1874, just two years after the road over the Cascade Mountains
opened, hundreds of Indians arrived at their traditional camp
site in the meadows along Whychus Creek to find three families
who had come over the Santiam Pass from the Willamette Valley.
For generations each autumn, on the grassy flats where Whychus
comes out of the mountains, Indians had camped before returning
to their winter homes to the north. The Indian camps of 1874
surrounded the camps of Mr. and Mrs. J.B. Claypool and two other
families. The Claypools were among the first families that settled
on Squaw Flats, northeast of what is now Sisters. By the mid-1880s
about 20 families had settled near the site of Sisters, where
two main routes over the Cascades met. The site was on the 1879
AJ Warrin Road from the Santiam and the McKenzie Pass routes.
In the late 1800s, ranchers in the Willamette
Valley sought grass for cattle and sheep, driving the effort
to improve trails over the mountains. As routes improved, more
people made the journey to Central Oregon. In the 1880s and
1890s Sisters was a stopping place for sheepherders preparing
for the mountain crossing to the winter ranges in the Willamette
Valley. People looking for homesteading land found plenty of
open meadowland in the valleys of Whychus and Indian Ford creeks.
Claypool’s son, David, homesteaded
along Indian Ford Creek on what is now Indian Ford Ranch Co., and
the Graham family homesteaded in the meadows of what is now the
Glaze Meadow section of Black Butte Ranch. In 1888, the Camp Polk
post office moved to be closer to the center of activity and the
US Postal Department gave the name of Sisters to the settlement.
By 1904 Sisters boasted two stores, a hotel, a blacksmith’s,
a saloon, a real estate office, a livery, a school, and a lumber
mill. One store had a dance hall. As the only town between the
west side of the Cascades and Prineville, Sisters appeared to
be on its way to becoming a hub for the high desert.
A decade later, the timber industry and real estate were booming
in Sisters. Mills sprouted up in the surrounding forests. Tragedy
struck Sisters in 1923 and 1924 when two fires raged through
the town, destroying businesses and many of the old buildings.
The first fire ignited while the men were away to a big track
meet in Redmond. The few people left carried water 200 yards
from Whychus Creek to fight the blaze until people from Bend
and Redmond came to help. The second fire, 16 months later, burned
most of the remaining historic buildings. The Farthing House
and the Hardy Allen House remained untouched, and fire fighters
saved the Sisters Hotel although both fires scorched it. These
are some of the few remaining pre-fire buildings in Sisters today.
Throughout the mid-twentieth century,
Sisters continued to grow and change. Residents supported community
and cultural events. Bucking contests held as early as 1910
brought cowboys from other areas. Other rodeo events were took
place until in 1943 the first annual Sisters Rodeo was held.
The purses were high, earning the rodeo the name “biggest
little show in the world.”
Basketball, track and field, and football
were big sports events in Central Oregon and Sisters participated.
The name of the school athletic team “Sisters Outlaws” stems
from the days when the town was a dusty lumber and cow town.
The town held an annual fair from 1914 until 1918 when WWI
dampened the effort. In the early 1930s the high school presented
a music festival and in 1936 started an orchestra.
In 1946 the little mill town incorporated.
The lumber industry was vital to the town’s growth but
by 1963 the last mill closed. Situated in a beautiful setting,
from early on the town held an attraction for tourists and
people looking for a mountain community. After a brief period
of declining population, in the 1970s the town began growing
again. The scenic beauty and nearby destination resorts, such
as Black Butte Ranch, attracted people and business to the
area. In the 1970s Sisters adopted the 1880s theme to downtown
buildings and by the 1980s a new boom was in full swing.