Reflections on Early Prairie City
by Inez Blinn Boggs

About the same time that Henderson Harrier, first homesteader in the valley at the mouth of Dixie Creek in 1864, my grandfather Thomas Henderson Meador homesteaded in the upper John Day River valley three miles above the Harrier homestead. Born in 1836 in Tennessee, he came from Missouri first to California in 1859. His name and date are etched on the rocks of the historical site of Register Cliff outside Guernsey, Wyoming not too far from Fort Laramie.

After mining and working California for a few years, he went to Cottage Grove, Oregon. In 1862, he came to the Canyon Creek mines. Besides mining for gold he ran a pack train until 1864. Then he and two other bachelors William Axe and William Waldon decided to homestead in the upper John Day River Valley. Each had adjoining land. They made a pact that the first one to find a bride to get married was to have his pick of the land. Thomas Meador was the first to marry and chose the ranch where he lived the remainder of his life. It then passed to his daughter Emma Meador Velvin and at her death it came under the ownership of her son Thomas Meador Velvin. He eventually sold the ranch. It is known as one of the Oregon Century ranches having been in existence for over one hundred years.

Thomas Henderson Meador was married to Sara Ann Hunt Manwaring, age 32, in February, 1870 in the old Canyon City Hotel, operated by B.C. Trowbridge. They were married by the famous Joaquin Miller who at that time was the Grant County judge. Their witnesses were William Axe and M.D. Rogers. Sara Ann Hunt Manwaring crossed the Plains in 1869 with her husband when he was killed by Indians near Fort Laramie while hunting for antelope for camp meat. She had three children, James, Elizabeth, and Lincoln.

Sara Ann Hunt Manwaring was in the party of the Cooleys, Houghs, and Westfalls who were all somewhat interrelated. They came to the upper John Day River valley by way of Vale, Oregon entering the valley at the Blue Mountain Springs. Being the season of autumn, they wintered where Flem and Byars Deardorff lived. In the spring of 1870 Flem Deardorff married one of the members of that party, Sara Manwaring sister to the late husband of Sara Ann Hunt Manwaring.

Thomas Henderson Meador and Sara Ann Meador had six children, William Oscar and Harvey Oliver, twins. There was George T. Meador, Mary Elma (Blinn), Edward Meador, and Emma Louise (Velvin). Thomas Meador helped each of his sons to acquire ranches in the same vicinity as the home ranch. John Blinn and Mary Meador were married in 1891. They had three children, Walter Byron, Inez Edna, and Roland Volney. John Blinn was one of the first employees of the Malheur National Forest Service when it was organized.

George Washington McHaley

The upper John Day River valley was very attractive to early pioneers who were interested in stock raising. It had all the essentials for successful and healthy herds. There was abundant water supply and pastures for hay, summer range, natural grasses, a protective winter climate area, and access to transportation for market.

One of the early settlers in Prairie City attracted to this and who became one of its prominent citizens during the 1880's and 1890's left his mark on the community. To get at his influence one must begin early in his life as his family and career were a paradigm for the many who came into Oregon in the early days. His name was George Washington McHaley.

George McHaley was born near Bloomington, Indiana about 1836 and came to Oregon in 1843 with his father, John McHaley, three brothers, and his step mother, who had been a Mrs. Frasier, and her several children. They were part of the first great migration in 1843. The 129 wagon train left Independence, Missouri with a young lawyer, Peter Burnett, acting as captain. Due to the amount of stock being driven the train had to divide, with Burnett heading up the light column and Jesse Applegate heading up the slower cow column. Until this time there were no tracks beyond Fort Hall for the heavy conestoga wagons. Only pack trains and light carts had made the trip into the Oregon Territory. Marcus Whitman, who was returning to his mission near Walla Walla, now acted as guide and was invaluable in getting the heavy wagons onto the mission where the emigrants and their stock rested before going on toward the Willamette Valley. Many made the trip by barge down the Columbia while those driving stock continued on by wagon.

Some of these immigrants settled at Liberal on the Molalla River but John McHaley moved his family to Aumsville where eventually he took out donation land claims of 320 acres for himself and 320 acres for his wife. The early mines in California were in need of wheat, bacon, and lard, and the McHaleys propered by supplying food quantities which were barged to Portland and shipped on to San Francisco. In 1862 or 1863 John McHaley left for Indiana taking most of the available cash in view of aiding the Confederate cause. He was never heard from again. The relatives living in Indiana said that he did not arrive there; his son Jim later traced his fathers steps as far as Texas.

By now George McHaley was a farmer and also a merchant, having worked for Mr. Coolidge in Silverton and later going into partnership with him and opening another small store at Aumsville. The gold mines in Idaho had opened up and with their wholesale connections they decided to pack supplies from The Dalles and Umatilla into the Idaho mines. McHaley was in charge and with the help of four men, managed to drive a train of sixty horses and mules loaded with the alforhas (or pack bags) he had designed and made from cow hide. In 1869, he went to Grant County and eastern Oregon to see about packing supplies to the mines at Auburn, Dixie, and Canyon City. On the return trip he passed through northern Grant County and discovered for the first time the protected valley and lush grass that prompted him to move to the area.

He had married Mary S. Jackson, whose people were also on the original wagon train and were among those who remained at Liberal in Clackamas County. She had attended the first Sisters' School in Portland as indicated on a "sampler" which she made while still there. She played the organ and owned a small one which accompanied the family on each move, and she was the one who played for social events as well as for church and for funerals. At these times, weather permitting, she wore around her shoulders the embroidered silk shawl that had been a part of her trousseau. Born to George and Mary at Aumsville were Volney; Nettie (Blinn); Rice, and Clara (Mrs. V.C. Belknap).

Concluding his business with Mr. Coolidge who then went into banking with a Mr. McLane, McHaley moved his family to a site on Cotton Creek about three miles from Monument in Grant County. He ran cattle, sheep, and horses and did very well despite the water problem controversy he got involved with the Hamilton family, the family after whom the town is named. Mr. Hamilton had arrived a year before Mr. McHaley and undoubtedly had prior claim. Born at Monument were Inez, (Mrs. J.H. Fell); Rodney T.; and their last child , Anne (Mrs. W.W. Wood). During the years at Monument there was trouble with the Indians and during one general uprising the settlers were forced to take refuge in the fort at The Dalles.

In the meantime McHaley had become attracted to the John Day valley leaving the northern Grant ranch to his oldest son Volney, he moved to Prairie City about 1881. His wife Mary died shortly before moving to Prairie. He purchased the Buckingham ranch which was adjacent to the town of Prairie. He called it the "home place" and built a white frame house of colonial design. The family brought over the body of his wife about 1907 to be buried on the hilltop overlooking the valley with the majestic Strawberry Butte as a backdrop.

George McHaley was a born trader and money maker and he became a prominent man in the John Day valley area. Although mainly a stockman, he saw to it that the home ranch was self-sustaining. He took pride in his fine horses and in his later years drove a pair of matched greys that really set off the surrey. At the time of his death he owned some 2000 acres of farm land. He was elected to represent Grant County in the state legislature, serving during the session of 1882 and 1883 and also in the special session of 1883 and 1884. He was a republican in politics and once ran for United States Senator but was roundly defeated.

Just east of Prairie he had purchased the two McQuire farms, one for his daughter Nettie (Blinn) and one for his second son Rice McHaley. He bought two sections in Fox Valley for feeding his stock. Upon his death the home place was left to his third son Rodney McHaley. George weathered the depression called the "great equalizer" 1888-89 with the help from his old friend Mr. Coolidge in Silverton who gave him credit so he could replace his stock. His brother Jim did very well in the Hepner area; his brother Jack settled in Portland; his brother Frank died at an early are. George's father and his second wife the former Mrs. Frasier had two children of their own one of whom was Lizzie Wright. George McHaley died in 1906 and is buried on the hilltop overlooking the town of Prairie and the valley. He said he wanted the cemetery plot there because: "On the resurrection day I want to be able to get up and look over the entire valley." (As recalled by George Fell, son to Inez McHaley Fell in collaboration with Eleanor Wood Karrer, daughter of Anne McHaley Wood, and Gordon Blinn).

Carrying on the McHaley family tradition were his children. Volney McHaley married Nevada Cohoe of northern Grant County. He owned and operated multiple ventures including ranches and stores in Hamilton, Oregon. They had four boys, George and Frank and two who died in infancy.

Frank McHaley married Flora Weisenfluh. They had two children, Clara Inez and Volney Deacon McHaley. Clara is a graduate nurse and now resides in John Day. She married James Davis of Texas. Judy, their daughter married Elmer Swan of Vale, Oregon. Kristi Beth is the granddaughter.

Rice McHaley became the owner of the second ranch just east of Prairie City. He served several years as the Grant County judge. He married Lizzie Hubbard. Their children were Avis who taught elementary school in Bates. She married Joe Hunter and their children were Joan and Marjorie who now live in Pullman, Washington. Other children of Rice McHaley were Kenneth, Elizabeth, Rice Jr., Eileen, and James Jackson the youngest.

Nettie McHaley married Earl Blinn in 1885. After homesteading on the old Stage road they operated the second ranch east of Prairie. Their children were Blaine, Fred, Gordon, George, Gladys, Clarice, and Louise. Gordon married Mayme Schwartz and their children were Herbert, Dorothy, Raymond, and Richard.

Mary Inez McHaley married Dr. J.H. Fell who practiced medicine in Grant County over fifty years. Their son was George who became an attorney. He had an abstract office in Canyon City. He also had a ranch five miles below John Day called the Laycock ranch, and also operated a sheep ranch in northern Grant County. Later he purchased a ranch near Oregon City, where he now resides with his wife Mary Fell.

Clara McHaley married Dr. Virgil Belknap. Their children are Dr. Roderick Belknap of Ontario, Oregon, Dr. Virgil Belknap a dentist in Payette, Idaho and Janis, a teacher who married Dr. Eugene Johnson of Ontario. Dr. Roderick's children are Roderick and Patricia. Dr. Virgil's children are Robert, Thomas, James, Dannie, and Barbara Mary. Janis' children are Anne, and Eugene Randall Johnson.

1998 Roxann Gess Smith
All Rights Reserved

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