Bridgeport, Baker County, Oregon

Bridgeport:  A vital link between early Baker City and the mines and farms of Burnt River Valley. Bridgeport marks the south end of the Dooley Mt. Toll Road.

 The Clarks Creek-Bridgeport Story

     First things come first - Gold was discovered on Clarks Creek around 1862. According to the story handed down, a group of miners enroute to the Idaho placer mines took the shortest route by way of Clarks Creek, Morman Basin and on down to the Snake River. A man by the name of Clark accidentally shot himself in the foot. While waiting for him to recuperate, the others panned the gravel bars close by. They found gold and went no farther. Word soon got around; soon the population of Clarksville was 200, with smaller population of Chinese.

     About the time of the gold discovery, a man by the name of Koontz came to look for gold, but, being an enterprising fellow, saw the need for lumber to supply the needs of the miners for housing as well as sluice boxes. He found timber close by and set up a whip-saw, but later ditches indicated he used water. To supply the demand for lumber he set up a much larger mill on Burnt River ten miles to the west of Clarksville, again using water power. At Clarksville, there was a post office, a store of sorts, at least one saloon, a slaughterhouse and a boardinghouse to accommodate the miners. The boardinghouse was operated by my grandmother, Johanna Elliott, the Justice of the Peace.

     One story is handed down about a couple who rode horse back from Ironside to be married by the Justice of the Peace. He was super tall and she was rather short. Some of the miners speculated how they held hands during the ceremony. The remark was made, "They didn't. She just ran her arm through his boot strap."

     Later at Clarks Creek, two different dredges were used to run the gold-bearing gravel that either was mined by the early miners or was too deep to be mined profitably. The first dredge was started at the mouth of Clarks Creek in 1917 but was abandoned in favor of a larger one which could dig much deeper. It began operation in April, 1924, and continued through 1937 when the overburden became to heavy to mine profitably.

     Not much information was handed down about the schools except there were no grades. Pupils went through the books and graduated. One of the early teachers was Helen Stack who later taught school at Baker and the Helen Stack School was named in her honor.

     To further supply the needs of the miners, a brewery was operated by Henry Rusk who first operated a brewery at Amelia near Malheur and, after Clarksville, operated a brewery at Baker.

     After the gold dwindled, some of the miners turned to ranching. Among them was my grandmother, Johanna Elliott, who on grandfather's death at the age 0f 42 was left with seven children to rise. She took up a homestead four miles east of Hereford, now known as the Sullivan Ranch.

     After the demise of Clarksville, the center of activity moved to Bridgeport where there was a store and post office operated by Jerry Dooley which was moved from Eldorado to Clarksville and finally to Bridgeport.

     Jerry Dooley was postmaster for many years. The mail was carried by stage from Baker to Malheur three times a week - Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and vice versa the other days of the week. Mail day was an occasion for people of the valley to meet to pick up the mail, their provisions and to visit.

     The Bridgeport school was used for social activities, mainly dances, as well as school. The desks were not fastened to the floor so they could be shoved to the walls to accommodate the dancers. Music was provided by an organ and fiddle. Dud Worsham of Malheur was the principal fiddler, although others would spell him off on occasion. The organ provided the accompaniment with those who could chord and again organists would alternate. These dances started around 9:00 p.m., took an hour off at midnight for supper, and then danced until the small hours of morning.

     In the schools, all eight grades were taught by one teacher who also did the janitor's work unless she could enlist one of the older boys. There were older boys up to the age of 18, who were allowed to stay out of school to help with the ranch work.

     Up until the mid-teens, before trucks came into use, freight was hauled by a four horse team and wagon and was a treat for the kids if they came by at recess or noon hour. The lead team was equipped with belles fastened to the hames, seven bells in the form of an arch. These bells could be heard for quite a distance and were used mainly to ascertain if another freight wagon was coming in the opposite direction. The road over Dooley Mountain had many sharp turns and few turnouts so it behooved the driver to stop and listen before rounding a turn. These freight wagons were used to haul provisions and supplies for the people of Malheur City and parts south.

     Another diversion for the kids was "to go after water' since there was no well at the schoolhouse. Usually it was two boys who could carry a bucket of water from a neighbor ranch. A dipper was provided and all the kids used it.

     In the old schoolhouse (burned in 1917) there were many woodpecker holes and others were being drilled during school hours, so it was a treat to be chosen to go outside to "scare away the woodpecker."

     Recesses and noon hours were occasions to look forward to. Kids would eat their lunches in a hurry so they could go out to play games on the playground. Favorite games were Blind Man Bluff; London Bridge is Falling Down, Run Sheep Run, and Drop the Handkerchief.

     In the late teens and early 20's each community had a baseball team, Bridgeport, Malheur, Ironside, Unity and Hereford. A lot of interest was created, and every Sunday during the summer, there was a baseball game to go to.

     Power came to the valley on December 24, 1948. Prior to that and without refrigeration, food was confined to canned goods and home grown vegetables and meat. Everyone had a garden, at least a potato patch. The problem of keeping beef, especially in the summer, was solved by exchanging beef with the neighbors. One rancher would butcher a yearling; keep one quarter and give the other quarters to the neighbors. When that was gone, a neighbor would pay back. This was done mostly during the haying season when quite large crews had to be fed.

     The meat was hung out during the night in the shade of a tree to keep it cool then taken down early in the morning and wrapped in a sheet and blanket and put in the basement or cellar. In this way, beef could be kept for two weeks.

     Hogs were butchered in the late fall. Hams and sides would be cured in salt brine for a period of time then taken out and smoked in a smokehouse. Common wood used was apple and alder. Lard was rendered; sausage, head cheese, spareribs and pig's feet were made and in the winter time could be kept until used up.

     Everyone had a few chickens to furnish eggs for the family, and on occasion, a fat hen would be butchered for a Sunday dinner.

Fresh vegetables were not available in the winter time and after eating heavy foods for several months, an occasion to look forward to was "green up time," when greens could be picked. Mainly it was young dandelions and nettles. These, cooked with smoked ham hocks, were delicious and a good substitute for spinach.

    Once or twice a year gypsies would come through the valley and stay over to let their horses rest and to be fed enroute to Malheur and points further on. They liked to trade horses with the ranchers if they could get the best of the deal.

     On occasion, some Indians would come through on their way to the South Fork of Burnt River to fish. Usually there were two squaws who would ride apart - about one fourth mile. One time, I remember two squaws stopping at our home for a drink of water. My mother filled one dipper and handed it to one of the squaws who didn't drink quite all of it. The squaw handed it to the other squaw who poured it on the ground. "Not enough," she said and wanted a fresh dipperful. There must have been a feud going on between them. (By Harry Elliott)

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