September of 1865, above an idyllic pine bordered meadow on the
banks of Whychus Creek (Squaw Creek) Captain Charles LaFollette,
and 40 men choose to make camp. They had crossed the Santiam,
helping to build the new road as far as Fish Lake on the way.
Their directive was to stop bands of Indians from attacking settlers.
After one month, and after building cabins and a large flag pole,
the camp received orders from Washington that the campaign was
to be given up. It was deemed too late to go home, so the men
stayed the winter and then left. Reminders of their stay can
be seen in the names of Henkle and LaFollette buttes.
The meadow had long been a campsite for Indians
hunting, gathering, and traveling through. Henkle, interviewed
in 1922, remembered: “We
had no trouble with the Indians although there seemed to be a hostile
feeling among them at the fear of losing their land. Parties of
Indian scouts were often seen.” Henkle continued:
“There was no lack of good meat that
winter, as hundreds of mule deer came down from the Blue Mountains
and we had all that we wanted. At that time this whole country
south of The Dalles was covered with heavy grass and there
was no stock to eat it. The nearest settlers were in the Tyge
Valley country, 100 miles away.”
It was not long however, before the land began
to change. In 1873 the Samuel M.W. Hindman family homesteaded
the meadow and for the next 15 years Camp Polk was a community
center for the newly settled Sisters Country. With help from
other settlers, Hindman built a timber frame barn out of hand
hewn timbers. The Hindman place was strategically set on the
Santiam Wagon Road and the family built a trading post to serve
local settlers and Indians. He applied for a post office which
was established in March 1875. Charles became the community’s
first postmaster. In 1888, the post office was moved three miles to what is now
Sisters, which was on a more direct route between Tetherow and the high Cascades
where sheep and cattle grazed on summer grasses.
Still, the area was important to local farmers
and Indians. Harry Heising operated a blacksmith shop out of
the barn in the early 1900s. The Camp Polk Cemetery, still in
use today, has names of early pioneers: Graham, Fryrear, South,
Smith, Claypool, Allingham, and Wilson, among others. The graves
of children and infants from the early part of the century are
a reminder of the level of health care in the early 1900s and
the isolation of early pioneers. The Spoo Mill operated at Camp
Polk Ranch in the 1920s and 1930s.
Today the frame of the Hindman barn still stands
after nearly being demolished. The land is part of the Deschutes
Basin Land Trust and has an interpretive trail around the barn
1996 Oregon’s Sisters Country: A Portrait of Its Lands, Waters, and People.
Maverick Publications: Bend, OR