Historic Sod House Ranch
Sod House Ranch is a historic ranch that was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 because it represents an intact 1870-80's era ranch; was designed and constructed by Peter French a well known eastern Oregon rancher; was one of the first ranches in Harney County; and at the height of it's operation was one of the largest ranches operating on private property in the western United States.
Volunteer Archaeologists Conduct Excavation
Archaeology Volunteers Jan and Karl Smith of Whidbey Island, Washington are helping the refuge learn more about use at the ranch by conducting excavations. The Smiths began the archaeological project in 2005 behind the Sod House bunkhouse by sampling below the surface with augurs. Placed at measured intervals the augurs provide a glimpse at what is below the surface without a lot of disturbance. Soil brought up by the augur is then screened and examined for artifacts. In their initial work they recovered a variety of nails, wood chips, glass fragments, and rocks. By examining their results they were able to decide where to place the first excavation unit.
Karl said “we were hoping to find the location of one of the privy holes behind the bunkhouse, but did not have any luck.” Privy holes are often filled with garbage when they are abandoned and can provide time capsule glimpses for a particular period of use. Instead of excavating in a privy hole location they selected an area behind the bunkhouse where auguring recovered high numbers of nails and glass.
On their first day of the 2005 excavations they found a piece of four strand barbed wire, a medicine bottle, mysterious pieces of metal, and cow bones. All of these items appear to be sitting on a compacted dirt floor in the vicinity of a small shed that was once attached to the bunkhouse.
In 2006 the Smiths returned for another two weeks of excavation. This year they decided to focus on an area believed to be the location of the old stock water well and windmill used to pump water from the well. They recovered many pieces of rusted metal, vaccine bottles, nails, bone, and various other items. It appears that the windmill was located in this area, however the walls of the well were not very definite.
Sod House Ranch History
Sod House Ranch was the northern headquarters of the 120,000 acre ranch managed by Peter French. Eight of the 1880s era buildings remain at the ranch, including the 116 feet long, 50 feet wide and 20 feet tall Long Barn. The barn is constructed of juniper posts, split juniper slabs, and ponderosa pine beams and boards. It was designed by Peter French and constructed by his ranch hands. Other buildings at the ranch include a two-room office; a stone cellar built of locally quarried stone with an earthen (sod) roof, a two-story bunkhouse for the buckaroos; a chicken coop/grain storage building/carriage shed; and the original homestead house.
The ranch is open to the public from August 15 through October 15, and is closed the remainder of the year to meet wildlife objectives. Please contact the refuge for hours, days of operation, and tour opportunities.
The ranch, because of the intact nature of the facilities, offers a unique opportunity to educate a wide range of age groups about the historic cattle industry of the Harney Basin area, it's impact on the development of the area, and the use of livestock grazing on the refuge as a habitat management tool.
Stabilizaton and Restoration of the Long Barn
Some time before 1975 the juniper posts holding up the east side of the barn were removed. The weight of the barn roof, with the assistance of wind and snow, slowly began shifting eastward and by 1999 the mid portion of the barn was leaning 36 inches out of vertical alignment and the barn was on the verge of collapsing. Stabilization and restoration of the barn occurred in three phases.