The following essay was found housed within a
collection of historical data pretaining to Grant Co., Oregon.
Having exhausted all efforts in attempting to locate the author
or heirs of, I must now assume that they no longer exsist and
that the following has now become public domain. Should any
complaint develop due to my posting of this article it will be
promptly removed. My decision is based solely on the articles
historical value and content, and lacks any intention of monetary gain.
Having been born and raised on an Eastern Oregon ranch, I have been acquainted with several
colorful characters, including Sourdoughs, Cowboys and Sheep-herders, but the most unforgettable
person I ever met was a little old man who came to our door one fall day in 1957.
My husband and I were working on a cattle ranch high in the Blue Mountains near the town of Bates,
Oregon, and this day I had just finished preparing the noon meal for my family when there was a knock
on the front door. I open the door to this little old man, who told me that his name was Jack Barham
and that he had come out of the nearby Greenhorn Mountains, where he had a mining claim. He was about
five foot two, had a long tangled gray beard and hair which hung down past his shoulders. He was dressed
in a pair of greasy Levi overalls and a jacket, an old torn black sombrero and had badly scuffed western boots
on his feet. Tied to our fence was an ancient strawberry roan mare and a haltered bay horse which he had been
leading. His saddle was one that must have been made before the turn of the century.
He asked if he could pasture his horse on the ranch for the night as he wasn't feeling a bit well and didn't feel
up to riding on down to Prairie City, twenty-one miles from there. We turned out his horses in the pasture by the
house and invited him in to warm up and have dinner with us. He refused and sat down in our garage to wait for some
friends to come from Prairie and pick him up. He looked so cold and ill that I took him out some hot soup and coffee and
some aspirin which he accepted and it seemed to revive him somewhat. A short while later these friends came up and took
him with them.
The next morning they brought him back up to pick up his horses to finish his ride on down to Prairie where he had
winter pasture for them, while he went on down by bus to Rainier, Oregon where he spent the winter with friends there as
the snow in the mountains made it impossible to stay at his cabin. He tried to pay us for keeping his horses but of course we refused and
he went on his way.
Just before Christmas that year, we received a nice card and a gift from him along with a laboriously written
letter. I immediately answered and we corresponded all that winter as he was anxious to know about the snow and road conditions
as he didn't like living in town and was eager to get back to his claim.
Early the next spring, he appeared again on his way back to the mountains. His old roan mare hadn't survived the
winter and he was riding an old spoiled saddle horse that someone had sold him. He stayed over night with us and the next
morning started back to his cabin. He told us that he was eighty-seven years old and, as he was stiff in the knees and so very
short, he lead the horse up to a big rock to mount but as soon as he hit the saddle he was in complete control. The
horse started balking and trying to buck but he calmly took his quirt and really worked it over and up the road they went again leading the bay, which
he told us had never been broke to ride. Four or five times that summer his horse got away from him and came down to our back fence where
upon we'd catch them and either notify him they were there or take them up to him. He lived alone in a cabin on Lightning Creek about
twelve or fifteen miles from our ranch home and there were other miners living in that area that looked out
for him somewhat.
He'd stay with us a day or so each time he had someone bring him out to get his horses, so we got well acquainted with him. He had been a
cowboy and horse breaker most of his life and had spent several years working on the ZX Ranch near Paisley, Oregon. He was still an exceptionally good
horseman despite his many years. He had very keen eyesight and hearing for his age and an excellent memory, so he had many interesting
stories to tell us of his early life.
He told us that he was the first husband of the famous Belle of the Yukon Gold Rush, Klondike Kate, and when Al jokingly asked if it had
been a one night affair he grew quite indignant and informed him that when he had met and married Kate Hales, she was a bashful country
girl from around Bend, Oregon. He wouldn't say how they happend to separate or if he was in anyway responsible for her rather infamous later life. He'd
also had three other wives but didn't know the where-bouts of any of them at the time.
One humorous episode that he told us about when he was working for a large Eastern Oregon sheep outfit, the housekeeper was a very unsanitary sort of cook
and cleaning woman, who left much to be desired in her methods of cooking even for men used to batching and living the rough life on the range in those early days.
He said the drinking and cooking water was hauled to the cabin used for a cook shack in open barrels and, while he didn't mind sharing the water with the chickens, frogs,
and flies, the day he saw her pull a drown chicken out of the barrel and then get a pail of the same water for the meal, he decided that it was too much for even his stomach, so
he packed his gear and rode off for other parts.
That fall he stayed on several days with us before again leaving for his winter quarters. He was still an excellent rifle shot and had two guns as antique as himself
which he treated as fondly as any wife. He was enthusiastic about his claim and, like all old timers, believed himself to always be on the verge of a big strike.
The next spring we noticed that he had failed badly health-wise but still insisted on going to his cabin to do his assessment work to keep his claim in good order.
He was sick a lot that summer and depended more and more on the other miners living there, but would not give up his way of life. However when he rode into our place
that fall, I could see that he was about to the end of his line. He wanted to spend the winter with us but I was working full time at the Prairie Hospital and Al
was driving down each day to feed cattle on the main ranch and our boys were all in school. We felt that he wasn't in any condition to be left alone too much, so, after a
couple of weeks, I put him on the bus bound for Paisley, where he had spent so much of his life. He entered the nursing home there and I received one letter written
by him and a couple more from his supervisor of the home, written in his behalf, always stating his appreciation for our interest in him. He passed away there in
the early spring at the age of ninety years and I believe he is buried there at Paisley.
©1998 Roxann Gess Smith
All Rights Reserved
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