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Background photo of the beach at Whale Cove was made by Bryce Buchanan in 2004. (Via WikiMedia Commons, cc/by/SA)
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Without range wars to worry about, Edwards could concentrate on what he really wanted to do, which was develop the Hay Creek Ranch into the world’s preeminent sheep facility. Over the next ten years — a surprisingly short period of time, really — Jack Edwards did just that. In the process, he put northern Central Oregon on the map. These were the boom years for places like Shaniko — which, although it’s an almost-ghost town today, was the largest wool shipping town in the Pacific Northwest during this time.
Edwards experimented with breeding, developing a colossal breed of sheep, weighing 200 pounds and covered with wool, that he named the Baldwin. He put in a mechanical shearing facility to speed the process of harvesting wool. And he bought or leased all the adjacent land he possibly could, at every opportunity. His ranch got bigger and bigger, eventually covering 30,000 acres.
Meanwhile, a little farther south in the state, the range wars were breaking out again. This time it was the Crook County Sheepshooters — masked cattlemen trying to force the sheep herds off “their” public rangelands. Their technique was to creep up on sheepherders, tie them up or hold them at gunpoint, and just massacre their flocks.
They never moved against Jack Edwards, though. They never dared. All the northern central Oregon sodbusters would have risen up to defend him.
BUT THE SHEEPSHOOTERS were part of the reason Jack lost his empire. The federal government, tired of the anarchy and waste of the incessant range wars, tasked the U.S. Forest Service with setting grazing allotments on a per-rancher basis.
This took the wind out of the sails of the Sheepshooters. There was no point in massacring herds of sheep if everyone’s grazing allotment was set in advance.
But it also gave the Forest Service a suite of management tools that it really didn’t yet understand how to effectively use. And in 1906, the forest service used one of those tools when it announced it was cutting Edwards’ grazing allotment by 40 percent.
Edwards negotiated the cut to 25 percent — a total of 30,000 sheep. He reduced his flock accordingly, and made his plans on that basis. But then, in 1909, they hit him with another 30 percent cut.
At that point, no doubt concluding that he was too old to have to deal with getting his business thrown into chaos after every election year by a fresh crop of well-meaning Forest Service bureaucrats, Jack rode into Portland and made arrangements to sell everything off.
“I mean no criticism of the government,” he told an Oregon Journal reporter, after explaining the situation. “But the facts are as I have stated. Twelve months from the present date we expect to have our entire sheep holdings sold out.”
And so he did.
That wasn’t the end of Hay Creek Ranch, though. Not by a long stretch. Its new owners were able to continue operating profitably in spite of the grazing-allocation cuts — in no small part because of the new Baldwin breed of sheep Jack had developed.
In fact, in 1927 the ranch sold 10,000 purebred Baldwins to the Soviet Union as breeding stock — the largest single sale of large livestock to an overseas buyer in history at the time. Unfortunately for the Russians, most of these expensive “designer sheep” were eaten within a year of their arrival — and that surely was the most expensive mutton to ever pass human lips.
ALTHOUGH THE BOOM years of sending 500,000 tons of wool a year down the Columbia are long past, the Hay Creek Ranch remains a going concern to this day.
As for Jack Edwards, after he sold out he settled into a long and happy retirement in Portland, and took up painting. He died in 1945.