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Oral Histories of the James Cant Ranch (John Day Valley, Oregon), 1982-1985

By Finding aid prepared by Chris Petersen.

Collection Overview

Title: Oral Histories of the James Cant Ranch (John Day Valley, Oregon), 1982-1985

ID: OH 025

Primary Creator: Jackson, Royal G.

Extent: 0.5 cubic feet. More info below.

Arrangement:

The materials described in this collection have been arranged into two series, one describing the collection's audiocassettes and a second the published transcripts that emanated from the project. An alphabetical view of the oral history interviewees whose recordings and transcripts are held in this collection is as follows:

Cant, Freda (Erikson) Two interviews: June 22, 1983; June 23, 1983 Cant, James, Jr. Two interviews: June 23, 1983; July 10, 1983 Humphreys, Dollina (Stewart) Two interviews: May 25, 1983; June 7, 1983 Humphreys, Rhys Two interviews: May 13, 1982; June 6, 1982 Jackson, Kathleen (Bales) (May 24, 1983) MacArthur, Linda (May 24, 1983) MacDonald, John (May 23, 1983) Mascall, Lillian (Cant) (June 8, 1982) Moore, Charles (May 25, 1983) Munro, Robroy (June 23, 1983) Munro, Stella M. (Pigg) (June 24, 1982) Murray, Alexander (May 22, 1983) Murray, Eva (Officer) (June 9, 1982) Murray, John Two interviews: June 5, 1982; May 23, 1983 Weatherford, Walter (June 9, 1982)

Languages of Materials: English [eng]

Abstract

The Oral Histories of the James Cant Ranch are comprised of interviews with fifteen individuals that tell the story of James and Elizabeth Cant's successful agricultural operation - established in northeast Oregon on the John Day River in the early 1900s - and of rural agricultural life in the region where the Cant Ranch was located. The Cant family raised irrigated crops and livestock for over sixty years on a tract of land that came to encompass over 11,000 acres. In 1975 the Cant Ranch complex was purchased by the National Park Service for incorporation into the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. All of the audiocassettes held in this collection have been digitized and these files are available upon patron request.

Scope and Content Notes

In the early 1980s, Royal G. Jackson was contracted by the National Park Service's Cooperative Park Studies Unit to lead the Cant Ranch Oral History Program on behalf of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. In Jackson's words, "the goal of this program" was "to document though oral sources, the historical relationship of the Cant Ranch with the Monument's natural and cultural resources, and its representative role as a typical livestock operation in the John Day Valley in the early 1900s."

The collection that resulted from this work consists of thirty-one audiocassettes of interviews with fifteen participants - including Cant children James Jr. and Lillian, as well as Stella (Pigg) Munro, the first teacher at the Cant School - and eight published monographs of transcripts prepared from a portion of these interviews. Jackson conducted his interviews in May-June 1982 and May-July 1983 at various locations dotting the John Day Valley. These locations included the Oregon towns of Kimberly, Drewsey, John Day and Dayville, as well as the Cant Ranch itself and the neighboring Humphreys Ranch. A lone interview was conducted in Portland, Oregon.

Monographs consisting mostly of edited transcripts of interviews with eight interview subjects were published by Jackson and the Cooperative Park Studies Unit between Winter 1984 and Summer 1985. Along with the transcripts, these monographs include an introduction to the project and the interviewee written by Jackson as well as facsimile copies of Gift and Release forms signed by the participants. Monographs exist for the following participants: Freda (Erikson) Cant, James Cant Jr., Dollina (Stewart) Humphreys, Rhys Humphreys, Kathleen (Bales) Jackson, Stella (Pigg) Munro, Eva (Officer) Murray and John Murray. The collection includes two copies of each monograph with the exception of the James Cant, Jr. and Freda Cant interviews, which were published in two parts and are represented by single copies within the collection. Neither monographs nor transcripts of any form exist within the collection for interviews conducted with Linda MacArthur, John MacDonald, Lillian (Cant) Mascall, Charles Moore, Robroy Munro, Alexander Murray and Walter Weatherford. All of the audiocassettes held in this collection have been digitized and these files are available upon patron request.

Topics discussed in the collection's interviews include the Cant family and life on the Cant Ranch; the Murray and Humphreys families; the culture and customs of the John Day Valley in the early decades of the 1900s, including its Scottish and Native American subcultures; agricultural practices of the era; and raising livestock in the John Day Valley.

Biographical / Historical Notes

James Cant was born in Scotland in 1879, emigrating just before the turn of the century to South America, where he raised horses and mules. Cant arrived in northeast Oregon in 1905 where he found work at the Murray Ranch in the John Day Valley, a rural agricultural region already inhabited by numerous Scottish immigrants. By 1908 Cant had saved enough money to arrange for the emigration of his sweetheart, Elizabeth, who still resided in Scotland. The couple married shortly after Elizabeth's arrival in Oregon.

In 1910 James received a loan of $5,000 from the head of the Murray Ranch, which he used to purchase the first tract of property for what would become the Cant Ranch complex. The 700-acre purchase, located about eight miles northwest of the small community of Dayville, was made from Floyd Officer, an early settler of the region who originally homesteaded the land in 1890. Over time the Cants came to greatly expand the property and its infrastructure, using irrigation from the John Day River to cultivate wheat, alfalfa and orchard crops, and to raise sheep, cattle, hogs and chickens. The Cants likewise raised four children – James Jr., Charles, Christina and Lillian – in the large ranch home that they built in 1917. In 1919 the Cants dedicated the third floor of this home to the establishment of a local school. The first class of the Cant School consisted of ten pupils; its teacher, Ms. Stella Pigg, lived with the Cant family.

The Cant Ranch enjoyed heady success for the duration of its existence as a full-scale agricultural enterprise. At its zenith, the property encompassed 6,500 acres owned by the Cant family and another 4,500 leased from the Bureau of Land Management. In the latter decades of its operation, certain of the duties required by the ranch were assumed by James and Elizabeth's eldest son, James Cant Jr., and his wife Freda.

James Cant died in 1972 and Elizabeth passed away one year later. The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument was established shortly thereafter, in 1975. As part of its initial development plan, the monument proposed to purchase the Cant Ranch for use as a museum and interpretive site, providing visitors with a glimpse of the agricultural activities that had defined the John Day Valley for the entirety of the twentieth century. The Cant family agreed to this proposal and the ranch has been a key component of the monument ever since.

Royal G. Jackson was a faculty member in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University from 1970 until his retirement in 2004. Jackson taught courses in recreation resource management and nature-based tourism; his research interests included forest history, nature-based tourism, and protected area management. He pursued research projects in the western United States and in Costa Rica. As part of his research, Jackson conducted numerous oral history projects pertaining to the history of forestry, specifically, the Oregon State University College of Forestry and the Research Forests (McDonald and Dunn Forests); the Soap Creek Valley in Benton County, Oregon; Basques in Harney County, Oregon; the diversification of a resource-based economy in Deschutes County, Oregon, to include tourism; the Winema National Forest; the Battle of Little Bighorn from the perspective of the Northern Cheyenne descendants; and the environmental movement and ecotourism in Cost Rica. Jackson earned his BA in 1960 from the University of New Mexico, an MA in 1965 from Western New Mexico University, and his Ph.D. from the University of New Mexico in 1971.

Administrative Information

More Extent Information: 31 audiocassettes; 2 boxes

Statement on Access: Collection is open for research.

Acquisition Note: These oral histories were originally part of the Horner Museum Oral History Collection (OH 10). In 2013 they were separated out and described as a new collection.

Related Materials:

Copies of the monographs held in this collection are available in the OSU Libraries general book collection. The Royal G. Jackson Papers (MSS Jackson) are likewise held by the Special Collections and Archives Research Center. The department is also home to numerous collections documenting or related to agriculture and ranching in Oregon, including the Oregon Century Farm and Ranch Program Records (MSS ORCFRP) and the Edwin Russell Jackman Papers (MSS Jackman).

Photographs of the John Day Valley are also available in several collections including the Extension Bulletin Illustrations Photograph Collection (P 020), the Experiment Station Publications Photographic Collection (P 132) and the Ralph I. Gifford Photographs (P 218-SG 2). Finally the Oregon Pioneers Oral History Collection (OH 001) and Oral History Interviews, Personal Histories, and Sound Recordings Collection on Agriculture, Forestry, and Oregon History (OH 005) are likely to be of interest to those using oral sources to research rural Oregon in the early twentieth century.

Preferred Citation: Oral Histories of the James Cant Ranch (John Day Valley, Oregon) (OH 025), Oregon State University Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Corvallis, Oregon.

Creators

Jackson, Royal G.
Cooperative Park Studies Unit (Corvallis, Or.)

People, Places, and Topics

Agriculture--Oregon--Grant County.
Cant, Elizabeth
Cant, Freda
Cant, James, 1879-1972
Cant, James, Jr.
Cant Ranch (Or.)--History.
Grant County (Or.)--History.
Humphreys, Dollina
Humphreys, Rhys, 1913-1983
Jackson, Kathleen.
Jackson, Royal G.
James Cant Ranch Historic District (Or.)
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument (Or.)
John Day River Valley (Or.)
John Day River Valley (Or.)--History.
Munro, Stella
Murray, Eva, 1909-
Murray, John
Natural Resources
Oregon Multicultural Archives
Sheep ranchers--Oregon--John Day River Valley.

Forms of Material

Audiocassettes.
Oral histories (literary works)


Box and Folder Listing

Series 1: Audiocassettes, 1982-1983
The arrangement of audiocassettes established by the Horner Museum has been maintained in this series. Horner Museum accession numbers are included with each set of audiocassettes. All interviews were conducted by Royal Jackson. Biographical information and interview topics, as available, are included below. All of the audiocassettes described in Series 1 have been digitized and these files are available upon patron request.
Extent: 31 items

Box-Item 1.1 - 1.2: Humphreys, Rhys, May 13, 1982
Horner accession numbers 984-1-1a-b. Rhys Humphreys (1913-1983) of the Humphreys Ranch was one of six Humphreys children - a family that grew up in close contact with the Cants. Rhys Humphreys spent his entire life raising livestock, especially sheep, in the John Day Valley. Topics discussed include sheep raising; the Cant family; early transportation routes; wild horses; Native Americans; range wars; medical care; coyote trapping; social life; male-female roles; recreation; fossil collecting; and unusual happenings such as floods. Interview conducted at the Humphreys Ranch, Kimberly, Oregon.
Box-Item 1.3 - 1.4: Humphreys, Rhys, June 6, 1982
Horner accession numbers 984-1-1c-d. Interview conducted at the Humphreys Ranch, Kimberly, Oregon.
Box-Item 1.5 - 1.6: Murray, Alexander, May 22, 1983
Horner accession numbers 984-1-2a-b. Interview conducted in Drewsey, Oregon.
Box-Item 1.7: Murray, John, May 23, 1983
Horner accession number 984-1-3a. John Murray (b. 1904) of the Murray Ranch maintained a long association with the Cant family, beginning with James Cant's arrival at the Murray Ranch when John was one year old. Interview topics include the Murray and Cant families and ranches; sheep raising in the John Day Valley; wild horses; Native Americans; federal land management; environmentalists; uses of the John Day River; changed social patterns; transportation; and the Scottish subculture in the John Day Valley. Interview conducted in John Day, Oregon.
Box-Item 1.8 - 1.9: Murray, John, June 5, 1982
Horner accession number 984-1-3b-c. Interview conducted in John Day, Oregon.
Box-Item 1.10: MacDonald, John, May 23, 1983
Horner accession number 984-1-4a. Interview conducted in John Day, Oregon.
Box-Item 1.11 - 1.12: Jackson, Kathleen (Bales), May 24, 1983
Horner accession numbers 984-1-5a-b. Kathleen Bales (b. 1912) was born in the John Day Valley at the Bales Ranch and spent much of her life in the area. The Bales and Cant families interacted on many occasions and had much in common. Interview topics include the Bales and Cant families; childhood school days; Native Americans; the Chautauqua; women's roles; trailing sheep to the Strawberry Mountains; movies in Dayville; teaching school; and the many uses of the John Day River, including swimming, fishing, irrigating, cutting ice and gold dredging. Interview conducted in John Day, Oregon.
Box-Item 1.13: MacArthur, Linda, May 24, 1983
Horner accession numbers 984-1-6a. Interview conducted in Dayville, Oregon.
Box-Item 1.14: Moore, Charles, May 25, 1983
Horner accession number 984-1-7a. Interview conducted in Dayville, Oregon.
Box-Item 1.15: Humphreys, Dollina (Stewart), May 25, 1983
Horner accession number 984-1-8a. Dollina Stewart (b. 1927) grew up on the Stewart Ranch in the John Day Valley and knew the Cant family well. In 1960 she married Rhys Humphreys and moved to the Humphreys Ranch. Interview topics include the Scottish subculture of the John Day Valley, including the Cant family's participation in this subculture; the sheep-raising industry; women's roles; transportation developments; Dayville community life and entertainment; fossil collecting; gold dredging in the John Day River; changes in the local economy during and after World War II; and rural social customs such as "rubbernecking" on the telephone. Interview conducted at the Humphreys Ranch, Kimberly, Oregon.
Box-Item 1.16: Humphreys, Dollina (Stewart), June 7, 1983
Horner accession number 984-1-8b. Interview conducted at the Humphreys Ranch, Kimberly, Oregon.
Box-Item 1.17 - 1.18: Mascall, Lillian (Cant), June 8, 1982
Horner accession number 984-1-9a-b. Lillian Cant was the youngest of four children born to James and Elizabeth Cant. Interview conducted at the Cant Ranch.
Box-Item 1.19 - 1.20: Murray, Eva (Officer), June 9, 1982
Horner accession number 984-1-10a and 984-1-10c. Eva Officer (b. 1909) was born into the Officer family, noteworthy early settlers of the John Day Valley who sold the original 700-acre plot of ranch land to James Cant in 1910. Topics discussed include the Officer and Cant families; the Cant home; the livestock industry including predator problems and trailing sheep; community recreation and school athletics in Dayville; early medical practices; Doc Hay of Kam Wah Chung; rural courtship patterns; changes in the Valley, including the area's first sawmills; and rattlesnakes. Interview conducted in John Day, Oregon.
Box-Item 1.21 - 1.22: Weatherford, Walter, June 9, 1982
Horner accession number 984-1-11a-b. Interview conducted at the Cant Ranch.
Box-Item 1.23 - 1.24: Munro, Robroy, June 23, 1983
Horner accession number 984-1-12a-b. Interview conducted at the Humphreys Ranch, Kimberly, Oregon.
Box-Item 1.25 - 1.26: Munro, Stella M. (Pigg), June 24, 1982
Horner accession numbers 984-1-13a-b. Stella (Pigg) Munro (b. 1900) was the first teacher at the Cant School, which was housed on the third floor of the Cant home and opened to the area's children in 1919. Interview topics include the Cant School; the Cant family; work, education, recreation and social patterns in the John Day Valley. Interview conducted in Portland, Oregon.
Box-Item 1.27: Cant, Freda (Erikson), June 23, 1983
Horner accession numbers 984-1-14a. Freda Erikson was born in John Day, Oregon in 1912. In 1932 she married James Cant, Jr. and moved to the Cant Ranch, where she raised four children and helped to manage ranch operations. In 1977 she and her husband moved out of the John Day Valley to Imbler, Oregon. Interview topics include the arrival in the Valley of the Erikson family; life-long associations with the Cant family; rural patterns of work and leisure; male and female roles; the Scottish influence; social and cultural activities; sheep-raising; Native Americans; federal land management; and the place of the John Day River in the life of the community. Interview conducted at the Cant Ranch.
Box-Item 1.28: Cant, James, Jr., June 23, 1983
Horner accession number 984-1-15a. James Cant, Jr. (b. 1909) was the oldest of James and Elizabeth Cant's four children. He spent virtually all of his active working years in association with the livestock industry and helping to manage the affairs of the Cant Ranch. He and his wife Freda raised four children of their own on the Cant Ranch. In 1977 James and Freda left the John Day Valley for Imbler, Oregon. Interview topics include James Cant, Sr.'s experiences before emigrating to America; James Jr.'s childhood years at the Cant Ranch; historical uses of ranch buildings and structures; the Native American presence in the John Day Valley; and the sheep-raising industry in the valley. Interview conducted at the Cant Ranch.
Box-Item 1.29 - 1.30: Cant, James, Jr., July 10, 1983
Horner accession number 984-1-15b-c. Interview conducted at the Mascall Ranch.
Box-Item 1.31: Cant, James and Freda (Erikson), June 22, 1983
Horner accession number 984-1-16a. This interview session focused principally on the uses of the Cant home and exterior structures such as the barn, fields and lambing facilities. Other interview topics include the construction and original appearance of the Cant Ranch infrastructure; its sheep-shearing facilities; and ranch activities associated with specific locations on the property. Interview conducted at the Cant Ranch.
Series 2: Monographs, 1984-1985
The monographs held in this series include an introduction to the project and the interviewee written by Royal Jackson, edited transcripts of each specified interview, and facsimile copies of Gift and Release forms signed by the participants. The series includes two copies of each monograph with the exception of the two-part interview with James Cant, Jr. and Freda Cant, for which only one copy remains. Copies of each monograph are also available in the OSU Libraries general book collection.
Extent: 8 folders

Box-Folder 2.1: "Rhys Humphreys." Cant Ranch Oral History Program, Monograph No. 1, by Royal Jackson, Winter 1984
Box-Folder 2.2: "Stella Munro." Cant Ranch Oral History Program, Monograph No. 2, by Royal Jackson, Spring 1984
Box-Folder 2.3: "John Murray." Cant Ranch Oral History Program, Monograph No. 3, by Royal Jackson, Spring 1984
Box-Folder 2.4: "Kathleen Jackson." Cant Ranch Oral History Program, Monograph No. 4, by Royal Jackson, Spring 1984
Box-Folder 2.5: "Eva Murray." Cant Ranch Oral History Program, Monograph No. 5, by Royal Jackson, Spring 1984
Box-Folder 2.6: "Dollina Humphreys." Cant Ranch Oral History Program, Monograph No. 6, by Royal Jackson, Spring 1984
Box-Folder 2.7: "James and Freda Cant, Jr. - Part I." Cant Ranch Oral History Program, Monograph No. 7, by Royal Jackson, Summer 1985
Box-Folder 2.8: "James and Freda Cant, Jr. - Part II." Cant Ranch Oral History Program, Monograph No. 8, by Royal Jackson, Summer 1985

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