Monday, March 26, 2007

Imperial Ranch: Ninety Miles & One Hundred Years from Bend

Western Heritage Gathering: Women of the West--Part II

The first presentation at the Womens Heritage Gathering was from Jeanne Carver of the Imperial Ranch near Shaniko, Oregon. Her energy and vitality was engaging. There was no doubt that this woman loves the land and the history she inherited as the current ranch woman.

Some of the history she imparted:

Richard Hinton was born on the Oregon trail en route to Lane County where his family settled in the 1850s. He grew up in the Willamette Valley watching the land be fenced, plowed and become overcrowded. In 1871, he shook the mud from his feet and headed to the high desert of Central Oregon.

With a lone packhorse he found his way to the area known today as Bakeoven and established his homestead at age nineteen. He bought sheep and cattle and began farming. The next year he married Mary Emma Fitzpatrick and brought her home to his bachelor pad: a dugout cave in the creekbank. Together they raised two children in this little cave. After ten years of hard work they proved their claim. Mary died the very next year.

Richard continued to be a shrewd landowner and rancher. His flocks flourished as he developed a remarkable cross-breeding program for quality meat lambs and wool. Within two years of Mary's death he met and married Clara Bird, this time bringing his new wife home to a home he had built on the ranch. Clara was a socialite and was not required to work the ranch as her predecessor had. Two more children were born.

Hinton became the largest single proprietor in Wasco county, and eventually all of Oregon. By 1900 the Hinton's were able to build a Queen Anne home, which still stands today. The family hired staff including a personal cook, house boy, private tutors and a chauffeur. The family enjoyed trips to Portland (where they maintained a rented apartment) for theatre and cultural events. Clara and her daughter were able to commission dresses made by the renowned Shogren Sisters.

James Hinton, Richard's oldest son, took over the ranch in 1915. His business acumen never equaled that of his father. James did not marry until he was in his fifties. By the 1930's a man from Antelope named George Ward joined the operation. George and his wife Mary (Hampton) earned James' respect and in 1945 a half share was sold to George.

Subsidies were introduced in the 1930s. War and synthetic fabrics further cut into the highly profitable sheep industry.

Mary Ward was a true partner to George Ward. She handled the people and the bookwork. She would drive to Portland to hire from Skid Row or to Gresham for fruits and vegetables. The ranch was still known for the entertaining begun during the days of Clara Hinton. Mary was involved in the care of her home, Wool Grower's Association, Cowbells, and the PTA. In her free time she drove to Portland to take tailoring classes.

James Hinton sold his remaining share of the ranch to George Ward in 1967. George and Mary struggled through their final years of ranching. Following a serious car accident George and Mary relied heavily on prescription drugs, pain killers and alcohol. Their children refused to continue the rigors of ranch life and the ranch was soon sold to Dan Carver in 1988.

Today the ranch continues the tradition of sustainability with four commodities in production: sheep, cattle, hay and grain. The sheep business is still a challenge, but the Imperial Ranch is finding their way. Through ingenuity and determination 100% of the meat is now sold to restaurants. Quality wool yarn and project kits from the Imperial Ranch can be found at Woodland Woolworks and The Stitching Post. Finished garments can be found through the national retailer Norm Thompson. A complete list of locations carrying Imperial Ranch products is available on their website.

The headquarters of the ranch is a National Historic District and can be viewed by prior arrangement.

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