A Must-See Tour of Oregon’s Southeastern Corner
Steins Pillar is about 17 miles east of Prineville. A moderate four-mile hike takes you to the base of the 350 foot pillar named for Major Enoch Steen, though misspelled “Stein” in a few historical documents. Major Steen was a leader in the U.S. Army who led battles against native residents in much of the west including in the area where the small community of French Glenn (population 12, or maybe 15) is located in Harney County.
Steens Mountain is named for him, though the missing apostrophe has been excused over time and habit. The near twenty-mile drive is worth the washboard stretches of otherwise well maintained gravel road a few miles south of French Glenn. At over 9,700 feet the peak of the mountain makes the steep valley of at least 3,000 feet below a spectacular site. It’s worth the trip to make the visit as the gravel road and dust will never trump the amazing views.
A bullet in the head left Peter French immediately dead the day after Christmas in 1897.
He was 48 at the time and never grew older. He must have believed he had won the argument with Edward Oliver, a local homesteader, as they had been constantly aggravated for ten years over property rights and access. Oliver was found not guilty of the murder of Peter French and soon left the area.
Its possible the reputation of Peter French as a strong-willed man, quite confident in his methods and determination led to the court’s decision about Oliver’s innocence.
Stories reflect that the men working for Peter French thought quite highly of him as did many people who knew him. He did have a way of interpreting some legal standards to suit his own intentions. The ownership of very large parcels of land near unoccupied federal land might find fencing stretched around the public property and being claimed as part of the ranch. The Homestead Act was used to buy land at very low prices from employees and neighbors. Edward Oliver was a homesteader whose land was surrounded by the ranch run by French. It was French’s refusal to grant a right-of-way to the Oliver property that led to French’s demise.
Diamond is rare. Not so much as a gemstone but as a community. It lies about halfway between French Glenn and Burns at the 30 mile mark. Its hard to tell how many people live there without asking a local. The sign says 5 but someone scratched a 7 over it, perhaps there were two vandals wanting to be counted. There is a nice hotel where meals are served and a few rustic buildings remembering better days when the Diamond Ranch competed with the French-Glenn Livestock Company.
A ride through Harney and Lake counties is not complete without stopping at the Crack in the Ground near Christmas Valley (population 1300). Christmas Valley was named by a developer from California who was possibly better at marketing than developing. He offered bargain deals for 20 and 40 acre parcels in an area where local residents said it would not be possible to make a living on such small acreage as they struggled to do so on 5,000 acres.
Nevertheless, there is now water and other necessary infrastructure that makes Christmas Valley pleasant.
A three-day excursion from Sutherlin to French Glenn was far short of the time needed to see it all. It does, however, set a notion that this is an often unseen part of Oregon that is deserving of consideration on everyone’s itinerary. Even those of us who are native Oregonians often admit to seldom visiting this vast and amazing part of our state.
Promise yourself to put this on your “Bucket list”.
Greg Henderson, Publisher