Oral History

Narrator: Sam Nobles

Interviewer: Donna Sinclair
Place: Umatilla Museum and Historical Foundation
Date: March 7, 1999


Sam Nobles came to Umatilla as a child in 1943. His family purchased a farm and worked in the cattle and farm industry for many years. He recalls the impact of McNary Dam on the community as well as changes in farming as small farmers have been pushed out of business by corporate farms.






[Tape Begins]

SN: My name is Sam Nobles I was born in Enterprise Oregon 10/24/1936.

DS: Can you tell me how you came to Umatilla, you and your family?

SN: We come down here as a farmers, my father was passing out up there in Enterprise and so they told him he needed to get out of the high altitude. So he come down lower and a bought a place here in Umatilla.

DS: How large was it?

SN: It was half a section so it was 320 acres.

DS: What year was that?

SN: 1943, December 1943.

DS: And what did you farm?

SN: We had mostly dairy, I was on a grade A dairy practically all of my life and of course we raised our own hay and we always raised a lot of swine and beef cattle and a we was always involved with the horses and mostly it was the grade A dairy and then in the earlier days we also had a lots of chickens. We sold their eggs and to Portland and places like that where we had over probably fifteen hundred chickens at one time.

DS: So how old were you when you moved here?

SN: I was in the second grade. Halfway through the second grade.

DS: So what was the typical day like when you were a kid on the farm?

SN: Well you know you just in the early morning hours of course not when going to school but after school we'd do our chores. In fact my mother and father used to tell the story that they would take us kids to the show and then we come home from the show at night and we'd be asleep in the car and my dad would say its time to go milk the cow boys and we'd get out of the car and start walking up the hill to the barn and here its just something you woke up doing, going to milk the cows.

DS: So, what time in the morning would you have to get up?

SN: 5:30.

DS: And then go to school?

SN: Go to school then come home and do our chores. But in those days we were kind of lucky. It was during the war and so on weekends most of the kids like your friends they'd be out at your place because they had nothing else to do so we grew up always with a lot of kids around and we was always in 4H club work, all of the kids went through the 4H club work system and go to county fairs. And my father belonged to the local riding club, Umatilla sage riders so we did a lot of a on our horses and just kept very busy.

DS: Can you describe what your farm looked like?

SN: Well it was a big ol' house and we had a lower level and then we had two bedrooms In the upper level and they was at that time they was my mother and father my brother and sister and my sister had one bedroom up on top and me and my brother had the other bedroom and my folks had one downstairs. When we first come here we still had the out door toilet we had to use and then in 1945 or 46 we put plumbing on the inside of the house. And we come in 43 when it was still burnin' coal so we'd go to town, we had a coal bin at the side of our house and they'd fill that full of coal. And we burned coal in the winter times. And then during the war of course you know, you couldn't get gas or you couldn't get sugar so you had the coupon books and I remember the family got a coupon book and since we was farmers we really fact I still got some of those coupon books left over in my collection because we didn't use all of the stamps. So we was kind fortunate having the extra gas and the sugar coupons, we never really did without.

DS: So what kinds of crops did you raise?

SN: Well you raised all of your own a you know you always had a big garden we had our own fruit trees but we mostly raise watermelons, alfalfa hay and we raised potatoes a couple of years but a money crops was the melons and then the crop that kept us going of course was our dairy cows. And then you raise your own feed for your dairy cows. Then we bought during the winter time we'd have to go to Milton Freewater and places and we'd haul a lot of peavines in those days. 'Cause they, they used to give the dairy men a quota and you'd have to meet that quota 12 months out of the year and you got paid for how much quota or how much milk you produced. So of course in the winter time the cows wouldn't produce as heavy so you have to plan to have better feed in the winter time to keep the cows up to quota so you wouldn't lose your quota. So we a lot of time would supplement good feed like the peavines and a good first cut of hay so the cows would keep a high production 12 months out of the year.

DS: What was the milking process like?

SN: We started out by hand and then of course we got the ?valve machines and they was just like three machines we had an old barn, and then you had the separator you'd milk the cows take that to the separator and they'd separate the cream from the milk and then we sold cream and then about 46 or 45 they brought a like a Dairy Gold Mayflower milk plant into Hermiston so then we started selling the milk in 10 gallon cans as a pasteurized milk we could a fill our 10 gallon cans and take them to town and sell the milk direct. And then in 1951 my father built what he called a grade A barn, cause the Oregon State Hospital had come to Pendleton, Oregon and they needed milk well they got about six of these local dairymen her to produce milk to supply it for the state hospital in Pendleton Oregon. So my father was one of the lucky ones that got on that first grade A system and you'd have to be inspected by the state to sell grade A milk and keep your cows you know your cows couldn't come in the barn and they couldn't be no mud no flies and so we got on a grade A system and we built a new milking parlor and at that time the milk would just go into a pipeline, go into a tank and they would send a tanking truck out pick you up. Pick the milk up and put it in a big tank and then take it back to the Mayflower plant in Hermiston Oregon.

DS: So was the pasteurization done in….

SN: In Hermiston yes. In the plant.


SN: They called it grade A milk because it had already been pasteurized.

DS: About how many cows did you have?

SN: The highest we ever had was 110. It was as low as when we first come to the country had 22 and when I stopped milking cows in 54 we was up to 100.

DS: And they were being milked mechanically?

SN: Yes you had three machines and you could put 12 in the barn at one time and you had them split in half and you had 6 at one end of the barn with the three machines on between the two groups then we got them done you moved the machines down to the other end of the barn and let that 6 go out and bring 6 more in so it was that you always had a constant supply of cows.

DS: So what has happened to the farm now?

SN: There is no more dairies. At that time in Umatilla County we had probably 25 dairies, today in 1999 there's not one dairy in Umatilla County still active.

DS: Why?

SN: I think mostly because of the population and the milk being consumed in the bigger metropolitan areas that your Mayflower plants, your milk plants moved to those bigger areas cause now they can take their milk in the big tanker trucks instead of the 5 and the ten gallon cans. So that's probably the reason. But the funny part of it is right now Tillamook is looking for to bring the processing plant back up to Umatilla or morrow County or Idaho because that's where your dairies are now. Because of the environment they are getting out of the bigger cities so the history is repeating itself, it's coming back.

DS: Are there people who are considering opening up dairies?

SN: I don't believe locally because all of our ground around here used to be 20 acre or 100 acre place you could deal with the cows but now days no we won't see dairies back in this area unless its big corporate dairies with 2 or 3 hundred head of cattle they milk 24 hours a day.

DS: You said that you still have the 25 acres?

SN: No, the ranch is still there but my father had the four of us and he's dividing it between the 3 of us boys and the one girl. So he's dividing the acres and give each of us 25 acres and the rest is staying and the same farm is still there.

DS: So what do you do on your 25 acres?

SN: Just raise 7 ponies now. I retired in 1998 from the state of Oregon as a Livestock Brand Inspector after 22 years, I'm back working part time but I took my retirement in 1998 so I'm just raising 7 ponies now and having fun.

DS: What is your considered heritage?

SN: Well that's good, they tell me I'm a little Swedish and what else(laughter) Norwegian.

DS: And your schooling?

SN: I went to first grade in Laustine Oregon and halfway through the second grade. I graduated from Umatilla High school in 1954, as the student body president. Spent the first term over at the Columbia Basin College the first year they opened up in Pasco. Did not like it , went in the service, did not like it, come back home started college at Eastern Oregon in La Grand but did not complete it. So my 12 years of high school is pretty well my education.

DS: So you graduated from Umatilla High School during 1954, which would be during the period of influx of dam workers.

SN: Yes I went through the influx from 1946 in our senior class we had like 7 students and then it went up as high as 51 or 52 then when I graduated we was back down to like 30 students in my graduating class. When my sophomore class at one time we had over 60 kids in my sophomore class in Umatilla which was bigger than the whole school before. Before the McNary Dam went in. But it was not only McNary Dam they also completed the bridge across the river 1954 too so with the dam being completed and the bridge being put across the river construction was pretty good here for a few years. But you know Umatilla's been through this for years. We come down here in 1943 and a lot of my relatives had come down and worked at the ordinance depot. Because that was when they was needing all that help at the depot for taking the men to the service. The only reason my father didn't go to the service cause he was a farmer and they was exempting farmers cause they was needing farmers. A lot of uncles and all they went in the service and their wives come down here to Hermiston and worked there at the ordinance depot. My grand mother worked…

DS: What kinds of work did they do?

SN: Every thing from shipping bombs out to driving forklifts to, ah I had one aunt that she ran the café out there at ordinance. But they just then my grandmother used to put tags on the bombs certain bombs that she would help ship out. Then I had another aunt and she used to band them and put them on pallets, her job was to band these bombs so when they shipped them out they wouldn't be sliding in the boxcars. They just shipped rail the ammo out of the depot out of ordinance.

DS: Did you go out there when you were younger?

SN: Nope, I never did go out there until about 2 weeks ago I went out there and toured it, you know they give the tours now. I took a tour.

DS: What did you think of that tour?

SN: I really liked it. I wish I'd went out there earlier it was kind of interesting cause that day on the tour I'd worked at ah 1955 after the Korean incident I worked for Tidewater Schaeffer and we loaded bombs out at the depot put them on boats down at Irrigon and they'd take those bombs out to sea and just drop them off out to sea. Well some of those in those days had the agents in them that they are concerned about now. But at that time the military govt. did not think it hurt to put the waste in the sea. But they realize they could not do that so they stopped doing that. So on the tour I happened to bring up that question about well, yes they did do that but they stopped because they realized it was not a good environment issue. But we did dump a lot of bombs after the Korean incident.

DS: What kind of an effect has the chemical depot had on the region?

SN: Well I you know I lived here all of my life and I've never been worried about the explosives or the gas out there. It was a boom for the community. Especially back in the 40's we had nothing here. 1909, when they built the Bureau of Reclamation put all of the project in the United States, Hermiston and Umatilla we did good in those years because we had the federal workers come in. In fact we got a dam three miles out of Umatilla and that was built in 1909 to 1912 during the B of R days. And out Umatilla High School the one they are going to tear down this year it was finished in 1912. Started a bout 1909, 1910 so they was a lot of , helped a lot of communities in those days when the federal govt. come in and then its kind of funny years later WWII here comes the depot, then in 1948 or 46 they started McNary here comes the federal back again. Umatilla has pretty well thrived on the federal govt. or the railroad. You know you go down and you come back now we got the state penitentiary which is a big plus for us we're getting a lot of positive things out of that. We always said we was a crossroad between Boise, Spokane, and Portland, we was always called the banana belt of the northwest cause you can live here in the Umatilla Hermiston area and your watermelons, your hay, your potatoes will come 10 to 12 days earlier than any place else in the Columbia Basin. It is just our climate here. It is the banana belt for the northwest.

DS: What do you know about potato farming?

SN: Very little, when I first come down here we had potatoes on our ground, we got 20 ton to the acre. It was all hand dug and my family never got into it cause in those days you did not have the Simplots of the Lamb-Westons you didn't have the big plants. Now days everything is done so much you know with technology that just now like melons we used to out there and throw the seeds on the ground put 4 or 5 in a plant the mice would get a couple of them and you know you get one melon you know you'd get enough melons. Now everything is done with machines, and you put em in hot houses you grow that melon, you get it started before you put it in the ground and, the technology is so advanced that some guy like me would probably go broke real fast if I went back to farming.

DS: So what was harvesting melons like?

SN: Well you just hired, in those days we'd get all the local kids in the town and you would have to go through them and wed them about every two weeks. In fact after I got out of school I farmed my self and I used to hire some local high school boys and they come out and hoe the watermelons and the girls. I grow up with those kids, went to school so it kept a good communication through the kids because they'd holler oh yeah I worked for you in the melons. So that's been fun. And you have to do everything by hand when you get ready to pick em and load em and I had seven stores in Spokane WA. where I would unload. I'd pick my watermelons the boys would help me load em I'd seven to seven and a half ton on my truck take them to Spokane, deliver about 300 in each Thriftway store, ever stop back by Pullman WA at that store and then come back and do the same thing the next day. It was a one man operation with a bunch of kids non-stop all by myself.

DS: So farmers couldn't do that anymore?

SN: No.

DS: Can you explain why?

SN: Oh, the only way you can do it because of the costs, you could probably still do it but it would be just like having a small grocery store at the edge of town with a small soda shop. Maybe there will be a time when that comes back because of the costs to do something but big business and big technology you just cannot compete with it. So the small farms just went out like the small grocery stores. And the small soda fountains. But I see it coming back I can see its come a time where it costs so much to do things if you hire people that I can see families going back to their own business just to save the costs. Maybe history is going to repeat itself its going to come back around.

DS: Umatilla still has some small business owners, there's one market in town right?

SN: Uh, yes we got uh right, like I said Umatilla's been up and down. Its really hard to get tourism to stop in Umatilla we get a lot of traffic on this highway but we don't pull one out of every 2000 cars into our businesses. We've all tried it for years but we haven't been able to do it.

DS: Most of its truck drivers isn't it?

SN: A lot of it is you know tourism is a real popular thing in the State of Oregon and Umatilla county a few years ago went for agriculture and Baker County went for tourism. Well I look back at it and I think well Baker did a pretty good job and we're still trying to find our niche here but uh Umatilla County does good in agriculture. In the State of Oregon we produce in our county several crops, we produce more money than any of the other counties so Umatilla is an agriculture community but tourism is awful important to us.

DS: Would you see the agricultural foundation as something that's sustainable, the way that it is right now?

SN: I see it slipping because I don't know what it take s to make a strong agricultural base. Potatoes are good, or corn is good, the onions they come and go but as I look on history I can see these same potato people being in the Idaho area . . . for years then they kind of drifted down here. To me I think the future of the potatoes and the onions is going to be in Nevada. I can see this Nevada land being open for years and all of a sudden we're getting more farms in some of those valleys that kinda….

DS: What's causing that?

SN: To me a lot of these crops they rob the ground and you don't put the nutrients back in the ground and you raise that crop so many years you took everything out of the ground it takes years sometimes to get it back in the ground. In the old days the philosophy was you'd put melons in seven years you'd come back with melons. In the mean time you'd raise alfalfa hay or you'd raise something to put the nitrogen back into the ground. Watermelons and potatoes they take a lot of nitrogen and you have to get it back into there some way. And we got so many chemicals now that do it faster, we color the food I don't know.

DS: So have you heard much over the years in farming about soil conservation?

SN: I haven't but there is a lot of it going on you know, we got a real good experiment station In Hermiston by the Oregon State College. They do a fantastic job. As a farmer if I ever wanted to know anything about my ground I could go to those people, they come out and so its there. Its just technology that you need to keep up on.

DS: But the large companies don't seem to be following some of the practices or fallow periods?

SN: I don't think they do, but cause if they did I used to see a lot of our good land going to the forestry products, I see these trees on a lot of land that for years and years had money crops. All of a sudden you got these trees out here, well how many peoples is it going to take to do that work compared to the melons or potatoes. I can see counties losing population because of the cottonwood trees and may be I'm wrong it just looks like counties are going to suffer revenue as more of these are coming in and we are getting a lot of that agriculture into the area. Whether its good or bad I don't know.

DS: Did you work on or did you know anybody that worked on McNary Dam?

SN: I never did work on it but a lot of my uh a lot of people I knew you know did work on it a lot of my classmates parents worked on it. So we had a place up there we called silver city they had no housing in this area when they first come in here these people come in here and they lived anyplace. There's old house up on the old Umatilla River road between here and Hermiston and the buildings are still there but they have not been lived in since McNary Dam stopped. I mean these people tried to find any place to live. Kind of like now but the housing but the housing is being developed and we had a place called silver city and, I don't know how many trailers but you could just look for as far as the eyes could see and you'd see rows and rows of these silver domed trailers. And so my friends lived in there and so I spent a lot of time with them. But as far as working on the dam no I never did.

DS: Can you tell me how the town changed during that time?

SN: Well we got modern real fast. All of a sudden you got the theatre coming to town you know we used to have to go to Hermiston to see the Saturday Matinees. Now you got a theatre in town you got more than one café in town, you got a taxi in town and I look back at it as being about 12 or 13 years old and now al of a sudden a lot of kids come in and they had been experienced. A lot of them had come from Grand Coulee, their parents had built Grand Coulee so they come on down to McNary after Grand Coulee. Well you know we was introduced to the cigarette. We was introduced to things that as a little agriculture town I had not seen. So that was a phase and you know the cars, a lot of kids in those days older kids they had cars. Well they wasn't too many of us had cars you know maybe a few but all of a sudden there's more cars. And the ones that was here there was more jobs. You could work in a service station, as a high school kid I worked in the local service station. Coach one year took us all up to Pomeroy WA. we was football players and to get us in shape he took us all up there to work in the Green Giant Pea factory.

DS: What was that like?

SN: It was interesting, I drove a Swather on a side hill going out and cutting the peas and then the trucks would come and take the peas to the cannery. But the hills was so tight up there, so steep they had to put a cat on top of the hill and tie you to like a toll and then you'd drive the Swather around the hills up there. It was interesting work.

DS: How long did you stay there?

SN: Just that summer.

DS: What type of housing?

SN: They had a bunkhouse.

DS: Did you get paid?

SN: Oh yes.

DS: And that was arranged by the high school coach?

SN: Yes he did that for about ten of us football players. It was real fun. In those days you was used to work so work was not really important. Getting away from home was the most important thing.

DS: Did you ever work in food processing around here?

SN: Not necessarily inside like the cannery. We had hops here years ago and before I used to do anything else I used to go out an train the hops.

DS: What does that entail?

SN: When they first come up they got poles in the fields and you start that vine and you wrap it around like a tomato plant today and then you'll climb up the pole so you train the vines to climb the poles. That's what we did for a couple of summers.

DS: Were you involved in the harvesting at all?

SN: Nope.

DS: Any other crops that you were involved in?

SN: Not here you know I went to Arizona and was involved with the cotton for a lot of years. I drove a cotton-picker and I actually went out and picked cotton by hand and put it in a sack and carried it up on the trailer and dump it in. I was involved in cotton quite a bit when I was down in that country. And I drove combine when I was down in Yuma Arizona picking grass seed. I'd get up at three o'clock in the morning because in the summer time down there it would get to be about a120 between Yume and Welton. We'd get to work early in the morning and all of a sudden about 8 or 9 o'clock in the morning you wouldn't see the farmer because it takes you all day in that country to get one bin of grass seed and it was so hot that(laughs) he'd be gone by the time noon come around. You'd go home about noon and come back next morning about 3 o'clock in the morning to get started.

DS: So you were out of town for a while?

SN: Yes, I left Umatilla in about 1959 and went down there into Arizona for uh, I went down there to work in the mines. At Globe, Arizona in 1959 they had a strike in the mine and they didn't go back to work for two years so I went to work for the Safeway corporation. It was the only job I could find so I went to work for them. I was gone for about 6 or 7 years then I come back.

DS: What kinds of changes did you see when you got back?

SN: There wasn't a lot of changes in those years it was almost like I hadn't been gone. The town did not grow that much in those years and there was kind of some blank years. It didn't start growing, in fact you still could have bought property pretty cheap back when I first come back. See I come in 66. But there wasn't much change at all between 59 and 66.

DS: So when were the biggest changes?

SN: Uh, 48 to 54 was a real big change and then the last three years have been a drastic change.

DS: What about the impact of the dams? Can you describe what the physical landscape looked like before McNary?

SN: Awful bare. I mean you know if you look at the pictures there was nothing at McNary. In fact right were McNary Dam is today when I rode the school bus in 1943, we had one bus and it picked up every kid in that area at our last stop we had to swing in there and turn around and pick up a family by the name of Strangs. And that was right where the coffer dam is today, Or the rock part of it. It was right in that driveway. So there is no houses down there no more of course but the road is still there where you turn off of 730 that is the start of it. But then of course its all wiped out from there on down. And then there was nothing at McNary, that's all new I mean there was nothing there. Absolutely nothing, and of they still had the old ferry boat running across the Columbia River. So there was no bridge no dam just a big ol' rock current, what they called the rapids right where the dam is sitting now. There is a lot of difference. In fact the wild horse used to come down to Horse Heaven Hills and drink water right there where the bridge is now you could actually see those wild horse come down and drink water. The last year they come down there that I saw them was like 46 or 47. I guess too much construction because wild horse never did come down there to drink water anymore.

DS: Do you know if there are still horses out there?

SN: I don't know, you know its farmed so much but its so vast I don't know.

DS: I wondered about that.

SN: Yeah 'cause they was in the late 40's they was still coming down and drinking but I really kind of doubt it but there is a lot of places they could be hiding out there but maybe not.

DS: What did the ferry boat look like?

SN: You know the landing where we used to get on it was right under the bridge. And I don't remember, you could get two cars side by side maybe six cars or twelve. But in those days my father was involved with a lot of cattle, he was a cattle buyer and we would haul a lot of cattle into Portland to the stockyards and come back and we used to cross the ferries at uh we didn't cross this one too much but they had one at Patterson that we crossed an awful lot to go into the State Of Washington. Then they had one at Blalock Island. We used to cross that one at Blalock Island before the dams went in. Then the only other one in fact that's the only three that I ever crossed. And then before the Highway was built on the Oregon side we used to cross the Bridge of the Gods and go down the Washington side and go into the sale yards because we didn't want to drive up around those loops you know. You know the ones up around Crown Point and that was the only way to get to Portland on the Oregon side so we always crossed over at the Bridge of the Gods and went down the Washington side for years.

DS: So you would sell the cattle in the stockyards?

SN: Yeah, my dad would buy them up here at the sale yards. I started driving cattle truck on Saturdays and Sundays probably before I don't know, before I was old enough to and then we'd take a load of cattle down there and the we'd bring something back.

DS: That was a thriving place wasn't it?

SN: Oh very big. And of course every year I was in the 4H so I would go up into what they called the Livestock Pacific International Fair. And that was quite an experience for me because they would take us kids and one of the nights they'd take us out to eat and march us through downtown Portland.(Talks about stockyard show and 4H.)

DS: Did you go swimming in the Columbia as kids?

SN: Yes we did, but not very often. We just didn't have the time for that. We was so busy with farming and the 4H and the Sageriders that that was an activity that didn't have time for. No boating, no fishing no, no one in my family.

DS: Was there any hunting?

SN: Yes we'd go out once a year and of course we all got Jackrabbits and Pheasants. We had them local so as a kid I did a lot of Pheasant hunting, Jackrabbit hunting and Duck hunting. But going into the mountains and hunting the deer and all very seldom.

DS: Did your mom cook the Pheasant?

SN: Oh yes.

DS: How did she do that?

SN: Just like a chicken. We raised chickens all of our life so we always had the chickens and years ago this used to be quite a turkey community. There was a lot of Turkeys raised here. They had a plant in Hermiston that killed the Turkeys and shipped them out of the plant. In fact my mother used to pick Turkeys, she was probably one of the better pickers, you got paid by the Turkeys you picked and she could pick a lot of turkeys. That was in the early 40's during the World War. They didn't, the farming was not a money making deal so they had jobs. My father used to go and stick the turkeys and my mother would pick the Turkeys and then us kids would be home to do the chores cause it wasn't good money years and after the depression until 45 or 46. And then it got to be real good years. I can remember in 1948 we bought a new car and we built a new barn, 52 we built a new house so it was awful good years after the war. Then in 54 and 55 it started going downhill again. We about lost the dairy but there was some good years after the war.

DS: So why did you almost lose the dairy?

SN: Well they started dipping on the milk quotas. They wouldn't, they opened it up and instead of every body having a milk quota, someone decided you can sell all the milk you want to and the surplus we'll pay you for. So it wasn't a disadvantage to not have the quota, you could get the same price for your milk only they called it a surplus. For that you had to keep that quota, there was no such thing you could only produce so much, well now if you had more money and you could buy more cows it just became a bigger business and it broke em all. It was well, there is not a dairy in Umatilla County left.

DS: So what did your family do, when did the dairy go out of business?

SN: We, my father after I left in 54 my brother went in the service in 52 and I left in 54, my little brother was born 1948 so he wasn't old enough to run the dairy yet. He tried to kind of lease it for a couple of years and that didn't work out so there was some rough years in there even trying to keep the 360 acre farm together. He bought and sold cattle and went up and down the road as far as the farm making it, it didn't make it. It did not have enough money come off that to make it work. And then we got lucky and a rock crusher come in and put a rock crusher on our place and now the royalty off the rock is probably more money in one year than we made in ten years of farming it.

DS: How long did that last?

SN: Its still going on today. It saved the farm.

DS: Can you tell me about any community activities that you have been involved in?

SN: Well let's see, I served on the Umatilla school board for about 9 years. I got appointed and then I ran for two terms and got elected and the last term I ran for I got defeated. So I have been on the budget and the school board for a bout ten years during the late seventies and the early eighties. And I was, when I first come back I took over the presidency of the Umatilla Sageriders so I was the president of the riding club.

DS: What is the Umatilla Sageriders Riding Club?

SN: It was a club that was started here in Umatilla in about 1947. Billy Kick who was a Umatilla school board member today his grandfather give us some land, where the ground is up there on 730, and its just been a club in existence ever since. In the early days we'd get together and ride in the local parades, we'd put on a rodeo, in fact our bylaws call for us to always put on an annual rodeo at that grounds.

DS: So do you have one every year?

SN: Every year we have the Sagerider rodeo since we started. Yes, and my family's all went through it I think my dad was the president 2 or 3 years and I grew up to become the president 2 or 3 years. My little brother Bruce, he was the president 2 or 3 years so its been kind of in the family. Now we got my older brothers in the service and his boys in town and he's got kids so they will get involved in this cycle as they get older. So its been, all because of McNary Dam is when the Sageriders started. Right at the first too we had enough people and enough horses and that's when we started. In fact our first meetings was right here in this Umatilla Museum because we didn't have a hall or nothing. So the city of Umatilla let us use the city hall and we had our organizational meetings here and also at McNary, we had a grocery store up there by Karl and his brother, I can't think of their last names but they let us use the building next to theirs. At that time we called the teen center we had a couple of meetings up there organizing the Umatilla Sageriders. And that was during the construction of the Dam. Because the one time they was a nice grocery store up there, we had the teen center up there, it was a pretty big place, a lot of people.

DS: and you were young enough to be involved in it?

SN: Oh, yes, enjoyed every bit of it.

DS: So the Sageriders Club and the rodeo, is there a lot of participation from around the county? Do people come to Umatilla for this rodeo?

SN: Yes, its not as good as it was in the old days when we was the only ones that had it. Nowadays everybody has a rodeo. But there's a lot of people my age or my generation that you know they'd come either from Condon or Ion or Heppner and help us put on a rodeo. The guys would come and rope local, we have a lot of contestants and we had a good rodeo. The Umatilla Sageriders one year had a polo team. Where you use a big rubber ball about the size of a basketball and you got a mallet and you hit it, with your horse. Well when I was growing up, for two years we was the polo champs of the Pacific Northwest. We beat the Mollala teams and we beat the Washington teams and they wanted us to go back to Texas and play in the finals, but we're all farmers or you know we couldn't take off a week but it was fun cause we was good enough to go that far.

DS: Do you have any professional rodeo riders come through for an appearance or any thing?

SN: Not now, you do if you have a professional rodeo show or, we don't. Over the years they tried to have it but we went back to having just the regular Oregon cowboys. Its pretty expensive to put on a, but you know. Hermiston puts on a great one now. Hermiston will compete with Pendleton in a few years. They put on a fantastic RCA rodeo.

DS: Did you ever compete in a Pendleton Rodeo?

SN: Not the Pendleton Rodeo w4ll I did but not as a rider. I did as an express team the Sageriders, we had a pony express team up there at the Pendleton roundup. So during the 50's and the late 40's I participated as a pony express rider and rode those horses around. Yes I was pretty well involved in that and I used to do a lot of cow milking and for two or three years I was in the wild horse race.(laughter) Not too smart.

DS: Did you ever fall?

SN: Oh did I fall, those horses would bite you, you know I'd, I don't know, to be able to grab that rope, let them open that chute and you got 6 horses with three guys on this rope and you got to get your hands on that horses head, hold him so the guy can get the saddle on his back and then ride him over across this line. And it gets pretty dangerous.

DS: Did you ever see anybody get hurt?

SN: Oh, several times. In fact we was winning it one year, we'd won the local one we were in Walla Walla and we'd won the first day and all we had to do the second day is get the saddle on that horse cause we had all the points. And of course we were being real careful we think we're real good and we was on the ears and the guy was putting the saddle on and all of a sudden the kid behind us let his horse get loose from him and it just nailed all three of us and knocked the horse and us down. Of course we didn't get no points so we didn't win. It's rough but its just like, I tried to ride the Brahma Bulls and I never could do that either.(laughter)

DS: Can you describe a day at the rodeo?

SN: It starts real early in the morning. It starts day before because you fix your grounds up, you get the parking lot fixed up, you get you concession stand fixed up. Its all local people that’s doing this people that run the club. From selling the beer to putting on the rodeo its pretty hectic for. I used to take a week off just to put on this rodeo for one day because I was the president. And for that you have to sell the signs to help promote it, so you pretty well better have your money there because you had to go out and contract this stock. You want to get the best horses and the best bulls and the calves and the ropes you have to make a commitment like a year earlier to get that date then to get the stock in there it was a busy time.(Talks a bit about rodeos). It was nothing to be over there at 3 o'clock in the morning running slack time.(Explains slack time is like preliminary events before the show).

DS: Does the whole community turn out for this?

SN: Pretty much. Of course now its you know the professional riders come from all over like the at the Pendleton Roundup. At the Umatilla Sageriders they still get them but its pretty local, within a 200 mile radius.

DS: But it’s a pretty big event in town?

SN: Its pretty big. Its not like it used to be in fact it got so big there that the local people put on a local rodeo down below town for a few years. My grandfather, he was a city councilman for years in Umatilla during the McNary Dam days. In fact I think at one time about1954 he ran for the mayor, him and Mr. Bud Easton. Well the race was so close that my grandfather he went hunting. And so when the results came out they got to counting some more council members they counted 20 votes was more people than they had registered to vote in the city of Umatilla. So they was quite an article in the local paper about whether Frank Nobles was going to contest this or not, one of the councilman, but he's hunting and they can't get through to him. So it finally ends up, Umatilla had no money in 1954, it was going to cost the city quite a bit to have another election so pappy just had to write a letter saying that he didn't contest it. They let it go that way and that happened here in Umatilla in 1954.

DS: So was he settled here and then your father came here?

SN: No, it was the other way around. My father come in 43 and my grandfather and my grandmother moved down here in 44. He built, there used to be a place right across the street here it’s the vacant lot they tore the building down last year it was called the Silver Dollar. So during the dam days he built the tavern over there called the Silver Dollar. He ran that for a couple of years then sold it.

DS: Why was it torn down?

SN: Awe, it was just an old building they used this for city hall then they used that for city hall. Then when they built the new city hall down there, I guess they were just you know it just was not worth keeping. But you know we seem to be good in Umatilla for tearing down history. You know the first school that ever was in eastern Oregon, we lost it during the McNary Dam days when they bought out the lower part of Umatilla.

DS: Was that during the McNary dam days or the John Day Dam days?

SN: Well, yeah, it was John Day when they backed the water up.

DS: And that was the one that was built in 1860 wasn't it?

SN: Yes. Because when I come down here in 43 I had to attend school down there, the fifth graders they sent half of us down there because we had too many up here in the fifth grade.

DS: So you know the bell story?

SN: Oh yes. And of course we had one of the oldest lodges, a Masonic lodge down there. That building now sits over at Echo. They still use it, its Tuscan lodge 40. And the local lodge is 146 and that one was the 40th lodge built.

DS: How did it get to Echo?

SN: Well we lost it you know, it was just like our courthouse, there was nothing going on in Umatilla in those years and so they just tore it down board by board. Our first jail that we ever had the log building it sits over at Echo on Dick Snomes property. We've tried to get that back as a museum board now but the Snomes have pretty well promised it to the city of Echo. They've got a nice historical society over there. Every body wants it, it was the original jail and courthouse. There's a lot of history here and we lost a lot of it like the old roundhouse, we're going to lose the 1912 school they are going to tear it down when they build the new High School. I'm going to do a video of it. There is a lot of people in town who graduated there and I want to get a picture of one of the first students that went to it in front of it.(Talks about early students and alumni association of Umatilla High)

DS: Having the school torn down must be…?

SN: It's hard on guys like me. You know I thought they could do it without tearing it down. See now you get modern school boards and new people in the area and its going to be a beautiful school, the one they are building. We definitely need a new school I just like to preserve things.

DS: Did you go to school in that school?

SN: Oh yes.

DS: What's it like inside?

SN: It's just like any other building to me. During the dam days they split us in two so from my fifth grade on my fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade they split us in two they put 20 of us in one room and 22 just depends whatever just put half and half. So you grew up but still now you back and its hard to remember which kids was in your class and which ones wasn't. Because once you got the first you was all the same class. I can look back and see and remember some of the teachers we had and you know.

DS: Do you have any pictures from those years?

SN: Just in the, my sister's putting together a scrapbook for the family. She graduated in 55 and I had a brother that graduated in 52. So she's putting a book together so we all got it and there will be a lot of pictures in that. I personally don't have a lot of pictures, just my own you know. I was involved in 4H club work a lot so in fact that year I went to the Dalles and I had the grand Champion Hog in the Dalles. And I got 50 cents a pound in January by October I had the Grand Champion Swine down there, and I got a dollar a pound. Just the difference between being in Portland or the Dalles. Because of the people buying the…

DS: How big was the hog?

SN: 220 Lbs. In those days you had between 200 and 240. Nowadays they get them up to 260 and 280 but 240 was about all they allowed in those days.

DS: What did it take for a kid to raise a Grand Champion Swine?

SN: I was always pretty aggressive because I was always small. I graduated from High School about 5' 6" and weighed about 120 lbs. and I played football. I go back to the newspapers see that I played a lot of basketball so as a young person it was a challenge to me to be motivated. My father made sure we was all good hog showmen. We'd go to someplace, in those days you'd wear white outfits, I mean you'd have your cane, your pig would be washed. You'd spend hours, we'd put black polish on their feet I used to have the Hampshires that’s the black pig with the white. So I could put powder on them, but you couldn't put enough on so if the judge slapped them it would blow. It had to look natural. I'd take rags and wipe their ears out and its just like a haircut deal. You cut the hair off their ears and off their tails. It was called showmanship. Then you go out there and you compete with every body. They put 20 in a ring and then they have a judge come in. Well my father taught me that as soon as I went in that ring I become a hog showman. The pig always kept between me and the judge if that judge was here I'd move my pig so when that judge turned around he sees my pig. You can never between that and the judge and you never get too close to the judge you didn't want to be overbearing. So you just try to figure out what the judge was going to do and when he turned there sat your pig.

DS: Did you name your pig?

SN: Everything was named, your horse, your cows, every cow, a hundred cows and I could at that time tell you the name of every cow. Everything was named except the chickens but everything else.

DS: How do you see that the dams have affected ethnic groups in the region?

SN: I don't think the dam has had a lot to do with the ethnic groups at all. And in Umatilla it has had nothing to do with the ethnic groups. Not a thing. The only thing its done the new school up there, the federal money is what made the difference. The Umatilla schools are as good as they are because of the dam. That's where all of our money come from. The hospital at that time, we even had a local hospital just things we built up in this community that was not here and would never had been here if it hadn't been for the federal money on the dam. Just like right now the prison. We get a lot of things that would not be here if it wasn't for the money being here funded by the State of Oregon.

DS: So what kind of things are coming in now?

SN: Oh everything. Number one you'll see maybe 10 City Patrolmen. In other years you have seen 2 or 3. So we are getting more. As far as the ethnic or what the prison might have done to the population, it hasn't been here long enough to see the difference in that. The only ethnic change here is agriculture. In that you see its bringing in a lot of Hispanic peoples come hear but as far as ethnics….

DS: What do you see that as related to?

SN: Cheap labor.

DS: What about circle irrigation? Has there been an impact?

SN: Yes. The impact has brought people in. Because of the circle irrigation you can bring the Lamb-Weston's and the Simplots. Where you couldn't have done that with the flood irrigation. You just couldn't raise enough and not enough water. That sprinkler irrigation compared to flood irrigation takes so much less water. Just like the trees, it takes a lot less water to do a thousand acres of those trees than it will to alfalfa or corn or watermelon.

DS: How about the incineration?

SN: Its going to come and go its going to be like a dam. It kind of depends what they do with the depot after that. I was on that tour and those igloos are fascinating. I think there should be some fantastic use you know, but the way we work they will probably sit out there for another 20 years and then someone will come up with a good idea. I tried years ago when I was on the school board in the early eighties, a couple people came in to Hermiston, they was an attorney and another man, and we got together 2 and 2 school board members we tried to get together and form us a local high school. And we was looking at some places like the depot where we could put a high school that we could all get one because education was to the point where it was costing us a lot of money. And then we just put blue Mountain College and what I see today I see a lot of our seniors we're educating them in our smaller communities and then they are going to Blue Mountain, and getting the same thing that we should have give them in high school. So its costing the taxpayers double today. They can't make it to La Grande or they can't make it to Portland State or Lewis and Clark maybe one out of the 30 or 40 that leaves Umatilla. So we thought that if we had one high school we could have better teachers and have more money and do a better job of education. But these little communities are so solid you talk about consolidation its not there. We might have made it through the school board but we would never have gotten it through the community. We at that time we was trying to keep our eighth grades in our local communities or junior highs but the state law will not allow you to do that now. Once you merge a district you have to merge everything and we was trying to keep part and that kind of threw us back. (Talks about the local politics and school board)*********Tape change

SN: We've always to me we have not done (taught the kids well) that.

DS: And did that seem really significant 30 years ago?

SN: No more than it is today.

DS: Do you think its more significant today?

SN: I think it’s a terrible shame today. Because of the technology we got that our kids cannot go to other schools I eastern Oregon and not fit in with the standard. I think that's a terrible shame. I know how hard it is sitting there on that school board and I used to sit and take from Nov. the 12 to Jan. the 6 and see how much time a student and from those days because of all the vacations all the holidays, teachers institute, those kids don’t spend enough time in sports programs in small school that young man or young woman that's a junior or senior that’s got chemistry or what ever they'd be lucky, there's no way they can learn. There's not enough on task time and you try to put all that in 175 days a year that they have it down to, we're doing a very poor job with the dollar we're putting into the education system. We are doing a real poor job.(Talks about short school years)

DS: What do you think about the Umatilla Basin Project? Do you know much about it?

SN: Not too much. We tried well I remember about 40 years ago they tried to build a dam they called the Umatilla Basin Project. Its too bad it didn't go in because it would have solved all of our irrigation problems we have had. Because we waste more water down this Umatilla river in the winter time that we could irrigate the whole Eastern Oregon. If we had the basin project and the dams was done the way they are supposed to be.

DS: Is that the one the Indians were proposing?

SN: It started before the Indian, it's on Indian ground up there you know the Umatilla Reach its starts up higher where the headwaters are. But those canyons up above the Indian ground and it might have been a portion of Indian ground, there's nothing up in there its wilderness, it would have been a fantastic place to store water. And we would have the fish runs, I don't think the Indians would object because we wouldn't need three mile dam. We could have that water running from the Indian ground to the Columbia River for the Steelhead year round like they want. So that basin project was probably more important than the McNary Dam project. See they kind of told stories in the McNary Dam project. When McNary Dam was proposed agriculture, transportation, power, after they got Grand Coulee done and they did the first phase of the irrigation when it come time for the McNary dam to irrigate they had so much crops on the Columbia basin, that if they put any more crops over here the farmers would have went broke. So all of a sudden agriculture for the McNary Dam was not there no more. Even though the tube was under the dam to spill water out on here, it was never used until 5 years ago. Water now that they are coming underneath and putting into the Irrigon Canal is the same tube that they proposed in 1948 to put water on this project. The only reason they did it 5 years ago is now they are trying to save the salmon from the Three Mile Dam. But that was there back in 48 but because of what happened at Moses Lake and all those places, agriculture water become a third choice, power and transportation became one and two. My father went to meetings they were opposing it. The farmers were involved we was having water come up behind McNary Dam and out around that way now we put pumping stations in the river to do that. Between the Basin project that did not work and that project they have really hurt Oregon farmers.

DS: So if that project had been built and McNary had not been built the salmon would still be plentiful?

SN: Yes, the Umatilla Salmon.

DS: And where was the irrigation water coming from before they started using that tube?

SN: Three Mile Dam, until they put the tube in there. Now they can let the water go from Three Mile to the mouth while the salmon is coming up rather than drain the river for the irrigation.

DS: So now the fish are coming back up?

SN: Yes but they still have the Three Mile Dam problem. See that dam was built in 1909, how many years are they supposed to last?

DS: Let's talk a bit about the John Day Dam and the removal of the town and the buildings being moved. Is there anything else about how that affected the community?

How people felt about the community?

SN: Well I think it deterred it a little more. Because now you've lost a lot of history. My grandfather happened to have a house down there that he moved. You know he built out here on the sand burr edition so when he put up his new home, you know most of the people we lost they did not build back or decide to build back. A lot of our buildings left like our old church its setting in Irrigon. Some of those places like that so we just lost some of our community we lost part of the closeness there. Now you have a town that had been there for years where you used to do all of your, now its up here above the track. So yeah, there was a lot of loss in those days and they could have come back and developed it, but they didn't you know there could be an amphitheater down there. You know we have one of the largest archeological sites in the State ff Oregon down there. We did not work with the Indians like we should have. . .

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