The Burnt Ranch was originally established as a stage stop on the old Dalles-Canyon City (later Dalles Military) road in 1865, by Mr. and Mrs. James N. Clark. The name "Burnt Ranch" resulted from an attack in 1866, when Indians raided and burned the station. The original station was in the field a few hundred yards West of the existing house. The ranch has a colorful history and is a true relic of the old West that remains mostly unchanged today.
At the time of the Indian attack, Clark's wife was away visiting the Willamette Valley while Clark and a nephew, George Masterson, were cutting wood across Bridge Creek from the ranch. The Indians saw the pioneers across the creek and chased them, Clark escaped on horseback and Masterson ran up Bridge Creek and hid in some bushes. After the Indians passed his hiding spot Masterson apparently waded and/or swam back down the creek to the ranch., escaping the Indians. Meanwhile, Clark came upon some Canyon City bound freighters and the party turned back to eventually chase down and kill 4 Indians from the group that had been pursuing Clark.
The Paiute Indian band that attacked the ranch was a group of rebels who were led by the infamous Chief Paulina, for whom a number of Central Oregon landmarks are named. These include Paulina Lake, Paulina peak, Paulina Basin and the town of Paulina. Instead of moving onto reservations as other native Americans did during the mid-1800's, Paulina's "Paiute Raiders" instead roamed Central Oregon often raiding settlements, killing whites and Indians alike. Often the Warm Springs Indian Reservation itself was the target of Paulina's merciless attacks, with the band stealing food, horses, and cattle. At one point, 70 enraged Warm Springs Indians gained permission to leave the reservation to assist the US military in the hunt for Paulina and his band. This collaboration went on until 1867, when Paulina raided Andrew Clarno's ranch and stole a herd of cattle. After that, 4 local ranchers, including Clark and Howard Maupin (who had been robbed several times by Paulina, and for whom the town of Maupin, OR is named) tracked the herd to what is now the Paulina basin near the headwaters of trout creek. Here Paulina and his band were camped and the ranchers attacked in an early morning raid as the Indians were eating, with Maupin firing the two fatal shots that killed Paulina. He was scalped and his body was left in the sun where he fell. The scalp was nailed above the door of Maupin's house, where it remained until the building burned in 1902.
A post office opened in 1883 at the Burnt Ranch, operating intermittently in the years following, and the ranch continued to be an important stage stop well into the early 20th century. The first postmaster was Addie Masterson, presumably the wife or other relative of George Masterson who was involved in the 1866 attack.
In 1902 Elzey M. Stephens purchased the ranch and began raising his family there. His wife, Mary Ellen Pentecoste-Stephens, was the postmaster for a time. Elzey built the current house on the ranch in 1912. Into the 1930's Elzey and Mary lived on the ranch and raised their family of several children in the remote canyon, without modern conveniences most of us take for granted today. No refrigeration, electricity, automobiles or other services were available in this area until later in the 20th century. The Stephens raised cattle at the ranch and twice a year Elzey, his sons, and other hands would drive cattle to the railhead at Shaniko. The drive would take two days down the primary wagon road of the day, the Dalles Military Road. Once at Shaniko, the cattle were loaded onto the train to Portland. Elzey and some of the boys would ride on the train to Portland, and the others would return to the ranch. When the train arrived in Portland, the cattle were sold at auction and the proceeds were used to buy supplies for the return trip to the ranch.
The large shopping list of needed supplies had been prepared in advance by Mary, often with the assistance of Crystal (b. Oct 1908), the couple's youngest daughter. Shopping was done primarily at two Portland outfits of the day: Rice & Fallon, and the Jones Cash Store.
(Despite Crystal's participation in the process and detailed recollections of this it is interesting to note that, due to the remoteness of the ranch, Crystal herself never actually went to Portland until much later in her life, during the early 1940's. In the days of horse and buggy, recreational travel was not something most people thought of and Crystal's only other stories of travel outside of the area are a trip to Prineville, and a long trip by wagon to the Dalles, where they saw the circus.)
After stocking up with supplies for the ranch, the group returned to Shaniko on the train where some of the other boys would be waiting with empty wagons to transport the supplies back to the ranch.
Gradually, as time marched on into the mid 20th century, automobiles and other modern conveniences made their way to central Oregon and the 19th century ways of life faded. Elzey and Mary both passed on (Elzey in 1932 and Mary in 1944) and are buried in the Mitchell cemetery, not far from the ranch. The children all went on to live long lives but now, as of 2004, Crystal is the only surviving child. She is 95 years old living in Hood River, in good health, and loves to talk of what she calls "the good old times" when things were a lot different than today. Her sister, Lottie Stephens-Borthwick, passed on in late 2002 but was a longtime resident of Antelope and has a room named after her at the Shaniko hotel. As a student of the Shaniko School in the 1920's, Lottie is in several of the school pictures hanging on the wall inside the schoolhouse. The ranch property stayed in the hands of Elzey and Mary's descendents for several decades into the late 20th century, and is now a recreational property with camping and the ranch house is available for vacation rentals.
Shaniko today is sparsely populated and has only a fraction of the residents it once did. Many of its spectacular historic buildings have been preserved and several have been restored or are in the process of being restored. The Columbia-Southern Railway, which ended at Shaniko, was the first railroad into Central Oregon. With new railroads built up the Deschutes river canyon in 1910 the importance of Shaniko and the Columbia Southern diminished. Eventually the line was abandoned but its remains can be seen in many places along US highway 97 between Shaniko and Biggs.
The story of The Burnt Ranch is especially inspiring to me because Crystal is my Grandmother, and Elzy and Mary are my Great-Grandparents.
Copyright 2003 Garrett J. Keeton
Pioneer Roads in Central Oregon. Copyright 1985 Lawrence E. Nielsen, Doug Newman, Gerorge McCart. Mavercik Publications Bend, OR.
Handbook to the Deschutes River Canyon. Copyright 1979 by James M. Quinn. Commercial Printing Company. Medford, OR.
Interview with Crystal Stephens-Williams
Copyright 2004 Garrett J. Keeton.
All rights reserved.