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As It Was: Cowboy Historian Recalls Desert Livery Stables

Christmas Valley cowboy Reub Long, co-author of the book titled The Oregon Desert, wrote that before the early 1920s, “No town was much until it had a livery barn.”

Towns grew up around stables. Long said, “The stable came first, later a hotel was built close to it, then a saloon.”

Long said that before there were car rentals and garages, livery stables rented horses, teams and wagons to travelers. They also boarded and treated lame horses, and rented livery to local residents for weddings and funerals.

The travelers arrived by stage, hired a livery and drove over the desert on business. In Long’s words, “Traveling salesmen could scarcely operate without … (a stable) … and neither could cattle buyers, doctors, or homestead locaters.”

The stable was off limits for women – too much profanity -- and, Long wrote, “The slightly pleasant smell of horse manure was all over the place.” He noted that modern-day car rentals and garages are, as he put it, “short of … fragrance.”

Long wrote, “Fire was the only real enemy of the barn … The scream of a (burning) horse is a bad thing to remember.”

Source:  Jackman, E.R., and R.A. Long. The Oregon Desert. Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Printers, Ltd., 1965. 324-29. Print.

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.