This is a dusty sort of story. It’s about a real place somewhere in Eastern Oregon. It’s true when it needs to be and that’s what matters, dear readers. It has holes in it. What of it? It’s a rendition, rambling and purposeless. It is not a warning. Too late for that. It’s a hypothesis, not a theory. They wouldn’t want you to read it and I don’t care one way or the other. It’s about a town meant to be on postcards, purpose built to elicit the nostalgia of times you never lived through. Tucked into the mountains, between two hills, stumpy junipers keep watch over it in a crooked picket.
For centuries, game cut between these hills, following the creek that still flows through the town. Mule deer begat horse, horse begat buckwagon, buckwagon begat the automobile, and today that game trail is the county road.
The town, founded in 1893, reports 160 souls every decade to the state census. They’ve reported 160 people since the state started keeping track of such things. If this ever raised an eyebrow over in the capitol, no one’s investigated it with any vigor. It’s a place where last names are historical markers that go unread.
Children are born there every year and old people die there just the same as anywhere else. As often as a child grows up and moves on, they’ll end up back in town a few years later. Sometimes, they come back with a new college degree or HVAC certification under their belts. More than once it’s been with a warrant over their heads. Nearly always it is with a brand-new wedding ring and partner. In this way, the town has maintained a sort of stasis.
The town has acted as a layover for those traveling across the Ochoco Mountains. For a time, mining and timber created a boom for those with a glint in their eyes. When the timber and mines and dreams played out, the pragmatic settled into ranching.
Along the way, the town had its share of busts. Sitting in a saddle as it does, it flooded out three times. Curiously, each time this happened, the town rebuilt. It appeared conceivable that moving the town to higher ground out of the canyon would have made good sense. Something seemed to tie the residents to that geographical location though, and contrary to the steely resolve Eastern Oregonians pride themselves in (or maybe because of it) they rebuilt over and again.
Today, the town still acts as a waypoint for travelers moving through the Ochoco Mountains. The travelers have ditched their horses and wagons in favor of Subaru station wagons and touring bikes. They still show up thirsty, though, and the town still obliges them.
In the town’s lowlands resides the main street. During its booms, it got the moniker of “Tiger Town”. Pound for pound it rivaled larger towns for violence in its thoroughfares. The brisk business at the local watering holes kept the miners, lumberjacks, and cowpokes properly numbed while their card games and amateur boxing matches kept the town from being too sleepy.
As the elevation increased, so too did the righteousness. The town’s only church sat on top of the hill overlooking the wayward below. Dubbed “Piety Hill” by the holy and heathen alike, it peered down with disapproving reproach. Sermons were served hot weekly. Brimstone with a touch of the fire, can I get an Amen? It claimed no denomination, all takers welcomed.
Well, the church is closed now. It has become the type of historical location that exists only so that nothing else is built in its location. The bar, though? It is alive and well. It spent some time as a tire shop, but never forgot its real purpose. That ground had absorbed enough barley and blood to mark its true position.
If you ever find yourself in this unnamed little town, you should stop by the bar. Almost everyone has a good time. They make the beer right there in the back room. You might have questions about how they make such delicious elixirs. Don’t ask. Those folks that went “missing”? Rumors at best. And they vehemently deny any involvement with the desiccated cattle that have appeared over the years. Just to be safe, though, I’d always go with a friend. And if you see the lights on five minutes after closing? Don’t push your luck.
Hey folks! I built this diorama into a picture frame. It’s as close as I could get to a replica of the bar that it now sits in. The above story holds enough clues as to where it might be located.
If you send me a selfie of yourself next to this diorama, I’ll send you a $50 gift card. If you make it there, tell Cherry I said “hi”! Hopefully, you make it back out.