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Fort Klamath Cattle Spend Winters in California

Ranchers in the Wood River Valley of Klamath County, Ore., learned in the early 1900’s that it didn’t pay to keep cattle there through snow-bound winters, although Fort Klamath’s nearby grasslands were prized for summer fattening.

Ranchers found they needed to acquire pastureland in Central California where cattle could be kept on winter range with less need for feeding hay.

It wasn’t easy in those days to move cattle from summer pasture at Fort Klamath to winter range in California.  They had to be driven over a timbered ridge toward the town of Chiloquin where a river and a railroad had to be crossed.  Ranchers considered themselves fortunate if they arrived in Chiloquin with all the cattle they had started with.  If any went missing, they probably ended up in someone’s freezer.

From Chiloquin, they loaded the animals on rail cars for the three-day trip south.  Cowboys loaded their horses on a stock truck and sped south over highways predating the Interstate system.  They raced to  California, hoping to arrive before the cattle train.  Every spring the process was reversed.

Ranchers still ship cattle back and forth today, but trucks make the journey in just a few hours.

 

Source: Nicholson, Bill. The Last of the Fort Klamath Cattle Drives. Fort Klamath, Ore.: Unpublished personal memoir, 2016. Print.

Todd Kepple has been a Klamath Basin resident since 1990. He was a reporter and editor the for the Herald and News from 1990 to 2005, and has been manager of the Klamath County Museum since 2005. He enjoys volunteering at Crater Lake National Park, the OC&E Woods Line State Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail. He is also a founding member of the Klamath Tree League.