Folklore Fieldwork in Deschutes and Crook Counties

by Brad McMullen, OFN GSA and Folklore graduate student

Riki Saltzman and OFN’s Brad McMullen joined folklorist Douglas Manger in Deschutes and Crook Counties to do fieldwork between May 20th and 22nd. Over the weekend, we were able to meet several different tradition bearers and visit a few different cultural sites to give us a deeper appreciation and understanding of the area’s history and culture.

First, we visited master bespoke bootmaker D.W. Frommer at his studio in Redmond. Mr. Frommer has been making handcrafted boots for over 20 years. He started out as a saddlemaker, but after his teacher gave him a pair of handmade boots, he was inspired to change his craft. Mr. Frommer demonstrated his boot-making process, showing us the tricks and tools of his trade, one that goes back hundreds of years. Whenever he makes a boot, Mr. Frommer feels the presence of all those bootmakers who have come before him. He stressed the importance of training others, and he strives to pass on that legacy to all of his students.

Later that day, we drove through the high desert to Prineville, where we met with Cody Jesse, former national champion bare-back rider and current monument maker

While showing us his championship belt buckles and old equipment, Mr. Jesse described his time in the very competitive professional rodeo circuit and gave us some hints about how to avoid being bucked off a stallion or a bull.

Once his rodeo career ended as the result of some severe injuries, Mr. Jesse started making custom engraved monuments for cemeteries throughout the region, including those on the Warm Springs Reservation. He showed us how he creates such elaborate art on them, such as one monument that featured an intricate image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. His workmanship ensures helps to comfort bereaved family members and creates a lasting memorial to the legacy of the deceased.

The next morning, we were back in Prineville, this time driving through the high desert in the middle of a pounding down pour. Because the rain forced the sheep dog trainer we were due to interview to cancel, we were able to tour the Bowman Museum and Crook County History Center. The museum documents the history of the county and the roles that, Native Tribes, buckaroos, and lumberjacks played in shaping the area and that continue to do so. Visiting the museum provided us with some wonderful historical context for the traditions and culture keepers we met.

Saddlemaker Bub Warren of Redmond was next on our schedule. We interviewed Mr. Warren at his shop, Warren’s Western Emporium, where he and his business partner, Terry Underhill, sell his saddles, her bags, and a number of other leather goods. Mr. Warren took over the Franklin Saddle Company in 1976 and has been making saddles for over 40 years. One of his challenges is to balance working in another craftsman’s style and also creating and maintaining his own. Mr. Warren showed us his tools, including a hundred-year-old sewing machine, and explained the different varieties of saddles in his store. We learned that the style of saddle changes depending on the location in which it will be used – a saddle for a cowboy working in the Southwest is not going to work for a cowboy in Oregon.

Our last stop before heading back to Eugene was in Tumalo to check on a collection documented by the Oregon Folklife Program in the 1970s. Bill Goldman was a fantastically skilled whittler who used his skills to create dioramas depicting local life in Central Oregon, including a massive tavern scene featuring over 25 hand-carved figures. [Note: Folklorist Ormond Loomis documented Bill Goldman’s work in 1979-80 as part of an Oregon Arts Commission Folk Art of the Oregon Country Project ]

Even though Mr. Goldman has passed, the collection is still as interesting as it was over 30 years ago and provides a wonderful example of how material culture captures area’s cultures as well as their social and political context.

Our fieldwork over the weekend provided some fascinating insights into the people and traditions of Central Oregon, where the work of loggers, millers, buckaroos, and ranchers has shaped the landscape and the people.

Photos by Riki Saltzman

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