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.

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Fieldnotes: Columbia River Gorge Folklife Survey

Nancy Nusz

To understand how the land and environment help to shape traditions that people use in their daily lives, one simply has to take a trip to Sherman and Gilliam counties. Steep rolling hills, defined by narrow, winding ravines with swift flowing rivers, limited rainfall, and constant wind are steadfast companions of those living in the region. Over generations, people have learned how to fashion a living out of this land and how to enjoy the shear uniqueness of their place. They use the knowledge and skills passed down to them by their grandparents, parents, friends, co-workers, and neighbors to preserve a way of life that is full of history, crafts, specialized work, fun, stories, and so much more. Here are a few of the ranchers and farmers who make up the population of these north central Oregon counties.

Jamie Wilson and Cathy Brown

Jamie Wilson and Cathy Brown; photo courtesy of Nancy Nusz

Cathy Brown’s parents were wheat and cattle ranchers in Bakeoven, her father’s community. Her mother came from Dufur where her grandparents ran cattle. Cathy’s early memories of working on the ranch include typical tasks children would do such as feeding the farm animals, driving tractors, and preparing the lunches for work hands. As she got older, Cathy took on more responsibilities such as gathering the cattle, birthing calves, and eventually, doing the most technical and difficult jobs on the ranch. During her teens, Cathy was active in 4-H where she became friends with Jamie Wilson.

Jamie Wilson with leatherwork; photo courtesy of Nancy Nusz

Jamie Wilson with leatherwork; photo courtesy of Nancy Nusz

Jamie Wilson grew up in Grass Valley on a few acres where the family kept horses, chickens, and other animals. She got her first horse when she was five years old. Her mother was from a long line of ranchers but her dad’s family moved to Oregon from Michigan. He spent his younger years near Antelope and as a young man worked for local ranchers and wheat farmers until eventually he bought a couple of ranches. Jamie started working cattle with her dad when she was a kid. She particularly loved going with him up to the old Payne Place that he had purchased. Here, on a high ridge facing Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson, Jamie worked hard learning all the cowhand skills it takes to run that ranch today with her friend Cathy. After high school Jamie thought seriously about becoming a saddle maker so she attended a three-month course at Sierra Saddlery School in Bishop, California; while there, she made two full saddles. When Wilson returned she couldn’t find a saddle maker to apprentice with but she kept doing all sorts of other leatherwork including queen chaps for rodeos. Today, she spends much of the winter months making chinks, chaps, horse tack, and many other items, mostly custom ordered.

Ron Wilson with leatherwork; photo courtesy of Nancy Nusz

Ron Wilson with leatherwork; photo courtesy of Nancy Nusz

Ron Wilson works in his leather shop in the back of the Ace Hardware store in downtown Arlington. Ron’s family originally came from Pennsylvania then settled in Wallowa County where he was born. He grew up on a small farm but learned basic leatherwork from Arlene Rucker, who taught a 4-H class. Ron kept his tools and got them out during the winter months to make leather items. About 12 years ago he got back into full time leatherwork after a friend convinced him to repair something that he needed. Ron keeps busy making chaps, chinks, belts, purses, rodeo queen outfits, tack, and just about any other type of leather goods. Even though he doesn’t make saddles, he always has one or two around that he repairs for cowboys. Ron and his wife, Marta Mikkalo, are active members of the Arlington Saddle Club, which puts on the annual Arlington Jackpot Rodeo.


Arlene Rucker shows a piece of her wheat weaving; photo courtesy of Nancy Nusz

Arlene Rucker shows a piece of her wheat weaving; photo courtesy of Nancy Nusz

Arlene Rucker is someone people across Gilliam County know by name, face, and reputation. Born in Nampa, Idaho, she moved with her family to Oregon during the war years when her parents came to work in the defense industry. Once grown, Arlene married a local wheat farmer with whom she’d gone to high school, and moved with her new husband to the farm where they lived for 35 years. With wheat a constant in her life, Arlene took a wheat weaving class in the 1970s from Sandra Greenfield, a local Condon wheat weaver. Arlene had seen wheat weavings and thought that since she and her husband were raising it, she would like to know how do make something out of it. Many wheat weavers use wheat bought from Nebraska but Arlene insisted on making her items out of the wheat from her own fields. She also learned quilting from her mother and became so proficient that her peers now recognize her as a master quilter.

Paul Bates showing wheat farm equipment; photo courtesy of Nancy Nusz

Paul Bates showing wheat farm equipment; photo courtesy of Nancy Nusz

Paul and Donna Bates live on Paul’s father’s farm, where Paul grew up learning farming and ranching skills. As a youngster he was involved in 4-H and did projects with pig, heifer, and other livestock breeding, and much more. In 1983, the family quit raising cattle to focus solely on wheat production. Paul has seen many changes in farming since boyhood, especially in the mechanization of farming. Today he has a large assortment of highly specialized equipment that he and his family use for the various stages of wheat production. During a particularly bad year, the Bates family briefly considered getting out of farming; at that time, Donna decided to diversify their income by creating a healthier snack food. After lots of trials and errors, Donna developed six different flavors of what she calls popped wheat berries. These unique products are grown and made right on the farm at her Wheat Springs Bakery.

Sam Seale at White Elephant Ranch; photo courtesy of Nancy Nusz

Sam Seale at White Elephant Ranch; photo courtesy of Nancy Nusz

Sam Seale owns the “White Elephant Ranch,” which might sound like a strange name for a ranch located north of Condon; the story of how it got its name is part of his rich family lore. As a young man, Sam’s dad bought a piece of property to raise sheep and cattle. There were several other homesteads nearby, and during the Depression their neighbors couldn’t hang on to their ranches. Sam’s dad starting buying them as they came up for sale. Because the country there is high and dry, rendering it difficult to grow anything, his dad used to say that all those properties weren’t anything but white elephants. The name stuck. Sam has many stories about his father and his own years growing up on the White Elephant Ranch.



Frank Bettencourt builds wooden miniatures of farm equipment. Bettencourt moved to Gilliam County in 1948 to work as a farmer and cowboy. He worked on someone else’s ranch until 1967 when he and his wife Garnet bought their own 2,500 acres place. In 1981, they sold their ranch and now live in Condon where Frank has a large woodworking shop in a separate building next to their house. Frank’s grandfather was a builder in Portland, and, as Frank says, he “just grew up with it.” The objects that he makes are done without patterns and come directly from his imagination. He visualizes something then makes it. Many of his pieces are replicas of equipment like combines that Frank once drove on the farm. His birdhouses often resemble old western buildings or churches; and the one in his backyard is almost an exact model of the huge grain elevator that stands directly behind his and his wife’s house. Frank’s wooden vehicles have moving parts, which leave visible the grain and uniqueness of the wood.

Nancy Nusz is an independent folklorist who has been conducting fieldwork for the Oregon Folklife Network’s Columbia Gorge Regional Folklife Survey, which is funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Art Works.

Documenting Tradition in Klamath and Lake Counties

Documenting Tradition in Klamath and Lake Counties
By LuAnne Kozma, contract folklorist, Southern Oregon Folklife Survey, funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts

I returned to southern Oregon for the Oregon Folklife Network’s Southern Oregon Folklife Survey and traveled the high desert, along Lake Klamath, and in the downtowns and storefronts of Klamath, Lakeview and other smaller places on the map, always meeting interesting and talented people.

Meats and outdoor cookery seem to go together here, with the Lakeview Locker providing sausages, smoked meats and fresh cuts. Meals cooked over an open fire by dutch oven cooks Patty and Keith Barnhart are the special attraction of  their Willow Springs Guest Ranch outside of Lakeview. Longtime horsepeople, the Barnharts began dutch oven cooking over 25 years ago, sharing their culinary talent with friends on trail rides, which eventually led to their home-based business.

Traditional arts are the basis of several other occupations in Lake County, such as saddlemaking, rawhide braiding, leatherwork, and silversmithing. Well known in western art circles, Ricarda McCleary Clause, of Lakeview, has been silversmithing for decades, making bits and spurs, western silver jewelry and belt buckles. Her work has been noted by the Western Folklife Center and public television, and she is appreciated locally as well. Two Lake County saddlemakers were a part of the survey–Len “Peanut” Babb III, from a three-generation saddlemaking family and newer resident Mario Hanel, originally from Sublimity, who has been building western “California” style saddles for over 10 years. Husband and wife team Bill and Teresa Black, from Plush, work together in their backyard workshop full time making western gear, Bill making hackamores and horsehair stitched items and Teresa on leather goods, while learning the horsehair hitching from Bill. Another horsehair hitching artist is Becky Tocol, also president of the Christmas Valley Chamber of Commerce. Becky worked on ranches and studied the art with other horse hair hitchers, and has made thousands of beautiful horsehair stitched items such as quirts and stampede string lanyards.

Old-Time Fiddle music is alive and well in both Klamath and Lake counties, with Phil Fry making fiddles and keeping the local jams going there with wife Sheila, and the McLain family of Lakeview. Old Time fiddle monthly jams take place in Lakeview and Klamath and an upcoming regional jamboree in Merrill. Newcomers bring their instruments and are invited to join in the sharing of songs and  tunes, as every musician joins in. RosaLee McLain’s vocals, accompanied by her sons rhythm guitarist Larry McLain and fiddler Terry McLain and joined by others in the group, are an evening not to be missed.

In all, over 60 individuals were documented in 39 recordings and about 2,000 photographs. For more information about the project, contact Riki Saltzman and the OFN staff.

All photos by LuAnne Kozma.

Southeastern Oregon Folklife Survey in Malheur County

Southeastern Oregon Folklife Survey in Malheur County
By Douglas Manger, contract folklorist, Southern Oregon Folklife Survey, funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts 

Scratch the surface a bit in Malheur County–the second largest in Oregon–and you’ll discover a wealth of folklife traditions, from the buckaroo rodeo, to the Mexican American panaderia (bakery), to Native American sweat lodge rituals.

To experience one of the most revered traditions in the county, look to the 100 year old Vale 4th of July Rodeo. There you are sure to catch Dan and Robin Fulwyler in the team calf roping competition. As horse trainers, rodeo competitors, and helping hands on area ranches at branding time, the Fulwylers’ live and breathe Western ranch traditions passed down through the generations. Not to be outdone, since the age of five their two daughter have rode and roped, as well.

From the Rodriguez Bakery in Nyssa, it’s just a short walk down the street to the home of Eva Castellanoz. Of Aztec/Otomí ancestry, Eva is a practicing curandera, or traditional healer. Eva attends to her patients’ needs in a variety of ways. Medicinal herbs, along with ritual limpias (smudgings or cleansings), are used to address both physical and emotional issues. Words channeled through her by the Holy Spirit help Eva provide wise counseling.

Native American sweat lodges in Ontario? Yes, the tradition lives on with James Dionne, a Chippewa/Cree born on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota.One night, in a dream, James was called to lead the sweat lodge circle. “The sweat lodge is a time to honor the Creator,” James explained. In the circle, James serves as the interceder praying that those in the circle will get answers. Apart from overseeing the sweat lodge circles at his home, for six years James served as the volunteer leader of the sweat lodge at the prison outside of Ontario.

With the exception of the Fulwyler image, all photos by Douglas Manger.

Announcement: NEA-funded Folklife Survey of the Columbia River Gorge

The National Endowment for the Arts has awarded the Oregon Folklife Network funding to identify and document cultural traditions in the Columbia River Gorge counties of Hood River, Wasco, Jefferson, Sherman, Gilliam, Morrow, and Umatilla as well as with the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

As Oregon’s designated Folk & Traditional Arts Program, the OFN is dedicated to finding excellent performers, demonstrators, and speakers for our Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, local festivals, school and library programs in order to preserve and celebrate folkways throughout the state. Folklorists Debbie Fant and Nancy Nusz will be conducting the fieldwork, which involves interviewing and photo documentation. Fant will be in Morrow and Umatilla counties and at the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla starting in September with the Pendleton Round-up and throughout the year until June 2015. Nusz will be in Hood River, Wasco, Jefferson, Sherman, and Gilliam counties and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs from March to June 2015. They will be documenting people involved with traditions related to hunting, farming, commercial, sport, and subsistence fishing, ranching, logging, and mining, as well as river work, trapping, tanning, food preservation, and beekeeping. They are also particularly interested in the ethnic heritage traditions of the regions’ residents, such as Native, Asian, African American, Latino, European, and more.

Nancy Nusz (MA, Western Kentucky University) began her folklore career at the Bureau of Florida Folklife, serving as Folk Arts in Education coordinator & conducting fieldwork (maritime, ethnic urban communities, agriculture, circus). In 1991, she came to the Oregon Folklife Program (previously housed at the Oregon Historical Society), first as coordinator & then director, conducting fieldwork & programming, curating exhibits, & developing curriculum. She has worked for UNESCO and is very excited to be meeting with old friends and interviewing new ones in Oregon’s Gorge region.

Deborah Fant (MA, UT Austin) has been a public folklorist for over 20 years, first as a fieldworker for the Bureau of Florida Folklife. She has worked as the Idaho state folklorist, Manager of the Cowboy Poetry Gathering (Western Folklife Center), Deputy Director of Northwest Folklife, and now for the Washington State Parks & Recreation Commission. Fant has conducted fieldwork, directed festivals, edited publications, and curating exhibits and is thrilled to be investigating traditions in eastern Oregon.

Folklife Survey of Southeastern Oregon: Harney and Malheur Counties

by Adrienne Decker, Folklore Graduate Student

While many in Western Oregon don’t often have much opportunity to venture east of the Cascades, the high desert of Oregon is full of a rich cultural and historical heritage that should be of interest to our local lovers of artistic and homesteading traditions.

As we learned on our visit to Burns and surroundings to shadow folklorist Douglas Manger for a couple days of his NEA-funded folklife survey of Harney County, Oregon has a high concentration of tradition keepers, artisans, and performers.

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