Camp Polk Meadow: A Historical Crossroads

Camp Polk Meadow has been a historical crossroads for people for thousands of years. Who lived here over the years? Where did they come from? Learn more below.


Camp Polk Meadow has been a historical crossroads for people for thousands of years. First the meadow supplied plentiful food and water for generations of Native American tribes.

Then, it became a hub when explorers, soldiers, entrepreneurs, and settlers moved West to build the community we see today. Who lived here over the years? Where did they come from? Learn more below.

Many thanks to the following for their help with this Camp Polk Meadow history project: The Oregon Community Foundation Oregon Historical Trails Fund, the Roundhouse Foundation, and private donors. Martin Winch and his amazing book Biography of a Place. Carol Wall for researching and sharing the Hindman family story with our community. Jan Hodgers for sharing her personal photos of the Hindmans at Camp Polk Meadow. Ed Barnum for sharing his original architectural drawings and photos of the Hindman Barn. The Deschutes County Historical Society and Bowman Museum for help with research and photography.

  • Native Americans and Camp Polk Meadow

    Native Americans were the first people to visit Camp Polk Meadow. Geographically, the meadow lies within the boundaries of lands regularly and customarily used for thousands of years (7,000-10,000 years before present) by eight tribal groups.

    Paiute woman with willow “winnowing basket” separating roasted pine nuts from their husk. Photo: Bowman Museum.
    Paiute woman with willow “winnowing basket” separating roasted pine nuts from their husk. Photo: Bowman Museum.

    Columbia River tribes (Wasco [Chinookan], Tenino, Tygh, Wyam, and John Day [Sahaptin]) came south from the Columbia River to visit Camp Polk Meadow. The northern and southern Molalla peoples came from the Cascade foothills west of the mountains. These tribes had a relatively predictable life with abundant resources and temperate climates. They would augment their diet and trade with other tribes by making seasonal rounds to places like Camp Polk and other nearby meadows.

    Traveling over the mountains and up river and creek canyons to trade, the first people came through Camp Polk on their way to hunt and fish, to collect obsidian, and to gather roots, huckleberries, and other staples. The men would hunt game for food, clothing, tools,and a variety of domestic and ceremonial uses. They also speared, netted, and trapped fish in Whychus Creek. At that time, Whychus Creek had plentiful runs of steelhead and Chinook salmon. Women came to the meadow to dig roots and tubers. They gathered berries,nuts, flowers, seeds, and other plant material to be used for food, shelter, baskets, tools, and ceremonies.

    The Northern Paiute also visited Camp Polk Meadow. These tribes came from the Great Plains and lived in sparse surroundings, requiring them to move often in search of food. They ate nuts, seeds, tubers, waterfowl and fish, and other small and large animals. Conflicts and skirmishes between the Paiute and Columbia River tribes were frequent.

    In the 1800s, disease introduced by Euro-Americans killed many native peoples. By 1834, only a remnant—at most, one-eighth of the pre-contact population—remained. Native people who survived were increasingly separated from the places they knew, and their way of life was coming to an end. Learn more about the history of Native American tribes in our region.

    Adapted and reprinted with permission from Martin Winch’s Biography of a Place. See a full Camp Polk Meadow historical timeline.

  • Early Explorers


    Black Butte and Mt. Jefferson c. 1855. Photo: Bowman Museum.
    Black Butte and Mt. Jefferson c. 1855. Photo: Bowman Museum.
    It’s not clear when the first Euro-Americans traveled through Camp Polk Meadow-. In the early 1800s, the Hudson’s Bay Company and the fur trade brought trappers in search of beaver. In the early 1840s, John Fremont’s expedition crossed the high desert and camped in the vicinity of Camp Polk. By 1855, railroad survey parties were seeking westward routes. Lieutenants Williamson and Abbot traveled through the area scouting routes. Their map and journals provide some of the earliest descriptions of Camp Polk and Indian Ford Meadows.

    From September 1865–May 1866, Captain Charles LaFollett commanded 42 soldiers who were sent to establish Camp Polk with orders to protect commerce and settlers on the Santiam Wagon Road. The soldiers built eight log structures and named their camp for Polk County in the Willamette Valley—home to most of the soldiers and to their Captain. Captain LaFollet was born on a farm in western Indiana, Charles LaFollett crossed the plains from Missouri to Oregon as a wagon master in 1849.

    Adapted and reprinted with permission from Martin Winch’s Biography of a Place. See a full Camp Polk Meadow historical timeline.

  • Hindman Station

    The Hindman Family c. 1870. Photo: Courtesy of Joyce Hindman.
    The Hindman Family c. 1870. Photo: Courtesy of Joyce Hindman.
    The Hindman family (pronounced Hineman) played a major role in the settlement of Camp Polk—and Central Oregon—from 1868-1882. Samuel Hindman (pronounced Hineman) was born in 1823 in the upper Ohio River Valley in western Pennsylvania. His family moved to Illinois where he met and married Jane McAllister, whose family had come from Nova Scotia. In 1862, the Hindmans left Omaha, Nebraska to settle in Albany, Oregon. In 1868, Samuel Hindman purchased 160 acres of land from the Wagon Road Company for $400. There he built a house and barn which would become Hindman Station on the Santiam Wagon Road.

    The Santiam Wagon Road

    The Santiam Wagon Road was built in the 1860s to connect the Willamette Valley to the grasslands of Central Oregon and the gold mines of eastern Oregon and Idaho. It was a distance of almost 400 miles and served as a livestock trail and the only freight route over the middle section of the Oregon Cascades for most of the 74 years (1865-1939) it was in use.

    Road stations at that time were customarily located about 15 miles apart at a place where there was water and natural pasture. Traveling east from the Willamette Valley, one would stop at Fish Lake, Cache Creek Station, and then Hindman Station. Hindman Station at Camp Polk Meadow was the place where travelers made their final preparations for trips east across the high desert or west across the Cascades. Learn more about the Santiam Wagon Road.

    Hindman Station
    Hindman Station was established by Samuel Hindman between 1868 and 1870 as a stopping place on the Santiam Wagon Road. For travelers, the Station offered a store for replenishing goods, a post office, and a place to rest cattle and horses. For the Hindman family, the wagon road offered an opportunity for barter and some cash to supplement subsistence ranching. Samuel also maintained the Wagon Road from Big Lake on Santiam Pass to the Crooked River.

    In 1885, a new bridge over the Deschutes River at Tetherow began directing more traffic via Sisters, bypassing Camp Polk and Hindman Station. The Camp Polk post office moved to Sisters in 1888. By 1900, the Columbia Southern Railroad connected to Shaniko (north of Madras), taking much of the freight traffic—especially wool wagon trains—away from the Santiam Wagon Road. By 1911, the Oregon Trunk Railroad reached Bend, further rerouting traffic.

    Adapted and reprinted with permission from Martin Winch’s Biography of a Place. See a full Camp Polk Meadow historical timeline.

  • The Hindman Barn

    Today, the posts and beams from the Hindman Barn are all that remain of the once flourishing Hindman Station. Built in 1870, the barn is the only remaining structure from the Santiam Wagon Road era and is one of Deschutes County’s oldest structures. It is a testament to the skilled craftsmen that originally built it and a vivid reminder of how life once was.

    A view of the barn from 1972. Photo: Ed Barnum.
    A view of the barn from 1972. Photo: Ed Barnum.

    The Hindman barn originally measured 75’ long by 50’ wide. It was an imposing structure built for permanence, a statement in a still wild land. It was hand built by a man—Samuel Hindman—who was skilled with axe and timber. What remains of Hindman’s barn now is the inner core structure that is 62’ long x 25’ wide. These drawings, created by architecture student Ed Barnum, show what the barn looked like in 1972.

    Samuel Hindman, c. 1880. Photo: Bowman Museum.
    Samuel Hindman, c. 1880. Photo: Bowman Museum.
    Samuel Hindman was described as an “axeman”—a man who cleared a line of sight for road and land surveyors. He used his skills to build this barn and likely drew on his knowledge of barn construction from time spent in Ohio, Iowa, and the Willamette Valley. These blueprints show what the interior of the barn once looked like. A distinctive feature of the barn is the 10 foot wide wagon way that passes north-south through the barn. It allowed hay wagons to be unloaded directly into the loft or other parts of the barn.

    By 1960, the Hindman barn was no longer used for day-to-day ranching activities and began to be plundered for parts. A windstorm damaged the already failing roof in 1990, sealing its fate. By the time the Deschutes Land Trust acquired the meadow in 2000, all that was left was the structure you see today.

    Adapted and reprinted with permission from Martin Winch’s Biography of a Place. See a full Camp Polk Meadow historical timeline.

  • Hindman Barn Craftsmanship + Use

    Because the barn was built so long ago and so little of it survived, construction details are limited. Instead, what is known is based on the observations of the craftsmanship we see today.

    Stone Foundation: Foundation stones provided solid footing for sills and posts. Most of the barn was probably built around the same time because the plank framing, structural members, and construction appear consistent throughout. Of course, over the years, the barn was altered for different uses.

    Timber Framing: The timbers used to frame the Hindman barn were cut on site. They came from ponderosa pines that were large enough to produce straight heartwood beams 10” square. There are sixteen 14’ tall posts on horizontal sills. The top beams that hold the structure together are 65’ long, hewn from a single log!

    The inside of the Hindman Barn in 1972. Photo: Ed Barnum.
    The inside of the Hindman Barn in 1972. Photo: Ed Barnum.

    Hand Hewn: The timbers all show signs of a broad axe—not a draw knife, nor an adze. The barn siding, however, was sawn at a mill. At the time, milled lumber could have been hauled from Prineville, the Dalles, or from the Willamette Valley (an eight day round-trip with freight!).

    Wooden Joinery: The barn has mortise-and-tenon joints that are secured with wooden pegs called trunnels. Samuel Hindman would have crafted these joints by hand using his knowledge as a skilled woodsman. The kind of joinery and timber framing Hindman used were more sophisticated than the log structures that soldiers and many settlers used.

     

    The Hindman barn was in active use from 1870–1960. Dairy cows were kept on the north side of the barn. Horses were stabled in the barn on the south side under the sloping eaves that would have connected today’s rafters with the outer barn walls. Hay was stored in a central loft on either side of the main wagon way.

    Wood flooring with a gutter in the middle suggests that cattle or dairy animals were fed and milked in this section of the barn. Photo: Ed Barnum.
    Wood flooring with a gutter in the middle suggests that cattle or dairy animals were fed and milked in this section of the barn. Photo: Ed Barnum.

    At the east end of the barn a hip roof housed additional stables with wood flooring that can still be seen today. There was a gutter (see photo abovet) in the middle of this floor, suggesting that cattle or dairy animals were fed and milked in this section of the barn. Milk from the Hindman place was sold locally for nearly a century.

    The barn and homestead were also a stopping place on the Santiam Wagon Road. The Hindmans “became widely known among the early settlers for their hospitality and helpfulness to travelers crossing the mountains.” Samuel Hindman hauled supplies from the Willamette Valley to sell at Hindman Station. One could buy matches, salt, coffee, Arbuckle brand work shirts, and pick up the mail. The Hindmans also sold fresh vegetables from their household garden and from land they acquired on nearby Indian Ford Creek.

    Adapted and reprinted with permission from Martin Winch’s Biography of a Place. See a full Camp Polk Meadow historical timeline.

  • The Hindman House

    The Hindman House sat south of the Hindman barn adjacent to a spring that provided water for people and livestock. The house was surrounded by pastures that spanned the modern day spring and wetland between the house and barn. A version of the house—perhaps a log cabin—was probably built around the time Samuel and Jane Hindman settled at Camp Polk. Over the years, the house, like many houses, was renovated, added onto, and evolved.

    The Hindman house and barn. The dirt road in front of the fence marks the route of the historic Santiam Wagon Road. Photo: courtesy of Jan Hodgers.
    The Hindman house and barn. The dirt road in front of the fence marks the route of the historic Santiam Wagon Road. Photo: courtesy of Jan Hodgers.

    Making a Home
    Samuel and Jane Hindman and then their children Charley, Sarah, and Daniel, lived at the house starting in 1868. Even by the standards of the time, it was a wild and primitive
    place, and the Hindmans likely watched for large mammals and their predators. Elk and bear came in from the higher foothills, wild sheep were seen on rock outcroppings, and even gray wolves were seen on occasion. Stories from travelers, experiences with game and wildlife, talk about their own animals, and chores, broke the overwhelming stillness.

    Life was dominated by the necessities: food, shelter, and safety. The Hindmans assumed scarcity, made do, and did without. Both the Hindmans and later Martha Taylor Cobb Hindman maintained household gardens. Root crops and corn figured prominently in the garden.

    In 1902, Charley Hindman married Martha Taylor Cobb and both lived at Camp Polk in the Hindman house. Martha Taylor was born and lived briefly in Harrisburg, Oregon, but her family moved to northern California before coming to Central Oregon. Her first husband, Alfred Cobb, came from Missouri and fought for the North in the Civil War at the age of 18. By 1883, Martha and Alfred ran the Cobb Road House (just outside of Sisters) as a way station for travelers. Alfred died in 1898. In 1902, Martha Cobb married Charley Hindman and lived at Camp Polk Meadow. By 1920, after the deaths of Samuel and Charley Hindman, the Hindman Ranch at Camp Polk Meadow belonged to Martha. Martha managed the ranch until her death in 1940. She is buried in the Camp Polk Cemetery.

    The Hindman home, viewed from the east. Left to right: Gust Olson, Samuel Hindman, Charley Hindman, Martha Taylor Cobb Hindman, and a 1903 Packard car (c. 1918). Photo: courtesy of Jan Hodgers.
    The Hindman home, viewed from the east. Left to right: Gust Olson, Samuel Hindman, Charley Hindman, Martha Taylor Cobb Hindman, and a 1903 Packard car (c. 1918). Photo: courtesy of Jan Hodgers.


    Reconstructing the Hindman House

    Much like the Hindman barn, detailed descriptions of the Hindman house are few and far between. We know that it was on the Santiam Wagon Road, 125 feet north of the modern Camp Polk road on the south edge of the wetland. Hindman himself noted that the house was situated over “a good spring of water right under the house in the cellar.” This cellar sump would become the only remaining portion of the home. The house was probably log and milled lumber that was added onto over time.

    In the early 1900s, the Hindman house was described by Nate Cobb, Martha’s son, as “[a] big two story house sitting on a slope beneath the spreading branches of quaking aspens, silver maples and huge ponderosa pines, with a spring bubbling up underneath the kitchen, where dairy products were kept cool and fresh.”

    In 1947, the Cutsforth and Mahaffey families purchased the Hindman ranch and moved into the Hindman house. By 1960, the house had become so dilapidated it had to be torn
    down. Today, the root cellar cooled by the springs is all that remains of the Hindman home.

    Adapted and reprinted with permission from Martin Winch’s Biography of a Place. See a full Camp Polk Meadow historical timeline.