Living in the past at Fort Rock, Oregon.
Living in the past at Fort Rock, Oregon.
A collection of different types of barbed wire on display at Fort Rock, Oregon.
Sunflowers & stagecoaches? You may be wondering how those two things go together.
Last August we explored the Steens Mountain area by car. Did you know you can drive all the way around this 50-mile long mountain and to its 9,700-foot peak at certain times of the year? The views from up there are breathtaking!
The following pictures are from the dirt road on the east side of Steens Mountain. Common sunflowers, Helianthus annus L., were in full bloom along the road.
As their name implies, common sunflowers are common throughout the conterminous United States and in parts of Canada and Mexico. Sunflowers have been introduced in other parts of North America and throughout the world. They occur in a wide variety of habitats including prairies, roadsides, near railroad right-of-ways, savannas, and forest edges.
These leggy plants grow 1.5 to 8+ feet tall and bloom from July through October. Their iconic flowers actually have two kinds of flowers. The yellow “ray” flowers look like petals but each is an individual flower. The “disc” flowers, at the center of the brown head, are usually small. If you magnified your view of the center of the flower, you would see that each of these disc flowers had five petals. The alternate leaves, and the main stem are covered in coarse hair.
Sunflowers are valuable to both wildlife and people. The seeds are sought out by many species of birds. Do you have sunflower seeds from the cultivated variety of sunflower in your bird feeder? If you do, you know how much birds and other wildlife enjoy eating them.
Now on to how this plant is used by humans. Wow! Where do I start?
You have probably munched on sunflower seeds, but did you know the yellow flowers are also edible? They make a colorful addition to a salad.
In July of 1805, the Lewis and Clark expedition traveled along the Missouri River in Montana and recorded these observations on sunflowers.
The sunflower is in bloom [NB: Copy for Dr. Barton ] and abundant in the river bottoms. The Indians of the Missouri particularly those who do not cultivate maze make great uce of the seed of this plant for bread, or use it in thickening their soope. they most commonly first parch the seed and then pound them between two smooth stones untill they reduce it to a fine meal. to this they sometimes mearly add a portion of water and drink it in that state, or add a sufficient quantity of marrow grease to reduce it to the consistency of common dough and eate it in that manner. the last composition I think much best and have eat it in that state heartily and think it a pallateable dish.
There are many medicinal uses of this annual plant. Flowers were used for heart problems and in treating burns. Roots were used in treating blisters and snakebites. Native Americans made a leaf tea to treat lung ailments and high fevers. A poultice was applied to snake and spider bites. Seeds were used as diuretics and to help heal coughing.
In addition to the historical usages, sunflowers are used in creating dyes, soap, cattle and chicken feed, and a fine silky fiber, similar to hemp. Sunflower oil is widely consumed in both North America and Europe.
Fun Fact: Some Native Americans believed sunflowers were a symbol of courage. Warriors would carry sunflowers cakes with them into battle. Hunters would sprinkle themselves with sunflower powder to keep their spirits up.
So now you know more about sunflowers, but why is this post called Sunflowers & Stagecoaches? While taking pictures of the sunflowers, I remembered to look for an old stagecoach stop I had seen on a Circling Steens Mountain birding field trip. Ah ha! Found it. See the dark spots in the middle of this photo? Those are the remnants of a stagecoach stop.
Here’s a closer look. The crumbling rock walls are all that’s left of this stop.
In the late 1800s to early 1900s, stagecoach routes crisscrossed the West. On the more heavily traveled routes there were stops every 25 miles or so. Why that distance? That’s about how far a team of horses pulling wagons full of goods and passengers could travel. Their progress was slow due to difficult terrain and weather that could quickly change from scorching heat to bone-chilling cold.
Some of these stations were just for changing horse teams while others had accommodations available for travelers. The stops in Fields and Frenchglen offered more options for weary travelers. One stop near the one pictured above charged 25 cents for overnight lodging and meals. The charge for the care of each horse was an additional 25 cents.
Travel along these stagecoach routes was not fast. For example, the east-west route from Ontario, Oregon to Burns, Oregon took approximately 40 hours. Today that 130-mile route takes 2 hours 12 minutes. But imagine all the sights those early travelers must have seen on those slow journeys…
Sensationalized accounts of the “Promised Land” caused the single largest voluntary migration in America. Artists such as Albert Bierstadt presented glamorized versions of the journey along the Trail.
Old bits & spurs from days gone by live on in this collage.
Turning in his saddle and tilting his dusty hat to shade his eyes, he finally sees it in the distance. The round barn. The year is 1887 and he and the other vaqueros are moving a herd of horses collected over the sagebrush covered plains of the High Desert in Oregon. He had worked so many hours that week that when he finally settled down each night on a bed of hard sandy soil, he instantly fell into a deep sleep.
Moving cattle, horses, and mules for his boss, Pete French, was a hard but satisfying life. Guiding his horse with worn leather reins, he moves to the back of the herd of mustangs and starts driving them towards the barn.
The Pete French Round Barn, near Diamond, Oregon, was built in the 1880’s. The center pole and supporting poles are made from ancient western juniper trees. The juniper shows cuts and gouges from past use but is still strong. Umbrella-like beams radiate out from the center to support the rounded roof of this 100-foot diameter barn. Horses were stabled in the middle part of the building. The 63-foot diameter rock wall in the middle section forms a round corral in the building’s interior. A 20-foot wide circular paddock surrounds it. During the long winters, 400 to 600 horses and mules were moved through and trained in the barn, safe from the harsh conditions outside.
Round barns allowed livestock to be sheltered and trained year round. Teams of horses and mules were trained to pull freight wagons in the barns. This particular barn has an interesting history.
In 1872, Pete French and a group of vaqueros were camping in an area south of present-day Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. He was working for cattleman and wheat baron, Dr. Hugh Glenn, moving 1,200 shorthorn cattle to better grazing lands on Steens Mountain. French met a prospector named Porter who had about a dozen cattle and squatter’s rights to the land. He bought the cattle, rights to the land, and the “P” brand. The laws of the land were a bit different back then so when he moved the cattle onto unsurveyed land nearby, that land became his. Ranchers were required to build fences to keep cattle out of their lands.
French continued to work with Hugh Glenn and together they created French-Glenn Livestock Company. Pete French became president of the company in 1893. The company went on to become one of the best run cattle businesses of the time. French-Glenn Livestock Company had two round barns and numerous other buildings on their 150,000 to 200,000 acres of land.
Though successful as a businessman, Pete French was not well liked by some of his neighbors. Settlers were putting up fences on what they claimed was public land and French contested those claims in court. He fought with one neighbor, Edward Oliver, off and on for ten years. On December 26, 1897, they got in their last argument. Oliver shot and killed French and was later acquitted of all charges.
The round barn has been carefully restored by state and federal agencies. It is now protected as the Pete French Round Barn State Heritage Site. Cycle Oregon and Trust Management Services have also put work into maintaining and improving the site.
The barn is in an isolated location but it’s a remarkable structure well worth seeing. When you stand in it and look around, you really get a feel for the history of the place. It is a place full of many stories. For driving directions, click here.
There is also an impressive visitor center and store near the barn. The Round Barn Visitor Center contains a small museum and a store featuring clothing, jewelry, hunting knives, and a very good assortment of local and regional history books. The store also has a few snacks and beverages. The museum contains artifacts related to the Jenkins family, who have lived and worked in the area for several generations. Talk to Mr. Jenkins, the proprietor of the store, to learn more about the stories this land has to tell.
Weekly Photo Challenge – Rounded
Tucked away in Oregon’s Outback, you will find a unique place that hearkens back to an earlier time. The Cowboy Dinner Tree is a small restaurant located in Silver Lake Oregon, about an hour and a half southeast of Bend. The restaurant is only open from 4:00-8:30 pm four days per week and reservations are required. They give you ample portions of food here and you are advised to bring a cooler for leftovers. They do not take credit cards or debit cards so have cash on hand.
You have your choice of a 26-30 oz. top sirloin steak or a whole roasted chicken. Both are accompanied by several tasty side dishes. There is green salad, hearty soup, old fashioned sweet yeast rolls, baked potato, and a dessert. You can have coffee, iced tea, or pink lemonade with your meal. On the day we were there, they served bean soup and a small shortcake with fresh berries. Everything is homemade and made daily.
Many years ago, ranchers pushed their cattle through this area on the way to the lush meadows of Sycan Marsh. The Dinner Tree, a big old juniper tree, was at the halfway-point. There was a small shack where the restaurant now sits and hungry ranchers stopped here for some grub from the chuck wagon. The food they had then was probably buckaroo beans and biscuits – not the large meal now served at the Cowboy Dinner Tree. The site was a homestead back in the late 1800’s and it was converted into a restaurant in 1992.
Today the Cowboy Dinner Tree is a popular destination. They have a restaurant, gift store, and a couple of cabins for lodging. The lodging has been so popular that they are in the process of adding five additional cabins. The gift store features items crafted by local artisans and craftspeople.
We arrived at about 4:30 pm and the place was filling up fast. We had a large group so we shared a long table but there are also smaller tables available. The place is decorated with cowboy print curtains and lots of related items such as horse bits, ropes, stirrups, and saddles. Dollar bills scrawled with notes from customers adorn the walls and ceiling.
The food was great and the server, Cowboy Dinner Tree owner Angel Roscoe, was very attentive. She and her husband, John, took over the restaurant from her mom in 2012. You will not leave feeling hungry that’s for sure! As their website says – Join us for a taste of the real Old West.