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Oregon Trails: Beatty Centennial

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BEATTY, Ore. — This year marks the centennial hundredth anniversary of the founding of a small Klamath County town that may be a wide spot in the road today, but has a colorful history.

“I think it was a bustling little town. What you had was three grocery stores. You had a lot of loggers, and a lot of farmers, cowboys and stuff, and so on. One of the fanciest rodeos in the country,” recalled former Beatty resident Donald Ling.

Donald Ling grew up in the eastern Klamath County town of Beatty, in the ’30’s and ’40’s. Back then, it was a Klamath Indian Reservation town straddling highway 140, never incorporated, about halfway between Klamath Falls and Lakeview. Today it’s not much more than a wide spot in the road with only a small mini-market and deli, and a few houses.

Beatty is named for reverend J.L. Beatty, who was able to get the first post office here in 1913. The first store was in the woodshed of the parsonage, and by 1915 the first real store was built, over the years several other stores have come and gone along the highway. Don Ling says it was a simple life, with few modern conveniences and a real sense of community.

“What I tell people is all we had was rocks, blocks and beer bottles to play with,” said Don. “We had lots of them. We got pretty good at throwing rocks and playing, make a block of wood anything you wanted. It. It could be a bull dozer. It could be a, some kind of truck, whatever you wanted to play with it, you know.”

“Beatty has always been a rodeo community, and lots of cowboys back in the day came through. Old time cowboys was here. I can remember waking up and Slim Pickens would be at our house and Larry Mahan actually lived in this house here,” said Beatty resident Herman Anderson.

“Mostly they were horsebackers. They rode their horse, and then we’d have a lot of rodeos, and I remember going to quite a few rodeos. They had dances down in the big gym and there was quite a few people that were living in Beatty at that time,” recalled Madeline Hutchinson, a longtime Beatty resident.

“They used to have rodeos Sunday here and I’d bring my horses from out where that Klamoya Casino is down there, lived down there, and I’d come on horseback and be here before noon when the rodeo started,” said Beatty cowboy Tinker Kirk.

“It was a nice place, because my husband was a cop. He policed dances about every Saturday night at the old high school gym or grade school gym, that’s now gone. He liked to sit there and watch all the people come and go and drink and dance, and they had a really nice time. Hardly ever had to arrest anybody, and just sit and watch the dances,” recalled Former Beatty resident Velda Smith.

If they did have to arrest somebody, there was a little blockhouse jail in town where rowdies could cool off. That was also torn down several years ago. In 1929, there were three or four stores at one time or another in Beatty, but those are all gone, mostly burned down.

“There’s no more rodeos here. Many of the Indians have died or moved away. My dad built the Palamino Deli. He was a mechanic and that’s evolved from the mech, being a mechanic’s shop to a post office to a store to a deli and mini mart. The others are all closed, or burnt up,” said Shirley Pedersen, a Beatty historian.

“Cookie Walker, she was one of the last owners of the back in the hey-day, her bar burned down, and the restaurant. Just like the other ones. They all burned down. Not sure how. But they’re gone,” Herman said.

Today the gas station is closed. The church is boarded up. A small community center run by the Klamath Tribe is next to the old church with a small playground out back. There’s no school. There is a cluster of tribal houses in the back of the church and a scattering of old vacant buildings who have weathered a lot of cold Beatty winters.

On the hill east of town, a picturesque cemetery overlooking the Sprague River is the final resting place of many local residents. Some of the biggest changes came in the early 60’s with the dissolution of the Klamath Reservation.

“Everybody started moving away,” Madeline recalled. “And then everybody started dying. Dyin’ out! Moving. And moving Beatty especially.”

“It was a different era when they started selling out and people started moving in, wanting big ranches,” Velda said.

“They all had cattle and everybody would big dinner and everything, we’d meet everybody here,” Tinker said. “That’s all and then they ran horses out here, but now there ain’t nobody lives around here!”

But there is a new sidewalk lining the southside of Highway 140.

“When I go through now, I can’t imagine sidewalks being in Beatty,” Don said. “You know, when they told us that, we had to make a special trip out to look and see!”

There are not a lot of the old timers still left around Beatty. The little town has changed and shrunk down quite a bit since the reservation was terminated almost 50 years ago.

“Back in those day you could hitch a ride with anybody,” Don added. “Everybody knew who you were, where you were going and was usually going halfway between. Bly and Beatty to go swimming. Didn’t matter who you were or what you were, or you know it was a family. It was a whole family of people.”