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The Horse Creek Homestead

The new homestead was on Horse Creek, a stream feeding into the Imnaha River. Billy chose a beautiful canyon. Rimrocks surrounded the upper walls, and the clear, rushing Imnaha River flowed through the canyon. Some grass grew on land benches in the hills, and willows and cottonwood trees lined the creek. The weather was extreme, with deep snow or oppressive heat, and always wind. It was an austere canyon, yet there was a definite, strong and peaceful quality.

The family settled on Horse Creek in 1884. By this time Billy had an immediate family of nine. There was Billy Jr. from his second family, Ira from his third family, and Mickel, Ston-Hawon, Newell, Fancho, Brennan, Lydia and Eliza from his fourth. Billy had fathered a total of twenty-six children. Josephine, the wife he brought to the Imnaha was his step-daughter, whom he married when his third wife died. She lived only three years in Oregon and died at age 39.

Billy was sixty when he brought his family to Oregon. He had white hair to his shoulders and a white, tobacco-stained forked beard. When his sons were angry, they called him "old forked-beard." A plainsman's flat, crowned hat, fringed buckskins, and moccasins were his usual attire, Over his shoulder he carried "Old Betsy" and a bowie knife was on his belt. The people of the Wallowa County area, surrounding his new homestead, called him Uncle Billy. He earned the name because of his appearance, and he was the uncle of Frank Stubblefield, a founder of nearby Enterprise, Oregon.

Billy and his sons and daughters began to build a ranch in the wilderness and it was a tremendous job. Their home was a Tennessee-style log cabin. Two cabins were connected by a breezeway, or dog trot, in the middle. One cabin was a living-room and bedroom for the women; the other was used for cooking. The log loft covering both cabins and breezeway, was a dormitory for the men. A vertical pole with wooden pins extended through a hole in the roof, and provided access to the upstairs.

On the side near the hill was a rootcellar, grainery, and smokehouse. A barn, blacksmith shop, and corrals were built nearby, as well as a springhouse near the creek. A one-railinng footbridge crossed the creek and stones were laid on the creek bottom for fording by horse and wagon. Hay was planted on land benches in the canyon and a road was built, sighted and measured by eye, which had the precision of modern construction.

Many items were fashioned by hand. Tables, chairs, cradles, shelves, and bins were made, with rawhide used for the couches, chairs, and beds. The kitchen had a large iron stove bought in a store; but the butter churn was made by hand as well as the bread mixing trough, which was a hollowed halflog on legs. The boy's clothing was made with hearty canvas. Shoes and harnesses were fashioned from leather. All of these tasks were learned by Billy's sons, and they worked in his blacksmith's shop learning a trade right on the ranch.

Domestic animals of every variety were acquired for the ranch: cattle, dairy cows, horses, sheep, hogs, chickens, turkeys and geese. The most acclaimed part of the ranch, however, was the produce. Billy mail-ordered sapling trees which were shipped by rail to La Grande (OR). He hauled them to the canyon ranch and planted orchards on the sloping hill near the creek; there were pears, peaches and apples. A wonderful garden of every kind of vegetable was planted, incuding watermelons.