Prairie City's Century Ranch

An article written by Eleanor Boxx - Journal Staff Writer
Saturday, October 25, 1969 - The Oregon Journal "Home and Family"

Mr. and Mrs. Byars Deardorff will be honored Sunday at Prairie City when their ranch becomes "Century Ranch," for having been in same family for 100 years. Byars Deardorff's father bought out squatter's rights to original 160 acres, Oct. 14, 1869. Byars and May Cardwell Bowe, from Long Creek, were married in 1921 and have made their home at ranch ever since.

A century is a long time - even for a ranch.

When such a property remains in the hands of one family for the entire 100 years, it is eligible to become a Century Ranch, with recognition from the Oregon Historical Society and the Oregon State Department of Agriculture.

Sunday, the Byars Deardorff ranch, southeast of Prairie City, will be hailed by friends and relatives from throughout Oregon as being a Century Ranch. Weather permitting, the celebration will be held at the Deardorff home with lucheon served by Ladies of Grant County National Farmers Organization. If it rains, everything will be moved to Prairie City School.

Several old timers will take a nostalgic look back when they hear "fiddling" like it used to be, or when they see guests taking a horse and buggy ride. John Sharff, author of "Steens Mountain," will be the featured speaker. Eula Morris, program coordinator for the Prairie City Women's Club, announces festivities will start at 1 p.m.

The Deardorffs' life would make an exciting western movie script, for there were unimaginable hair-raising events in the early days. Death, illness and suspense rode on the wagon train with the original Deardorffs. Mrs. Deardorff was Sara Manwaring before her marriage in 1870 to Flem Deardorff. She came to Oregon in August, 1869 with her parents and met her future husband when they went through a tollgate he operated on his ranch.

When Mrs. Deardorff, mother of the present Byars, was 72 years of age in 1926 she wrote the story of her trip in the wagon train to Illinois. Two years later she died. Many of the older ranchers knew her story, but it took the Prairie City Womens's Club to edit it and the Blue Mountain Eagle to present it so the public knew it, too.

Sara Deardorff tells about her brother being kidnapped by a band of Indians and never being found; of a woman suspected of being a spy who joined the wagon train under mysterious circumstances and leaving the same way. There were runaway horses, lame horses and stolen horses, each causing inconvenience, delay and tragedy.

Heartbreaking events are recounted in the story - Sara, the young girl who led a team of lame mules for three or four days; the wagon train being entertained by soldiers and their brass band, but the same little girl crying her heart out because her missing brother still had not been found; the birth of a baby and two or three accidents from gun shots.

There were numerous river crossings, all of which were tedious and some which took a full day. At one of the crossings the water came up and over the wagon beds, soaking several boxes of crackers. The soggy mass was divided among the wagons and resourceful women fried them for breakfast; others separated and dried them.

As the party neared the Blue Mountains, Sara's mother was ill and Sara "took the mountain fever." At the summit they met a man who told them they would soon be in the John Day Valley and could get provisions and help at the tollgate at the head of the valley.

Six months later Sara and Flem Deardorff were married. They lived together on the same ranch until his death in 1911. They had 12 children. Byars is the last living child.

The original ranch of 160 acres has grown to 2,200 and is now leased by Byars Deardorff's nephew. The tink log cabin, in which Flem and Sara lived the first three years of their married life, was replaced in 1873 with a bigger one. For the next 80 years it was "home" to the large Deardorff family. Then it was torn down and the present house was built. Part of the older one, however, was saved to become a part of the ranch blacksmith shop.

Most of the old buildings may be gone, but the willows planted in 1873 are still there - an important reminder that Sunday will be a proud day at Deardorff - Century Ranch.

1998 Roxann Gess Smith
All Rights Reserved

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