The Campbell Family - Ranching Heritage Story

 Campbell Homestead in Lonerock Oregon

Campbell Homestead in Lonerock Oregon

With only a fifth grade education, but a firm belief that faith, hard work and perseverance could overcome adversity, Patrick Campbell planned to acquire riches in the New World and return home to Ireland.

But he was never to set foot on the Emerald Isle again.

James Carty, a Boardman area rancher, paid for Patrick’s three week voyage across the Atlantic and a week long train trip across the United States. To repay that debt, Patrick was indentured to Carty for three years as a sheepherder.

Carty’s herders did not receive cash wages, but were paid in sheep.

The sheep industry in the United States was in a 15-year boom when Patrick arrived. After his three years with Carty were up, Patrick now the owner of a small flock of sheep, partnered with a cousin, Pat Healy, until each had built up a band of about 1,000 sheep, enough to operate independently.

In those days, sheep were primarily raised for their wool. Every year brought the backbreaking chore of hand-shearing the sheep.

In the booming industry, competition for sheep forage was intense, requiring Patrick and other owners to migrate as far as Idaho and Montana during the summers.

Patrick’s hard work paid off. When he sold his sheep business in 1917, he had a bankroll of $70,000, a huge sum for those days.

He traveled to New York, planning to sail to Argentina in search of new worlds to conquer.

But while visiting Irish friends in New York City, he was conquered himself. There he met Kathryn O’Brien, an Irish lass who had come to the United States when she was only 15 and worked for 14 years as a household domestic for wealthy New York families.

When Kathryn agreed to share his Oregon life, Patrick gave up his dream of adventure.

Kathryn assumed she would return frequently to the East to visit relatives, but she had no concept of the distance between New York and Oregon. Thirty years would pass before she revisited New York, after raising a large family and enduring the hardships of a depression and a world war.

After Patrick and Kathryn purchased the Andrew Neal ranch near Lonerock, in rugged Gilliam County, it became their lifelong residence. The AN livestock brand that came with the ranch is still used.

Thus began a bare-bones, rural lifestyle much different than that of the affluent Eastern families with whom Kathryn had lived.

Bands of sheep dotted the hills of Eastern Oregon throughout the 1920s. But the industry was dealt a death blow when the stock market crashed in 1929, at the start of the Great Depression.

Burdened by operating debts and loss of income, the Campbell property was foreclosed by the bank.

Financier James D. Burns, owner of Condon’s General Store, helped the Campbells slowly regain ownership of the ranch.

They began to diversify by building up a small cattle herd, originally derived from dairy stock. Through the years, their cattle and sheep were upgraded with the purchase of better breeding stock.

Patrick and Kathryn were blessed with eight children, who grew up helping on the ranch.

Like other rural families during the depression, the Campbells kept themselves nearly self-sufficient with gardens, chickens, milk cows and meat animals.

The children were accustomed to hand-me-down clothing, shoes ordered from catalogs, Saturday night baths in the tin washtub and the “little shack out back.”

After reaching school age, they walked about 2 1/2 miles to grade school in Lonerock. There were always chores to do after school. For entertainment the children wrestled each other, played cowboys and Indians, tried to tame a wild horse and rode homemade sleds in winter.

The prosperous, wet years of the 1940s allowed land expansion for both the sheep and cattle operations. But hired help was difficult to obtain, as able-bodied men were drafted into the military for World War II.

The ranch work force was seriously impacted when the three older children, Patricia, John and Peter, entered the service. James and Tom left their schools to return to work on the ranch alongside Martha, Malachi and Kathryn (Katie), the three youngest children who were still at home. After the war, John came home from the Navy, while Peter finished college before returning.

Patricia came back to care for their ailing mother, who died in 1949.

Through the years, both the family home and business underwent expansion to accommodate the growth of the large family as the children married and raised families of their own.

In 1949, co-op lines brought power and modern appliances to the ranch. The Cimmiyotti ranch at Kimberly was added to the operation to allow for business expansion.

The sheep business upon which the ranch was founded began declining in the 1950s. Few men were willing to endure the demanding life of herders.

The Campbells turned to Basque shepherds from Spain, who were accustomed to harsh weather and a lonely lifestyle, but still could not find enough help.

Finally, land restrictions and a drop in national lamb consumption, compounded by unprofitable prices on wool, brought an end to the Campbells’ 59 years in the sheep industry.

The last of Patrick’s beloved sheep were sold in 1962, just one year before the family patriarch died at the age of 82.