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#13 Tribes tell about Sprague history
from hill overlooking river

Gentlemen Farmers

Alan Foreman: You know, that’s just a big water heater that you are looking at down there, and it has a lot of problems. Historically, this river would flood into this area you see here and go into its flood plane, and then what it would receive, it would create a lot of grass that tribal members that owned this land, they’d either pasture it in the fall or they would go in it by July, and they would cut the grass off it, and they never ran their cattle down here until the fall. They always ran them outside in the forest, and then in the fall when they would bring them home, they would pasture them there, and then they would have feed for the winter. The cost of operation was very minimal. You didn’t have any cost in it. Now, basically what’s happening, is they are sticking pumps in the river and trying to make this land produce more than it is capable of producing, and I just about defy anybody to buy, you know, any 1000-acre piece here and try to make a living on it. It is just impossible unless you own a bank or got a gold mine somewhere, it’s not going to happen, and the problem is a lot of people move in here with the idea of being gentleman farmers and want to move out in the rural area. They sell their place for a lot of money where they come from, they’ve got a reserve, and they come in here. After 5 or 10 years, they find out they can’t make it, so they sell this place again, and there’s 100 people in line waiting to do just the same thing. So, that is basically what happens. As far as agriculture production, I mean, we’re at 5000 feet here, and you’re seasons are very limited. You’re lucky to get 2 crops of alfalfa, and it is just not productive agriculturally. It’s limited in what you can grow. There used to be a lot of willows along this river, believe it or not, in a lot of places, and Helen, you remember when there was willows and stuff.

Helen, tribal woman: Yeah, my mom’s place is right up, you see the red barn up there, just on this side of it, and there were willows that outlined all of this coming down through here, going back round and down. Willows that went on down to where the mill used to be right down here, but it was all on this side, and like Allen said, after wintertime, flood planes would be covered and you would have wild hay, was all you’d have, and you harvested that if you wanted too or you turned your cattle in there. Springtime when the water was running off, the cattle would be in there, so the little calves and those guys would play, but then after it got to a point, then they were put back out over here again, but there used to be willows nearly all the way up on the left side. I had a cousin that got killed over here. He got caught underneath those willows because of as far down as they went. He got caught inside of those willows, and we had to get him out. That’s what held the banks together. That’s what made Sprague River Valley a beautiful place, and just like Allen said… Mom dry-farmed for wheat or whatever she wanted for that year, and it’s the same way with all of those places over there. That’s all you did. You dry-farmed. You never had any fabulous growths of alfalfa or whatever. You dry-farmed, and that was it. But, the most beautiful part of it was the wild hay, and when that would flood in the springtime. But like I say, this used to be such a beautiful valley with all those willows, cuz you could look all the way from here, all the way up, and you had willows. In fact, there was willows so thick at my house that my brothers put me in my wicker buggy, and there was one space, it was about this wide, and they would try to shoot me through there, and the willows always caught me, and they were high. So then, I learned how to lean. They would push me down that hill, and I would lean with it, and I shot right through it into the river. My mom had to jump her horse into the river to rescue me. But like I say, the willows were fabulous and huge. I look down there now, and it just breaks my heart, cuz there is nothing, nothing.

Foreman: Just to give you an example. Probably about 1960 from Beatty clear down to Chiloquin, there were probably 2 or 3 diversions out of the river all that time, and there were not that many more lands that were irrigated that whole time. It was all under a natural system. If we go down the hill here, on the left, if you watch the river, there was a lot of willows in there too, and just to give you an example, the people that lived there had the stills back in the ‘30s and ‘40s, back in those willows.

back in van

Don Gentry: These kinds of willows and other attributes, and you had the water quality that would support salmon. The general thinking is, is if you move towards that direction, that is obviously going to be better than where we’ve been, and then when you have the models and other information to start quantifying it and looking at those kind of things… I mean, like you say, there are risks in trying to restructure some of these channels and stuff. The risk of failure that if you put something in and you get a big high flood events… … blow it all out.





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