Harper and the Harper Hotel
“The Peter Thompson Family in Central Oregon 1916 – 1920”
by Leona Sutherland Stocking, granddaughter of
(Stocking’s document provided to Grace Vandevert McNellis by the
Crook County Historical Society).
The Harper Hotel was
situated about halfway between Bend and La Pine, Oregon. The
location, which had previously been called Lava, was designed to
become a town as there were survey stakes all around. (See the
plat map - ed.) The road had
quite a bend to the east just here and the hotel faced this road,
facing to the west. (If the hotel were still there, it would be
near the southeast corner of the intersection of South Century and
Spring River Road. – ed.) It was a very important hotel, necessary
as a stopping and change-over place on the stage route between Bend
and La Pine. The run continued on to Klamath Falls. The stage from
La Pine arrived about eleven o’clock in the morning for a change of
horses. The passengers and driver would have their dinner at the
hotel. They would just get on their way when the coach from Bend
would arrive about two o’clock in the afternoon. Each coach used a
four horse hook-up.
Peter Thompson from
Minnesota arrived here in January of 1916, looking for a place to
buy that would have jobs for his growing family. The hotel seemed
ideal as there would be cooking, waiting on tables, cleaning of
rooms, etc. for his wife and girls. He and his sons would handle
the stable and change of horses. There was also a small store in a
front room of the hotel.
Peter made a deal with
Marion Miller to buy the hotel. The Millers were a settled family
in the area. One brother, Marion and his wife (name unknown), owned
and operated the Harper Hotel. Another brother homesteaded about a
half a mile to the southeast. (Perhaps where the remains of a log
cabin are today in the nine-hole course at Caldera Springs. – ed.)
Peter was born in Glenwood,
Minnesota. His wife, Signe, arrived there from Norway as a young
woman. They married and proceeded to have ten healthy children,
even though they moved back and forth to Montana a couple of times
during those years.
Peter returned to the family
in Donaldson, Minnesota, and had a farm sale on February 26, 1916.
The family was all elated as they boarded the train for Bend. They
eagerly settled into the hotel. It seemed like a big place to the
children, though the building was only about twenty-two feet wide
and about forty feet long. It was build of lumber, wide boards of
yellow pine; with a square store-type front, and had two front
doors. The door on the south side was the entrance to the small
store and office. The other door entered on a sitting room which
had a stairway to the second floor. A large dining room spread
across the width of the house just behind these two rooms. In the
back were a bedroom and a kitchen with an access door into a lean-to
woodshed. There were nine bedrooms upstairs. The floors throughout
the hotel were boards.
The soil was sandy around
the hotel but there was one damp spot where water almost came out of
the ground. Peter dug a well there, not far from the hotel. He set
an open-ended barrel in the hole for a casing. It made a very
shallow well but there was lots of water.
The barn was a short
distance to the south of the hotel, probably about 28 by 40 feet.
They kept a complete change of horses there for the stagecoach.
There was a small school
about 300 yards east of the hotel (apparently called the “Harper
School” but not the “Harper School” that was built in 1925 and moved
to Vandevert Ranch in 1929 – ed.). The children didn’t go to school
there that spring as there hadn’t been enough children there to keep
the school open and there was no teacher. Peter was instrumental in
getting a teacher for September. They hired Miss Brinks who boarded
at the hotel and taught eight children. There were six Thompsons
and Richard and Lawrence Washburn. Miss Brinks went to Bend for
most of her weekends. She had a brother there who was a lawyer.
When she stayed at Harper for the weekend she helped Signe with the
meals. She was an older lady at the time and not much fun. She
didn’t stay the full term. Miss Ransom came to teach in the spring
and school let out at the end of May.
Large flocks of sheep passed
through Harper on their way to the Paulina Mountains for summer
pasture. Some of these flocks were huge with two or three thousand
head in them. The sheepherders used a few dogs to help move the
sheep. The Thompson children said they could hear them coming a
long way off. Sometimes a straggler lamb got left behind. The
children took it to Signe, who was able to feed it with a little
warm milk and nurse it along. They grew into a small flock of
perhaps nine or ten sheep. A neighbor, Mr. Atkinson, gave them two
rams. One was a beautiful white ram with long wool and full-curl
horns. Herds of cattle were also driven through the townsite going
towards Crane Prairie to the southwest.
The road was being built
from Harper north and east to Lava Butte. Peter’s eldest son Tom
(born 1895) worked with the crew. They had to dynamite a lot of big
stumps, some as large as forty inches across. They would put a
whole box of dynamite under the stump, light the fuse and run for
cover. The blast blew the stump in pieces high in the air and left
a hole in the ground big enough to drop a team of horses into.
There were always lots of
trout in the river and Arnold (born 1903) remembers using a willow
pole and a fly hook to catch them. Jennie (born 1906) remembers
cleaning almost all the fish that were caught.
Mr. Frederick L. Rice came
to teach at the school in September of 1917. He boarded at the
hotel and went to his home in Bend on the weekends. He always
chewed on raisins. He must have bought them by the pound.
A traveling minister stopped
at the hotel and managed to arrange to borrow Peter’s Ford car. He
kept it for about two weeks and Peter was getting a bit upset. He
really got upset when the man at the garage in Bend got in touch
with him to say that the minister had brought the car in for repair
and it would cost him thirty-five dollars to get it out of the
garage. It was a major rear-end job and it was a lot of money at
that time. Peter was always a bit leery about ministers after
The family drove to the town
of Bend in the Ford touring car to do their shopping. They stopped
on the way one day and all climbed Lava Butte. There were pine
trees growing all over the north side of the butte with a few more
right up on the top. The crater was a fascinating sight. There was
a regular type telephone booth situated at the top, kept locked,
with a telephone inside. The fire ranger would climb the butte and
check periodically for fires around. There was a lot of valuable
timber in sight, mostly yellow pine and jack pine.
The Canada geese wintered on
the Deschutes River, a small flock of perhaps fifty. One day Peter
crept up on them and was able to shoot three geese with his 12-gauge
single barrel shotgun before they flew away. The family enjoyed
them for their Christmas dinner in 1917. They made a very nice
Cars and trucks were
beginning to move around more freely and the stagecoach was losing
both freight and passengers. It was hard to make ends meet and
Peter went to work in the logging camp. Arnold got a part time
helping on the log landing near home as they prepared the logs for
floating down the river toward Bend. (The log landing was where the
Spring River bridge is today or just north of it. – ed.)
Another of their neighbors
were the Vandevert family, living about two miles south of the
hotel. One of the sons became and doctor and when Palmer (one of
Peter and Signe’s sons) had a heart attack, Dr. Vandevert was
A new teacher, Miss Arnold,
came to teach at the Harper School in the spring of 1918. She was a
young lady and very pretty. She also boarded at the hotel.
One day, two prospectors
arranged with Peter to take them to the Paulina Mountains. Arnold
went with his dad and he remembers they had to go down a very steep
hill. When they returned, the hill was so steep they couldn’t keep
enough gas in the carburetor to make it to the top of the hill.
Peter backed down the hill several times and took a run at it. But
they would only go so far and they would run out of gas and roll
back down again. They didn’t know at that time they could have
backed the truck up the hill and made it. Anyway, as they walked
toward home, they met a sheepherder who invited them to stay
overnight at this tent on Paulina Creek. It had got very, very dark
and was difficult walking. The sheepherder had a lot of canned
tomatoes. They didn’t get many at home so Arnold ate too many and
got sick. He wasn’t able to look at canned tomatoes for a long
When they got home, Rosie,
Gib and Palmer (Thompson children, aged 17, 16, and 13 respectively
– ed.) took the team and democrat (a light wagon having several
seats and no top – ed.) back to get the truck. Rosie rode home with
Peter in the truck and the two boys brought the team and democrat.
It got dark by the time they reached Paulina Creek. The team
stopped there and the boys were quite afraid. They soon heard the
sheepherder’s voice and were so relieved, knowing they would now be
Peter and Signe realized
they had bought the hotel at a bad time. The stagecoach run was
discontinued. Trucks and cars had completely taken the business
away. So Peter made a deal with Mike Mayfield who had a ranch over
on the Crooked River south of Prineville (now the Prineville
reservoir). Mike needed someone to put up the hay on the ranch for
his cattle herd in the winter. There was a nice ranch house there
so Peter took five of the children over there to put up the hay.
When September of 1918 came,
Miss Ransom returned to teach but she had married in the interval
and was now Mrs. Royer. Two children (Selma and Arnold) went to
Bend for high school and rented one end of a long, narrow house from
Mr. Metke who lived in the other end. It was about a block from the
high school. Peter let Arnold use the model-T truck one ton truck
to drive to school for the week. It had solid rubber tires and a
flat deck on the back. The young people were able to go home on the
weekend or sometimes Arnold would take part of the basketball team
to Redmond or Prineville to play basketball. Signe was alone with
the younger children at the hotel much of the time and Arnold would
phone her and bring the necessary groceries home.
Henry went to work at Lava
Butte. A camp had set up for a crew to haul cinders on the road.
They were extremely dusty with the extra traffic and there was very
little rain. There was no railroad past Harper at that time.
Peter and Henry were both
waiting to be called up when World War I ended. Tom’s regiment was
ready to sail for England when they got the news.
Peter and Signe sold the
hotel to a man who never paid them so it was a great loss.