If you mention the town of Vale, most people quickly jump to the conclusion you're talking about a place to ski in Colorado.
Although little known, there is a town in Eastern Oregon named Vale that once served a very important stop for weary travelers on the Oregon Trail.
Between 1843, when the first great wagon trains left Independence, Mo., and 1869, when the new transcontinental railroad provided a more streamlined method of transportation, emigrants journeyed west along a route that was little more than a double oxcart track. Determined pioneers traveled approximately 2,000 miles, enticed by the hope of finding rich forests, thick meadows, and open spaces where new lives could be carved from the fertile soil.
Travelers crossed the Snake River at old Fort Boise, marking the completion of about three-fourths of the journey. Oregon City was only 500 miles away. On the other side of the river, travelers set foot in what is now Oregon.
Fifteen miles ahead, they traversed a low rise and made their way downhill to the Malheur River. Natural hot springs bubbled from under Rinehart Butte. Exhausted travelers embraced the opportunity to take a warm bath and wash their clothes before continuing on their journey.
Paiutes and other tribes made their homes by the river for centuries before the first white people arrived.
Historians report the first white men to pass through the area were French-Canadian fur trappers from the Hudson's Bay Co., between 1811 and 1814. Unable to carry all the beaver furs they had taken, they cached many of their treasures and unneeded supplies beside the river, returning the following year to collect them. Paiutes had raided the storage cache, leading the trappers to call the place “Malheur,” French for “misfortune," or "bad <mal> hour <heur>."
Journals of the early travelers along the Oregon Trail mention the Malheur River crossing. A temporary trading post in the area was referred to in journals as early as 1853.
In 1864, Jonathan Keeney built a log house and barn near the banks of the river, offering lodging and respite. Keeney's name was eventually bestowed on the pass along the Oregon Trail six miles southeast of Vale on Lytle Boulevard (where trail ruts can still be seen today).
Louis and Amanda Rinehart purchased Keeney's property and in 1872 built a house made of sand stone. Over the years, the Stone House (sometimes called the Rinehart House) served as a stagecoach stop, hotel, and place of rest. In 1878, settlers seeking refuge during the Bannock-Paiute War made their way there. General O.O. Howard used the house as his field headquarters.
The Stone House became the first permanent building in Malheur County. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Stone House is now a museum.
Henry C. Murray, Rinehart’s brother-in-law, leased the building for the first post office in the 1880s. Malheur Crossing (sometimes called Rinehart's Crossing) officially became known as the town of Vale.
Peter Skene Ogden, then employed by Hudson's Bay, is sometimes credited with inadvertently naming the future town when he passed through the Malheur Valley in the late 1820s.
Others claim the name was inspired by Thomas Moore's 1817 words about Indian Kashmir: “Who has not heard of the Vale of Cashmere, with its roses the brightest that earth ever gave.”
If you ever find yourself in Eastern Oregon, make time to stop by the Stone House and journey the few miles out of town to explore the wagon ruts carved from the hopes and dreams of those intent on building a new life on Oregon.
USA Today Bestselling Author Shanna Hatfield writes character-driven romances with relatable 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.”
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