W.P. Vandevert
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Harper and the Harper Hotel

Excerpts from “The Peter Thompson Family in Central Oregon 1916 – 1920”
by Leona Sutherland Stocking, granddaughter of Peter Thompson
(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 that. 

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 change.

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 called.

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 time. 

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 safe.

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. 

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