▶️ Little Did I Know: The history of Crook County


If you’ve been around Central Oregon for very long, you probably know that the history of Crook County pre-dates the history of Deschutes County.

But Little Did I Know that the history of Crook County is a gold mine.

Before there was Deschutes or Jefferson – there was Crook.

“Actually, the first settlement in Central Oregon was in what is Prineville,” says Steve Lent, the Historian at The Bowman Museum in Prineville. “Francis Barney Prine came here in the 1868 and had a blacksmith shop. He kind of dispensed liquor out of the back. Probably made more money on the liquor than he did the blacksmith shop.”

Crook County was a spin-off from Wasco County.

“Crook County itself was created in October of 1882 out of Wasco county and included all of what’s now Jefferson, Deschutes and Crook and part of what is Wheeler county too. So it was pretty big county in itself,” Lent said.

That county took a look around one day and decided it wanted to celebrate its growing success with a fancy new courthouse quarried out of rimrock from right out the surrounding hills.

“But that also started people in the outside areas, they were starting to get developing communities such as Madras, Redmond, and Bend and they didn’t want to have to pay taxes for Taj Mahal Prineville,” he said. 

Thanks to the railroad and lumber, Bend was now booming and started to feel like flexing a little bit of muscle. So they approached the boys in Prineville and said:

“We’ve got probably the most population now,” Lent said. “So if you don’t allow us to have another county, we got enough voters to move the county seat to Bend. So that resulted in them saying okay, you can have the county in Deschutes County.”

Since Crook County needed to sell lumber to stay afloat and the railroad bypassed Prineville for Redmond and Bend, Prineville started their own railroad to stay competitive and it worked.

“But when the timber industry, large sawmills came. When Prineville was operating five major sawmills at one time it – was making so much money that they didn’t pay city taxes in Prineville. There was so much revenue coming in from the railroad,” he said. “Prior to that, Bend was producing the most ponderosa pine lumber in the world between Shevlin Hixon and Brooks Scanlon. But when we had five operating mills operating here, it was a Boomtown.”

One of the advantages Crook County continues to have to have to this day is that they have much of what Deschutes County boasts but without the crowds.

“Coming into Prineville – that’s pretty unique. Having a community surrounded by rimrocks. It’s near the Ochoco National Forest, which isn’t heavily used, as the Deschutes National Forest. Two reservoirs where we can have recreation and streams for fishing.”

I went fishing for stories at the Bowman Museum and struck gold.

So there’ll be more to come.


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