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Pioneer-era orchards still bearing fruit

Without benefit of irrigation, spray

by: Photo by Bill Vollmer - Tour participants sample ripe yellow transparent apples from a tree at the Omar Cyrus orchard near Gray Butte.


   Pioneer apple and orchards, abandoned decades ago but somehow still producing fruit without the benefit of spray or irrigation, were the subject of a recent Homestead Orchard Tour.
   Aug. 18, the Jefferson County Historical Society collaborated with the Home Orchard Society of Portland, on the tour, which they described as "a grownup treasure hunt."
   Twelve people from Madras, Bend, Warm Springs, Prineville, Sisters and Portland saw the early-day orchards and sampled their fruit on the tour.
   Over the last half-century, 80 percent of the apple varieties unique to America have vanished from view, along with the pioneers' knowledge of what apples grew best in particular localities, according to the book "Forgotten Fruits Manual and Manifesto: Apples," edited by Gary Paul Nabhan.
   The book notes the crucial importance of abandoned orchards as sources for recovering the genetic diversity of the "lost" varieties, such as Astrakahn, Sheepsnose, and Winter Banana.
   Today's grocery store apples are more or less generic, lacking the wide variety of tastes of their thousands of abandoned cousins.
   Home Orchard Society members are interested in recovering pioneer fruit tree varieties and finding clues to ways to cultivate them.
   Four such orchards exist in Jefferson County, but because of the distance involved, three near Gray Butte were visited by the tour, while one in Ashwood was left for another time.
   Jerry Ramsey of the Jefferson County Historical Society provided a booklet of information on each orchard.
   The McCoin Orchard
   In 1886, Julius and Sarah Osborn McCoin homesteaded on the southeast flank of Gray Butte, at the head of a gully with a good spring.
   Julius hauled freight between Prineville, The Dalles and sometimes Shaniko, with a 12-horse wagon loaded with wool, meat and produce. His returning loads included barrels of whiskey, and fruit tree starts for his family to plant in the protected gully below their house.
   The McCoin orchard with apples, pears, plums, etc., numbered over 100 trees.
   When the McCoin property was sold in the early 1930s to the National Grassland, the house and buildings were torn down and the orchard abandoned.
   But in the 1980s, Grassland range specialists Duane Ecker and Harry Ketrenos rescued the surviving trees by systematically pruning them and cleaning out the brush.
   Today, the McCoin Orchard is a much-visited scenic spot, and the trailhead for the Gray Butte Trail, just south of the McCoin homesite.
   Enoch Cyrus Orchard
   The popular Cyrus Horse Camp is located on the site of the homestead of Enoch and Mary Cyrus, who settled there in 1882.
   Also near Gray Butte, the area was so sparsely settled then that Mrs. Cyrus claimed for the first seven months she didn't see another woman.
   Enoch Cyrus was an innovative farmer, who pioneered a strain of hard winter wheat which became known as "Cyrus Wheat," ran 1,500-3,000 head of sheep, planted huge vegetable gardens and kept orchards of apples, crab apples, peaches and pears.
   In 1900, Enoch and Mary moved to Cloverdale (between Redmond and Sisters) to launch a new crop of seed potatoes. Their youngest son, Dean, ran the Gray Butte place, then eventually sold it to the Grassland in 1934.
   Omar Cyrus Orchard
   Enoch and Mary's middle son, Omer Cyrus, homesteaded a half-mile west of his parents' place in 1900. His orchard, on a north-sloping hillside with no obvious source of water, is remarkably well-preserved.
   Its vigorous small trees bear summer apples (yellow transparent and maybe Jonathans), crab apples, and pears. This orchard also owes its survival much to the timely intervention of Duane Ecker in the 1980s.
   Clark Orchard
   Across Blizzard Ridge on the Old Ashwood Road, lies the Jim Clark Place, settled in the 1890s. He was a descendant of the leaders of the Clark emigrant train of 1851.
   The book "Jefferson County Reminiscences," notes the Clarks took in travelers and Mrs. Clark was known far and wide for her sour dough baking. The orchard set out by the Clarks was a well-known spot on the Ashwood Road.
   Today, the Clarks' buildings are long gone, but their apple and pear trees survive on the south side of the road in a switchback, somehow managing to bear fruit every year.