Grant County's history is one of making boundarys: Boundarys of land masses, watersheds, hunting rights, cultures, mining claims, grazing rights, ranches and cutting circles. Some boundarys were established millions of years ago and some are being worked out today. Almost all involved conflict: conflict that was mostly settled peacefully, but in instances with violence. The story of the making of those boundarys, is the story of the shaping of Grant County's history.

This county covers 4,533 square miles of eastern Oregon and is in the borderland between two geologic provinces. Coming in from the north is the Columbia Plateau, which consists of flat or gently tilted volcanic flows of basalt that covers a total area of about 100,000 square miles. To the south is the Basin and Range Province which runs all the way to Mexico. These two provinces are separated by the Strawberry-Aldrich Mountain Range that runs along the south side of the John Day river in Grant County. The Strawberry-Aldrich Mountain Range, and the ridges and valleys north of it were formed when the Earth's crust buckled and broke under strong compressive the two provinces pushed into each other. Partly by bending or folding, and partly by breaking along the John Day and other faults, the Strawberry-Aldrich Mountains were gradually raised a mile and a half to two miles above the valley to the north.

There are three main watersheds in the county. The largest is the John Day River drainage composed of the South Fork, main stem, and the Middle and North Forks. The southeastern corner of the county is drained by the Malheur River System. The Great Basin's northernmost tributary is the county's third watershed, draininq most of the south portion down Silvies River. There is a point in the Strawberry mountains not far from High Lake where these three watersheds have a common terminus. Theoretically, if a person poured a bucket of water in three different directions at that point, a portion would go down Strawberry Creek to the John Day River; some would run down Lake Creek and across Logan Valley into the Malheur and the third would wind down Bear Creek to Silvies River, dead ending in the Malheur Lake in Harney County.


John Day, namesake of the river, two towns (John Day and Dayville), a dam on the Columbia and a national park, was about as good an example of a hard-luck case as will ever be found. He was a member of the Astor-Hunt Overland Party of 1811 that was trying to get to Astoria. The party was led by a New Jersey merchant who knew nothing of the wilderness. The men made it over the Rockies but ran out of food near the present site of Twin Falls, Idaho. Indians there gave them food and canoes, with which the party hoped to make up for lost time by taking down the Snake River. Soon the river was going faster and faster; what at first seemed like a salvation turned into a nightmare when their canoes wrecked in the rapids of mile-deep Hell's Canyon.

Four men drowned in the rapids and one went mad before the remainder managed to scale the icy rock walls, leaving nearly all their gear behind. At this time, Day and another fellow fell behind. Nearly starved and frozen, they struggled through the snow of the Blue Mountains and spent the winter with friendly Indians near Walla Walla. These Indians aided Day and his partner, and after they had regained their health sent them down the Columbia River. On down the Columbia however, they encountered hostile Indians who robbed them of everything, including their clothes. The two men were making their way back to Walla Walla when they were rescued by trappers coming downstream. Another river emptied into the Columbia near where Day and his partner were attacked and trappers started referring to it as John Day's River. It is probable that he never went up the river that gained his name.

The John Day River Valley served as a fluctuating boundary between Indian tribes, separating the territory of the Northern Paiute in the south from the Cayuse, Tenino and Umatilla tribes in the north. The northern tribes traded extensively among themselves, and were primarily hunters, fishermen and seed gatherers. The northern tribes had the use of the horse from the 1700's and would live in one area for extended periods of time, moving only as food supplies and time of year dictated. The Paiutes, on the other hand, were fishermen and root diggers and did not have the use of the horse until the mid-1800's. Fighting usually occurred whenever the northern and southern tribes encountered one another. This was not so much due to boundary disputes -neither tribe wanted territory for its own sake-but because of the glory associated with warfare. Another factor was that the Paiutes had less to trade; they had to steal from the northern tribes.

Prior to the 1850's Indians had very little contact with whites in the Grant County area save for a few trappers, prospectors, lost emigrants and U. S. Army exploration parties surveying possible wagon routes. In the years 1846-1853 it was estimated that there were 25,000 Indians in the Oregon Country. In 1855 a reservation was established on the Umatilla River for the Umatilla, Cayuse and Walla Walla Indians. In 1856 a reservation was established west of the Deschutes River. Called the Warm Springs Reservation, it became the home of the Wasco, John Day, Tygh and Deschutes Tribes. In 1860 it was established that there were 3700 Indians still not on reservations in Oregon. The Bannock and Paiute Indians of southeastern Oregon were not put on a reservation until 1872.

The Indians were enough of a harrassment to travelers in eastern Oregon that eastern Oregon was banned to settlers from 1856 until 1858, when General William S. Harney took over the Department of Oregon military command. Not only were the Indians harrassing whites, they were raiding each other. The paiutes still felt it their right to steal horses and cattle from the Worm Springs Indians on the reservation. This caused the Warm Springs Indians to leave the reservation to get their stock back, which then led to more raiding by the Paiutes.

With the discovery of gold in eastern Oregon and Idaho, hostle Indians had a field day. Never attacking settlements or reasonably fortified ranches, the Indians preyed upon small bands of travelers and stole wandering livestock. Their activities were frequent enough, however, to arouse fear in the growing white population. In response to a growing public clamor, a campaign was started in the winter of 1866 to control the marauding Indians. Camp Logan, located six miles southeast of what is now Prairie City, was garrisoned with troops under the command of Lt. Colonel George Crook. From there a relentless campaign was instrumented. By the end of 1868 two-thirds of the hostiles had been killed; the remainder agreed to stay wherever the military designated. The discovery of gold brought the first large influx of white men to Grant County; Canyon City was to yield an eventual $26,000,000 worth. The discovery of gold was done in as awkward and roundabout way as was the naming of the John Day River.

William Allred was a member of a party going to the gold mines in Idaho. His party travelled down Canyon Creek on the eighth of June 1862 and then headed west at the present site of Canyon City. About midday they camped on Little Pine Creek not far from the site of the old town of Marysville. They agreed to rest there until the following morning. Allred decided to head back to Canyon Creek and do some prospecting. A few minutes panning yielded him about four dollars worth of gold - indication of a potentially great strike. Allred beat it back to camp to tell his partners the news, only to find they'd packed up and moved on. He caught up to them in what is now the Prairie City country and told them what he'd found. However, they'd heard too many glorious tales of the gold in Idaho to risk an unknown stake, so they headed on and Allred went with them. By the time the party arrived in the Powder River country they'd heard several discouraging reports about the Idaho mines. They decided to head back and check out Allred's find.

They arrived back at Canyon Creek July third to find a camp of several hundred men, and the creek bed down to the confluence with the John Day River taken with claims. Apparently a group of California miners had found the same prospect Allred had and decided to take the bird in hand.

Within a year it is estimated there may have been 10,000 men in Canyon City, making it the largest city in the State of Oregon at that time. Concurrent strikes were than made at Prairie Diggin's, Dixie Creek near Prairie City, Elk Creek, Susanville and others on north toward Baker. In fact, the area between Canyon City and Baker was so rich in gold that it was known as the 'Golden Crescent'.

Supplies for this burgeoning population had to be packed and later freighted to Canyon City. Since population in the state as a whole was so little and the difficulty in raising taxes so great, it was difficult to raise the money to build sufficient roads. While there was very little money, there was plenty of land. This was mostly stiff under federal domain, especially in eastern Oregon where the need for some semblance of a road was most urgent.

Congress responded to the State's need in 1868 by giving it federal land along the route of a road, in alternating sections extending for three miles on either side of the road. The state could then cede this land to a road construction company in return for building a road. Supposedly, the state wasn't supposed to cede any land until the road was constructed through it. However, land speculators simply put up enough money to form road construction companies, went through the motions of road construction in the more populated areas, and bought off or frauded state officials. In the case of the Dalles Military Wagon Road, which ran from The Dalles to Boise, they ended up with 200,000 acres in eastern Oregon for a pittance with very little road constructed.

It was called a military road in order to make it easier for Congressmen from other states to justify giving away that much Federal land to a particular state, and ultimately to a particular business. Supposedly, the military benefited because it could use the road without paying a toll. In actuality the army made only limited use of the road. Aside from all the fraud, the intent of the road was to make it easier to get supplies into remote areas, and make it less burdensome for farmers to get their produce to market. As soon as farmers in isolated areas exceeded the demand for their wheat and fruit in their immediate locality, they found the high cost of shipping to more populated areas made their products almost worthless. One reason livestock quickly became so predominant in eastern Oregon was that animals 'shipped themselves' to the most lucrative markets. The military road through Grant County was never more than a pair of parallel grooves-, landslides and mud often made it impassable. Where it crossed the south fork of the John Day River near Dayville there was no bridge, only a ford. Several travellers lost their lives crossing the stream during high water. Residents eventually raised a hue and cry, not only at the poor quality of the road, but at having to pay exhorbinant prices for the land owned by the road company. The Canyon City Press commented in 1876, "if the Road Company should follow its road to where it ought to go they would find a warmer climate than Grant County."

The usual idea of a gold miner is a lone prospector leading a mule through the mountains searching for 'color'. When "color" is found, this solitary individual stokes a claim, keeps the site a secret, and with his pan and sometimes a small placer rig sifts through the gravels in the streambed. While this may be the way gold was discovered and initially mined, it was never long on the rich strikes before other methods were employed that could handle more material and reach more ore. As much gold as there was above ground in the active streambeds, there was usually more in the ancient stream beds long covered by erosion and deposition, and in veins deep underground.

To get at gold in these areas three main methods were utilized. One was hydraulic mining; water in a ditch at a higher elevation was sent down a hose that become ever smaller eventually coming out a nozzle controlled by a man. The combination of the rapid decrease in elevation and the decreasing size of the hose created high pressure at the nozzle. By directing it at a hill side or cut bank, a man could wash tons of are into a sluice where the gold was separated out. This method of mining required large volumes of water, usually out of a ditch. The Humboldt ditch begun in 1862, was originally a source of water for the small placer operations that lined Canyon Creek. After they were played out it was used as a source for hydraulic mining. The ditch can still be seen on the west side of Canyon Creek well up on the hill side just south of Canyon City.

Another way to get at gold was to use a dredge, which was a self contained mill that floated. The dredge would dig up grovels at one end, carry the grovels inside where the gold would be separated out, and spit the tailings out the back end. By using water diverted from a nearby stream the dredge would float on its own pond, digging it out in front and filling it in behind. There was a limited amount of dredging done in the John Day River Valley. Some remains of tailing piles can be seen next to the river immediately east of John Day.

The third method of mining was deep vein or lode mining. Ore would be brought out of a tunnel that followed a gold vein underground and processed in a stamp mill aboveground. Most of this kind of mining occurred in the north end of Grant County in the hills around the middle fork of the John Day River.

Gold mining is the best and the worst of occupations. On a good claim a man by himself, working hard, could make a good income and on a rare claim someone might get rich. For example, Ike Guker's Great Northern mine on the north side of Canyon Mountain was a small lode mine discovered in 1897. It is estimated that $67,000 worth of gold was taken out of it and that Guker would let visitors pick up nuggets and keep them. It was the worst of occupations in that the reward could be so elusive. Most of the early miners were young, mostly poor men looking for a quick strike. Many of them left the gold fields of Susanville, Granite and Canyon City even poorer than they had come. Or a large company could put thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars into a mine long played out, thinking the next shovelful of ore would rediscover the precious vein.

Gold was discovered in Susanville in 1864, in Prairie Diggin's (about three miles east of John Day) soon after Canyon City. These were soon followed by the discovery on Dixie Creek above Prairie City. Dixie Creek supposedly got its name because of the large number of southerners who were first working there. In the fall of 1862 it was estimated there were between four and five thousand people in Grant County.

There are few ways better than a gold rush to get a lot of people into a remote, unpopulated area, but it's terrible for keeping them there. The easy mining is soon accomplished and those that struck it rich go somewhere else to spend their fortune; those that didn't head for another strike. By 1870 the population had dropped to 2500 whites and 940 Chinese in the county. The boom was over. Mining was still going on but not at the boom town fever of the previous decade. Of the 2500 whites in Grant County in 1870 only 386 were miners. It was the beginning of a new era.

In 1862 two pivotal events occured in Grant County: One, of course, was the discovery of gold. The second was that B. C. Trowbridge took out the first homestead claim in what was to be Grant County. (in 1862 the area of Grant County was still known as a part of Wasco County, which at one time covered all of eastern Oregon. The County of Grant was created in 1864.). During this era of western settlement there was nothing startling about a homestead, but it was indicative of a great change in attitude towards this area.

Up until this time no man; red, white, or yellow, had any intention of coming to Grant County to stay. It was a good place to hunt, fish, trap, mine, or summer a bond of sheep, but it was not a place to call home the year-round. Even the Indians had used the area only seasonally. Whites come to get rich, either by mining or livestock or trapping, and then take their fortunes back to civilization. To the Chinese, America was the'great, gold mountain'; a place to earn a fortune and then leave to return home. Up until this time no man; red, white, or yellow, had any intention of coming to Grant County to stay. It was a good place to hunt, fish, trap, mine, or summer a bond of sheep, but it was not a place to call home the year-round. Even the Indians had used the area only seasonally. Whites come to get rich, either by mining or livestock or trapping, and then take their fortunes back to civilization. To the Chinese, America was the'great, gold mountain'; a place to earn a fortune and then leave to return home.

Another factor slowing settlement was the belief that agriculture would be an impossible undertaking in the area. It seems that the spring of 1862 was a very cold one, fostering the idea that the winters in the area were long and extreme. Since freighting from The Dalles, cost 16 to 24 cents per pound, the value of vegetables doubled. It was obvious that a crop of potatoes from the area would be worth almost as much as the gold. However, the first plantings were utter failures, fueling the idea that the area was an agricultural waste land. Soon though, a crop did flourish, and a fellow named John Herburger sold his crop of potatoes for 25 cents per pound, with a four pound limit per customer.

Other homestead claims were soon filed and valleys away from the John Day River (such as Fox, Long Creek, Ritter, Izee, Seneca and Silvies) were settled in the 1870's and 1880's. It is difficult to know if the first homesteaders came here with the intention of making a living from crops, or livestock. What developed was a mixture of livestock and small grains. The livestock could utilize the vast areas of free range, and the wheat, oats, and barley ground into flour provided a cash crop that could be grown in all but the highest valleys and without irrigation. The milling of flour was important in the early days for two reasons. First, it provided an essential food item in an area where outside supplies were hard to get, and secondly, it made a compact, more easily hauled and more valuable product out of the grain. At one time there were flour mills operating at Long Creek, Prairie City, John Day and Ritter.

Historical accounts speak of the 'luxuriant bunch grass' in the hills around Canyon City It was this resource that first attracted cattle to Grant County and to the Harney Basin to the south. Like the growing of crops, livestock production was slow to start due to the believed severity of the winters. However, settlers soon realized that the bottomlands along the John Day River could produce hay, and this, coupled with the hill and forest land for summer grazing, made an excellent area to raise livestock. In fact, settlers realized this with such enthusiasm that by the late 1870's and early 1880's the range was beginning to show the lower production brought about by overgrazing. At this time there was very little understanding of range management. Some people felt that the grass was a resource that could never be damaged. If production wasn't as good as it used to be, well, it was nothing that a warm, wet spring wouldn't take care of. During this time most of the range was unfenced, and therefor there was no way for a single individual to control the use of it and no way to prevent the overgrazing. The only way to compete was to run as many animals as you could, and if the range wouldn't support a cow then a sheep would get by. As a result in the late 1800's there was a time when the number of cattle in the county actually decreased while the number of sheep increased. No longer was the bunch gross luxuriant, and in some places it had disappeared. What had once seemed an unlimited resource was now a very finite one.

While a rancher in many cases didnt own the land he summered on, it was an area he considered his own, to be shared with few others. And for cattlemen, the rule was doubly certain when applied to sheep. Occossional violence between cattlemen and sheepmen erupted in the late 1890's and early 1900's. While there was never a range 'war' in Grant County, passions ran high and some animals were killed, though it is doubtful if any sheepherders or cowboys were murdered over a range dispute.

Besides running different types of livestock, there was another difference between cattlemen and sheepmen. The cattlemen tended to be full year residents of the area while sheepmen moved with the season, summering in the county and then moving to the lower John Day River or to the wheat country in northeastern Oregon for the winter. The trailing sheep would sometimes break through a fence, wrecking a grain crop or damaging a hay field, which fueled the resentment toward them.

What helped end the disputes more than anything, and restored proper management to the range, was the creation of the Forest Service in 1903. With it's inception come specific allotments, controlled numbers of animals and regulation of time of use on the range. One of the first forest rangers in the area was Cy Bingham, who arrived in the middle of the sheep killing. Once he'd decided where the problem was and who was doing it he went out and confronted the sheepmen and ranchers. According to Bingham the situation was tense, 'I looked the trouble over, and drew a line and said, 'You fellers stay on this side and the other fellers stay on the tother side.' Then I says to them, 'I want you people to understand I ain't foolin'. If there's any more shootin' up on this range, I'll get my artillery into action too. And when I shoot, I don't shoot for pleasure! Things quickly settled down. Of course, it probably helped that Cy was six foot six and weighed 325 pounds.

The history of the horse goes back a long ways in Grant County. While one might think it might begin when the Indians first made use of them, it actually goes back millions of years to prehistoric times. In 1884, Dr. Thomas Condon, a geologist, discovered the fossilized remains of two extinct varieties of horse on the South Fork of the John Day River. While the South Fork was apparently a good place for a horse millions of years ago, it seems it was still something of a magnet to horses in modern history. In 1886, the Grant County News informed its readers that "Horse raising is carried on extensively in all parts of the county. Over near the South Fork the snow seldom falls to any great depth during the winter and a number of horsemen, realizing the advantage this section has over other localities, have secured land and are devoting considerable attention to the raising of horses." The horsemen must have observed something the horses had known for a long time for L. Bush Livermore wrote in the Long Creek Blue Mountain Eagle in 1900, "if you stampede a band of coyuses anywhere in Central Eastern Oregon they will run, unerringly, in the direction of the South Fork of the John Day River. It has long been remarked by stockmen of the John Day Valley that the South Fork held some weird and wonderful attraction for horses." That same attraction must still hold true today, for the lost herd of wild horses in Grant County, numbering about 150 head, runs on the forest and open range drained by the South Fork.

With the gold rush Canyon City quickly attracted a Chinese Population. Census figures show 940 Chinese in 1870 and 905 in 1880. Most of the Chinese were engaged in mining but the 1880 census shows there were also cooks, laundrymen, merchants, doctors, a shoemaker, a tailor and four prostitutes. After the 1880's when the placer and hydraulic mining played out the Chinese population quickly decreased and by 1900 (according to the census) there were only 114 Chinese in the county. There were two Chinese men, though, that stayed in Grant County their entire adult lives and became a very integral part of the community. They were the herbal doctor Doc Hay and his friend and business partner Lung On.

Doc Hay arrived in John Day at the age of 25, in 1887. He lived in John Day until 1948, and died in a Portland nursing home in 1952 at the age of eighty-nine. He and Lung On owned and operated the Kam Wah Chung Company store, which was the center of the Chinese population in the late 1880's with its merchandise, religious shrine for worship and place for general socializing. It was also where Doc Hay practiced his herbal medicine, which made him known over most of eastern Oregon.

Doc Hay could diagnose illness by feeling a person's pulse. By lightly touching a person's radial artery of the wrist Doc Hay could tell the patient what was wrong with him, and also give a history of past ailments - all without talking to the patient. Once he told a mother of four that she had five children. At first she said no, so Hay felt her wrist again and again said that she'd had five children. Then she said yes, that she had, but one had died.

Once a diagnosis was made, Hay would mix up a herbal brew to effect a cure. Many of the herbs he used he imported from China. Hay's collection totaled over 500 herbs. Once to cure a man suffering from swollen feet he concocted a brew with over 83 different herbs!

As the Chinese population shrank, the Kam Wah Chung Company relied more and more on Hay's medical practice with an increasing number of patients from the white community. Hay developed a reputation for curing blood poisoning, which was a frequent problem with ranch hands; he was also adept at treating menstrual problems in women.

Hay's partner Lung On was the entreprenuer of the duo. He could speak English fluently, was a good writer and adept at turning one dollar into two. In addition he developed a reputation as something of a ladie's man - and not just with the Chinese women. Apparently white girls were also attracted to his good looks, charm and good dress. Doc Hay never learned to drive and often it was Lung On who would take him, by car, to see a patient. In fact, Lung On started a Pontiac dealership in John Day, the first automobile dealership in eastern Oregon.

Lung On died in April of 1940. Doc Hay continued his practice, but due to increasing blindness, the advancements of American medicine, and an increasing attitude in the area that his herbal medicine was improper, his practice decreased. After Doc Hay died his nephew deeded the Kam Wah Chung building to the city of John Day in 1955. It was left locked up and untencled for many years and the City even forgot it owned it. However, a survey that was done in 1967 found that the building was owned by the city, and when the building was opened and inspected an astonishing amount of the original contents were still there. Today, it is a museum open to the public, displaying a wealth of nineteenth century Chinese culture. (This information is from the book China Doctor of John Day. by Jeffrey Barlow and Christine Richardson which is an excellent indepth look at the lives of Doc Hay and Lung On.)

�1998 Roxann Gess Smith
All Rights Reserved

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