OTCC Interpretive Kiosk
In downtown Vale
Malheur River and Hot Springs
The emigrants made their way from the Snake River to the Malheur River across what Sarah Sutton, in 1854, described as "the most dusty dry and hot bare desert that any person ever travers'd..." Vale was the point at which they crossed the Malheur river, watered livestock, camped and washed their clothing; many emigrants took advantage of river water heated by nearby hot springs.
"Left camp at 11
o'clock & traveled over a sandy country suffered considerable for water
as the day was exceedingly hot came to a creek about 6 o'clock & never
was water to me more exceptable, though of a very indeifferent quality,
passed down the creek a short distance at the food of a mountain &
found boiling water running out of the ground. It made its appearance just
above the age of the water in the River in a Boiling state for over a hundred
yards it runs more or less. One of our company cooked a fish which he caught
in about two minutes perfectly through."
Short cut Ends in Disaster!
Weary emigrants were only too receptive to any idea that might shorten their journey, especially if it meant avoiding the Blue Mountains. Stephen Meek, pilot of an 1845 emigration, persuaded 200 families camped near this site to follow him on an alternate route across the desert to the upper Willamette Valley. The expedition became stalled at Lost Hollow. Unable to find water to the west, the emigrants turned north and twenty-four died before they reached The Dalles.
"At this place are two trails;
the fork is in the bottom above the crossing of the creek, and there is the
possibility of the emigrants pursuing the wrong route...Mr. Meek, who had
been engaged as our pilot...informed the emigrants that he could, by taaking
up this stream to near its source, and striking across the plains, so as
to intersect the old road near the mouth of the Deschutes or Falls river,
save about one hundred and fifty miles travel; also that he was perfectly
familiar with the country through which the proposed route lay, as he had
traveled it; that no difficulty or danger attended its travel."
Chivalry on the Trail
The Oregon Trail was not a journey to be taken lightly; hardship was the common fare. Boys will be boys however; practical jokes and monkeyshines were not uncommon.
"We were soon joined by a band
of youngsters from another camp, all on horseback. They bantered me
to join them, but I pleaded I was on foot and could not join them, a young
fellow knowing my timidity and awkwardness told me to take his horse, I accepted
and started with them.
Born and Raised on the Oregon Trail
The Malheur River provided much needed water for both Oregon Trail emigrants and their livestock. Nearby hot springs must have provided many an emigrant family with the first hot bath in months of dry and dusty travel. The City of Vale stands today on the same site at which the emigrants camped, and was literally born and raised on the Oregon Trail.
The hot springs were the site of Vale's first structure, described
by Sarah Sutton, emigrant of 1854 as "a hut and tent
occupi'd by a Mr. Turner of Oregon a Trader." These springs were also
the site of Vale's first legitimate building; the Bulley Ranch, owned by
Capt. Jonathan Keeney, a trapper, ferry-man and jack-of-all-trades, who sold
whisky to Oregon Trail emigrants.
Worthy of Consideration
Most Oregon Trail emigrants who camped along the banks of the Malheur River were unimpressed and were eager to trek on toward greener pastures in the Willamette Valley. An anonymous emigrant of 1843 exclaimed: "It is a desert, so rugged, so dreary, and so exceedingly sterile that it cannot, until ages have melted its mountains, until the winds and floods and changes of thousands and thousands of years shall have crumbled into dust its rocks and its sands, yield anything worthy of consideration to the support of human life..."
The discovery of gold in 1863 changed this attitude. The influx of miners created a market for agricultural products first satisfied by the introduction of livestock and produce farming in 1864. Agricultural ventures were flourishing by the 1870's, and the westward flow of livestock across the Oregon trail that marked the previous three decades reversed its course, as massive herds of Oregon horses, cattle and sheep were driven east to market. Miners and farmers comprised the first residents, and they are still a mainstay in this region once described as "so exceedingly sterile."
Legend of the Blue Bucket
"The captain of the company told all of the young
people who had saddle horses to take buckets and go hunt for water. My father,
who was then 23 years old and his sister...took their old blue wooden buckets
and started out to find water. They finally found a dry creek bed which they
followed until they found a place where a little water was seeping through
the gravel, and while father was digging for water his sister saw something
bright and picked it up."
Stephen Meek, pilot of an ill-fated 1845 emigration, successfully
persuaded 200 families to attempt a shortcut around the Blue Mountains.
Although the endeavor proved disastrous, legend holds that in their
desperate search for water the lost emigrants discovered a small amount of