Dooley Mountain, Baker County, Oregon

Based on hearsay handed down and assumption, the miners would start from Auburn, come in to Powder Valley at Salisbury then follow Stice Gulch up to the first draw coming in from the left; now called Trail Creek.  Then they would follow the summit of Dooley then down Auburn Gulch to Burnt River and Clarks Creek.  This was a direct route between the two mining towns which I believe were running about the same time -1860’s.

   Auburn mines were worked partly by Californians, so I assume the name Auburn derived from Auburn, California, which was known for placer mining.  At that time and later, until ‘Johnny Come Lately’ came into the country, the mountain now known as Bill Neighbor was called Shasta Butte; assuming again that it was named after Mt. Shasta in California which it somewhat resembles.  The gulch running from Bill Neighbor south toward Willow Creek is still known as Shasta Creek.

   The first road over Dooley of any record was the Creighton road, a military road which if it had been completed would have extended to the Indian agency close to Westfall.  According to Joe Geddes, the road came into the valley one-fourth mile east of the Hereford store.  When Koontz brought in his sawmill in the late 1860’s he had to have a fairly good road and according to Belle Reed, historian, he branched off the Creighton road and followed the summit to a point around Baldy where considerable work had to be done to put it on a grade to get down to Pine Creek.  It then followed the west side of Pine Creek to Burnt River Valley.

   Koontzs’ men were digging a ditch to carry water from Burnt River to his mill site opposite the mouth of Mill Gulch.  So there was an established road from the head of the ditch to the mill site; so very little road had to be built after reaching the valley.

   The next road on record was the Dooley Mt. road named after John Dooley.  It followed Auburn Creek to the forks of the gulch.  Then it followed what is now known as East Auburn, so named by the forest service in later years, but was formerly known as Cuttor Gulch; the name taken from the man of that name who homesteaded or squatted there about 1912 or later.  It followed East Auburn, then graded around the mountain and topped the summit a short distance west of the now dismantled radar station, then down a draw just west of Beaver Creek to Powder River Valley known now as Bowen Valley named from the Bowen family who owned the ranch at the extreme north end of the valley.  This road was used by Clarks Creek miners and by the ranchers around Bridgeport and lower Willow Creek around Malheur City.  It was a toll road and Dooley ran a mountain house to accommodate the travelers; to put up their horses and feed the people.  There are stories handed down about the holdups of the stage which carried mail and provisions to Bridgeport and Malheur.

   This road was used up until around 1910 when another road up West Auburn was finished.  My father, Frank Elliott, was the road supervisor at that time, and it fell to him to build the road.  This was on a more even grade than the East Auburn road.  It was surveyed by old-time surveyor, Charles Foster.  Any trees on the right-of-way had to be sawed down and stumps blasted out before actual construction could begin.  The work was either done by had or teams of horses hooked to a Fresno or scraper.  The finishing touch was done by a horse-drawn grader requiring four stout horses to pull depending on how deep the blade was set.  This road was fairly easy construction-wise, going until it started up the grade at the head of the gulch.  Here a lot of grading and a switch back or two had to be made.  It topped the summit where the present highway crosses, connecting it with another grade being built on Stices Gulch side.  No information is available as to who built this grade.

   A sawmill was operating in Stices Gulch approximately three miles up the gulch from Salisbury and a road to the mill was already established, so the new road connected Stices Gulch road to one built up West Auburn.

   In passing, I want to mention the railroad up Stices; not a railroad in the sense we know now.  The rails were of straight logs, probably fir.  The car had cast iron wheels to fit the rails.  This car hauled logs from the head of Stices and along the way to the mill and was propelled by a team of oxen which was sold to the mill by Ab Sullivan, according to Stewart Sullivan.

   The Stices road came into the valley at Salisbury then followed the base of the hill to a point just up stream from the present highway bridge where a wooden bridge (still standing) was used to cross Powder River.  Then it followed the base of the hill to Blue Canyon (now called Auburn) road and beyond following the present highway to upper Bowen Valley.  It then graded up the hill and back of the Shaw and Stewart places, then above and around Bowen place until it connected to Dooley Mt. road just south of the present scale-house. This road was used in the 1940’s when the Sumpter Valley railroad was abandoned and a new highway was built on the Sumpter Valley railway grade now known as the straight-a-way.

   In passing I want to mention the last users of the old Dooley Mt, roads were ranchers Norman Elliott and the Wendt Brothers who drove cattle to Powder Valley to winter them.  Earlier, before the trucks came in, fat cattle were driven over and weighed at the Stewart place where they were also fed.  Then the next day they were driven into town where they were loaded on to the train and shipped to various destinations mostly Portland, or Seattle or east to Omaha and Kansas City.

   About the time my father was building the Auburn road, the grade at the head of Mill Gulch was being built.  Ab Sullivan and Milt Eddy had the contract to build the grade using a reversible walking plow and a “V” made out of small logs with metal edges to keep the wood from wearing out.  Horses were used for power.  There was already a road up Mill Gulch which no doubt was improved.

   The Mill Gulch and Auburn roads were the main roads over Dooley until the present highway was finished in 1926. In recent years, the Forest Service has changed and improved the Auburn Canyon road and extended it to East Auburn and beyond to Dark Canyon.

   The present highway #245 was started in 1926.  The contract was let in two parts, one for the north side and one for the south.  The overall contractor then sublet shorter stretches to other contractors who did their sections. 

   The south side was more familiar because I worked a couple of days to take the place of Jeff Worley who wanted to go to town.  His job was to drag culverts and light railroad rails from the bottom of Mill Gulch up on the grade.  He was using a team of horses from Harry Cosen’s ranch.  The south side was handled the same as the north.  One contractor would sublet to others.  Much of the south side was solid rock and required blasting.  The procedure was to blast off the points, then move the rock a short distance to make a fill;  using a car that ran on the rails and dumped from the side.  This was all hand work, even to moving the cars.  There were approximately 400 Austrians using short-handled shovels.  They would fill a car moving it a short distance; dump it, then move it back for another load.

   The camp was in the bottom of Mill Gulch at Mudhole Gulch.  There was a mess hall and kitchen that could handle all 400 at one sitting.  The two days I worked I ate with the workers who sat down to a table and did justice to the food without conversation in any way.  The bull-cook and I were the only ones speaking English.

   The first highway was just about half as wide as it is now.  A contract to widen the grade was made in the 1940’s or early 50’s by a company that took both the north and south sides, using modern earth-moving equipment such as big Cats and graders.  Soon afterward the highway was paved and some guard rails were installed on the sharpest corners.  This was the main highway connecting Baker with the John Day Valley.

   Around 1980, the highway from Salisbury to Bates was finished; connecting with state highway #26.  This road from the Sumpter area to Whitney and Bates was built by the Forest Service and later turned over to the state and designated #7.  Dooley Mt. highway was changed to #245 and designated as a secondary highway.  (Harry Elliott)

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