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Pendleton woman turns love of words into book, at age 96

Dorys Grover researches and writes about cattle barons of Eastern Oregon
Kathy Aney

East Oregonian

Published on November 24, 2017 5:10PM

Last changed on November 24, 2017 7:08PM

Pendleton author Dorys Grover, standing at the front gate of her family ranch near Pendleton, has penned a new book called “Oregon Pioneer Cattle Barons” about influential cattle ranchers in the state.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Pendleton author Dorys Grover, standing at the front gate of her family ranch near Pendleton, has penned a new book called “Oregon Pioneer Cattle Barons” about influential cattle ranchers in the state.

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‘Oregon Pioneer Cattle Barons’ by Dorys Grover

‘Oregon Pioneer Cattle Barons’ by Dorys Grover

As a student in a one-room McKay Creek schoolhouse nearly nine decades ago, Dorys Grover recalls getting in trouble on purpose.

Her teacher would send her to the dreaded closet where naughty students went to ponder their wrongdoing.

“I spent a lot of time in the closet,” Grover said. “I liked it because all the new books were there.”

That reverence of the written word has stuck with her, and at age 96 she still fires up her laptop and writes every day.

The words add up. This fall, she released her fourth book, “Oregon Pioneer Cattle Barons,” after 10 years of writing and research. Now, she is working on a novel.

When she isn’t writing, she reads. Books fill shelves, her nightstand and an entire closet.

Her interest in cattle and horses came naturally while growing up in a ranching family.

“I’ve always been interested in cattle,” she said. “And I rode on horseback to school for eight years. Six miles in snow, rain or wind.”

She might have soaked in some of her grandfather’s pioneer spirit, too. Oliver Purl Bowman came as a baby by wagon train to Emigrant Springs in 1862. On 4,000 acres there and in the Tutuilla Creek area, Bowman raised cattle and sheep. He opened Pendleton’s Bowman Hotel in the mid-1950s.

Grover took a circuitous route to her latest gig of writing about Oregon’s cattle barons. At age 20, she worked as a civilian aide to the adjutant general at the airbase in Pendleton during World War II. She studied first at Oregon State University, then Washington State, University of Virginia, and Drake, before working as a literature professor at Texas A&M. In between, she worked five or six years as a reporter at the East Oregonian and a year teaching English at Griswold High School in Helix.

Perhaps her own personal feistiness led her to write about the cattle barons. Her book paints a picture of bold, sometimes ruthless men who ran thousands of head of cattle across the Oregon landscape.

Grover said the cattle barons fended off Indians, homesteaders and sheep ranchers to fill the “seemingly endless expanse of land” in Oregon’s open grasslands. The battle was sometimes fierce. One story tells of a sheepherder who took his flock across a line set up by a cattle operation in the 1880s in Bear Valley, only to be murdered and his 1,500 sheep slaughtered. Sheep ranchers reciprocated by burning barns, haystacks and homes of cattlemen.

Grover devotes early chapters to four of Oregon’s most well known cattle barons — John S. Devine, John William “Peter” French, Henry Miller and William Hanley.

Peter French ran cattle, about 50,000 of them by 1885, in the foothills of the Steens Mountains. A homesteader named Edward Lee Oliver rode onto French land and shot French dead on Christmas 1897.

Hanley, a personable man who ran thousands of cattle in Harney County, paid a $500 fine in 1909 for fencing about 3,000 acres of government land. The cattle baron died in 1935, a day after he attended the Pendleton Round-Up and was honored by the Round-Up Association.

Henry Miller drove his cattle to Oregon from California during the Gold Rush era.

“He was a German immigrant who came over on a ship as an 18-year-old,” Grover said. “He was a butcher by trade and he knew the miners needed beef.”

John Devine, Grover said, was “probably the most colorful cattleman to ride into southwestern Oregon.” The 30-year-old reportedly “rode a prancing white horse with silver-mounted trappings and dressed in the fashion of a Spanish don with a wide-brimmed black hat, tight trousers and a bolero jacket.” He ran cattle in the Alvord Desert, owned 150,000 acres at one time and went bankrupt in 1889.

Grover blames the decline of the cattle barons on brutally cold Eastern Oregon winters and the tendency to run too many cattle on the land.

Grover still owns a house on the family ranch on Tutuilla Creek Road. While at Texas A&M, she came home every summer to the ranch to visit her seven Arabian horses. She retired after 35 years at Texas A&M, but not before winning the Distinguished Professor Award in 1990.

After about 25 years of retirement, he brain remains sharp. She attributes this to the daily date with her laptop.

“I attribute it to writing,” she said. “I just keep writing.”


Contact Kathy Aney at kaney@eastoregonian.com or 941-966-0810.


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