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home : education : schools November 19, 2018

2/27/2018 2:06:00 PM
Whispers from the past
Downtown Sisters in 1895 with freight wagon in front of the general merchandise store. photo provided
+ click to enlarge
Downtown Sisters in 1895 with freight wagon in front of the general merchandise store. photo provided

By Sue Stafford

Sisters' designation as a gateway between the high desert and the Cascade mountains stems from its earliest beginnings. Two wagon roads that crossed the Cascades in the 1870s intersected where the town of Sisters would eventually grow up.

Early forays into the area were made by Captain John C. Fremont in 1843 and later in 1855 by Lt. Henry L Abbot as part of the Pacific Railroad Survey Party. In 1865 Captain Charles La Follette and 40 men from Company A left Fort Yamhill in Polk County to establish a military camp near the junction of the Santiam and McKenzie wagon roads to protect the travelers from hostile Indians. When it was determined there was no need for the camp, known as Camp Polk, it was abandoned on May 24, 1866.

Around 1870, Charles Hindman and his family established a homestead near the abandoned Camp Polk. The ranch covered 280 acres, which for centuries was a camping site for Indians traveling through the area. Hindman later applied for a post office which was established March 18, 1875.

In October of 1874, the J.B. Claypool family and two other families came east over the Santiam Pass from the Willamette Valley. They first camped at Cache Creek before moving to an area northeast of present-day Sisters, known as Squaw Flats, and became the only inhabitants in that area.

They came in contact with natives as they returned to their homes in Warm Springs. The Indians had long used that area as a camping ground on their annual migration. Hundreds of natives set up camp around the white settlers, but no harm came to them.

Homesteading was primitive in the 1870s. Prineville was the only settled community in Central Oregon. There was no direct mail service prior to 1875 and mail sent to the The Dalles could sit for months before making its way to Sisters Country. The Claypools had relatives in Prineville who, in one instance, walked their mail over to them.

David W. Claypool acquired land in 1879 near Indian Ford Creek (originally Bull Creek), and built a small log cabin, which was removed in the late 1960s by the Indian Ford Ranch Company.

On the other side of present-day Sisters, in the southeast corner of what became the current Black Butte Ranch, E.A. Graham built a homestead on land containing a spring-fed creek. Because of their location, the Grahams provided accommodations for sheepherders, cattlemen, and general travelers who utilized the Santiam Wagon Road.

More homesteaders and settlers began arriving in the vicinity of Sisters within a few years. During the 1880s, a number of families settled in Sisters including the Cobbs, the Persons, the Fryrears, the Taylors, and the Wilsons, with even more arriving in the 1890s and early 1900s

After 1880, Sisters became the settlement through which sheepherders and, later, cattlemen drove their livestock from grasslands around Shaniko, Antelope, and Grizzly up into the Cascades for summer grazing and back down in the fall. Sisters was the spot where the herders could restock supplies. In those days, there were in excess of 50,000 sheep in the mountains above Sisters during the summer, representing nine large sheep ranches.

In July 1888, the post office at Camp Polk was discontinued and moved to the John J. Smith store located about three miles south of Camp Polk and named "Sisters." People living in the area were asked to submit possible names for the new post office. Jacob N. Quiberg, whose homestead from 1887 on was on the land now known as the Pine Meadow Ranch, southwest of town, suggested "Three Sisters," which was shortened to "Sisters" by the U. S. Postal Department.

Until November 1898, John J. Smith served as postmaster before he sold his homestead to Alex Smith (no relation). Alex sold a half interest in the property to his brother Robert, who became the new postmaster. When a larger store was built in town, the post office moved to its new site, which later became Bush's Market. The two-story building had room for a dance hall that also housed Odd Fellows meetings.

In 1901, the Smith brothers helped make Sisters a real town when they platted it, utilizing the typical grid system of the U.S. Land Survey office. Streets were laid out running east-west and north-south.

The original plat stated: "... all lots 40 feet front by 114 feet and all blocks 140 feet square - bisected east and west by alleys 12 feet wide. Streets 80 feet wide..." The original city was comprised of six city blocks bounded by Cascade on the south, Adams on the north, Elm on the west, and Larch on the east.

The east-west streets, except for Main, were named after volcanoes in the Cascade Mountain Range. The names of trees were given to the streets running north-south.

There have been a number of additions since the original plat was filed. The Davidson Addition to the south of town was surveyed in 1901 and included Hood to St. Helens.

The McCaffery additions one and two contain six blocks west of the original townsite and two blocks east of it. Part of the original John Smith homestead was included in the McCaffery First Edition and dedicated 1919. The McCaffery and Dennis families donated that land.

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