Jess Edgington
Sisters Watershed History Fest/Oral Interview Quotes
Transcribed from tape by Maret Pajutee
June 9, 1998


Jess Edgington was born in Sisters in 1918. His father Ellis Edgington homesteaded in Bull Ridge near Plainview and later traded that land for a ranch on Squaw Creek. His parents met in Plainview where his mother was a school teacher in 1914. Jess finished Sisters High School in 1936, in a class of six. He spent 4 years at Oregon State studying animal husbandry and range management, planning to come home to the ranch and apply it. But in 1942 the war broke out and he spent 3 years in the China/Burma/Indian Theater in a veterinary company (The 13th Mountain Medical Battalion). He went around the world. When he returned he went back to the ranch, raised cattle, worked for the Forest Service, managed timber on the Ranch, was a packer, and worked for the Postal Service for 17 years as Postmaster. His sister Georgia Gallagher was also interviewed for this project. He lives with his friend Ali in Sisters.

Memories of June 9, 1938

I remember 60 years ago today I was leading a pack trip with 8-9 horses and 4 passengers traveling over McArthur Rim in a snowstorm. The snow was so deep there that it obliterated the road and you couldn’t tell where we were going because of the snowfall. There were 6-8 feet deep holes around the trees and we had to take care to keep the horses out of them. But we finally ended up at the Tumalo Creek Ditch Cabin, up there near Broken Top Crater. They were working the ditch then, just barely. People had gone in there and they had a big pot of beans on. We ate their beans! It’s always been an important date in my mind because we were supposed to be there in 2 days and it took 3 days - we got stalled.

Forest Service to Postal Service

I was working in the meantime for the Forest Service. Jerry Benson was my immediate boss for a while. Earlier I usually just worked for the Ranger. There weren’t very many people working for the Forest Service then. I took some of the personnel up to Carl Lake in 1963 horseback, coming out we got in a big storm and got wet and soaked, when I got home I ended up with pneumonia. Had difficulty getting out of the hospital. That’s when I had to change. I left the ranch and worked for the Postal Service for seventeen years. And after that I kept managing what timber we had left. I’d started earlier to break the place up into homesites- we had 1200 acres starting out. I bought it from Dad in 1964.

Where are your favorite places around Sisters?

Well it doesn’t matter as long as you’re in the high mountains. I’ve requested my ashes be deposited at Honey Lake, where I spent my honeymoon, on the west side of the South Sister. We came down James Creek through the Indian Holes. It’s the most beautiful spot in the world. The elk were laying in the meadow and Separation Creek runs through there.

What are your favorite creeks or lakes around Sisters?

Well the Metolius River was my favorite for years. With the exception that Squaw Creek has always been my backdoor spot. That’s where I learned to fish and where I started flyfishing. Now I can’t get to any of them because I can’t stand up well enough to keep from falling in the creek. I have to get the pictures out now and remember.

Observations about Squaw Creek

There are several important points about Squaw Creek that ought to be noted. There’s the high spring period when there’s winter snow runoff. Then there’s the May-June period when the creek is so muddy that a fish couldn’t see to bite anything. Then there’s the low period in August- September, when you probably don’t have water running through Sisters unless you have a good year, like we’ve had the past 2-3 years. It’s hard to say what it will be because it varies. The ice jams created some of the high water, and the other high water was in spring.

I remember particularly one session of high water. We had our bridge wash out about 5 different times over the years. One of the years we had a log across and we were going to school. Dad was out helping us across and for safety’s sake he put a rope around each one of us. So my sister Jean got out there in the middle and fell in. He just let her float down the creek and pulled her in to shore and sent her into the house to get warm. That creek is very cold.

There’s one thing about the creek, I’d like to mention. You said you’d like to know about the ebb and flow of it. Soap Creek used to have a beautiful fall where it comes into Squaw Creek. Next time I went up there I couldn’t find that fall , I couldn’t figure out what in the world had happened. That thing had backed up against a dam and filled it with cinder and rock and everything else till it was overflowing, about 12 feet I suppose. It was a natural occurrence. Later, something come along and undermined it and let Soap Creek wash out that material that had closed it.

That was another color of the water- soapy. Soap Creek was soapy. And Squaw Creek was muddy and Park Creek was muddy depending on time of year and what they were running through up there (the layers of earth the creek ran thorough). Now you don’t see it.

What else do you remember about your times on Squaw Creek?

I fished a little. I took a bath in that creek in November. I can justify the statement that it’s cold. You could let your Ivory Soap float down the creek a ways then run and get it and wash off and get out.

Then we used to build various dams. We ran water to Plainview, we had a Ranch over there. Each year you’ve got to do certain amount of work on your dams and some years they’re clear gone. And our bridges were washed out during the same margin of time.. I’d guess 5 times over 1918-60 (~40 years) where we had to build a bridge every once in a while

How has the creek has changed?

There’s less water-I still don’t know why. I was going to say there’s more water taken out now maybe, but I doubt that. You have the record that I have (irrigation district water rights list).

Memories of Floods

I haven’t seen one since 1964. Somebody around here might have seen something that seemed high to them but it wasn’t high as they get. After we moved from the ranch , around 1960, the bridge we crossed on was 12 feet above the creek and 4-5 feet above the bank. That year the ice jammed someplace and it came down the creek, picking it up as it came. It piled up against that bridge till it was clear up over the top of a car on top of that bridge.

There haven’t been big floods like those in a long time. Maybe because the creek isn’t running the same as it used to. It doesn’t run through those cuts up there that created all the mud and the sludge. I think it’s because it’s melted down below those.

Memories of Winters, was there more snow in the past?

I think you’re truly correct on that. Probably clear back to about 1918 was a winter of big snow. Horses froze to death. They called it 4 feet of snow locally, half a mile upstream it was deeper.

Early Irrigation- The Snow Creek Irrigation District-1906

They kind of pulled a shenanigan on that creek that comes down into Squaw Creek- Snow Creek. Snow Creek originally went into Squaw Creek. They went up there and sheared it over and sent it into the meadow there at Three Creek. . The year was probably around 1906. That was the Snow Creek Irrigation District that did that and my grandmother was part of it and my dad was part of it and probably a few others. They wanted the water for irrigation for their was a big place. It’s being subdivided now. It’s where those viewpoints are on the Bend road.

More on Irrigation- water availability

1912 water rights were not worth a hoot. 1902’s no good. We used to run 1902, and 1903 and 1904 out to Plainview when the creek was high, you could run some then, but after July you don’t get that, it’s not there anymore. So the only people getting their water were from the 1880-1900 dates.

(And people with rights after 1900 often didn’t get their water rights) That’s why you saw those were vacant spots all out through Plainview and anyplace you want to look around the country here where people tried to make a living and couldn’t and had to give it up.

Concerns about the future of Squaw Creek.

I don’t know how much capability our group (Friends of Squaw Creek) has to get control of water. In my opinion, the best way for us to get water is drill a well and pump it into the creek.

Hopes for the future of Squaw Creek? Advice?

All you can do is say, if you can drill a well or buy someone’s water right off the ranch. It takes a lot of money to do it. It brings a point in mind that is separate from the farming situation. The people here in Sisters came and they like it and they see it and they’d like to have water running through Squaw Creek all the time. But they’d like for the people who own the water rights to give it to them. Well the equitable way is for everybody to put an equal amount in. If the farmer feels that he can, he could contribute a little bit but he wouldn’t be compelled to contribute anymore than I would be as a retired person. I’d like to see Squaw Creek run.

Early memories of Three Creek Lake

In 1934, I camped up there with a cousin on the 4th of July and there was nobody up there. The road was closed but we took the horses. The meadow before you come to the spillway of the outlet had some green grass on it, not much and a little piddly bit of water running. Anyway we camped there. The lake wasn’t very good for us, so we always fished the creek. The lake was hard to reach out and get to it and it possibly was even frozen over then, I don’t know. That creek running out of Little Three Creek lake used to run fish. I think they were stocked there. I was fishing up there where there was quite a little drop off into the creek. I caught my hook up in the top of a tree up there on the bank and I was up there digging around trying to save my tackle and I fell into that creek bottom. I don’t know whether I broke something or not but I had to walk all the way back to where our camp was which seemed like a lot of miles then. But I got an old tree limb and made a crutch out of it. It worked out all right.

The water that ran from Little Three Creeks to the big lake ran in a ditch that was built there. Otherwise I suppose that overflow ran on down into Squaw Creek someplace. It’s a little bit hard to figure that in my mind. Maybe it worked over into the Jackpine draw area there. It’s all supposition.

Memories about fishing on Squaw Creek

We fished a lot but we didn’t catch much.. I suppose 30-40 was the most I ever caught in those days.. Squaw Creek didn’t have big fish in it.

The fish that are in there that I know of were native rainbow and they were small. I don’t know why. Except that it was cold water and not very much feed in it.

And we had a few Bull Trout or Dolly Varden as we called them then. We used to catch small ones. Most of the time the dam (irrigation dam on Squaw Creek) stopped them. That’s where I’ve seen them. I remember 2 big ones that cleaned all the fish out between what was then the Cloverdale dam, which had a chute they had to go over to get up and I don’t think they ever got up. We caught one of them. We didn’t see them often but we’d only be on the creek 4 months out of the year. You’ve got that high period when you can’t fish and it’s dangerous to be there anyway. Then you’ve got the muddy stretch when they can’t see to eat. Then you’ve got July and August and September when it’s reasonably good. So there’s lots of fish in there that I don’t know about.

I remember a steelhead that Louie Luckenbill spotted and he said “You got a spear?” and I said “I got one over at the house”. So we went over and got it and he speared a big steelhead. So that shows you... that was in 1944. Right above the bridge that goes in to Frisbee’s house, near our Ranch. I got arrested there when I was 13 for fishing without a license. They took my pole away and said they’ give it back when I got the license... and I felt pretty small. It was easier than getting fined.

There were a few white fish in it and a few eastern brook. I always thought that the eastern brook probably came down over Squaw Creek falls and came from Park Creek where they stocked a few of them in the early times. I saw a Bullhead in it one time. You don’t expect a Bullhead in Squaw Creek, that’s entirely out of reason. I think he came up out of Squaw Creek Irrigation Pond. I think they probably put some in it. I don’t deny that there could be some big fish in Squaw Creek coming up from that pond. I think that’s a possibility. So if somebody says I don’t know what I’m talking about why they may be right from the standpoint that I didn’t ever catch up with them.

It’s probably entirely true that the steelhead spawned at Sisters City Park. There was a station down at Camp Polk where they took steelhead eggs for a number of years. That I knew about.

Squaw Creek’s never been a fishing concern to anybody really. We , the kids in town, probably used it more than any grown ups because it didn’t produce enough to when you could drive to the Metolius or lower Squaw Creek. We used to go to lower Squaw Creek down where it goes into the Deschutes- that was a little bit more exciting because there was more variety down there. Fish came up out of the Deschutes. What kind of fish did you catch down there? There were occasional white fish and occasional Redsides. I don’t know if a Redside and a Redband are the same or not. I suspect that they’re the same. Redband makes it sound kind of special and they are. They’re the prettiest little things you ever saw.

Memories of hunting and deer

We hunted a little bit. I remember killing a nice buck on main Squaw Creek up there above the falls. You used to be able to drive in to the creek. We used to drive to the creek there other times and hike into Green Lake and fish and hunt and come out the same day. Across the meadows, up near Red Meadow you hit the trail that goes over the pass into Green Lake. Otherwise we weren’t very big on hunting. About the time we wanted to hunt we had to hay up or do something else, so we hunted when we could.

I wanted to talk to you about the deer population. I don’t know if it means anything or not. Here around Sisters in town they’ve probably got more deer than they ever had. But you can drive all day through the mountains in the wooded area west of Sisters and never see a deer. I think there’s either less deer or they’ve migrated to the alfalfa fields, I don’t know which it is. I know in 1952 I had so many deer on the ranch up there that I built a deer fence around 260 acres. I walked out in the alfalfa patch one day and I counted 80 deer in it and I said to myself “If there’s 80 in here there’s probably 160 out outside on the edge waiting”. That’s when I decided to build a fence, took me a year to build that thing.

But that was the point I wanted to make. We have a spot up there by the Editors House (Eric Dolson’s House) that we called “Mule Valley” and there used to be lots of deer in there, specially in early fall. You’d find all kinds of deer in there. I remember one year, it didn’t happen often, but we needed a little meat. It was in November, out of season, it was starting to be winter. We took horses, the hired man, a fellow from Burns that was working for Dad at the time. We run into a bunch of deer, just running. And he was on a feisty little horse that wouldn’t do anything but jump up and down and sideways and he hauled off and shoot that deer on the run and shouted “I think I got him” and he did. I couldn’t even have held onto the gun let alone shoot it.

Changes in wildlife ?- species that have decreased?

There have been drastic changes all the way down. I listed what I thought. There’s fewer deer, fewer coyote, fewer cougar, fewer bobcats, practically no bear, and the wolves are gone. I’ve seen 2 wolves in my time, in the 1930’s. Probably about 1932, up toward Pickup I saw one and I saw one on Quinn meadows (near Elk Lake) in 1937. Well no I saw another one! And that was interesting because no other animal chases a deer like a wolf does. He just follows them along, maybe a quarter mile behind, but he’s right there. I saw that deer come with its tongue hanging out, panting and running and I watched him a while and here come the wolf, just following along. I found out later he’d gone north of town here, I don’t know where he caught up with him.

So were there wolves here? Yeah, there were never any wild events. There were more bear here than wolves. Georgia probably told you about our bear hunt ? No?

The Bear hunt Story We went up Squaw Creek almost to where the bridge is now, there was no track or trail in there except the deer trails. We came upon fresh bear sign down below in that flat area (just below where the bridge is now). He had crossed the creek and we had a big old dog with us, a big rough dog, he was a stalker. He got the scent of that bear and took out after him and I couldn’t keep up with him. Pretty soon I heard him tackle the bear. He let out a great whoop and all the noises that a dog will make tackling something. The next minute I heard him let out a yelp in the other direction.

When I finally caught up with him he was laying knocked out , unconscious but his legs were just a traveling as fast just as fast as he could go. He was laying on his side. The old bear had knocked him just one, knocked the whey out of him. I got the dog up and administered First Aid to him and then set him on the track again, thought catch up with him. I was carrying an old 34 Krag, pretty much big as a cannon, I couldn’t do much with it, but I thought maybe I could shoot a bear. Finally found out the dog was not on the bears track, he was on the road to home as fast as he could go. He’d had enough.

Concerns about our fish and wildlife

Well I wonder, what their real plan is for Squaw Creek. I’ve been curious about it. In those days we thought they should stock the creek, which they did not do. They wouldn’t stock it because the irrigators wouldn’t put a screen in their ditches. I can understand that. I can remember the screens laying out on the side of ditch channels. So we haven’t had anything but, I call them, wild trout. I don’t know how wild they are.

I don’t know if they were ever stocked when they put those screens in at first, because that’s been 80 years ago I suppose, somewhere like that. They never did use them, I never did see them working. I think it was a matter of the game commission refusing to let their stock run out into the fields and perish there.

The Cattle Business in Sisters Country

After the war, I went into business with dad, after a fashion. We kind of had to start over again with cattle. We had what was called the Bull Springs Cattle Association, under lease from Brooks Scanlon... the township area from Sisters to Tumalo. But that petered out. This is not a cow country here. We’d be fine if there was only 2-3 people trying to operate.. But the Forest Service has never been pleased with our cattle operation in this country...Good reason for it. I can understand it better now than I could then.

How has Town changed?

The town people never used to care much about what went on with extra things around here. Their interest was in logging and their jobs. They liked to fish and hunt, I know that. But as far as taking any care of Squaw Creek or anything like that, that’s was just somebody else’s concern.

I think there’s a vast amount of caring now. People that are here and see the potential of a stream going through town, a steady stream, not an off and on one.

Concerns about what’s going to happen in the future in town?

Why worry? I assume that there will be more homes built in the space that’s made available (by the sewer). But that’s quite a while in the future I think. I still think you’re going to keep pride in ownership. And you’ve got all of outdoors here that is important - the mountains.

Forests-The old Wilson Mill on Pole Creek

The book that Tillie Wilson wrote would give you some information on it. Our old home up there (Edgington Ranch) originally had an old sawmill (The Cox Mill), the first sawmill in the area, a water powered mill. And when that quit operating Wilson bought the machinery and moved it over to Pole Creek. And I think you’ll find in that water adjudication paper that he filed on 20 acres of water, which is what Cox filed on at the ranch there for water power. It was actually a transfer, they used the old machinery and got an equal amount of water out of Pole Creek.

(Looking at pictures of old wooden wheels made out of tree rounds) And here are some pictures of something I don’t tell people about, you can’t move it but it’s still up there and you can see what they were logging with. It’s really interesting. The wheels were cuts from logs. They had a metal axle of course. There was so much weight on one of these wheels that it just curled that metal up. They hauled logs in out of the woods with that, horse drawn. I don’t know what else was involved with it whether there were rear wheels on the thing or not. It’s part of the early history and I always felt it ought to be known about or observed. I don’t suppose that mill ran very long. I know the story used to be that they’d put a log on the carriage and start it going and then they’d go home for lunch and come back and take that board out. There were small mills all over the country.

Jess gives directions on tape to Mill site

Have you worked in the Forests?

Yeah, I worked in the mills too. They were doing sustained yield management, no clear cuts that I knew of. Charlie Morris told me later they’d been clearcutting for years but I didn’t know it. I worked 2 different years in the mills around 1936. I worked for Ed Spoo’s Mill and I worked for Morris Hitchcock’s Mill. I was an Edgerman. He takes the slab that was cut off the log and judges what kind of board can be made out of it. You’ve got a variety of saws in front of you on a long extended handle. You can try to make clear lumber and common, whatever you think is the best. I didn’t always know that much about lumber, but I think I learned. I worked for Chapman who was a District Ranger during the summers around 1935, when I was a Junior in high school. I worked on Fire Crew on some of the fires. The main one I remember was on that Two Spring Trail in the Metolius. I worked some carrying a load of bread on the Williamson Mountain Fire. Then we did pruning and thinning, those were winter time jobs when we went out with crews of 15 people. Some of the fallers cut down snags.

I wasn’t so concerned about clearcuts back then because we had lots of trees and we didn’t visualize a clear-cut for heavens sake. We knew that they did it over there on the forest on the westside. But that was bad to do it over here. I’ve since been able to understand why they need to in cases, when you see all the dead timber down and all the beetle kill and all that. But I still don’t like to see it when it doesn’t have to be done.

I like that sustained yield. You can drive out through a lot of the forest here now and see the trees that were left and they’re beautiful.

Favorite Forest Areas?

Ali and I went up the McKenzie Highway the day before yesterday. And took the first road to the left (1028?) and there’s some of the prettiest mature yellow bellies in the country in there yet. There’s not a sustained field of them, they’re scattered, but they’re beautiful. That’s what we had when we were on the ranch on that piece of property Johnson’s had, just solid pine, go from one pine to the next and never be seen practically. The big pines are still up there.

Concerns about the Forest

I could take a jab at the Forest Service here on clearcuts. I wrote them a letter a long time ago when we were talking about the effect of logging and where should the boundaries be. Georgia and I together worked from Soap Creek clear thorough to Black Crater. At that particular time I don’t think there were very many clearcuts on it. And I told them I didn’t think there should be any clearcuts on it because it’s just going to change its appearance. And there’s a beautiful little lake up there in the hole in the middle of that.

I don’t like to see a clear-cut because I know how many years it took to make a tree 6 inches on the stump. And it’s cut down and bulldozed and put in a burning pile. I don’t know if the ones that are planted are going to be any better or as good and it’s going to be that many more years before they’ll be big enough to fill up that vacant spot.

The view is more important now than it ever used to be. Nobody cared much about a view. We just went outdoors if we wanted to look at the mountains. Now you’ve got to have a clear shot so you can see them. So views are important.

I heard that some Warm Springs Indians camped at your ranch and left a little kid there while they went up berry picking?

That little gal.... “I want my momma..”. Dad knew the Indians pretty well. This family came, they were going up to Santiam, to the Big Lake area for berries. I think he had been there before and worked some up at the ranch. The Indians have told us that, that ranch was part of their heritage, in the meadow there, that was really part of what should have been part of the reservation. Anyway, they came through and left that cute little gal, she was just a little babe, about 3 maybe. I can still see the tears running out of her eyes, she was so lonesome. She was so glad when they came back. They didn’t leave her long, because they got up there and found the berry situation was not good so they came back. Those buckskins over there are some things that the Indians made for me, a vest and gauntlets. Naomi Wagner was the Indian lady that made those, that was in 1936. Why did she make them for you? Dad gave her a bunch of deer skins, so that was part of a business transaction, it wasn’t a gift necessarily, but it was nice.

The Indian name was “Whychus” for here (Squaw Creek). But mother said she could remember one time when they called it “Clark’s River”. That was kind of a lost cause I think because I never heard it since then, but she told me that.
Did you hear the Indians call it Why-chus- the Indians that you talked to? No I didn’t but I read it. I remember “Seeksequa” (another name , possible Paiute). I imagine this country was predominately Paiute.

Advice from Jess?

I’d like people to know that it’s a dangerous creek when it’s flooding. Kids shouldn’t be playing too freely about it. And also it’s a difficult stream to fish. You could fish anyplace you wanted on it and you likely could fall over anyplace and break your leg or head or anything else- you have to be careful.

The pools are scarce and that might be something that could be helped a little bit. But the coldness of the water and the fast flow surely must have an effect on the fishes. I think as far as a fishing stream is concerned I can’t see why the game commission decided to make a fly fishing stream out of it. I can understand catch and release if they want to do it that way, because that might bring it back. But Ali likes to drown a worm.

Copyright © 2006 Sisters Country Historical Society