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Irish Immigrants Seek Fortune in Lake County, Ore.

Two Irish brothers in their mid-20’s, Hugh and Denis O’Connor, arrived in America in 1907 to seek their fortune in Lake County, Ore., where two other brothers had already settled.

They got jobs in a sheep camp, but Hugh left to work in San Francisco for six months before rejoining Denis herding sheep on the open range. Within four years they had an interest in several hundred sheep, and by 1918 established their headquarters for an operation that eventually covered 800 acres in Lake County, plus land near Bonanza, Rock Creek, Stukel Mountain and in Modoc County.

At their peak, the O’Connors raised 3,000 lambs a season, as well as alfalfa, hay, grain and potatoes.

In 1923, Hugh married school teacher Marie Dolan, who with her mother had once boarded at the Irish brothers’ large farm house while teaching at the one-room Lone Pine School north of Merrill.

Hugh ran the main ranch, while Denis supervised the widespread sheep camps.  Marie provided family and workers three solid meals a day, becoming famous for her sour cream biscuits.

Denis became known as the “poet laureate of the sheep camps” with a fine sense of humor.

Source: Merrill Centennial 1894-1994. Klamath Falls, Ore., Merrill Centennial Committee/Graphic Press, 1994, pp. 156-60.

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.