Camp Polk
by Michele Morseth

In 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 and ponds.

Hatton, R.R.
1996 Oregon’s Sisters Country: A Portrait of Its Lands, Waters, and People. Maverick Publications: Bend, OR



Copyright © 2006 Sisters Country Historical Society