Tuesday, May 5, 2015


By Shanna Hatfield
Recently, I made a trip to Central Oregon to meet with the very talented Jane Kirkpatrick to work on plans for the 2015 Women Writing the West Conference taking place this October in Redmond.  Jane and I are co-chairing the event and despite the wonders of modern technology, sometimes you just need a good old-fashioned face-to-face meeting.

On the way to Redmond, Captain Cavedweller and I stopped in Shaniko to stretch our legs and look around.

Considered a ghost town, about thirty residents inhabit Shaniko. In fact, Oregon has more than 80 registered ghost towns, making it the ghost town leader in the country.

  Looking Down Fourth Street from the East in the Early 1900's

Travelers who leave Interstate 84 and head south on Highway 97 toward the heart of Oregon, will travel through numerous small towns, all spaced about nine miles apart. (The common distance traveled in a day back when the towns were first settled.)

Wasco, Moro, Grass Valley, Kent, Shaniko are all historic towns along the highway.

Although we've stopped in Grass Valley before, since it's the setting for my Grass Valley Cowboys series, we generally drive right by Shaniko. It's located on a 90-degree curve and unless you choose to go straight and enter what is left of the town, you pass by it in the blink of an eye. This time, we decided to stop. There are a few museums in town, an ice cream shop, and a small store.

The remaining buildings definitely have an old west feel to them.

I love the lettering and lace in the Shaniko Cafe windows.

It's connected to what used to be the Shaniko Hotel.

Across the street is a jail museum, complete with cells and replica handcuffs.

Shaniko's history is tied to the development of the five transcontinental railroad systems that opened the United States to remarkable economic growth from the 1860s through the 1890s. A spur line called "The Columbia Southern Railway" would open the eastern interior of Oregon to successful enterprises.

In 1862, gold was discovered in Canyon City, Oregon, drawing people to the area. A route to Canyon City started at the early settlement of The Dalles (located right on I-84 along the Columbia River). Camps were made wherever water could be found. Two nearby camps, Bakeover and Cross Hollow, drew settlers to what would become Shaniko.

In 1867, after complaints of hostilities with Indians and fear of robbery during gold transportation, the US government built a military wagon road from The Dalles to Fort Boise, Idaho. Following this road, homesteaders began claiming land in Central Oregon that had before been inaccessible.

One of the settlers was August Scherneckau, a man of German descent who came to the area after the Civil War. Although the locals pronounced his name "Shaniko," he served as postmaster in the town originally known as Cross Hollows.

The first train arrived in Shaniko May 13, 1900. There were a few buildings and many tents pitched to service the 170 or so people residing in town at that time. The first wooden building built was (of course) a saloon.

The stage in front of the Shaniko Hotel
The town's heyday arrived in those early years of the 20th century when Shaniko served as a transportation hub spurred by the presence of the Columbia Southern Railway, as well as a stop on the stage route heading north and south.

At the time, the city was known as the "Wool Capital of the World," and boasted the largest wool warehouse in the state. It was the center of 20,000 square miles of wool, wheat, cattle and sheep production, with no other such center east of the Cascade Range in Oregon. The region served by the city even stretched into Idaho, south to nearly the California border, and Washington.

Unfortunately, a competing line from the Columbia River along the Deschutes River to Bend that opened in 1911 put an end to the trek many farmers and ranchers made to Shaniko to ship their cattle and grain. On top of the decline in shipping, a fire in 1911 claimed most of the buildings in the business district.

Passenger service to Shaniko ended in the 1930s with the railroad ended all service by the mid-1940s.

If you ever have the opportunity to take a detour south of the freeway and drive through Shaniko, go for it.

It's a scenic drive with big open skies and rolling hills of wheat.
You might spy a few antelope along the way.

Or stop to look over a rock crib built more than a century ago. The glory days of the region are long gone, but a rich and fascinating history remains.


A hopeless romantic with a bit of sarcasm thrown in for good measure, Shanna Hatfield is a bestselling author of sweet romantic fiction written with a healthy dose of humor. In addition to blogging and eating too much chocolate, she is completely smitten with her husband, lovingly known as Captain Cavedweller.

Shanna creates character-driven romances with realistic heroes and heroines. Her historical westerns have been described as “reminiscent of the era captured by Bonanza and The Virginian” while her contemporary works have been called “laugh-out-loud funny, and a little heart-pumping sexy without being explicit in any way.”

She is a member of Western Writers of America, Women Writing the West, and Romance Writers of America.

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Kristy McCaffrey said...

Great post Shanna! So many ghost towns. I've not spent much time in Oregon. Would love to go back. I like the coast around Depoe Bay. Shaniko is a strange name for a town. Interesting how it came to be.

Shanna Hatfield said...

Thanks, Kristy! Oregon is so diverse in that it has the beautiful, rugged coastline to the west, the urban areas like Portland, the high desert of Central Oregon, and the rolling hills of farmland along the eastern borders. And there are so many cool ghost towns! Shaniko is a strange name, but so fun to say!

Ginger Jones Simpson said...

Thanks for allowing me to accompany on your trip. Very interesting.

Shanna Hatfield said...

Thanks, Ginger! There's so much Oregon and "old west" history in this area... it's a fun place to visit!

Julie Lence said...

I love this, Shanna! I've not visited Oregon, but through your blog here and your work, I really want to someday. The state is so rich in history.

Paty Jager said...

I've traveled many times through Shaniko. Every time I think; what did the pioneers think topping one hill to see many more waiting for them to cross? I lived in Central Oregon for 30 years and traveled to my parent's home in NE Oregon several times a year. We've stopped in Shaniko a few times;) and knew one of the owners of the hotel. It is an interesting place with an interesting history. I wrote a historical western romance years ago with Shaniko as the setting, but it was early in my writing and it didn't and won't be published, unless I run out of ideas one day and give it a serious overhaul. Great post!

Shanna Hatfield said...

Thanks, Julie! I hope you do get to Oregon someday. If you do, look me up!
And thank you, Paty! There is just so much rich history in our state, it's hard not to share it! I think Shaniko would make a great setting for a story! Maybe you'll overhaul it someday! :)