Malheur National Wildlife Refuge
Pacific Region

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

volunteers conduct augur sampling at ranchArchaeology 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.

Sod House Buckaroo BunkhouseThe Ranch will not be open in 2013 due to Sequestration Funding issues. We hope to reopen the ranch in 2014.

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

Long Barn at Sod House Ranch after restoration


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.




  • Phase I: An emergency stabilization plan was prepared by a preservation specialist and a series of braces, splints and stiffener plates were installed in the barn to prevent any more eastward movement. When this was completed the mid portion of the barn was lifted and moved slightly to the west. Temporary posts on the east side and long term braces were then installed in the barn until further restoration efforts could take place.

  • Phase II: The mid portion of the barn is again lifted and the ridge is moved westward. Permanent juniper posts are installed under the east roof line on the original footings. House jacks were used to support horizontal portions of the barn while rotted portions of the interior juniper support posts were removed. A metal post was inserted into the center of each treated post and a concrete pier was placed beneath for stability. Some of the interior posts were too deteriorated to preserve and were replaced with juniper harvested from Steens Mountain. Additional work included rebuilding the gable doors on the south end of the barn and replacing missing manger boards.

  • Phase III: Following the completion of Phase II the barn again shifted slightly eastward and the restoration team recognized that a permanent anchoring system was needed to prevent further movement. A series of steel cables were connected to large concrete anchors placed in the east half of the barn on the outside corners and inside the two gable doors. A web of cables was attached to the interior of the roof on the west half of the barn. By linking the cables to the anchors the barn was now unable to continue shifting eastward. The mid portion of the barn was lifted and shifted for the last time to the west. During the three phases the barn was moved over 23 inches back into vertical alignment. The bracing system was removed from the interior of the barn, repairs were made to gates, doors and mangers and many missing elements within the barn were replaced.


Last updated: June 18, 2013