John Skinner wrote a book, “High Desert Promise, A legacy of the Skinner Family.” For information about buying a copy, visit the Web at http://www.skinnerfamilynw.org/.

The following submission has not been edited for content, grammar or spelling.

By John Skinner

 

          Skinner family history began in 1834 with the birth of Silas Skinner on the Isle of Man. Silas became a sailor at about age twelve and sailed the world’s seas until 1862. That year he left his ship in the San Francisco Bay area and went to work in the Comstock gold and silver mines in Nevada.

 

           In the autumn of 1862, word arrived in Comstock, that miners discovered gold in significantly large quantities in the Boise Basin area in the Territory of Idaho.

The challenge proved to be overwhelming. Silas, along with an acquaintance, each with a mule to carry their meager supplies, began walking north. They wintered in Carson City, Nevada and continuing their trek, arrived in Idaho City, the center of the mining industry in that area, early in the Spring of 1863.

 

          Silas soon became a close friend of a prospector named Michael Jordan, who while leading group of prospectors into the Owyhee Mountains discovered, and staked claims on a heavy concentration of gold on an unnamed creek. The group named the creek “Jordan Creek” in Michael Jordan’s honor and their discovery of the high concentration of gold became the impetus for the later very rapid development of a number of high producing mines in the area, and where Silver City would soon develop into a major city.

 

          Silas established several mining claims of his own that summer, but soon became aware of the extreme difficulties facing the mining industry in transporting mining equipment into the mining area, as well as transporting smeltered gold out to California refineries. Pack strings made up of hundreds of horses and mules were employed, but these were extremely slow and cumbersome causing costly delays and slowdowns in production. Additionally, snow during the winter months ended all travel into the mining area until snowmelt in the spring.

 

Silas noted the problem and remarked, “There is a better way.” He conducted a visual survey of the area, and decided on the best route for a road down Jordan Creek to the Owyhee River. A partnership made up of Skinner, Michael Jordan, his brother, James, and a fellow miner named Peter Donnely was formed to build the road.

The previous access to the mining area followed the Cow Creek drainage southwest to near Hooker Creek, then a generally southern route to the Owyhee River.

Jordan Valley became a gathering place for packstrings, freight wagons and miners while they waited for snowmelt to get to the mining area.

The route Skinner chose for his road followed down Jordan Creek on an ancient game trail, also used by natives on trading missions. He surmised his chosen route would be fewer miles, and could be more easily maintained. He also decided to place the road on the north side of the Jordan Creek to make it more accessible to the winter sun, and allow year round travel. The tools available to the road builders consisted primarily of mining tool such as picks, shovels, crowbars, and dynamite, and a yoke of oxen owned by Skinner. Construction began in the fall of 1863 and continued for about twenty miles to the small settlement of Jordan Valley. West of Jordan Valley, the road joined the Overland and Humboldt trails, continuing on west to the Owyhee River. Surveys of the country had not been completed at this time, and the Owyhee River was considered the dividing line between the state of Oregon, and the Territory of Idaho.  

During this same time, the partners also bought, repaired, and opened an existing toll road known as The Reynolds Creek Road. The Reynolds Creek toll road had been set up to gain access to the mining area from the Blue Mountain Trail, that originated at The Dalles, Oregon, and  running eastward through the Blue Mountains into the Snake River Basin. With both roads under their control, the partners controlled all access of freight wagons, stagecoach travel, and livestock, freight and mail into and out of the Owyhee Mountains mining area. In late 1865, with the toll road completed and providing year around availability for travel, Skinner went to the Idaho Legislature and applied for franchises that were granted in early 1866.

          In 1870, with both toll roads in operation and becoming very busy, Skinner returned to the Isle of Man and married Anne Jane Callow, his childhood sweetheart. He brought her to Ruby City, a small mining town soon to be encompassed by Silver City. and with her assistance continued the operation of both toll roads. William Silas, the couple’s first child, was born in 1871. When Will, was about a year old, they moved from down Jordan Creek to its’confluence with Trout Creek where Silas had built what became known as “The Trout Creek Stage Station” on the toll road about midway between Silver City and The Sheep Ranch, and began raising their family. Four more children, Carrie, Annabelle, Thomas, and Ellen who died at age two, were born at Trout Creek.

          In 1878, the Owyhee County Commissioners elected to take over and maintain all the roads in the county, so Skinner and his partners gave up operation of  the Toll Road, and traded the Trout Creek Station for property about thirteen miles west of the little settlement of Jordan Valley. He moved his horse herd and what cattle he owned to the new place that has grown into The Skinner Ranch in Jordan Valley.

          During this time, Silas continued to build up his horse herd improving his mares by introducing Standard bred breeding and acquiring trotting horse stallions from the east. These trotting horses were sold to the near by ranches and,150 each year, driven to California to sell to the city of San Francisco as teams to pull ambulances, fire trucks, streetcars, and other uses. Will Skinner used to tell of how he drove horses to California as a boy of 13, herded horses on pasture all day as a boy of seven, and took over management of the family’s horse operation in Jordan Valley at age 15 after his father’s death.

          Silas was injured in a fall from a horse, breaking several ribs and puncturing his lung. In an attempt to aid healing and on the advice of doctors, Anne and Silas moved their trotting horse operation to Napa, California and purchased a ranch on Big Ranch Road in 1884. He continued to travel back and forth between Napa and Jordan Valley until his health declined further. Silas died in 1886 at age 52 and was buried in Napa, California.

          Anne Jane sold half interest in the Jordan Valley ranch to Will and Ella in1891, and two years later, she sold the other half and her remaining cattle and horses. She remained in Napa to raise the rest of her young family. Will and Ella are our grandparents.

When Silas operated the Old Skinner Place it was located along, Jordan Creek depended on a system of open range with year-round grazing to feed the animals. He raised horses and had few cattle.

As Will and Ella assumed management of the Skinner place, they enlarged operations, switched from horses to cattle, began clearing the land, developed an irrigation system, and started putting up hay for winter instead of year-round grazing. Our Dad, Kirt Skinner, used to tell of the Indians being hired to clear the land and playing with the children, Sarah Winnemucca, in particular.

Will and Ella had nine children and in 1916 began building a large home on the Skinner Ranch, primitive by today’s standards but state of the art by standards of the time. This was one big three-story house built of fine materials and meant to accommodate the large family but also provide for guests, extended family members, and feeding hired men.

There was a pressure water system from the hand-dug well in the rock house, a carbide lighting system provided lighting throughout the house. Water was piped through the kitchen cooking range, heated, and stored in an un-insulated hot water tank for use in the kitchen and bathroom. Facilities in the bathroom on the ground floor consisted of a basin and a bathtub. Because of the number of family members, and guests, pressure and temperature were difficult to maintain so the stove was kept going from early morning until night and it was necessary to pump up the pressure tank often. No inside plumbing was present but rather an outhouse served the family and made for a long cold walk on a winter night.

Heating in the large home was inadequate. The large potbellied wood and coal stove in the living room and the wood cooking stove were not enough to heat the house. There were accommodations for three stoves in the upstairs but, for fear of fire, they were rarely used. Later we added an oil stove in one of the downstairs rooms but it did little to warm the upper stories. With four bedrooms and sleeping porches on second floor, the temperatures made for speedy dressing and heading downstairs for breakfast.

          Later Mom and Dad added a coal furnace to help heat the house. Sagebrush remained the fuel of choice for the wood stoves and the children were given the chore to haul in the wood and coal to keep the home fires burning. Mom cooked on a wood stove until 1947 when electricity came to the ranch and, even then, wasn’t sure she could completely trust the electric range to give the same quality results she had with the wood stove.

 

Recreation

          In the 1800’s when Silas and Anne Jane Skinner ran the Trout Creek Grade Station, friends would come for an evening of dancing which stopped at midnight. They would then be served a supper prepared by Anne and her Chinese cook and then the dancing would continue often lasting until morning or into the next day. Very often, the guests would spend the night when they came to visit, distance and travel being difficult especially with small children and elderly people along. Visiting the neighbors was the only way people had to keep abreast of the news in the community and up with their social contacts, do business, and trade. Anne’s reputation as a competent host and cook was well known and stays at the station were highly recommended.

We were not told a lot, about what the children did for recreation at the Station but they were young when the Skinners lived there. We are told they helped keep locusts out of the garden by beating on pans, so undoubtedly they had a number of other games to play besides scare the bugs!

After Anne and Silas moved to the old Skinner place, this visiting tradition continued. Visiting was the newspaper and social calendar of the day. It kept the community connected and appraised of the needs, and events of the area and helped everyone survive in the remote area. The get-togethers were a way of meeting newcomers to the area, giving the people something to do in an area so far removed from commercial entertainment, and allow them to keep abreast of the news of the nation and the world even though that was delayed in reaching the area.

When Anne moved to Napa, she put her younger children in school and they were introduced to the social scene of Napa participating in dancing, cards, and parties of the area. On his annual horse drives to California, young Will’s brothers and sisters would introduce him to the gentler side of society. It was at one of these dances that he would meet his future bride, Ella Sackett, a young socialite and the daughter of a prominent ranching family.

Will and Ella had nine children and although Will did not read much but Ella had accumulated a store of books and she made sure that the children could read and, as an accomplished musician, she hosted many social events with music, dancing, and sing-longs. She played the piano assisted by other musicians in the community. Box socials, parties to meet the new teacher or new people in the community, all were ways to interact with the neighbors.

One box social was a costume event and our mother, Johanna had gone on ahead to the party. Dad went to the party, bid on what he thought was Mom’s basket and joined her on the sidelines, and “cozied-up” to her, snuggling a bit really. The costumed woman snuggled back. When the basket was awarded…and the lass unmasked…it was the neighbor across the creek and not Mom. Dad had been tricked! They all laughed for years about the deception and high price paid for the basket.

While we were growing up, Mom and Dad were trying desperately to save the ranch from foreclosure and there was not money for parties and all the entertaining that Ella had done. Neighbors still got together but there were potluck suppers, homemade equipment. We did not feel deprived because no one had any money and we were all in the same boat trying to save our homes and our livelihood. We helped our parents as children but we had time to play also.

 We read, played cards especially 500 or cribbage. Music was important—dancing, sing-along around the piano, Bill fashioned a violin and taught himself how to play and we danced, Bob played harmonica and chorded on the piano, and Dad a harmonica. Oh, the fun we had!

Outside, we made skis out of barrel staves and skied in the fields and Skinner Ridge behind the house. We skated on the sloughs in winter, swam in the creek in the summer, picnicked in the summer, and once we even camped out on South Mountain with Grandpa Will. Danner had a baseball team and we played the team from Jordan Valley so were able to know some of the kids from town. We saw them when we went to church in town but we did not go to town often so it was a treat to go for a social occasion.

One other activity enjoyed by the men working on the ranch and all of us too was pitching horseshoes. In the evening after supper when the day cooled, the familiar sound of horseshoes clinking off stakes or the cheering when a ringer would be pitched was common. There were races, rasslin’ matches, water fights, repairing equipment for the next day, or listening to the stories someone would tell about the history or listening to the discussions they held.  

Another recreation several members of the family had was gardening, flowers in particular. Ella had a sizeable flower garden on the south side of her house and planted many poplar trees and shrubs which still stand ringing and bisecting the grounds of her old home now occupied by Bob and Karen Skinner.

This same flower garden space was Cathy’s zinnia, marigold, and annual garden and was a bright greeting to visitors when she and Dan lived in the old ranch house. Kirt loved flowers also and he, Sara, and Cathy all grew roses tending their bushes with a race to produce the first blossom of the season.

 

Education on the Ranch

 

Anne and Silas saw to it that Will attended school about two months each summer. He rode his horse about nine miles each way. After two months, the school closed and he was kept busy herding horses.  

Two years later the teacher got married and Will’s education came to an end until he and his sister Carrie were sent to Ohio for more formal education at ages 10 and 8 respectively. The siblings stayed for two years.

In an area as remote as Jordan Valley, many of the families hired a teacher to teach their children or sent them to the neighboring ranches for schooling. The Skinners hired a teacher to teach their younger children and school held in the ranch headquarters, a building that still stands today. One of the teachers that were hired was Johanna Murray, young Scottish lass who had immigrated to Drewsey, Oregon with her uncle Alexander McKenzie. Miss Murray or Jo as the Skinners called her, taught one year.

The next year she was unable to return so Will and Ella hired Edith Jones from Ohio to teach for one year. When Miss Murray did return to teach in 1915, she caught young Silas’s eye and the two were married in 1917. Later, Edith Jones and Harold Skinner were married in 1919.

Kirt and Johanna had teachers at the ranch for their children until a school district formed, District #69, and a one-room schoolhouse was built between the Ruby Ranch and Skinner Ranch. This school housed grades one through ten and served families on our side of the creek. Another school and district existed on the other side of the creek. There was a car/school bus to take us to school when the roads were good but when it was muddy, we went in a buggy or a wagon. Some of the other students walked to school, rode horses, or drove teams. There was a barn at school to put the horses in while classes were in session.

One room schools were common and Jordan Valley had a high school.  Our Mom and Dad decided that we needed exposure to a bigger area and more education so we went to Caldwell our last two years of high school and boarded with Uncle Harold and Aunt Edith or other families.

It is often said that teachers never make it out of town in the Jordan Valley area but marry and stay instead. In the Skinner family Dan and Bob Jr. both married teachers. Cathy Ross was a high school science teacher in Jordan Valley and Karen McKay taught elementary school at Rockville and Jordan Valley Elementary. Even Kirt would remarry a former teacher, Doris Burgess, after Johanna’s death in 1972.

 

Losing the Ranch and the Depression

 

          Will was overextended and the economy of the nation collapsing in the late to mid 1920’s. Banks were failing and the bondholders who had backed the banks were more insistent on having a debt retired annually despite falling hay and livestock prices. Payments were being made on the debt but not sufficient to retire the debt or satisfy the bondholders. The bondholders required livestock and feed be sold to make the debt payment until finally, after the market crash of 1929 and the Depression, the ranch was foreclosed in 1931.

          Kirt Skinner, his brothers, Harold, Hugh, and his sister, Verna, worked for the bondholders to run the ranch while it remained on the market. In 1938, Kirt and Johanna were finally able to purchase the ranch from the bondholders but Will Skinner was not permitted to be a part of the agreement or borrow money.

          Times were tough during these years. We grew a garden, made clothes, canned, baked bread, and pinched pennies as never before. The spirit of cooperation between neighbors grew. We were all in the same boat-- poor and struggling to save our homes and businesses. Bob, Dan, and Chris all remember men walking to the ranch offering to work for a place to sleep and something to eat. The Depression, the poverty, seeing the desperation caused by the Dust Bowl had a huge impact on our Dad and all of us and was probably the cause of our watching every penny when we owned the ranch and even now in retirement. Will Skinner could never admit that he had lost the ranch and passed away at the ranch in 1960.

 

The Stories

Humorous Events:

 

Rattlesnakes:

 

 Jordan Valley has a variety of snakes including garden or, water snakes, blue racers, bull snakes, and the more dangerous rattlesnake.  It is not unusual to find any one of those during the summer months in the fields, out on the range, and around the buildings. They are in fact, a valuable asset to the agricultural industry because they do away with millions of mice, small rabbits, and squirrels. The variety of rattler’s in Eastern Oregon, actually are much less dangerous than some other varieties of rattlers. Still, they are not to be toyed with and can be dangerous.

 

I do not remember this episode, but as a toddler, just beginning to walk and talk, I happened upon a rattler in the yard near our house. Dan, my older brother, observed the event and ran for our mother who quickly intervened in my play. She found me teasing the rattler with a short little stick, and when questioned, I told her, “He was yawning at me,” which means the snake was striking at me. There is no question there is a higher power watching over the young, the helpless, and the uninitiated.  

 

          On the subject of snakes, the Skinner’s were noted for gathering around the piano and singing. One summer evening, a sing along was going on, the doors were open to let in a cooling breeze. A number of the hired men had also joined the group, some just listening and some joining in the songfest. Suddenly, someone noticed that a large bull snake had entered the festivities, but was having a very difficult time making his way across the linoleum-covered floor. It had crawled up several stairs, through two doors, and into the living room. One of the hired men calmly picked the snake up and deposited it outside well away from the house. Was it the music, the lights, or the noise? We will never know what attracted the snake.  

 

 

Irrigation:

 

Malheur County does not get a great deal of annual precipitation and adequate irrigation water depends almost entirely on mountain snowfall. There are times of course when in the event of a light snowfall; irrigation water becomes a very precious commodity to farmers and ranchers. Such was the case when an irrigator found his ditch going dry in the middle of irrigating his crop. Believing the ditch had broken, he took his shovel and started up the ditch to find and correct the problem. He was quite surprised to find the neighbor woman, a quite portly soul, sitting in the ditch using her body to divert the water into her garden, which she explained, needed water. She also explained she was taking the opportunity to bathe at the same time. We do not know the result of this event.

 

Prohibition

During the early 1920’s and 1930’s, the area around Jordan Valley was remote, and rarely visited by law enforcement of any kind. America, in an attempt to legislate sobriety among the citizens passed the Prohibition Act. It failed and was scrapped in 1933. During the time, the act was in effect, Americans who wanted to drink booze, made it themselves, and made millions selling it to others. Because of the        remoteness of the area, illegal distilleries sprang up in many out of the way places       that were safe from detection. It is not known if this story is true, or if it is, where in the area it took place, or the name of the family involved, but it went something like this...

 

The family involved, had constructed a clandestine “still” out of sight of the rest of the world, and recently had drained off a keg of moonshine. At about the same time, they had run out of supplies and were preparing to make what would be a full day’s trip into town to stock up, most likely using cash acquired from the sale of their moonshine. They hitched the mules up to the buggy, loaded the family, with the exception of grandma, who was not feeling well, and who elected to stay home. They were pulling away when somebody remembered the keg of moonshine. It would not be a good idea to leave granny alone with a keg of booze, so they tied ropes on the keg and pulled it up into a tree where granny could not reach it and proceeded on their way to town.

 

         When they came home much later that evening, there lay granny sound asleep under the tree, and obviously “drunker than hell.” She had proven herself quite resourceful and was not to be denied. She dragged a washtub, a tin cup, and a rifle out to the tree, shot a hole in the keg, drained the moonshine into the tub, and proceeded to slake her thirst.

 

Animal husbandry and homespun veterinary solutions

         It was springtime, the alfalfa growing in the field promised to be a bumper crop. The owner made sure his cows could not get into that field knowing that rapidly growing alfalfa would cause animals to bloat. However, one old cow looked across the fence and decided the feed looked better than where she was. By hook, or by crook, she climbed through, and over the fence and filled up on the alfalfa. It was not long before she puffed up like a toad. The owner hastened to a neighbor, and asked for advice on how to treat a bloated animal. He was told to take a very small knife, and measure a hand's width ahead of the animal’s hipbone and carefully puncture a very small hole. The result of course, was that the cow died.

When the neighbor asked what sort of knife the owner had used, he told him because the cow was so bloated; he decided to use a large butcher knife. A sad ending to the story, but the cow would have probably died without the surgery from either knife...

 

The Changes

Humorous Events:

 

Rattlesnakes:

 

 Jordan Valley has a variety of snakes including garden or, water snakes, blue racers, bull snakes, and the more dangerous rattlesnake.  It is not unusual to find any one of those during the summer months in the fields, out on the range, and around the buildings. They are in fact, a valuable asset to the agricultural industry because they do away with millions of mice, small rabbits, and squirrels. The variety of rattlers in Eastern Oregon, actually are much less dangerous than some other varieties of rattlers. Still, they are not to be toyed with and can be dangerous.

 

I do not remember this episode, but as a toddler, just beginning to walk and talk, I happened upon a rattler in the yard near our house. Dan, my older brother, observed the event and ran for our mother who quickly intervened in my play. She found me teasing the rattler with a short little stick, and when questioned, I told her, “He was yawning at me,” which means the snake was striking at me. There is no question there is a higher power watching over the young, the helpless, and the uninitiated.  

 

          On the subject of snakes, the Skinners were known for gathering around the piano and singing. One summer evening, a sing along was going on, the doors were open to let in a cooling breeze. A number of the hired men had also joined the group, some just listening and some joining in the songfest. Suddenly, someone noticed that a large bull snake had entered the festivities, but was having a very difficult time making his way across the linoleum-covered floor. It had crawled up several stairs, through two doors, and into the living room. One of the hired men calmly picked the snake up and deposited it outside well away from the house. Was it the music, the lights, or the noise? We will never know what attracted the snake.  

Irrigation:

 

Malheur County does not get a great deal of annual precipitation and adequate irrigation water depends almost entirely on mountain snowfall. There are times of course when in the event of a light snowfall; irrigation water becomes a very precious commodity to farmers and ranchers. Such was the case when an irrigator found his ditch going dry in the middle of irrigating his crop. Believing the ditch had broken, he took his shovel and started up the ditch to find and correct the problem. He was quite surprised to find the neighbor woman, a quite portly soul, sitting in the ditch using her body to divert the water into her garden, which she explained, needed water. She also explained she was taking the opportunity to bathe at the same time. We do not know the result of this event.

 

Prohibition

During the early 1920’s and 1930’s, the area around Jordan Valley was remote, and rarely visited by law enforcement of any kind. America, in an attempt to legislate sobriety among the citizens passed the Prohibition Act. It failed and was scrapped in 1933. During the time, the act was in effect, Americans who wanted to drink booze, made it themselves, and made millions selling it to others... Because of the        remoteness of the area, illegal distilleries sprang up in many out of the way places       that were safe from detection. It is not known if this story is true, or if it is, where in the area it took place, or the name of the family involved, but it went something like this...

 

The family involved, had constructed a clandestine “still” out of sight of the rest of the world, and recently had drained off a keg of moonshine. At about the same time, they had run out of supplies and were preparing to make what would be a full days' trip into town to stock up, most likely using cash acquired from the sale of their moonshine. They hitched the mules up to the buggy, loaded the family, with the exception of grandma, who was not feeling well, and who elected to stay home. They were pulling away when somebody remembered the keg of moonshine. It would not be a good idea to leave granny alone with a keg of booze, so they tied ropes on the keg and pulled it up into a tree where granny could not reach it and proceeded on their way to town.

 

         When they came home much later that evening, there lay granny sound asleep under the tree, and obviously “drunker than hell.” She had proven herself quite resourceful and was not to be denied. She dragged a washtub, a tin cup, and a rifle out to the tree, shot a hole in the keg, drained the moonshine into the tub, and proceeded to slake her thirst.

 

Animal husbandry and homespun veterinary solutions

         It was springtime, the alfalfa growing in the field promised to be a bumper crop. The owner made sure his cows could not get into that field knowing that rapidly growing alfalfa would cause animals to bloat. However, one old cow looked across the fence and decided the feed looked better than where she was. By hook, or by crook, she climbed through, and over the fence and filled up on the alfalfa. It was not long before she puffed up like a toad. The owner hastened to a neighbor, and asked for advice on how to treat a bloated animal. He was told to take a very small knife, and measure a hands width ahead of the animal’s hipbone and carefully puncture a very small hole. The result of course, was that the cow died.

When the neighbor asked what sort of knife the owner had used, he told him because the cow was so bloated; he decided to use a large butcher knife. A sad ending to the story, but the cow would have probably died without the surgery from either knife...

 

 

 

Humorous Events:

 

Rattlesnakes:

 

 Jordan Valley has a variety of snakes including garden or, water snakes, blue racers, bull snakes, and the more dangerous rattlesnake. It is not unusual to find any one of those during the summer months in the fields, out on the range, and around the buildings. They are in fact, a valuable asset to the agricultural industry because they do away with millions of mice, small rabbits, and squirrels. The variety of rattler’s in Eastern Oregon, actually are much less dangerous than some other varieties of rattlers. Still, they are not to be toyed with and can be dangerous.

 

I do not remember this episode, but as a toddler, just beginning to walk and talk, I happened upon a rattler in the yard near our house. Dan, my older brother, observed the event and ran for our mother who quickly intervened in my play. She found me teasing the rattler with a short little stick, and when questioned, I told her, “He was yawning at me,” which means the snake was striking at me. There is no question there is a higher power watching over the young, the helpless, and the uninitiated.  

 

          On the subject of snakes, the Skinners were known for gathering around the piano and singing. One summer evening, a sing along was going on, the doors were open to let in a cooling breeze. A number of the hired men had also joined the group, some just listening and some joining in the songfest. Suddenly, someone noticed that a large bull snake had entered the festivities, but was having a very difficult time making his way across the linoleum-covered floor. It had crawled up several stairs, through two doors, and into the living room. One of the hired men calmly picked the snake up and deposited it outside well away from the house. Was it the music, the lights, or the noise? We will never know what attracted the snake.  

 

 

Irrigation:

 

Malheur County does not get a great deal of annual precipitation and adequate irrigation water depends almost entirely on mountain snowfall. There are times of course when in the event of a light snowfall; irrigation water becomes a very precious commodity to farmers and ranchers. Such was the case when an irrigator found his ditch going dry in the middle of irrigating his crop. Believing the ditch had broken, he took his shovel and started up the ditch to find and correct the problem. He was quite surprised to find the neighbor woman, a quite portly soul, sitting in the ditch using her body to divert the water into her garden, which she explained, needed water. She also explained she was taking the opportunity to bathe at the same time. We do not know the result of this event.

 

Prohibition

During the early 1920’s and 1930’s, the area around Jordan Valley was remote, and rarely visited by law enforcement of any kind. America, in an attempt to legislate sobriety among the citizens passed the Prohibition Act. It failed and was scrapped in 1933. During the time, the act was in effect, Americans who wanted to drink booze, made it themselves, and made millions selling it to others... Because of the        remoteness of the area, illegal distilleries sprang up in many out of the way places       that were safe from detection. It is not known if this story is true, or if it is, where in the area it took place, or the name of the family involved, but it went something like this...

 

The family involved, had constructed a clandestine “still” out of sight of the rest of the world, and recently had drained off a keg of moonshine. At about the same time, they had run out of supplies and were preparing to make what would be a full days' trip into town to stock up, most likely using cash acquired from the sale of their moonshine. They hitched the mules up to the buggy, loaded the family, with the exception of grandma, who was not feeling well, and who elected to stay home. They were pulling away when somebody remembered the keg of moonshine. It would not be a good idea to leave granny alone with a keg of booze, so they tied ropes on the keg and pulled it up into a tree where granny could not reach it and proceeded on their way to town.

 

         When they came home much later that evening, there lay granny sound asleep under the tree, and obviously “drunker than hell.” She had proven herself quite resourceful and was not to be denied. She dragged a washtub, a tin cup, and a rifle out to the tree, shot a hole in the keg, drained the moonshine into the tub, and proceeded to slake her thirst.

 

 

 

 

Animal husbandry and homespun veterinary solutions

         It was springtime, the alfalfa growing in the field promised to be a bumper crop. The owner made sure his cows could not get into that field knowing that rapidly growing alfalfa would cause animals to bloat. However, one old cow looked across the fence and decided the feed looked better than where she was. By hook, or by crook, she climbed through, and over the fence and filled up on the alfalfa. It was not long before she puffed up like a toad. The owner hastened to a neighbor, and asked for advice on how to treat a bloated animal. He was told to take a very small knife, and measure a hand's width ahead of the animal’s hipbone and carefully puncture a very small hole. The result of course, was that the cow died.

When the neighbor asked what sort of knife the owner had used, he told him because the cow was so bloated; he decided to use a large butcher knife. A sad ending to the story, but the cow would have probably died without the surgery from either knife...

 

The Changes

Humorous Events:

 

Rattlesnakes:

 

 Jordan Valley has a variety of snakes including garden or, water snakes, blue racers, bull snakes, and the more dangerous rattlesnake. It is not unusual to find any one of those during the summer months in the fields, out on the range, and around the buildings. They are in fact, a valuable asset to the agricultural industry because they do away with millions of mice, small rabbits, and squirrels. The variety of rattler’s in Eastern Oregon, actually are much less dangerous than some other varieties of rattlers. Still, they are not to be toyed with and can be dangerous.

 

I do not remember this episode, but as a toddler, just beginning to walk and talk, I happened upon a rattler in the yard near our house. Dan, my older brother, observed the event and ran for our mother who quickly intervened in my play. She found me teasing the rattler with a short little stick, and when questioned, I told her, “He was yawning at me,” which means the snake was striking at me. There is no question there is a higher power watching over the young, the helpless, and the uninitiated.  

 

          On the subject of snakes, the Skinners were known for gathering around the piano and singing. One summer evening, a sing along was going on, the doors were open to let in a cooling breeze. A number of the hired men had also joined the group, some just listening and some joining in the songfest. Suddenly, someone noticed that a large bull snake had entered the festivities, but was having a very difficult time making his way across the linoleum-covered floor. It had crawled up several stairs, through two doors, and into the living room. One of the hired men calmly picked the snake up and deposited it outside well away from the house. Was it the music, the lights, or the noise? We will never know what attracted the snake.  

 

 

Irrigation:

 

Malheur County does not get a great deal of annual precipitation and adequate irrigation water depends almost entirely on mountain snowfall. There are times of course when in the event of a light snowfall; irrigation water becomes a very precious commodity to farmers and ranchers. Such was the case when an irrigator found his ditch going dry in the middle of irrigating his crop. Believing the ditch had broken, he took his shovel and started up the ditch to find and correct the problem. He was quite surprised to find the neighbor woman, a quite portly soul, sitting in the ditch using her body to divert the water into her garden, which she explained, needed water. She also explained she was taking the opportunity to bathe at the same time. We do not know the result of this event.

 

Prohibition

During the early 1920’s and 1930’s, the area around Jordan Valley was remote, and rarely visited by law enforcement of any kind. America, in an attempt to legislate sobriety among the citizens passed the Prohibition Act. It failed and was scrapped in 1933. During the time, the act was in effect, Americans who wanted to drink booze, made it themselves, and made millions selling it to others... Because of the        remoteness of the area, illegal distilleries sprang up in many out of the way places       that were safe from detection. It is not known if this story is true, or if it is, where     in the area it took place, or the name of the family involved, but it went something          like this...

 

The family involved, had constructed a clandestine “still” out of sight of the rest of the world, and recently had drained off a keg of moonshine. At about the same time, they had run out of supplies and were preparing to make what would be a full days' trip into town to stock up, most likely using cash acquired from the sale of their moonshine. They hitched the mules up to the buggy, loaded the family, with the exception of grandma, who was not feeling well, and who elected to stay home. They were pulling away when somebody remembered the keg of moonshine. It would not be a good idea to leave granny alone with a keg of booze, so they tied ropes on the keg and pulled it up into a tree where granny could not reach it and proceeded on their way to town.

 

         When they came home much later that evening, there lay granny sound asleep under the tree, and obviously “drunker than hell.” She had proven herself quite resourceful and was not to be denied. She dragged a washtub, a tin cup, and a rifle out to the tree, shot a hole in the keg, drained the moonshine into the tub, and proceeded to slake her thirst.

 

 

 

 

Animal husbandry and homespun veterinary solutions

         It was springtime, the alfalfa growing in the field promised to be a bumper crop. The owner made sure his cows could not get into that field knowing that rapidly growing alfalfa would cause animals to bloat. However, one old cow looked across the fence and decided the feed looked better than where she was. By hook, or by crook, she climbed through, and over the fence and filled up on the alfalfa. It was not long before she puffed up like a toad. The owner hastened to a neighbor, and asked for advice on how to treat a bloated animal. He was told to take a very small knife, and measure a hands width ahead of the animal’s hipbone and carefully puncture a very small hole. The result of course, was that the cow died.

When the neighbor asked what sort of knife the owner had used, he told him because the cow was so bloated; he decided to use a large butcher knife. A sad ending to the story, but the cow would have probably died without the surgery from either knife...

 

 

                             CHANGES –HORSES TO MACHINERY –GRAZING PRACTICES

 

           Many changes’ have occurred in ranch operations since Silas Skinner’s early days. One of the most significant would be the change from complete dependency on horses for power and transportation to the modern era of machinery, autos, and trucks. Teams were the source of power for all farming practices and transportation. Cattle were driven by men on horseback to market, wherever that might be. The old buggy was the mode of travel to visit with a neighbor or make a trip to town for supplies, most of which had been freighted in to Jordan Valley on wagons drawn by long teams of horses. The machine age has eliminated the horse except for saddle horses used in caring for the cattle. Haying has changed from stacking loose hay with a large derrick and then pitched out in the winter with pitchforks to being baled in huge round bales and fed to the livestock using large machines. Cattle are transported to market in large trucks.

The grazing of livestock has also gone through a complete transformation. Unregulated year round grazing as to time, numbers, and or class of livestock has changed to a complex system using pastures, watering systems, and time of use along with controlled numbers. This has resulted in both improved range conditions and easier livestock management.

 The Skinner Ranch continues to occupy the same property and grow considerably since 1878. A number of years ago, the current operators added an additional ranch nearer the town of Jordan Valley. Every one of the now seven generations of the Skinner family who have lived and worked on this ranch has continued to improve it.  

 

 

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