Lying immediately west of Baker County, which forms its eastern boundary, is Grant, among the richest in natural resources and one of the least developed of any of the counties in Oregon. It is nearly square in shape, and contains a superficial area of over 5,00 square miles, equal to the combined area of several of the Eastern States. Its population (some six thousand) is engaged chiefly in mining and stock raising.
The educational advantages of Grant County will compare favorably with those in any county of like conditions, sparsely settled communities, and long distances between school houses. But its people are alive to the subject of education. Their politics and religion are of the highest order, and they keep themselves well informed on all questions of the day by subscribing for the metropolitan dailies.
A long distance telephone line from Baker City to Canyon City, and a line from Heppner to Canyon City, afford rapid means of communication with cities far off, and daily stage lines from Sumpter and Heppner afford transportation into this Isolated “Garden of Eden.”
The reason why its agricultural possibilities have not been fully developed is its isolation from navigable rivers or railroads and a misapprehension by the people of the quality and quantity of its arable land. The construction of the Sumpter Valley Company’s line to Sumpter has greatly reduced the distance from the center of population in Grant County to a railroad outlet, 65 miles from Canyon City.
The soil and climate of Grant County are adapted to the raising of the hardier grains, fruits and vegetables. Wheat, oats, barley and hay are the leading crops. The nights are too cool for corn to do well, though corn is raised in the warmer valleys. Apples, pears, plums, cherries and berries of all kinds thrive but peaches cannot be depended upon; yet good peaches are raised in certain portions of the county, where the topography favors them and gives them shelter from the extreme cold. The county is well watered by numerous large and small streams and springs of pure water. The leading varieties of timber are pine, fir and tamarack. Nothing but it detailed description of the county by its natural subdivisions can give an adequate idea of its great agricultural possibilities. In proportion to its total area the amount of arable land is small, but when the numerous valleys are considered by themselves, and their area added together, the result carries the total up far into the millions of acres. Put together in one body, it would make a compact arable tract equal in size to some of the best counties in the State.
There is little land except on the lower John Day and its tributaries that is less than three thousand feet above sea level. Considering the altitude and elevation, one might expect a climate of great severity; but such is not the case. The mercury falls sometimes quite low, but these cold snaps are infrequent and of short duration. Among the mountains, of course, the climate is subject to sudden changes. Although the summers are warm, the heat is not uncomfortable, owing to the dryness and rarity of the atmosphere. The nights are always cool. A spur of the Blue Mountain Range extends westward from the main ridge through the southern part of the county, and the mountains being mostly covered with a dense growth of timber, have the appearance of a vast forest. A closer examination, however, will show that the numerous small valleys and their adjacent foothills occupy a large share of the country. These low foothills are the natural home of the apple, in the production of which fruit Grant County excels. Were we have no San Jose scale, and here the codling moth does not corrupt. The pioneers of Grant County were mostly miners and traders, who expected to sojourn in this land of gold for a short season only, therefore it was several years after the settlement of the John Day Valley. In 1862, before any attention was given to the apple, whose beauty tempted the bearded miners in their youthful days to a violation of the eighth commandment, and in their early manhood and old age was regarded as a necessity to comfortable living.
The mining resources of Grant County have never been fully understood. Gold mining was the first incentive to the settlement of this section by white men, to party of California miners enroute to Auburn in the summer of 1802 having encamped over night on Canyon Creek and discovered gold. The precious metal was also found on every gulch leading down to the John Day River for a distance of six miles, to the eastward. Dixie Creek and the large auriferous area around Susanville next came in for a share in the general excitement incident to the discovery of new diggings, and gold to the amount of many million of dollars was washed from the ground. Unfortunately no record was kept of the output of placer gold. During the last 35 years it has been enormous, for all of these rich placers are still yielding their precious holdings. All through the mountains, sometimes at such an elevation that water cannot be obtained, are scattered relics of old riverbeds and banks of gravel, here and there rich in gold. Quartz mining is practically in its infancy in Grant County. But the infant is growing rapidly. Sacred history tells us that Moses smote the rock when the children of Israel were thirsty for water. In Grant County we are learning to smite the rocks when we are thirsty for gold. Success has crowned our efforts, as it did those of Moses in the long ago.
Quartz mines are being developed in the old placer districts that are simply astonishing in their richness. Space will permit of only a general resume of file quartz mines.
At Quartzburg, near the town of Prairie City, there are a number of gold-bearing ledges, some of which have been worked by arastras and stamp mills for several years with good results. Granite, Robinsonville, Susanville, Spanish Gulch and other sections of the country have created no little stir in quartz mining, depending of course on their stage of development. Canyon City district comprise a large area lying on the foothills and on the mountains to the south, southeast and southwest of town. Development work has not progressed far, but the owners of ledges have met with encouragement wherever investigation has been made. One prospect in particular, a mile and a half from town, gives much encouragement to its discoverer, Mr. Isaac Guker. This ledge is called the Great Northern, and was located in the fall of 1897. On the footwall of a fourteen-foot ledge of good milling ore there is a seam of decomposed quartz two to eight inches wide that has yielded over one hundred dollars to the pan. The gold is mostly what miners call wire gold, but lately Mr. Goiter hits found nuggets or flat chunks of gold, varying in value from forty to over one hundred dollars. At this writing the mine’s are working in a cut which goes not exceed sixteen feet in depth. A cross cut is being run to tap the ledge at a depth of sixty-five feet below the surface, when if this “pocket,” or rich seam is encountered, the excitement incident there to will rival that of the Klondike. Then will the great mineral resources of this region be properly developed and the hidden veins of quartz be made to yield their stores to add to the general wealth. This is the ideal future of Grant County.
The luxuriant bunch grass on Grant County’s hills affords the best kind of pasture for stock, therefore the livestock interests of the county form one of the important Items of its taxable property. During the spring and summer of 1897, outside and local buyers drove out of Grant County no less than 15,000 head of cattle of all grades, and mutton sheep numbering no less than 50,000. The cash returns for these classes of livestock a conservative estimate places at over a quarter of a million dollars.
The natural increase will permit large shipments to be made from the stock ranges of this county during the current year, and still leave the ranges well stocked, as the assessor’s returns do not take into account the increase of last year. The 189,162 head of sheep owned to Grant County at shearing time last year yielded probably on an average of seven pounds of wool, which gave the sheep raisers, aside from their revenue from the sale of mutton sheep something over one and one-quarter million pounds of wool, which was sold at from eight to eleven cents.
The stock Interests have been foremost, to the detriment of the farming industry. This has been brought about by reason of our isolation from the markets of the world.
While the soil and climate of every section of Grant County are each adapted to the production of the finest wheat on the Pacific coast, the lauds are to a great extent utilized for the growing of hay for feeding stock during the winter. Wheat in sufficient quantities only to supply the local demand for flour is grown. The country has three modern flouring mills, at Prairie City, John Day and Long Creek. In the upper part of the John Day Valley, which is the banner grain section of the county, the production of wheat last year did not exceed 30,000 bushels. Oats, barley and rye always yield a good average In Grant County also, but the production of corn is not a successful enterprise, owing to the cool nights.