Fort Rock, Oregon
Name: Fort Rock
GPS: 43.356120, -121.053980
Directions: From Bend Oregon, drive south on Highway 97. At 31.2 miles, just south of LaPine, take a left on OR-31. Turn left on to County Road 5-10. There is a huge turnout area here on the left side with an information kiosk. Fort Rock is 6.4 miles. You’ll be able to see the geological formation named Fort Rock on the left. The first sign of the town you’ll see is the Fort Rock Homestead Museum.
The town of Fort Rock is named after the nearby geological formation, a volcanic tuff ring that resembles a fort when viewed from the south side.
The history of Fort Rock is the history of Fort Rock Valley. Fort Rock Valley consisted of what today is Christmas Valley, Fort Rock, and the area north of the Connley Hills. Geologic evidence shows that the area was a lake that spread north all the way to the Blue Mountains. It is also the location of the oldest archaeological finds in the state of Oregon.
Early explorers through the area included Colonel John James Abert, John C. Fremont, and Peter Skene Ogden among others. All of them mapped parts of the region and named geological features. Trappers and people on the way to the gold mines in Eastern Oregon passed through – quickly.
It was the the Whitman Massacre on November 29, 1847, Chief Paulina of the Snakes in the 1860s and the Bannoc War of 1878 that kept this area from being settled. These indian threats made settlement, and even travel dangerous. Especially when travelers had to carry large amounts of water and supplies.
In the 1880s livestock operators started moving in. Sheep, Cattle and Horses grazed wild. Battles were fought over grazing land, and fortunes made as entire herds of horses were sold to the US Army as Calvary mounts. The Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 stopped most of this.
The Homestead rush of 1909 is what brought settlers to the area. Farming was still a decent living in those days. Shysters and land speculators fueled the rush with blatant lies about the amount of rain in the area. But most people lost everything.
During this time about twenty towns popped up in the Valley. Fort Rock among them. The Post Office in Fort Rock opened on March 9, 1908 with Josiah T. Rhoton as the post master.
Unfortunately the early 1900s were dry years and farming was not profitable. Many people sold out or walked away from their land. In 1915 lumber mills in Bend pulled people away with the promise of decent pay. More people were lured away as WWI started and industry needed labor.
The biggest problem though was the Soil Conservations Service’s Fort Rock Land Utilization Project. The Federal Government purchased large parcels of land from settlers that were deemed “fragile soil” in the belief that such lands should not be in the hands of private citizens. Much of this land was returned to nature with buildings being burned to the ground. This practice continued until WWII when the BLM took over the practice and loosened the rules.
Today Fort Rock is a collection of a dozen homes with a tavern as the center of town. A few other buildings were obviously stores or restaurants at one time but are obviously closed. The Fort Rock Valley Historical Society’s Homestead Village Museum along with Fort Rock (the geological feature,) being the big attractions for the town. They have moved a number of fragile buildings in to a small village setting and setup a museum around them. In the summer these buildings are accessible and filled with artifacts donates by families throughout the valley.