The Shaniko area was first settled by Europeans in 1862 but it experienced its heyday after the arrival of Welsh sheep rancher Jack Edwards, 'The Sheep King of America', in 1883.
Brothers John (Jack) and Griffith Edwards came to the United States from Aberdovey, Merionethshire in 1869.
Between 1870 and 1920, the western states of the USA were the setting of the Range Wars, armed conflict between cattle and sheep ranchers over access to grazing ranges on public lands. Cattle ranchers took the position that the range was theirs, the sheep were inferior and brought disease, their owners undesirable “foreigners.” 54 men and up to 100,000 sheep were killed. Witness the following account of an 'incident' in Colorado in 1896 from TrueWest Magazine :-
" The dispute of 1895 may have been diffused in Colorado, but, in this part of Wyoming, folks made constant threats to local sheepmen who threatened to cross into northern Colorado. Jack Edwards wanted to move his sheep south so that he could load and ship them from Colorado rail heads operated by the Denver & Rio Grande. Yet in April 1896, Edwards acknowledged the sheep and cattle lines established for the range, pledging to “do all in my power to protect such lines given to cattlemen and ranchmen, against any foreign sheep that may try to cross the lines agreed upon.”
That spring newspapers in the region published continued warnings of potential violence against the sheep and their herders. In late June, Edwards, who had moved some of his sheep into Colorado, received reports that his herders there had been killed and his sheep scattered. He rode horseback toward where he knew his flocks were on the Colorado range. A party of masked men ordered him to move the sheep off the range.
Although Edwards did back away from confrontation that summer of 1896 by withdrawing his ewes and lambs, he told an Omaha reporter on January 23, 1897, that whenever the cattlemen sent word that they would be “coming over to clean me out.… I have assembled my men and stayed there. I have an armed force of about fifty ready for the clash when it comes. I am compelled to keep a small army about my place all the time. A short time ago three hundred sheep were killed and two herders; for a while it looked as though the entire Colorado militia would have to be called out, but the sheepmen and cattlemen looked out for themselves, and there are several graves in the vicinity of Meeker that go to show that they know how to do this.” "
" ....a gang of heavily armed cattlemen bent on convincing Edwards to yield the range to them got the drop on him, tied him up, and put a noose around his neck. When he refused to promise to move his sheep, they lifted him off the ground with the noose and let him dangle until he blacked out. He surely must have thought he was being lynched. "
In response to these and other provocations in 1883, Jack Edwards bought a share of the Baldwin Sheep and Land Company and its Hay Creek Ranch, in Wasco County, Oregon. By 1901, he had purchased his partner’s shares and he and his wife were living on the ranch. Edwards made a great success of the Hay Creek Ranch, making it “the wool capital of the world,” adding 30,000 acres of land, growing alfalfa to feed his flocks, and breeding new varieties of sheep that became world famous for the quality of their meat and wool. Under Edwards, the ranch became a community center with a post office, general store and even a school, and its success contributed to the growth of the nearby town of Shaniko. Edwards sold the ranch to wealthy investors only eight years later, when the United States government curtailed unrestricted grazing rights on federal land for environmental reasons.
In 1925 Jack Edwards commissioned California architect A.E. Doyle to build a residence for him in Portland. The following description of the house is quoted from the National Register of Historic Places :-
"The Edwards Residence, a finely crafted building in the Norman Farmhouse Style, was designed by the prominent Portland architect A.E. Doyle for Welshman, John G. Edwards, in 1925-26. The angled L-shaped building exhibits many characteristics of the Norman Farmhouse Style in its asymmetrical massing, multi-pane casement windows, arched doorways, intersecting gables, rectangular bays with half timbering trim and prominent brick chimneys. The stucco elevations, distressed to simulate aged medieval walls, are an unusual treatment. Some of the building materials and interior elements were brought from Wales and employed in the design. The roofing slates were shipped from Wales prior to construction as well as sod used for the rose gardens. The elaborately carved fireplace mantels in the living room and main hall were also brought from Edwards' homeland. The Edwards residence is in excellent condition with few modifications."
Today the population of Shaniko is 36 (approx) and local businesses operate between April to September to welcome tourists.
When we last visited (admittedly a few years ago) the Toy Museum in the Old School House was open. Do not miss out if you get an opportunity to visit this fascinating exhibition ( pictures here )
From the Wikipedia:-
The first European Americans came to the Shaniko area after the discovery of gold in Canyon City, Oregon, in 1862. The route to Canyon City started at the early settlement of The Dalles, 190 miles (310 km) away. Camps were made wherever water could be found. One camp, which became the farming community of Bakeoven, was closely associated with the future town of Shaniko, while another camp, Cross Hollow, was within the present Shaniko city limits. In 1867, following complaints of hostile Indians and fear of robbery of those transporting gold, the State of Oregon received a grant from the United States government to build a military wagon road from The Dalles to Fort Boise, Idaho. Following this road, homesteaders began claiming land in Central Oregon that had been fairly inaccessible.
One of these settlers was August Scherneckau, who came to the area after the Civil War, in 1874. The spelling of the town's name reflects local Native American pronunciation of Scherneckau's name. The town was originally called Cross Hollow, and a post office by that name was established in May 1879 with Scherneckau as postmaster. Cross Hollow post office closed in 1887, and Shaniko post office opened in 1900. The first meeting of the city council after incorporation was March 16, 1901. The application to incorporate was submitted February 9, 1901.
The town's heyday was the first decade of the 20th century, when Shaniko served as a transportation hub spurred by the presence of the Columbia Southern Railway, a subsidiary of Union Pacific Railroad, which built a branch from Biggs Junction to a terminus in Shaniko. That branch was completed in May 1900. At the time, the city was known as the "Wool Capital of the World", and it was the center of 20,000 square miles (52,000 km2) of wool, wheat, cattle and sheep production, with no other such center east of the Cascade Range in Oregon. The region served by the city even stretched into Idaho, south to Klamath Falls, Oregon, and beyond, because of rail connections to the main line.
The residents of Shaniko voted to incorporate Shaniko and elected a mayor, F. T. Hurlbert, and other city officials on January 1, 1902. It was Wasco County's fifth largest city, boasting the largest wool warehouse in the state, from which 4 million pounds (1.8 kt) (2,000 tons) were marketed in 1901. It was surrounded by cattle ranches, which produced livestock for shipment that filled 400 railroad cars that year. In 1903, when Shaniko gained the nickname, "Wool Capital of the World", they shipped 2,229 tons of wool and 1,168,866 bushels of wheat. They made $3,000,000 in wool sales in 1903. The second sale of that year one warehouse deposited a million into the bank. There was a third sale that year as well. In 1904, total sales were five million dollars.
By 1911, the Oregon–Washington Railroad and Navigation Company, another Union Pacific subsidiary, began using an alternate route linking Portland to Bend by way of the Deschutes River canyon. The new line, advertised as the "direct, quick and natural route", diverted traffic from the Columbia Southern, and Shaniko begin to decline. Passenger service to Shaniko ended in the early 1930s, and the entire line was shut down by 1966. By 1982 Shaniko was nearly a ghost town. Shaniko was first called a "ghost town" at the Oregon Centennial Exposition in Portland in 1959.
In the 1980s, an out-of-town developer attempted to restore the Shaniko Hotel but later sold the property to Robert Pamplin Jr. Though the hotel was listed for sale for quite some time, it has been taken off of the market.
Shaniko attracts ghost town tourists, but a wastewater issue still prevents any large scale tourism efforts from forming. Local businesses operate seasonally from April to September to accommodate the tourists, including those in "Shaniko Row".