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OREGON cowboys and the Steens Mountains History

THE OREGON steens mountains
cowboy HISTORY

The hit series Yellowstone located in Montana on Paramount has brought the real authentic cowboys back into the spotlight as City Slickers did in the early 90s. Besides the show's drama and violence, getting up before dawn, feeding the horses, saddling our horses, eating sit-down meals with the family, talking about day work, grabbing your cowboy hat, and moving cattle is what the real authentic cowboy life is all about. And although the Oregon Trail did not come through the Steens Mountains, cowboys and cattle were still moved into all parts of Oregon back then. The prequel release of 1883 and 1923 on Paramount Plus is also a hit series following the migration from Texas to Montana. Again, this shows the cowboys herding cows and moving them. This was all part of the big move west in the 1800s. 

Oregon Trail, also called Oregon-California Trail, in U.S. history, is an overland trail between Independence, Missouri, and Oregon City, near present-day Portland, Oregon, in the Willamette River valley. It was one of the two main emigrant routes to the American West in the 19th century, the other being the southerly Santa Fe Trail from Independence to Santa Fe (now in New Mexico). In addition, branches from each main trail provided connections to destinations in California, and a spur of the northerly Oregon route, part of the Oregon Trail, led to the Great Salt Lake region of what is now northern Utah.

The southeastern Oregon mountain was once known as a sacred place by Native Americans who lived on its slopes. Later, the area became known as Steen’s Mountain, named after the Army Cavalry Major, who defeated and removed the Native American population from the mountain during the Snake Indian Wars. Today, in recognition that no man can own such a place, the name dropped the ownership apostrophe and became Steens Mountain. Rising to an elevation of 9,733 feet, Steens Mountain is the highest point in southeastern Oregon. 

Steens Mountain is the result of fault-block action where the crust stretches until a fissure forms from which the mantle oozes upward, forming a block. In the most extensive fault-block actions, the crack opens several times, creating block after block, forcing the already solidified material upward. At Steens Mountain, multiple events occurred four million years ago, some of them creating layers of basalt a hundred feet thick or more.

When the Earth cooled, glacial action carved great gashes into the mountain that ran from east to west. These glaciers failed to cut through the east side of the mountain, leaving a continuous 52-mile peak that still exists today. The length of the peak running from north to south builds its own climate. The mountain summit of 9,733 feet effectively blocks weather from traveling eastward, creating a dry area called the Alvord Desert—the driest region in Oregon with only four inches of rain per year. While the western slopes of the mountain receive ample moisture for vegetation growth, the east side is parched, creating a contrasting ecology where different species exist in a relatively small area. From Steens summit on a clear day, you can see Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson, Mount Batchelor, and the Sisters Mountains. 

The temperatures, though always cool due to the elevation, around Steens Mountain vary widely throughout the year, as this table shows.

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