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Vistillas

Between 1871 and 1930 there were forty-eight different post offices in Lake County. Each post office represented a community. Vistillas was one of those little towns. It was located five to six miles west of Drews Reservoir, where Fishhole Creek Ranch is situated today. The area was populated by ranchers and loggers. This small town survived for fifty years in the wilderness because the people worked hard, worked together, and had the benefit of a few essential services.

The town was first named Loraton, although this name was rejected because it sounded too much like Lorella, another town in Klamath County. The local settlers then suggested it be called Fairview, which was again turned down by the post office because another town in Oregon had that name. Finally, on May 17, 1890, they named it Vistillas, a Spanish word meaning “viewpoint”, similar in meaning to Fairview. The name stuck and lasted as long as the town did.

The men living in the Fishhole Creek valley raised livestock and hay or logged for a living. There was a railroad that ran near Vistillas that carried logs to the Euwana Box Camp near Quartz Mountain. There was a sawmill in Barnes Valley, just a few miles south of Vistillas, and another mill north of the present location of Drews Valley Ranch. Although the Fishhole area was thick with trees and the closeness of two mills was convenient for logging, the majority of homesteaders were ranchers. The valleys of Fishhole Creek formed meadows rich in green grass, fit for grazing and haying.

Both sheep and cattle were run in the area around Vistillas. In the early years, this was a cause for conflict. A story is told that in the 1880’s a cattleman by the name of Holbrook shot McCreedy, a sheepherder, because of grazing practices. Holbrook felt that McCreedy’s sheep were overgrazing the pastures. Sheep have teeth on the top and bottom and are able to chew the grass off at ground level; cattle have teeth only on the bottom and cannot bite as close, leaving more grass. Being a cattleman, Holbrook hated sheep and anyone who ran them.

Eventually the argument between sheepherders and cattlemen disappeared. In 1931 a sheepherder from the nearby town of Barnes Valley came to Vistillas in search of two hundred lost sheep. Mr. Devail’s herder was moving the sheep to Juniper Mountain when he lost track of them. Boyd Adams, a cattle rancher, went to with Mr. Devail to help him locate his herd. In time many homesteaders ran both cattle and sheep. 

The homesteaders of Vistillas came for many different reasons. Some settlers, like Gilbert Lapham, came as young men to establish ranches. Others, like Jody Owen of the JO ranch, were raised in the area. Jody Owen’s father, James Owen, came to Oregon in an ox cart as a toddler in May 1879. James Owen learned to walk while holding onto the cart on their long journey. Jody Owen went to school in Bly and stayed in the area. Boyd Adams came to Vistillas on doctors’ orders. Mr. Adams was suffering from a disease that is today believed to have been Tuberculosis. His doctor told him to move to a higher, drier elevation.

 

 
Joe Virden came to Oregon from Iowa to complete his education and spent his vacations at the Lapham ranch. As a young boy, George Fullerton came to Vistillas with a friend. Fullerton’s parents had died and, at the age of fourteen, he was considered an adult, while his brothers and sisters were adopted.  Fullerton worked on the ranches and continued to live in the Bly and Lakeview area his entire life.

As the town grew, the community became more united. Come hay season, the men all worked together to cut and put up the hay. They formed a haying crew, stacking the hay at one ranch and then moving on to do the same job at the next. The huge mounds of loose hay stood at least twenty feet high. It was stacked methodically with the hay laid flat, horizontal to the ground, so that water could not run into the stack. A tall split rail fence was then built around the stack to protect it from livestock. The hay was used to feed the herds of animals all winter long. 

Intermixed with the hard work there were good times. The town was jokingly called Bachelor Flat because of the limited number of women. Needless to say, the men never had enough good food or enough beer. One of the ladies of Vistillas, Mrs. Lapham, had a garden and was often a hostess for the hungry men. The folks were always ready for a celebration, using any excuse to relax and take a break form the hard work. On June 26, 1931 Mr. and Mrs. Jody Owen thew a party for their wedding anniversary, over twenty-five people came. The housewarming at Boyd Adams’ new cabin was a party long remembered. People came by wagon from miles around for a celebration that lasted for days, just because Adams had built a new home.

The men of Vistillas enjoyed laughing at others’ mishaps. Joe Virden took a bet of $2.50 that he could ride a horse by the name of Black Toots for ten seconds. Virden settled himself on the mare and, by the first jump, he was in trouble. Joe Virden only rode Black Toots for two seconds before she threw him in the dirt. The story was so popular it made the local newspaper.

Boyd Adams mined his ranch for petrified wood in the early 1930’s. He sold the wood to a hotel builder in Klamath Falls. The hotel built with Adams’s petrified wood is still standing in Klamath. Adams received a write up in the Herald and News which excited the entire town of Vistillas.   It was a community where one person’s success was shared by all.  

Three roads led into the area that made up Vistillas. The men did what little shopping they needed to do in Bly. Many made business trips to Portland or Klamath Falls, although most of what they needed they raised on their own land. They had a post office which moved from house to house as the locals took turns being the postmaster. The first was Edward Tull; in later years Adams, Owen, and Lapham all served as the postmaster. There was a school in Barnes Valley that was formed out of the Bly District in March 1889. In 1905 the school was discontinued because there were no more children attending.

Because of the hard work, sense of community, and determination of its inhabitants, Vistillas existed until 1933. Then, because of the hardships of the depression, many ranchers were unable to make enough to survive. With the establishment of irrigation districts, life in the lower valleys promised them less work and easier living with a higher yield for their labor. The locals moved out. The homesteads that made up Vistillas were sold as one large block of land, which today makes up one of the best and biggest ranches in Lake County. The homes of the early settlers lie deserted in the meadows. Their split rail fences and irrigation ditches are still used and, in many ways, their lifestyle is continued.