silenced moans. The only doctor available was in Lakeview and Ed O’Farrell made an all night dash to Lakeview to get him but they did not arrive until a few days later. The joyous occasion became one of mourning as every family in the area was touched by the tragedy. 43 people died in the tragic fire and it was a long time before residents recovered from the shock. It as one of the worst fire disasters in Oregon.

The Great Land Rush to Central Oregon

One of the last great land rushed for homesteading occurred in Central Oregon shortly after the turn of the century. There had been an influx of settlers in the early part of the century but mostly in the Fort Rock basin, but with the coming of the railroad to Central Oregon in 1911 a major land rush resulted. The railroad lines of Hill and Harriman widely advertised the area as a farmer’s paradise.

The area was predicted to be the next great agriculture empire of the United States and many people desiring to take advantage of this new opportunity to farm the “prairies’ of Central Oregon began an exodus to the area. The peak of the homestead era came in the fall of 1911 when the size of homesteads was increased from 160 to 320 acres.

Within a period of two years homesteaders residences and farm buildings took shape throughout the Central Oregon area. Towns and post offices that are now vanished started developing. The “High Desert” had post office sites such as Rolyat, Imperial, Stauffer, Dry Lake, and Fife. Other sites developed south of Madras including Opal City, Metolius and Hillman (later to become Terrebonne).

The vanguard of the home seekers was generally the heads of families who were often assisted by land locators as their guides. Land locators received a fee for helping new arrivals to find homestead sites. This land rush attracted people from throughout the United States and new immigrants from other countries. New arrivals faced rather stark conditions in the fall of 1911. Settlers soon found the need for water. Water had to be hauled to the drier sites and it would be many years before deep wells were to be drilled. Fortunately the first years of the boom were accompanied by wetter than normal years but it was soon found that growing seasons were extremely short and crop selections were limited. Efforts were made by government agencies to find the most suitable crops but soon drier conditions returned.

Homesteaders were located on nearly every half section of land but it soon became apparent that dry land farming was a precarious occupation and only the hearty few remained after a few years of dry conditions. Many of the early homesteads either went back to the government or were purchased by large ranches and the once populous desert areas that had such promise for the rush of land seekers became grazing land and only a few reminders of the last great land rush remain.

First Football Game in Central Oregon Played in 1911

Football was relatively unknown in rural Oregon in the early 1900’s but on a clear, cold and crisp day in the Fall of 1911 the sport was introduced to the frontier country of Central Oregon. The rising community of Bend and the long established frontier town of Prineville managed to form the nucleus of two teams.

Both communities managed to put together teams consisting of players with a surprising amount of ability in the game. Some of the young players had come from eastern colleges where the sport was played and they had arrived to start their business careers in the newly booming area.

A group of young men that recently graduated from college and still loving the game got together and arranged to play a matched game of football between the two towns. In December of 1911 the two teams met on a makeshift playing field in Bend. Fans included stockmen, farmers, merchants and their ladies from all over Central Oregon. The two teams played a hard fought battle that resulted in an unsatisfying tie 0-0. Prineville had crossed the goal line once but the play was negated by a penalty.

The players decided that they needed a rematch and a second game was arranged to be played in Prineville. Prineville players learned that there was a former player of merit named Gumm living in Redmond. He had been a star full back at Iowa. He was a practicing attorney in Redmond and was prevailed upon to play for the Prineville squad.

The Prineville squad was sparked to victory with the assistance of the added star player. The immortals of the Prineville team left the field at the end of four quarters with a 17-0 victory. There was a large crowd that attended the game and a festive community cheered both the victors and losers. Prineville had the distinction of winning the first decided football game in Central Oregon.

The first football games captured the interest of sports minded residents of the area and it rapidly gained in popularity. Football was introduced into local high schools after this “first” game that was received with so much enthusiasm. For many years the Crook County high school teams dominated the Central Oregon football fields. As Bend and Redmond grew in population the Prineville team began to lose their dominance until the early 1950’s. But that glorious day back in 1911 when football was introduced to Central Oregon was a milestone in local sports.