|STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE
The Roba Ranch, scenically located at the end of the Paulina Valley, is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A for its association with late nineteenth and early twentieth century family-owned ranching patterns in Crook County, Oregon, and under Criterion C for the collective architectural significance of the four contributing buildings and one contributing structure on the property. Ideally situated near two year-round creeks, forested hills, and open grasslands, the family-run Roba Ranch was typical of other ranches in the area. Initially envisioned as primarily a sheep ranch, both the history and architecture of the Roba Ranch were influenced by the settlement patterns of family-run ranching operations, but also by the sheep and cattle wars fought in Crook County during the period of significance. The period of significance begins with the Roba’s acquisition of the ranch in 1892 and ends with the completion of the Roba Ranch house by George and Mary Roba in 1910.
EARLY DEVELOPMENT OF CROOK COUNTY
Initially bypassed by early Euro-American settlers in the mid-1800s in favor of agricultural opportunities abundant in the Willamette Valley, the area now known as Crook County in central Oregon was first inhabited by Shoshonean- and, to a lesser extent, Sahaptin-speaking people who had lived in the desert and rimrock area for generations. Although early Euro-American explorers, trappers, and wagon train parties had passed through present-day central Oregon earlier, large-scale Euro-American settlement of Crook County did not occur until the late 1860s with the completion of a wagon road between Linn County and the Deschutes River in 1866. Initially developed with the interests of western Oregon stockraisers looking to secure more range land for their sheep, cattle, and horses east of the Cascades, the accessibility of the Santiam Wagon Road helped establish a permanent Euro-American presence in central Oregon.
Euro-American settlement east of the Cascades was fueled in part by the lure of large expanses of land that became more accessible as the federal government forcibly removed Native American groups to reservations. Entry into central Oregon by Euro-Americans was also the result of reverse settlement patterns that often forced new emigrants away from the relatively densely populated Willamette Valley, the lure of open range land for stockraising, and mining prospects that existed in both central and eastern areas of the state. Reflective of this growth, the city of Prineville, the first city in Crook County, was founded in 1868 with the establishment of a combination saloon, blacksmith shop, and general store building.
Located over 50 miles east of Prineville, Paulina, the geographic center of Oregon, was established shortly thereafter, and quickly became “that necessary town.” Named after a Paiute chief of the Walapi tribe, a post office was later established in the town in 1880, with the first permanent house not being constructed until 1885. Although the town was small, it was surrounded by a larger community of farms and ranches throughout the area. As with many small towns in rural Oregon, Paulina was a place to buy goods, gather, and celebrate with other members of the community, and its existence was directly related to the open range sheep and cattle operations in the area.
Ranching operations in Crook County were important to initial Euro-American settlers who used the business to sustain themselves on the land. Settlers in the county were at first limited agriculturally by the low annual rainfall received in the region, and poor access to irrigation necessary for successful farming. The open grasslands of the area, however, were ideal for grazing cattle and sheep. As a result, the economy of Crook County became inextricably tied to the development of open range sheep and cattle ranching. In addition to ranching operations, Crook County settlers also practiced subsistence farming, whereby gardens, orchards, and other livestock, including poultry, were kept to provide food and other by-products, such as hides for leatherwork.
With the increased accessibility to grazing lands east of the Cascades for western Oregon cattle ranchers, cattle were first introduced to the area in large numbers beginning in the 1860s. Although large-scale cattle ranches appeared within central and southeastern Oregon during this period, small-scale, family-run cattle ranching also appeared alongside. The introduction of sheep onto the open ranges of Crook County occurred later than cattle ranching, but also proved extremely profitable. Initially unregulated tracts of land, open ranges during this period were shared by all locals. By the 1880s and 1890s, the number of cattle and sheep herds increased dramatically east of the Cascades and in Crook County, “as new rail lines allowed producers to ship both wool and cattle to the expanding markets across the United States.” Although exact numbers are unknown, sheep outnumbered cattle approximately 7 to 1 (approximately 300,000 sheep; 40,000 cattle) in the county by 1896, due, in part, to a series of difficult and devastating winters during the 1880s and 1890s that decimated open range cattle herds.
ESTABLISHMENT OF THE ROBA RANCH
Born in 1862 in Jernye, Czechoslovakia, Gyorgy Janos Roba, his first name later anglicized to “George,” arrived in the United States at age 20 in January 1882 aboard the SS Suevia. His passage paid for by his brother Andros (anglicized to Andrew), who had arrived in the country earlier, George began work in the small coal mining community of Jernye, Pennsylvania, where his brother had also secured him a job. Initially unable to understand or speak English, George began studying the language, and soon began to learn other languages, such as Polish, Ukrainian, and Russian, spoken by workmen in the community. As a result of his quick learning, George ultimately became charged with the supervision of a multiethnic work crew at the mine.
In 1886, George married 21-year-old Maria Sojka (her first name later anglicized to Mary) of Lazsnyan, Czechoslovakia, whose passage to America he had paid for after befriending her three brothers during his six years of mining. The first of twelve children George and Mary would ultimately have, Joseph, was born in 1887. By the birth of their second child, Anna, in November 1888, George had moved to Oregon, presumably lured by the assurance of land granted under the Homestead Act of 1862, leaving behind his wife and children with her parents in Galitzen, Pennsylvania with the promise of sending for them when possible.
Convinced by his Russian traveling companion, Giorgy Stephenanji, he could make money by sheep ranching out west, George boarded a train in Pennsylvania destined for Prineville in central Oregon. George mistakenly, however, got off the train in Springfield, Oregon, west of the Cascades, instead of at The Dalles, the cutoff to Shaniko and ultimately Prineville. Without money to buy transportation, George and Giorgy walked across the Cascades on the McKenzie Trail and later the Santiam Wagon Road before they were able to hitch a ride at Sisters, Oregon on a mule-drawn freighter headed for Prineville.
In Prineville, George and Giorgy were offered jobs as sheep herders by Hugh Lister, on property owned by his father, Tom Lister, in the Rabbit Valley and Beaver Creek area near Paulina. Given sheep, dogs, provisions, and a .30-.30 carbine rife, and having no experience herding sheep or as a marksman, George was assigned to open range land that ran west of Paulina Valley to the north fork of the Crooked River, near where George would later establish his ranch. Typically, ranchers owned a comparatively small parcel of land, usually granted under the Homestead Act, but ran livestock over the thousands of acres that were seen essentially as public property. Tending to open range livestock by herdsmen was done on a seasonal basis, with livestock herded to spring and summer pastures in the higher elevations, and then herded to winter pastures in the lower elevations. During winter, herds of sheep and cattle were left on the open ranges unsheltered to fend for themselves. Depending on the weather and food supply, the death rate among livestock during the winter months varied from year to year.
By the spring of 1889, George and Giorgy had accumulated a small herd of ewes (it was customary to give a share of ewes to sheepherders) and enough money to send for George’s wife and two children. Mary, who did not speak English, and the children boarded a train in Pennsylvania, and later arrived in Oregon. George, who had been working at this time in Shaniko, then the largest wool gathering center in the world, borrowed a wagon and team from Hugh Lister and was able to meet his family in The Dalles. Upon their arrival at Rabbit Valley, near Paulina, Mary was employed as a camp cook.
George and Mary worked for Lister for over three years, steadily increasing their wealth in savings and sheep. During the winter months, when his sheep forged in lower elevation winter pastures, George supplemented his income by doing odd jobs for the Lister ranch, leatherworking, and leather repairs, a skill and source of income on which George would come to rely well into the twentieth century. During his time working for Lister on the open ranges near Paulina Valley, George happened upon a ranch near the year-round Paulina Creek, owned by a man named Wagonblaster whose family had moved ahead of him to the Willamette Valley. Eager to sell his ranch and join his family, Wagonblaster and George struck a deal, and the Roba family moved to the ranch in 1892.
The Roba Ranch was located at a scenic location at the far end of Paulina Valley, near two year-round creeks that could provide water for stock raising and irrigation, and a quarry. Fortunately for the Robas, already on the property was a barn constructed by Wagonblaster between 1888 and 1889, and a simple front gable, one-and-one-half-story house, clad in board and batten siding. Although the Roba family was growing (between 1892 and 1898, four more Roba children were born), and the existing house small, the family lived in the building until 1910, when a much larger house was constructed. The existing circa 1889 barn was also utilized, and is still used today.
Without the need to first construct a barn and house, George was able to begin his sheep ranching operation immediately. According to author J. Orin Oliphant, “unlike cattle raising, which required a much larger initial investment and much longer period of maturation, sheep could be raised more cheaply on unclaimed range lands.” Crook County Assessment Rolls show that by 1895, George and his partner (presumably Girogy) had approximately 1,400 sheep, 6 cattle, and 5 horses and mules. By this time, George and his family were well-liked and respected in the Paulina community. Even though he had a sizeable, family-run ranching operation, George also still worked odd jobs, especially leathermaking, and was remembered for helping his neighbors.
SHEEP AND CATTLE WARS IN THE PAULINA AREA
The concern over the rising number of sheep east of the Cascades was documented as early as the summer of 1872, when the Walla Walla Union brought up the discussion of “the sheep question,” as growing herds of sheep were perceived as “eating out the pasturage” and “poisoning and scenting the grass,” thereby preventing cattle from grazing in the same areas. By 1896, there were seven times more sheep than cattle in Crook County. Even though the presence of both sheep and cattle ranching on the open ranch contributed to overgrazing in the area, sheep were often regarded as the reason why the range was unable to regenerate itself. As the reverse migration patterns of Euro-Americans continued into the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, tensions between cattle and sheep ranchers increased across Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Animosity between cattle and sheep ranchers in Crook County was no different, and came to a head with the formation of the Izee Sheepshooters in 1896 east of Paulina. Although individuals and smaller groups of cattlemen had organized prior to this time, the formation of the Izee Sheepshooters and subsequent sheepshooting associations initiated a period of violence against property and people.
After 1896, sheepherders from areas west, north, and east of Crook County began grazing their sheep closer to Paulina Creek near the Roba Ranch due to the creation of the Cascade Forest Reserve, thereby “making incursions onto historic cattle grazing land” in the Paulina area. This act effectively closed the Cascades to all grazing, forcing sheep ranchers east into the Ochocos and Blue Mountains in search of summer pastures. Concerned about the growing population of sheep defoliating range land in their area, in 1898, a group Paulina cattlemen organized the Paulina Sheepshooters Association with the help of the Izee Sheepshooters, six miles due east of the Roba Ranch. Together, the two sheepshooting associations established a “deathline,” a boundary that confined sheep to specific grazing areas, usually marked by tree blazes, and strips of cloth and pieces of tin attached to trees. The first violent act of the Paulina Sheepshooters was the killing of a band of sheep approximately eight miles northwest of the Roba Ranch. As many as 10,000 sheep were killed east of Prineville over a three year period.
George Roba’s ranching operation had grown to include over 2,000 head of sheep by 1899. The circa 1890s peeled juniper log corrals, and fencing used for sheep, located today on a slight rise on the property, is evident of George’s ranching success. It was in the spring of this year, however, that George began to receive threatening letters explaining that his sheep were grazing beyond the “deathline” and advising him to sell the herd quickly. George did not openly side with other sheep ranchers, and thought he was well-known and liked enough by the area’s cattlemen to stave off any confrontation. As a result, he ignored the warning letters and continued his sheep operation through the summer. A few months later, in the late fall of 1899, a sheep camp located approximately three miles north of the Roba Ranch that George’s teenage son Joseph had been tending was set on fire, presumably by someone from the closest neighboring ranch. Rather than pit himself against his neighboring cattlemen and anti-sheep organizations, George began selling his sheep.
Even though he had been coerced into selling his sheep, the demand for wool at this time was high, and George made a substantial profit off part of his herd. By the spring of 1900, George’s sheep herds had diminished to just a few hundred head. He had decided to graze these last remaining sheep by the upper falls of the North Fork of the Crooked River through the spring and summer, and sell them just before fall when the price would be highest. Left unattended, however, the herds were eventually killed by the sheepshooters who crowded George’s remaining sheep off the high basalt cliffs to their deaths, a method of killing called “rimrocking.”
TRANSITION ON THE ROBA RANCH
Although the last few hundred of his sheep were killed by the sheepshooters, George had still made a substantial sum of money off of previous sheep sales. As a victim of the violence that had consumed Crook County and the Paulina Valley, George looked for other work that could sustain his family. Historian Martel Scroggin theorizes, “why he [George] didn’t become a cattleman can only be guessed at, but possibly it was because the violence of the sheep shooters had escalated beyond any sense of reason.” By 1903, two more anti-sheep groups had formed: the Silver Lake and Camp Creek Sheepshooters, and the Crook County Sheep Shooting Association. By 1905, thousands of sheep had been killed across central Oregon, equating to staggering losses for sheep ranchers in the area.
It was during this time that many of the Roba Ranch’s out buildings and structures were completed, likely financed with the money George made from selling his sheep. A simple gabled roof, wood-framed storage building that sits on log skids was constructed in approximately 1900, and was used as a movable shed for the storage of grains and other crops. A small, gabled roof privy was also constructed in approximately 1900. After 1900, the set of corrals, fences, and chutes that were constructed for sheep were readapted for cattle use, as George moved from ranching sheep, to keeping a few dozen head of cattle primarily for subsistence and to provide hides for his leather goods. Between 1901 and 1905, three more Roba children were born, thereby making the need for a larger house more pressing.
Although hostilities between cattle and sheep ranchers continued, George made a living by leatherworking, and selling his hand-crafted goods, such as leather gloves, jackets, and chaps in the Paulina community, commodities that were not only well-designed and stylish, but also a necessity for ranchers and farmers in the area. In 1905, George invested $18,000, only part of the money he made selling off sheep, to open a general store in Paulina with Lee Miller. The first floor of the building contained the store and bar, while the second floor was used as a meeting and dance hall. As the trip from Paulina to his ranch was nearly ten miles, George bought a house in town to split his time between the store and ranch. The general store served residents throughout the area, and was often a place to gather Saturday nights for dances and community events.
George was engaged in a variety of different jobs at the general store, from bartending to candy making, to hauling freight by wagon, later by a chain-driven Mack truck, from Shaniko. George also spent time at his ranch, were he kept a few dozen cattle, and some milk cows and sheep to provide meat and wool for his family, and hides for making leather goods he would later sell. The Roba’s also maintained a large vegetable garden and fruit orchard, remnants of which are still located on the property.
By the early 1900s, public opinion had began to turn against anti-sheep cattlemen. In 1906, the Blue Mountain Forest Reserve was created, effectively eliminating free grazing rights on all federal lands in central and eastern Oregon. With the end of the open range, cattle and sheep ranchers alike were issued permits for specific land to graze their livestock, thereby preventing overgrazing, and helping to stop the sheep and cattle wars that had plagued the area for years.
A New House on the Roba Ranch
By the time he had engaged in business with Lee Miller at the Paulina general store, and the range wars were waning, George began plans to build a new, one-and-one-half-story house to replace the house his family had lived in since arriving at the ranch in 1892. Due to the unusual appearance of the ranch house, such as the exaggerated, clipped gable ends and multiple gable dormers, it is plausible that George may have designed the house based on architectural forms and styles of buildings he had seen in his homeland. Evidence for this theory, however, is scant. What is apparent, though, is that the original one-and-one-half story house the Robas had made their home in for over a decade proved too small to house George, Mary, and their nine children. No doubt the money George had made selling his sheep, leatherworking, and in the Paulina general store had made it more feasible to construct a new house on the ranch. During the winter months, when business was slow at the store, George and his sons, Joseph and George Jr., began to cut large, tuff stones from a nearby quarry located on the property. These stones were then loaded onto a sled and hauled over the snowy terrain back to the ranch.
Produced through volcanism, and relatively light in weight, tuff stone was easy to saw or carve into different shapes. Tuff stone was used extensively in buildings constructed in central and eastern Oregon, due to its prevalence in the region, its easy-to-work physical characteristics, and its ability to naturally insulate buildings if used as exterior cladding. Evidence of its easy workability can be seen in the drawings and carvings, such as leaves, tree limbs and branches, swirls, and other designs on many of the tuff stones that clad the exterior of the Roba Ranch house.
Progress on the house continued, slowly, as George continued to split his time between work at the store in Paulina and his ranch. After laying the foundation and constructing a portion of the northwest corner of the house, George left his 20-year-old son, Joseph, and 19-year-old daughter, Anna, in charge of finishing the building. Business at the store in Paulina was growing, and George was unable to spend more time at the ranch. Joseph hand planed all the lumber used in the construction of the house, as well as constructed the paneling, trims, and decorative stone work. The completion of the one-and-one-half-story, tuff stone house in 1910 could not have come sooner, as by this time the tenth and eleventh Roba children had been born, with a twelfth child born three years later in 1913.
George spent his years after 1910 mainly focused on the operation of the general store in Paulina. While still engaged in his small family-run ranch, orchards, and garden, George undertook no other major building projects on the property. George’s partnership with Lee Miller ended in 1929 when the Paulina general store caught fire. As a result, George turned his attention to running his small ranch and leatherworking. His wife, Mary, died at the age of 68 in 1933, and in December 1939, George died at the age of 77 from tuberculosis. After his death, the Roba’s daughter, Ruby Rose, inherited the property for the sum of one dollar.
ARCHITECTURE OF THE ROBA RANCH
The Roba Ranch is architecturally significant for its four contributing buildings and one contributing structure that are representative of late nineteenth and early twentieth century family-run ranching operations in Crook County. While the barn is the only building remaining of the original ranch obtained by the Roba’s in 1892, the construction of the other contributing resources on the property are directly related to the early operation of the ranch during the 1890s. While George Roba’s coerced decision to sell his sheep made him well-off during the early 1900s, and thus financially capable of undertaking several building projects, it is evident that George became more wary of ranching as the sheep and cattle wars continued. Instead of only focusing on his sheep ranching, as he had done through the 1890s when only the corrals, chutes, and fencing were constructed, George began to focus more on the success of his general store in Paulina and on improving his family’s life through the construction of several domestic-related buildings on the ranch. The other contributing resources on the property demonstrate the shift in ranching that George undertook as a result of previous events, namely from market production ranching to a more subsistence ranching that could provide both hides for his leathermaking and food and clothing for his family.
Common among ranches in the area, the Roba Ranch consists of several outbuildings and structures that aided in the day-to-day operations of the ranch. Among these include the barn, pump house, outhouse, corrals, ranch house, and movable storage building. The massed, side-gabled, one and one-half story Folk Victorian ranch house, with a prominent central gable dormer flanked by two smaller gable dormers on the main facade, was constructed from tuff stone, locally quarried by the Roba family. Author Arthur A. Hart explains, “a feature of farms and ranches east of the Cascades [was] the frequency with which local stone was used. Hundreds of farmhouses were built of locally available volcanic rocks, either basaltic or tuff.” While designed and constructed primarily by the two eldest Roba children with the assistance of George Roba, the ranch house is architecturally interesting with its three gable dormers on the main facade, three matching gable dormers on the rear facade, and its dramatically clipped gable ends. Like many other ranchers and farmers east of the Cascades, the Roba’s 1910 tuff stone Folk Victorian ranch house served as a much larger replacement building for the family. While the house is rather plain in form, the presence of carvings in the tuff stone on the building’s exterior and decorative bargeboard, frieze, and window surrounds on the three front facade gable dormers give the building a unique appearance.
Characteristically, the one and one-half story barn, with, as professors Allen Noble and Richard Cleek call, a broken-roof variant, sits on a tuff stone foundation in a back-of-house location, over 180 feet from and nearly perpendicular to the east side of the ranch house. The “broken” appearance of the barn’s gable roof is due to the addition of sheds with different roof pitches on both the north and south sides of the barn, a common practice used in the western United States. Two rectangular ventilation window openings with simple wood surrounds are present in the gable-ends of the building. Due to the combustible nature of hay when stored, ventilation openings such as these were often necessary to prevent fire in the barn. Used to house livestock, including sheep and cattle, and for food storage, the presence of a barn already of the property was valuable to the Robas when they moved onto the ranch in 1892. Without the need to immediately construct a barn, the Robas turned their attention to sheep ranching and subsistence living. Although a new barn was not needed for the Roba’s ranching operations, the family constructed other buildings and structures on the property including a corral, pump house, outhouse, movable storage building. These secondary outbuildings and structures follow a linear arrangement along a dirt road that runs on a north-south axis and bisects the property. As was customary in the west, many of the buildings, including the ranch house, are organized along cardinal compass points.
The peeled juniper log corrals, chutes, and fencing that sit above the ranch house and barn at the top of a slight rise, were constructed by the Robas during the 1890s and were first used for sheep and, later, cattle. Characteristic of fencing types and construction, the corral is tied very close to the physical environment and was constructed from locally available materials. Due to the prevalence of rock just underneath to ground’s surface, and therefore the inability to dig post-holes for the corral, rock cribs and rock jacks were constructed from logs and nearby rocks to support fence posts. Another agriculture-related outbuilding is a 10-by-15 foot gable roofed storage building that rests on log skids built by the Robas, located at the top of a hill that runs behind the ranch house and barn. Because of the presence of the log skids, the building was able to be moved from place to place where needed for agricultural storage, and therefore, is currently not located within the nominated area.
Two of the secondary buildings on the Roba Ranch are more closely associated with the domestic functions of the ranch house, rather than the agricultural functions of the barn. Regardless, all of these buildings were necessary features to ensure the success of a family-run ranch. The small gable roofed pump house clad in vertical boards, located approximately 180 feet from the northeast corner of the ranch house and near the year-round Roba Creek, provided protection for the family’s water source. The small, 4-by-4 foot, gable side-opening privy on the ranch is typical of most privies constructed in North America, due to its small footprint, simple design, and purpose-built function. Although located farther from the house than was usual, the privy was still situated close enough to remain convenient.
Properties are listed in order of closest proximity to the Roba Ranch.
McCall Ranch, Prineville vicinity, Crook County, Oregon (not listed in the NRHP):
The McCall Ranch in rural Crook County, located west of the Roba Ranch, includes four contributing resources, including a house, shed, dairy barn, and a horse barn. The architect-constructed, Colonial Revival house, dates from 1911. The associated horse barn was constructed between 1911 and 1915, and the dairy barn was constructed in circa 1917. Both the house and 640 acres of land was given to Hal and Dorothy Lawson McCall by Dorothy’s father, Thomas Lawson, a wealthy copper mining owner, in 1910. The ranch is not listed in the National Register.
The Roba Ranch differs from the McCall Ranch in several ways. Disregarding its distance from the Roba Ranch on the far west end of Crook County, the McCall Ranch was established much later than the Roba Ranch, and does not possess as many outbuildings associated with ranching. In addition, the Roba family were of a much different socio-economic class than the McCalls, and therefore established their ranching operations in a very different manner. The Roba Ranch also is associated with late nineteenth and early twentieth century ranching, while the McCall Ranch dates from a later period.
Campbell, R.W., House and Barn, Mitchell vicinity, Wheeler County, Oregon (not listed in the NRHP):
The R.W. Campbell House and Barn, located six miles east of Mitchell in rural Wheeler County and north of the Roba Ranch, includes two contributing resources. The two-story, wood frame house with a gable roof and shiplap siding, was constructed prior to 1883. The log frame barn with a gable roof dates from the 1880s. The ranch was reportedly used from the 1880s as the main stop for stage and freight lines running between The Dalles and Canyon City, located in central Grant County. The property is not listed in the National Register.
In addition to its long distance from the Roba Ranch, the Campbell House and Barn does not have as many contributing resources as the Roba Ranch. The place where the Campbell House and Barn is located also differs, in that the Roba Ranch is not situated along main roads running through Crook County, as is the Campbell property. The historical context for each property is also different, as the Roba Ranch is more associated with late nineteenth and early twentieth century ranching in central Oregon then is the Campbell property, which was used as a main stage stop.
Cant, James, Ranch Historic District, Dayville vicinity, Grant County, Oregon (listed in NRHP 06/21/1984):
The James Cant Ranch Historic District in Grant County, located northeast of the Roba Ranch, includes eleven contributing resources, including a house, barn, cabin, privy, and chicken coop, which date from the 1880s through the 1920s. The earliest building, a small one-story log cabin, is the oldest building in the group. The two and one-half story, hip-roofed main ranch house was built between 1915 and 1918, with the barn constructed in circa 1920. The Cant Ranch Historic District was listed as a good example of early twentieth century ranching operations in the John Day River Valley, and is the only ranch listed in the National Register in this area of Oregon.
Like the McCall and Campbell properties, the Cant Ranch Historic District is separated from the Roba Ranch by distance, a national forest, and county lines. Wh