The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument was one of our motivations for visiting Central Oregon. The monument contains three widely separated units: Clarno, Painted Hills and Sheep Rock. On Thursday, September 18th we followed a circle route of about 300 miles that would allow us to visit the Clarno and Painted Hills units.
The pictures from this side trip are presented in two journal entries. This set of pictures and the story below are about the town of Antelope. The next entry to the travel journal will present pictures and information about the Monument.
We found the Historic Town of Antelope on the way to the Clarno unit. It is a delightful old town, almost a ghost town actually.
Antelope is located on State Highway 218 in south Wasco County, Oregon. The population of Antelope was listed in the 2000 census at 60. Today the city is a retirement-oriented community. Business enterprises consist of The Antelope Prong Horn News, a combination restaurant/store, a campground, and a U.S. Post Office. There are a number of houses and a church in Antelope that are over one hundred years old and beautiful old poplars line the front yards.
Antelope has a colorful history.
Gold was discovered in 1862 at Canyon City near the head of the John Day Valley. Antelope was originally a stop on the stage and freight wagon trail from Old Dalles on the Columbia River to the Canyon City gold mines. Cattle and horse ranchers began settling the area in 1863 and a stage station was built in 1864. A Post Office was established in 1871.
The Antelope Valley became a major sheep ranching area in the 1870s.
In 1881, the town relocated two miles south of the original stage station, when the stage route changed.
The community experienced a boom in 1892; a new school was built and a newspaper began publication.
The town was incorporated in 1896.
In 1897 the Antelope Community Church, as it is now known, was built.
By 1898, at its peak with a population of 170, Antelope enjoyed three livery stables, one blacksmith shop, three mercantile stores, four hotels, one meat market, seven saloons, the community church, a drug store, barber shop, bowling alley, funeral parlor, post office, city hall, jail, and a community center called “Tammany Hall”. The city offered a gay social life complete with formal dances, gaslights and boardwalks.
A raging fire in the summer of 1898 destroyed most of Antelope’s business district and was never entirely rebuilt.
Antelope began to decline after the 1898 fire. The Antelope area was the center of a range war between cattlemen and sheepmen in the early 1900s. The cattlemen slaughtered 10,000s of sheep and burned sheep sheds and hay stacks.
Antelope was virtually isolated from 1917, when the route of U.S. Highway 97 was relocated further west, until 1960 when the roads into the area were surfaced (gravel not pavement).
Antelope received national media attention in the 1980s when it became the center for the followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. The Bhagwan purchased the old Muddy Ranch and established a commune in 1981. In 1984 the Rajneesh followers took political control of the city and officially changed its name from Antelope to Rajneesh.
The Rajneesh movement failed in 1985 when a trusted follower absconded to Europe with the bulk of the commune’s funds and the immigration service deported the Bhagwan back to India. In November of 1985 the remaining residents voted unanimously to restore the name to Antelope, though the Post Office had never changed the name to Rajneesh, instead relying on the zip code for routing the mail.