Oregon Guides Publishing added a bookstore, DGDriscoll's BOOKS!
to its portfolio and this has come to absorb most of our energies. Accordingly, The Gazette will change its major focus from travel and tourists to local culture and history.
In order to ameliorate the shock, out text will be accompanied by some pictures of this years '62 Days celebration.
DGDriscoll's BOOKS! specializes in books dealing with eastern Oregon history and culture. An example Homesteading the Oregon Desert
which provides us a convenient occasion to discuss one of eastern Oregon's special qualities.
I cannot prove it and it would be difficult to prove in any case, but I have several times encountered the statement that Oregon has the most ghost towns of any state in the union. I think it very likely that this statement is true and this book goes a long way to explaining why that is so.
The Oregon desert the book refers to is specifically the region known as Christmas Valley in south central Oregon. The words \"Christmas Valley\" conjures up a picture of a mountain valley surrounded by majestic firs with perhaps a crystal blue lake in its midst. Sadly, this is quite misleading.
The reality is a dry lake bed, offering some of the least promising land for agriculture anywhere. The book relates the history of this region, how a confluence of factors made it go from virtually unoccupied to populated with numerous settlements and back to almost nothing in the space of twenty years.
It's a story that brings out several things about the history of western settlement. Chief among them is the major impact that Federal actions have on land use and distribution.
There is also the fact that, with its low rainfall, western agriculture is almost always teetering on the brink. In a wet year this land can be productive and even abundant. But a dry year does not mean a poor crop as it might in a wetter climate, it means no crop.
Christmas Valley is an extreme but north of there in the '20s Ashwood was a major center and at night the surrounding prairie was lit by homesteader's cabin lights as far as the eye could see. Today the town and all the cabins are gone. At roughly the same time just south of Grant County in Harney County, more than half of the ranches were in foreclosure and today most of those ranches have been absorbed into the survivors or returned to government ownership.
The pattern continues into today. When I first saw Christmas Valley in the late '50s, it had been platted as a retirement community with fire hydrants and street signs with names like \"Peachtree Lane\" and \"Cherry Court\" scattered through the sagebrush. I believe that some lots were sold to Californians but no houses were ever built. Then in the '60s it was discovered that the lake was just a hundred feet below the surface and by tapping into it one could raise enough hay to pay for itself in the first year. Now the water table has dropped to the point where the pumping costs equal what the hay would be worth and the sagebrush is returning. If you want the read the whole story in detail, you can get the bookhere.