Paving the Way for the Oregon Trail

Photo: Mural “The Trappers” by Norm CompThe historical growth of Vale begins with the Native American tribes living along the banks of the Malheur River, close to where Willow Creek enters from the north and Bully Creek enters from the west. The TrapperLife in this area centers around the hot springs that flow into Malheur River from under Rinehart Butte. With the super heated water flowing into the river, caves on the butte to dwell in and lots of salmon running in season, this area was a central gathering place for the Paiute Indians. The salmon runs were a primary gathering time for the people, who mostly lived in small groups the rest of the year.

In 1811, Wilson Price Hunt led John Jacob Astor’s overland expedition to Astoria. When the party reached the upper reaches of the Snake River, they left their horses and began canoeing down the river. After encountering Idaho Falls and American Falls they arrived west of what is now Burley Idaho. A boat was lost in the rapids of what is now Milner Dam. At this point, the Snake River entered a deep gorge and had several waterfalls such as Shoshone Falls, Twin Falls, Pillar Falls and many others. Travel on the river was impossible at this point so they cached much of their goods and divided into three companies. The party that traveled on the south and west sides of the Snake River were the first white men to pass through what would become Vale and Malheur County, Oregon . Their journey, led by the natives, took them up Burnt River and the Powder River to LaGrande. From LaGrande they traveled over the Blue Mountains to the Umatilla River and along the Columbia River until they arrived in Astoria in Janurary 1812. Members of this expedition returned later in the year, discovering the South Pass over the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming , which became the Oregon Trail .

How Malheur Is Named

In 1813 and 1814 a few members returned in order to trap beaver. Many of the members were French-Canadian and French was the language of choice. It is said that they build a cabin along the banks of Willow Creek, which was the first house built near what would become Vale. Their trapping expedition was so successful that they were not able to carry them all on the return trip. While they were gone, the furs were discovered by the local tribes. This misfortune caused the the trappers to name the area “Malheur”, “mal” meaning “bad” and “heur” meaning “hour” or “bad time”.

Trappers, Missionaries and Settlers

The Vale area was a popular area for trappers. In 1828 the junction of the Malheur River at Juntura was discovered by Peter Skene Ogden and a large party of trappers of the Hudson Bay Company of Vancouver, Washington. They also found the Humboldt River in Nevada on their way south.

It wasn’t until 1836 that missionaries arrived. The wives of Marcus Whitman and H.H. Spaulding were two of the first white women to arrive in the Vale area. However, Marie Dorian, who was part Native American and the wife of Pierre Dorian, a guide for the Wilson Price Hunt expedition, came through the area (or close by it) in 1811. She returned with her husband in 1813 and in 1814 escaped from the Indians after they killed her husband while he was trapping along the Boise River (Reeds River).

Journals of the early travelers along the Oregon Trail mention the Malheur River crossing and the hot springs where they could rest, take baths and wash their clothes. A temporary trading post, run by a Mr. Turner, was referred to in journals as early as 1853. Jonathan Keeney later built a house and barn near the hot springs. In 1870, Lewis B Rinehart bought the Keeney property and built the historic Stone House in 1872. In 1883, Henry C. Murray, Rinehart’s brother-in-law, leased the building for the first post office and Vale became the official name of the Malheur Crossing.

Wagons and Trains
The Trapper
Photo: Mural “The Escort” by Don Pretchel and R.E. PierceIn 1842 the first company came over the Oregon Trail to Oregon City. However, it wasn’t until 1843 that wagons could make it through to Oregon City. This was the common route west until the trains came in 1883. Vale became the center for shipping to the large area west known as the “interior”. Goods came by rail, were loaded on to wagons headed for Harney County and other points west. Cattle and sheep were shipped east from the Vale railhead.

Building Boom and the Present Day
The railroad came, as did telephones and a city water system and the building boom was on. An early city council decreed by ordinance that buildings in the commercial district could only be of brick or stone. The progressive council wanted to protect the new town from fire.

In 1887 the Oregon Legislature separated Malheur County from Baker County and Vale was designated as the temporary county seat. It became the official county seat after an election in 1888, defeating bids by Jordan valley and Ontario for the designation.

Vale has survived two major floods and countless dry years. The Vale Project of the 1930’s and the Bully Creek Project of the 1960’s have controlled the folds and opened new land to farming. Vale is in the center of a rich agriculture area, with row crops being raised in the valley, dairy cows on the benches and beef cattle in the low hills surrounding Vale.

At the present time Vale is not only the county seat but is also headquarters for the Vale Bureau of Land Management District. Oregon Trail Mushroom and Eagle-Picher Industries have plants in the Vale area. Oregon Trail Mushroom uses the natural occurring hot water in their operation. Cattle and livestock continue to play a role in the local economy with one of the largest livestock auction yards in Oregon holding a sale each Wednesday.

The Vale Pioneer Cemetery is located one mile north of Vale on the west side of highway 26.

Historical Buildings and The Vale Mural Project
“Born and raised on the Oregon Trail ” is depicted in historical murals painted on outside walls of buildings throughout town. Each has a site that can be viewed today and chronicles the evolution of the area from the earliest inhabitants to the days of the pioneers. The murals create an outdoor gallery that is educational and entertaining for all age groups.

Photo: The Rinehart Stone House today.photo_stonehouse Stone House 1872 (283 Main St S) One of the oldest buildings in Malheur County and in Eastern Oregon, it was built in 1872, by Louis Rinehart and has served as a way station on the Oregon Trail, a hostelry, a stage stop for the Boise to Burns run, and during the Bannock Paiute War in 1878, it served as a refuge for the nearby settlers. In more recent times it was a private home. The first Vale post office was established in this building in 1883. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, when it was a hundred years old. The Rinehart Stone House Museum is now open to the public.

Hope Brothers Building 1893 ( 187 Main St S ) One of the oldest buildings in town, it was built in 1893, by M.G. and I.W. Hope for their general mercantile store, replacing a frame building, which burned. It also served for a time as the post office. The Hopes sold their store and it became the first home of the Vale Trading company.

Opera House 1895-96 ( 147 Main St S ) Built in 1895-96, as a saloon by James Fell, an early county Sheriff after his first term. Its conversion to an opera house was a direct result of the state voting to go dry in 1908. The cost of remodeling was $3,000. It is currently being restored.

Vale Hotel 1908 ( 123 Main St S ) Built in 1908, by the First Bank of Vale as the Drexel Hotel; it was billed as the best hostelry in the intermountain country. With 58 first class rooms, it was favorably compared to the Idanha Hotel of Boise with all the conveniences including baths with hot and cold water. The northeast corner housed the bank. The building had a variety of businesses over the years, such as a drug store, café, bar, telephone office, doctor’s office and barber shop. Old timers recall the dinning room with its white tablecloths, the laundry being done by a Chinese laundry. National Register of Historic Places. It is currently being restored.

First Bank of Vale C. 1900 ( 114 Main St S ) One of the four oldest buildings in town, it housed the town’s first banking business which opened in 1901, with a capital stock of $50,000, J. L. Cole, president. National Register of Historic Places.

Ioof Hall 1907 ( 135 Main St S ) One of the new brick structures that were springing up in the downtown area. There were two stores on the ground floor with the stairs to the lodge hall going up the center. It has housed such businesses as a grocery store, bakery, barber shop and was the BLM office (upstairs) during the first years of the Vale Range Rehabilitation project.

Humphrey Building 1911 ( 150 A St. E ) (City Library) One of the several constructed during 1911, it was the Vale Hardware Store and a saddlery occupied by Billy Rose. L. K. Bullock operated an early garage and once when it had a hardwood floor it was the town’s roller rink.

C.C. Boswell Building 1908 ( 104 A St E ) The oldest building in this block, built in 1908, by C.C. Boswell as a drug store. It and the other new red brick building were replacing the older wooden structures so prone to be destroyed by fire.

T.T. Nelson building 1910 ( 100 A St. W ) In 1920, Mr. T.T. Nelson came from Pendleton and put up this white brick building which has been occupied by a furniture store, drug store, undertaking parlor and dentist.

Photo: 1906 Malheur Forwarding Company Building Malheur Forwarding Company 1906 (198 A St W) photo_forwardingcobld(Malheur Drug) This building was built as the headquarters for the Vale Forwarding Company in 1906, and for many years has been a drug store. It and the T. T. Nelson building are the only two buildings that have survived two major fires in this block.

Vale Trading Company 1911 ( 189 A St W ) On this spot once stood the Hess Hotel which, as did most of the original wooden buildings in Vale, burned to the ground. In 1911, the Vale Trading constructed this large building and moved from the Hope Bros. Building . It is made of native stone quarried south of Vale, as are several other buildings of this era. The same business operating under three names: Vale Trading, Vale Supply and Quisenberry’s, operated in this location until it closed in 1986.

First National Bank 1907 ( 201 A St W ) (Flying Realty) For many years this stone and red brick building was the home of the First National Bank which constructed it. There was a barbershop in the small store at the back of the building. James N. Jones and Don E. Masterson were the first administrators.

Goodrich Hotel 1907 ( 229 A St W ) This red brick building was constructed at the same time as the bank next door and the two businesses opened their doors for business within a few days of each other in 1907. The upper floor has functioned as a hotel and/or apartments from the beginning and a variety of other businesses have occupied the lower floor.

Methodist Church 1901 ( 263 Cottage St ) One of the oldest frame buildings remaining in town as well as the oldest church. The building that originally had a much higher roofline, built in 1901, was occupied in 1903, and has served as a church continually from that time.

Episcopal Church 1911 ( 576 B St W ) This wood frame building was one of three churches opened in 1911.