Homer & Chris Barry
"Oldies but Goodies" by Joni Stewart"
August 23, 1995

While history is recorded through events, lives are recorded through stories. And as I entered Chris Barry's home last week I became transfixed by the old photographs on the walls; they spoke of innocent times with pure focus and intent. In a glance I knew she had lived a life of austerity and adventure.

Once able to regain my posture as reporter, I began a journey back to the days when one's ability to live here was dependent upon one's ability to live off the land. Her tale picks up on familiar ground at age nine when her family, the Browns, settled in Izee during the winter of 1927. There they found a post office, a school, a dance hall, other ranchers and lots and lots of horses. "We ran wild horses in Murderer's Creek all the time," remembers Chris, adding "we'd take'em and sell'em at Burns." She and her four brothers would alternate running the horses and working in the hay fields. One of the most captivating photos she has is of herself and a brother during 62 days. Dressed in identical outfits of simple design with Sunny Jim hats, the two young adults exude equity. It is an unassuming and optimistic image, and highly representative of her character.

She has an immediate recall of dates and detail. All of which adds credence to her incredible accounts of the daily rigors once accepted as normal. For instance she needed to swim her horse across the south fork to and from school every day. "Joe Officer would watch for me and make sure I'd make it across," says Chris.

And how cold were the winters? Well, even with their beds pushed up near the stove, Chris remembers that the hot water bottles they put in bed with them would freeze. Seasons ruled supreme back then.

She recounts for me a wonderful story of a yearly tradition for herself and her brothers, "During the Prairie City Round-Up we would drive horses over from Izee to Prairie and dance for three nights running all night long. (In 1935, Chris was crowned Queen of the Prairie City Round-Up, in part due to her setting the fastest time clocked around the horse track in Prairie City.) Next they would take the horses to John Day where they would leave many of them as bucking horses for the County Fair. By noon they would head for home at a trot a gallop and be home for supper. It was a 75 mile horseback ride which they made in formation, a brother in the lead, one on each side of her and one in the rear.

Chris married Homer Barry in 1937. She had first met him during her family's first year in Grant County ten years earlier. She claims he married her because she had learned to do ranch chores. "I've been the hired hand on this ranch ever since," she says evenly. Life after marriage was filled with more field chores, horseback riding, gardening and canning, and tending to people. Her close family ties were passed on to sons Wayne and Sam despite the 16 years age differential. "I took care of both grandmothers too, mine and Homer's," Chris remembers, "there wasn't a day that I didn't cook for a houseful."

When Homer died in 1980, and several years later, the homestead sold, the day came when Chris woke up and didn't have to jump up to do something for someone. "I was 76, I guess, and it occurred to me that I could sleep in if I wanted to," she says.

She is fortunate to have her house filled with family nearly every weekend. Both sons have children; and now they too have children, blessing Chris with great grandchildren who visit.

She recalls with fondness the words of one grandson asking, "Gramma, would you take me squirrel hunting?" She did. Every time he asked. They'd go out in the field and chase them. I can hear him now, telling stories of squirrel hunting with his grandmother. Sounds like adventure to me, pure and simple.

1998 Roxann Gess Smith
All Rights Reserved

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