A trip back in time to Camp Polk

The Bend Bulletin reports on the Land Trust's History Walk for Historic Preservation Month.
By Ted Schorack
The Bend Bulletin

The oldest structure in Deschutes County marked the end of an arduous journey by wagon from the Willamette Valley to Central Oregon.

The Hindman barn and the Camp Polk Meadow Preserve it sits on are about 5 miles northeast of Sisters. It was built in the early 1870s when High Desert settlers were traveling east across the Cascade Mountains in search of gold or a suitable tract of land to raise cattle.

Kelly Madden, a member of the Deschutes County Historic Landmarks Commission, presented a timeline of events at the historically significant Camp Polk area during a guided tour Thursday. The event was part of a series of opportunities to celebrate Historic Preservation Month in May. The 151-acre meadow is part of the Deschutes Land Trust, which organized the event with the landmarks commission.

Madden stood in front of the barn’s haggard frame and described the importance of the structure to early settlers.

“The timber is holding up pretty good for 140 years,” she said.

The meadow preserve gets its name from Capt. Charles Lafollett and a group of 40 soldiers who established Camp Polk there in October 1865. The soldiers named it after their home, Polk County. They intended to protect commerce and travelers who feared Native American attacks.

“Nobody really knows where their camp was or what it looked like,” Madden said.

The soldiers spent six months at the camp and helped clear wagon roads through the Cascades, but later abandoned the area.

Historically designated structures in Oregon are protected from significant alterations by land use laws. The Hindman barn was added to the Deschutes County list of historical sites in 1979.

Samuel and Jane Hindman settled at Camp Polk with their children in 1869. It soon became known as Hindman’s Station and a post office was established there in 1875.

Madden said the Camp Polk area had a store, lodging, places to get a meal and feed for animals. The store sold matches, salt, meat, coffee and work shirts.

Hindman built a bridge spanning the Deschutes River, but by 1878 travelers were crossing Whychus Creek near present-day Sisters on their way to Tetherow Crossing. The post office was moved to Sisters in 1888.

“Camp Polk began to fade by 1890,” Madden said.

The Hindman house was torn down in 1960. Although still standing, the barn is in need of restoration.

“We’d like to have it look the way it did,” Madden said. Deschutes Land Trust hopes to acquire grants that would help with straightening and strengthening the decades-old frame.

Madden also led visitors to Camp Polk Cemetery, originally known as Hindman Cemetery, which was established in 1880.

Madden leads a tour of the cemetery every October and recruits friends to portray the historical figures buried there and tell their stories based on written accounts.

A story she shared Thursday recounts the death of a 19-year-old cowboy in Sisters in 1905 who was reportedly kicked in the head by his horse.

“No one ever knew his name and his gravestone says, ‘cowboy kicked by horse,’” Madden read from a historical account.