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Pete French Murdered Near Byway

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Pete French has become a legend in Harney County and along the Oregon High Desert Discovery Byway. A rancher and powerful figure in the area in the latter quarter of the 1800’s, he and his business partner Hugh Glenn controlled 100,000 acres, 30,000 head of cattle, and 3,000 horses, but it only took one bullet from the pistol of a disgruntled homesteader to bring him and his empire down. Even though French was unarmed, the homesteader was found innocent by a jury of his peers, a strong indication that French was not beloved by all.

 

A week ago Monday I drove the old highway through the Pete French ranch. For the 83 second video version CLICK HERE.

 

The Oregon High Desert Discovery Byway runs 127 miles from Burns, Oregon, through Frenchglen, and to Fields, Oregon. This is BIG western ranching country, with 50 miles between general stores and often a hundred or more between gas pumps. Even the ranches seem forever apart. With a domain that stretched for 250 miles, it is inevitable that you will be driving through the French – Glen empire. The village of Frenchglen or French Glen grew around a hotel built in the 1920’s to house business guests visiting the French “P” ranch.

 

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"Downtown" Frenchglen with "Historic "Telephone Booth on far Right

 

Frenchglen has a “special” place in my heart. In February 1969 I stuck my 4WD Land Cruiser in mud up to the running boards about 20 miles south of Frenchglen on a misguided adventure to reach the ghost town of Blitzen in wintertime. We were eventually rescued late that night by the foreman of the Roaring Springs Ranch and taken in the bed of his pickup to the closed Frenchglen Hotel, where we begged the privilege of staying the night. Western hospitality being what it is, we were fed and boarded until friends from Bend, Oregon brought winch and truck to haul us out.

 

I have been back just once in the intervening 38 years. I discovered then that the son of one of my friends who came out with truck and winch now runs the hotel! I hoped to see John on this spur of the moment visit, and I think I did...driving one or the vehicles I passed coming toward me about 20 miles north of Frenchglen. At least it was driven by a fellow that looked like I remember John! We exchanged the western road wave, but he was long gone before it dawned on me who it might be.

 

When I arrived at Frenchglen, everything was closed up as tight as a drum. A lone telephone booth where we made a call to friends in Bend for help those many years ago was still at the base of the pole, and the Hotel looked the same as it did nearly 40 years before. All I could do was take a few pictures and head on to Fields, passing the Roaring Springs Ranch on the way.

 

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Frenchglen Hotel

 

The Steens Mountains were hidden in the clouds, but I appreciated that the ribbon of highway, often without middle painted line, was now paved. All in all, the 52 miles between Frenchglen and Fields was uneventful. I grabbed a quick movie shot of the Roaring Springs ranch out the window, but it is now a big complex. “Back when” only the foreman was living there in the winter, and he definitely was not pleased to rescue some city slickers who didn’t have the good sense to stay out of the mud in the winter.

 

Fields has become a regular metropolis in the years since my last visit. I’m not sure what is driving the economy there, but the combination general store, gas station, restaurant and motel looked prosperous, and the Alvord House B&B had six or seven pickups parked out front and a No Vacancy sign.

 

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Fields Station, Oregon

 

I went inside and quickly wished I hadn’t had lunch just a couple of hours ago. I would have enjoyed sitting at the counter and downing a cheese burger. As I stood there the fellow with his back to me in this photo and a ranch hand who had just pulled up in his pickup to buy beer were talking. I heard the store fellow say, “If we stocked that brand, would you buy it regularly?” Ah, the local small businessman in action!

 

I bought a bottle of orange juice and took a photo of the bar/ counter. This is the kind of Mom and Pop business that so endears me to the old two lane roads. Have a soda, get a burger, open the jerky jar and take a strip. How could anyone stand there and not be charmed by the bar stools, the candy, Fudge Brownies, and Oreo cookies for sale, the column of post cards, and the old red Formica counter?

 

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Inside the old Fields Stage Station

 

Fields Station was first established as a roadhouse on the stagecoach line between Winnemucca, Nevada and Burns in 1881. Charles Fields homesteaded at the site of the Fields post office and “kept the travel and freight haulers.” The old stone roadhouse is now the store and restaurant. The photo below is a classic for me. The old style mail box hangs on the 1881 stone stage station walls, the American Flag flies in front, Pabst, Coors, and Bud say “We’re chilled, come in,” the brush waits to wipe the mud off your boots, the broom stands ready to be used to keep the sidewalk in front clean, the ice box...and the satellite dishes. No wonder they say a photo is worth a thousand words!

 

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Old 1881 Stage Station, now General Store at Fields.

 

 

This is the south terminus of the Oregon High Desert Discovery Byway. I departed the old Fields stage station, then headed south, though Denio and on to Winnemucca, 90 miles beyond Denio. The Winnemucca part of the trip will follow in another post.

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Wow, sounds like a great time and love the photos!!

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Good stuff.

 

I've been busier than usual so, even though I can see posts going by and even steal a minute here and there to read them, I have little time to respond. The videos present an additional problem since I can't easily listen to the audio here even if I did sneak the videos in. I did manage to catch up on most of the videos (including this one) last night and found them quite enjoyable. With long standing addictions to both a pay check and sleep, I didn't take the time to respond so am sneaking in a quick response now. I'll catch up eventually.

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Good stuff.

 

I've been busier than usual so, even though I can see posts going by and even steal a minute here and there to read them, I have little time to respond. The videos present an additional problem since I can't easily listen to the audio here even if I did sneak the videos in. I did manage to catch up on most of the videos (including this one) last night and found them quite enjoyable. With long standing addictions to both a pay check and sleep, I didn't take the time to respond so am sneaking in a quick response now. I'll catch up eventually.

 

Denny,

 

Thanks for the reply! It amazes me that you manage to travel, write, share your travels here, work, and comment. I am retired and manage to do less than half your output.

 

With video capability built into most digital cameras now, it is obviously easy (too easy) to take supporting movies. I have thousands of feet of movie film and packing crates full of videos I have taken over the years, mostly worthless. I won’t even watch them myself!! But there are some interesting pluses that I hadn’t recognized until Mobilene used a few.

 

The obvious is that you can get a better “feel for the area” with a video. The less obvious is that you can do a respectable 640 X 400 frame grab with some digital cameras so the still you didn’t take can be grabbed from the video. That turned out to be important with the Stewart comparison on Golconda Pass.

 

The video server I am using is the one Mobilene uses (Vimeo.com). It works well and I like it because it allows full screen play, and at least on my hookup, streams the video so I get immediate playback. I have found that the quality differs with the video input format. Raw AVI out of the camera works great, but mpeg2 out of my Adobe editing program is converted with lots of artifacts, at least in my limited experience. I won’t know where the artifacts originate until I experiment more.

 

Well, I have to get to the American Road Hitching Post for some Christmas shopping. Did you notice their great new items?

 

Keep the Show on the Road! Dave

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