Our County History
In the Beginning...
For centuries preceding Anglo-European settlement, Columbia Basin Indians lived, fished, hunted and traded along the three rivers which border Sherman County. Early explorers reported the splendid abundance of the Pacific Northwest and by 1843 thousands of pioneers set out for the Oregon Country. Emigrants passed through what is now Sherman County in a great cloud of dust on the way to the Willamette Valley. As the pioneers felt crowded in the new settlements of western Oregon, they turned east to the Columbia Plateau for new opportunities.
The county's first white settler was William Graham, who located at the mouth of the Deschutes River in 1858. Innkeepers and operators of ferries, toll bridges and stage stations came first. Stockmen followed with herds of horses, cattle and sheep which ranged freely over the rolling bunch grass hills.
Homesteaders, eager for land, arrived in the 1880s by steamboat, stagecoach and wagon. Soon farmers were settled on nearly every quarter section, plowing the grass and fencing their fields in order to receive government patents.
As the population grew, so did the sentiment for independence from Wasco County. In 1889, E.O. McCoy's legislative bill created a new county to be called Fulton after the pioneer Fulton family. However, the name given was Sherman after General William Tecumseh Sherman of Civil War fame.
Trails, Rails and Roads
Beginning in the 1840s, emigrants on the Oregon Trail crossed through the northern part of the county from the John Day River Crossing to the mouth of the Deschutes River. Some emigrants destined for the Barlow Road, took a cut-off near the John Day leading southwesterly through Grass Valley Canyon to a crossing near Buck Hollow on the Deschutes.
From the 1860s, a series of stage, mail and freight routes crossed the county, connecting The Dalles with Boise, Walla Walla and Canyon City. The Dalles Military Road, established in 1868, cut diagonally through the county from the northwest on the Deschutes toward Shaniko in Wasco County on the south, following a route used for years by pack train operators.
Oregon Railway and Navigation Company trains steamed down the Columbia from the John Day River to Celilo in 1881. The railroad connected with the transcontinental line in 1883, bringing many settlers to the area.
The Columbia Southern Railroad, running from Biggs to Wasco, was built in 1897, with much celebration because it ended long days of hauling wheat by wagon to the Columbia. By 1901 the rail line reached Shaniko, stretching 70 miles. By 1910 the county's population swelled to 4,242 during the James J. Hill and E.H. Harriman fight to build rail lines up the Deschutes River.
Today I-84 parallels the Columbia River, intersecting at Biggs with Highway 97 which traverses the full length of the county, and linking it to Washington state via Sam Hill Memorial Bridge. Highway 206 follows Fulton Canyon from the Columbia River through Wasco to Cottonwood Canyon Grade and the John Day River and beyond to Condon. Highway 216 runs from Grass Valley to the juncture of Buck Hollow and the Deschutes River at Sherar’s Bridge, roughly paralleling the Cut-off to the Barlow Road.
The Land between the Rivers
Sherman County lies between the deep canyons of the John Day River on the east, the Deschutes River on the west and the Columbia River on the north in north central Oregon. Much of the boundary on the south is defined by the steep, rugged canyons of Buck Hollow, a tributary of the Deschutes. The county's 831 square miles are approximately 20 miles wide and 42 miles long.
Elevation ranges from 185 feet on the Columbia River to 3,600 feet on the plateau in the south. Summers are warm, dry and clear. Winters are relatively mild. Average rainfall is 11.56 inches a year, about half occurring November through February.
A Golden Land
High and dry on the Columbia Plateau, Sherman County's most important crop is soft white winter wheat. Moisture laden spring winds from the Pacific Ocean and a summer fallow farming system permit dryland wheat and barley production. A crop is raised only once in two years; every other year the land lies fallow, gathering moisture for the next crop. Grain is trucked from the July and August harvest fields to cooperative elevators and barge and rail shipping facilities at Biggs for transport to Portland. Supplementary income comes from beef cattle which graze the 223,000 acres of native grass range in early summer and on wheat stubble in the fall. Some families have small numbers of horses, hogs, llamas and sheep.
Town and Country Amenities
Down-to-earth, friendly and hard-working people live in the six small
communities, each about nine miles apart, and on the outlying farms. The population of 1,900 is equally rural and urban. Many are descendants of early homesteaders and have strong ties to the land.
Businesses in Biggs, Rufus, Wasco, Moro, Grass Valley and Kent offer food services, variety goods, antiques, gifts, rock shops, hunting and fishing guide services, farm implements and supplies, fuel and mechanical repairs.
Sherman Union High School, centrally located near Moro, serves the county and houses the Sherman County Library. Elementary schools are located in Wasco and Grass Valley. The Moro Clinic offers medical services. Baptist, Catholic, Church of Christ, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Methodist
denominations are represented in the county.
Volunteers provide many important services including rural and city fire protection, rescue and medical response, educational support and children's activities: 4-H and FFA projects, church youth groups, Scouting, Little League and school athletics. Adults participate in programs of OSU Extension Study Groups, a grain marketing group, Sherman County Historical Museum, Grange, fraternal lodges, Lions Club, American Legion, Oregon Cattlemen's Association and Oregon Wheat Growers League.
- Sherman County's charming 1899 courthouse in Moro is on the National Historic Register.
- Sherman Experiment Station at Moro provides facilities for research of dryland wheat, barley and alternative crops.
- Sherman County Fairgrounds near Moro is the site of the annual post-harvest fair in September and the RV Park and Campground.
- DeMoss Springs Memorial Park between Wasco and Moro marks the location of the DeMoss family musicians’ 1880 townsite. The park, where streets were named for poets and composers, is on Highway 97.
- Gordon Ridge, west of Moro and Wasco, offers a spectacular view of checkerboard fields with the purple Goodnoe Hills and Mt. Adams across the Columbia River to the north, and to the west, the steep canyon walls of the rushing Deschutes River with Mt. Hood in the distance.
- Deschutes River campgrounds include Deschutes State Park at the mouth, and further south, accessible from Highway 216, Mack's Canyon and Beavertail campgrounds. Visitors enjoy rafting, fishing, camping and hiking.
- The John Day Dam near Rufus on the Columbia River provides fish viewing windows under the fish ladders. Nearby Giles French Park is noted for sturgeon, walleye and bass fishing.
- LePage Park at the mouth of the John Day River offers facilities for boating, fishing, swimming and picnicking.
- The Columbia River's unique wind and water conditions near Biggs and Rufus challenge windsurfers and fishermen.
- The plateau and steep canyons provide sportsmen with deer, pheasant, quail, chukkar, duck and goose hunting in the fall and winter.
- The Sherman County Historical Museum in Moro is a winner!