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A 1940 Journey Across Oregon: An Oregon State Archives Exhibit

Ontario to Baker

 

 

 


Farmworkers harvest corn across the Snake River in Idaho for a processing plant in Ontario (ag256).


Farmworkers harvest corn across the Snake River in Idaho for a processing plant in Ontario (Oregon Agriculture Department ag256). Enlarge image


Section map

US 30 in Oregon closely follows the old Oregon Trail. Lewis and Clark used boats in the Columbia to reach the coast though later travelers followed the south bank of the river to The Dalles, where they transferred.

Section a. Idaho State Line to Junction US 730, 221.7 m.

US 30 crosses the Oregon line, which is in the SNAKE RIVER, 0 m.; the river forms more than 200 miles of the Oregon-Idaho boundary. The river was named Lewis Fork by William Clark in honor of his fellow explorer Meriwether Lewis. Later the terms Shoshone and Snake were more often applied, because of Indian tribes that inhabited its drainage basin. Saptin, or Shahaptin, also frequently applied is derived from a branch of the Nez Perce.

ONTARIO, 1.4 m. (2,153 alt., 1,941 pop.), a town site in the 1880s, is the principal trade center for the 300,000 acres of the Owyhee and Malheur irrigation projects. On the irrigated farms, apples and other fruits are produced; and grain growing, hog raising and dairying are important industries. Ontario is the shipping point for vast areas of the Owyhee and Malheur Valleys and is the gateway to the great cattle country of central Oregon, served by the Oregon Eastern branch of the Union Pacific Railroad extending 127 miles southwestward to Burns.

US 30 crosses the Malheur River at 3.7 m. In Fremont's Journal, under date of October 11, 1843, he wrote: "about sunset we reached the Riviere aux Malheurs (the unfortunate or unlucky river) a considerable stream, with an average breadth of fifty feet and, at this time, eighteen inches depth of water." From the straight young shoots of the wild syringa that grow along the river bank, the Indians fashioned their arrows, which fact gave the bush the local name of arrow wood.

Northward from the Malheur the road curves over sage covered hills, a trail once traversed by Indians, trappers, frontiersmen, missionaries, soldiers, covered wagons, the pony express, the Concord coach.

Downtown Ontario (Oregon: End of the Trail, 1940).Downtown Ontario (Oregon: End of the Trail, 1940).Downtown Ontario (Oregon: End of the Trail, 1940).

Downtown Ontario (Oregon: End of the Trail, 1940). Enlarge image


 

 

 

"Hickory yoke and oxen red

And here and there a little tow head

Peeping out from the canvas gray

Of the Oregon Overland on its way

In Forty Nine."

At 8.8 m. is a junction with State 90. Right on State 90 go to PAYETTE, Idaho, 3 m.

At 16.8 m., US 30 forms a junction with US 30N.

Right on US 30N to WEISER, Idaho, 3 m.

OLDS FERRY at FAREWELL BEND, 30.7 m., established in 1862, was one of the earliest ferries on the Snake River. At Farewell Bend, where the Old Oregon Trail leaves the Snake River and curves northwestward over the ridges to Burnt River, the pioneers bade farewell to the river not knowing where they would again reach water. A marker (R) indicates that the expeditions of Wilson Price Hunt, Captain B. E. L. Bonneville, Nathaniel J. Wyeth, and Captain John C. Fremont, camped at this place. Here, on the night of December 22, 1811, the starving Astorians under command of Captain Hunt crossed the ice filled Snake River. "Mr. Hunt caused a horse to be killed and a canoe to be made out of its skin," wrote Washington Irving in Astoria. "The canoe proving too small another horse was killed and the skin of it joined to that of the first. Night came on before the little bark had made two voyages. Being badly made it was taken a part and put together again by the light of the fire. The night was cold; the men were wearied and disheartened with such varied and incessant toil and hardship .... At an early hour of the morning, December 23, they began to cross . . . Much ice had formed during the night, and they were obliged to break it for some distance on each shore. At length they all got over in safety to the west side; and their spirits rose on having achieved this perilous passage."

Hunt, leading his party of 32 white men and Marie and Pierre Dorion, Indian guides, and their two small children, made for the mountains. Five horses had been laden with their luggage, and these horses ultimately served as food.

Fremont wrote in an early report: "Leaving the Snake River, which is said henceforth to pursue its course through canyons, amidst rocky and impracticable mountains where there is no possibility of traveling with animals, we ascended a long and somewhat steep hill; and crossing the dividing ridge, came down into the valley of the Brule' or Burnt River, which here looks like a hole among the hills."

At 35.7 m. change is made between Rocky Mountain and Pacific Standard Time.

 

 

 

Basque women in Malheur County (Oregon: End of the Trail, 1940).

Basque women in Malheur County (Oregon: End of the Trail, 1940). Enlarge image


HUNTINGTON, 36.3 m. (2,112 alt., 803 pop.), named for two brothers who platted the town site, is three miles from the Snake River in the Burnt River Valley. The town site is a part of the land claim of Henry Miller who settled here in August, 1862, and built the stage tavern known for many years as Miller's Station. The rails of the Oregon Short Line and the Oregon Railway & Navigation Company line, were joined here in 1884, and since that time Huntington has been an important railway division point.

Northward from Huntington, US 30 follows the canyon of Burnt River, which it crosses 15 times in 12 miles. As early as 1819 Donald McKenzie spoke of the Brule', saying that Indians had been burning the hills, giving the country a black appearance. Fremont noted: "The common trail, which leads along the mountain side at places where the river strikes the base, is sometimes bad even for a horseman." All pioneers agreed that the Burnt River canyon was one of the most arduous sections of the old Oregon Trail.

At LIME, 41.6 m. (2,223 alt., 18 pop.), a large conveyor crosses over the highway, connecting two units of a cement plant.

At RATTLESNAKE SPRING, 51.9 m., the State Highway Department maintains a drinking fountain and rest rooms.

DURKEE, 57.3 m. (2,654 alt., 100 pop.), is the trading post for a quartz and placer mining area and shipping point for cattle. Close by, along Burnt River, are found fire opals of excellent quality.

BAKER, 82.2 m. (3,440 alt., 7,858 pop.).

Railroad Station: Union Pacific Depot, W. end of Broadway, for Union Pacific Railroad.

Bus Station: 1st and Court Streets, for Union Pacific Stages. Taxis: 25c minimum.

Accommodations: Three hotels; six tourist camps.

Information Service: Chamber of Commerce, Baker Hotel, 1701 Main St.

Moving Picture Houses: Three.

Athletic Fields: Baseball Park, Campbell and Grove Street.

Swimming: Natatorium (Adm. 25c), 2450 Grove St.

Golf: Baker Country Club, 9 holes; greens fees, 30c, 0.8 m. S.W. on State 7.

Shooting: Baker County Rod and Gun Club, 2.7 m. S.W. on State 7.

Annual Events: Baker Mining Jubilee, July.

Settlers on the Owyhee irrigation project (Oregon: End of the Trail, 1940).

Settlers on the Owyhee irrigation project (Oregon: End of the Trail, 1940). Enlarge image

 

 

 

Baker, on the upper reaches of Powder River, is at the mouth of a shallow canyon, and looks northward over the Powder River Valley. Its wide streets are bordered for many blocks by business houses and the dwellings are shaded in summer by poplar, locust and cottonwood. Rising above the city roofs the ten story Baker Hotel, one of the tallest buildings in the state, is a conspicuous landmark. The city hall, schools, hospital, and other public buildings, and many other structures, are built of a steel gray volcanic stone, quarried a few miles south of town. This stone cuts readily when first quarried, and hardens when exposed to the weather.

Although born of the eastern Oregon gold rush, and firmly established as the "gold coast" of Oregon, Baker is a city of numerous interests. Flour mills, grain elevators, and dairies process grain and milk from surrounding farms; packing plants and poultry houses serve cattle and sheep ranches of surrounding ranges, and the valley poultry farms.

Early settlers overlooked the beauty of the Baker site and the utility of its resources. Not until the California gold rush reminded men of the fabled yellow stones, picked up in a blue bucket on the trail, did prospecting begin in the canyons.

The first house in the Baker settlement was built of log, in 1863. Soon a box saloon, a hotel, and a blacksmith shop were opened. In the spring of 1864 Col. J. S. Ruckels built a quartz mill; James W. Virtue erected the first stone structure for his assay office and bank, and the Reverend P. DeRoo opened the Arlington Hotel. The town was laid out in 1865 by Royal A. Pierce and named for Col. E. D. Baker, United States Senator from Oregon and close friend of Abraham Lincoln. Baker was killed at Ball's Bluff, Va., October 21, 1861, while serving in the Federal army.

In 1868 the county seat was changed from Auburn to Baker. Some difficulty arose over the transfer of records and a crowd from Baker went to Auburn with a team and wagon and "very early in the morning everything belonging to the county offices was loaded into the wagon and on the way to their destination before the people of Auburn knew what was going on." In 1874 the town was incorporated as Baker City, but about 1912 "City" was dropped.

 

 

 

Owyhee Canyon from Rimrock (1590).

Owyhee Canyon from Rimrock (1590). Enlarge image


In spite of poor transportation facilities Baker did a thriving business in mining supplies and provisions. Merchandise was freighted over the hazardous mountain roads to the mining camps of Rye Valley, Willow Creek, and the Mormon Basin, 75 to 100 miles away. The stage line, carrying the United States mail and Wells, Fargo & Company's express, was transferred from the old immigrant road east of town to Place's toll road through Baker City in 1865. Coaches of the Northwest Stage Company made regular connections with the Union Pacific Railway at Kelton, Nevada, while other lines reached out to Gem City, Sparta, Eldorado, and the Greenhorn Range. Hold ups by "road agents" and pillaging of stages and freight wagons by hostile Indians were of frequent occurrence, and swollen rivers and winter storms added peril to many a trip.

Travelers passing through saw more exciting life in Baker City than in any town between Portland and Salt Lake. Miners, gamblers, filles de joie, ranchers, cowboys, and sheepherders frequented the dance halls and saloons or mingled on the board walks with the citizenry. Gambling halls, blacksmith shops, livery stables, and feed corrals were the principal industrial establishments. Notwithstanding the two fisted character of the town, the city commissioners in 1881 passed an ordinance prohibiting small boys from shooting marbles or riding velocipedes on the sidewalks, and required one citizen to remove his potato patch from a lot on a principal street.

In 1880 the Census Bureau found 1,197 people here, including 166 Chinese, males being predominant. According to this census there were only 143 females in the city.

The first train on the new Oregon Short Line arrived here August 19, 1884. The town then boasted a substantial business district with two story brick or stone structures; and the coming of the railroad further stimulated trade. The Eagle Sawmill Company opened a lumber yard in Baker in 1886; in 1888 the Triangle Planing mill began operation, and in June 1892, the Baker City Iron Works was established. The first newspaper published in Baker County was the Bedrock Democrat, on May 11, 1870; soon followed by the Daily Sage Brush, the Reveille, and the Tribune.

The last decade of the century opened with the usual western boom hitting the little "Denver of Oregon," and real estate values sky rocketed. But the boom soon burst and values settled to their former firm level. Since the turn of the century the city has had a steady growth, becoming the trade center of a vast agricultural and stock producing region and the mining metropolis of the State. Neighboring mines have already produced more than $150,000,000 and Baker County still holds 75 percent of the mineral wealth of the State. A bullion department is maintained at the First National Bank.

The Carnegie Library in Baker (Oregon State Library osl12).

The Carnegie Library in Baker (Oregon State Library osl12). Enlarge image

 

 

 

The GOLD EXHIBIT (open 9-3 weekdays), in the First National Bank at 2001 Main St., contains gold in its various forms: nuggets, dust, and ores. One nugget from the Susanville district weighs 86 ounces and is worth more than $3,000.

The BAKER MUNICIPAL NATATORIUM (open 9-9 weekdays, adm. 25c), SE. corner of Campbell and Grove Sts., was built at a cost of $200,000. Springs of considerable mineral content furnish water at 80 degrees, gushing 400 gallons a minute. The main plunge is equipped with shower, steam, needle and tub baths.

The CITY PARK, Grove St., between Madison and Campbell Sts., extending to Resort St. on both banks of the Powder River, has a playground for children, swings, seats, and a bandstand that is used for weekly concerts during the summer. In the park is a monument erected in 1906 to the pioneers of the provisional government period. The monument was built with the contributions of 800 school children.

The CARNEGIE PUBLIC LIBRARY (open 9-5 weekdays), SE. corner of 2nd and Auburn Sts., of modified Classical Revival design, is constructed of local stone. On its shelves are 16,000 volumes, several thousand music scores, and a large collection of art prints, many in color, which are used by study clubs.

The BAKER COUNTY COURTHOUSE (open 9-4 weekdays), 3rd and Court Sts., is a square, three story building of local stone, surmounted by a clock tower.

Baker is at the junctions with State 7 and State 86.

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