The Reservoir Ranch is a historical site which is sits at the foothills of Ironside Mountain and is cut through by Willow Creek. A place where green grasslands and sage scour the terrain and the ponderosa pine trees scatter the hilltops.
Over the last two centuries, this ranch has only changed ownership three times, quite a unique thing for ranches of this size. The beginnings of this landmark ranch date back to the early 1800’s when a former Wisconsin native braved the Oregon trail and as one of Oregon’s true pioneers. Often deemed, “the Father of Malheur County,” Cyrus T. Locey was a well-regarded rancher and farmer in eastern Oregon.
Before laying stake in Oregon, Locey ventured to the California gold mines with his father for a couple years before returning at the age of 17 on his second trip on the Oregon Trail. After receiving two years of education at Pacific University, Locey spent approximately 10 years working for the Oregon Transportation Company as the superintendent. Later, Locey accepted an offer from his wife’s father south of Baker City. During this time he learned to help to raise cattle, farm food and log timber. Saving his money, Locey managed to purchase the Reservoir Ranch. A well rounded individual, Cyrus involved himself in shaping more than just the ranch.
Both Cyrus and his wife manage to accomplish much as they opened the first Sunday School in the county and ran various positions such as election clerk, county commissioner, weather recorder, notary, school teacher and Justice of the Peace.
The family was known to use the Reservoir Ranch for humanitarian purposes. People passing through the area were allowed to stay at the ranch free of any housing or food cost. It has even been rumored that one of the high cabins on the ranch was occupied by the McCarty Gang for a winter or two.
Cyrus’s wife Maria managed to juggle being a mother to nine children while holding positions in many other career fields. She was noted for her efforts as a teacher, artist, taxidermist, midwife/nurse and as a writer: some of her poems were published in the Oregonian. The Locey family truly laid the groundwork in building not only the Reservoir Ranch, but also Malheur County as a whole.
Cyrus and his wife kept diaries on day to day life. The diaries describe what life was like on the Reservoir Ranch in the early days. The diaries describe everything from forming the Anti-Sheep Coalition to weather patterns, to doctoring cattle.
There are many remnants of the Locey family on the ranch today that the Loceys describe in their writings. Red Truck Meadow, as we fondly call it, is so named for the old red truck that was parked there decades ago and is a landmark for the ranch. There’s also scared Jim tree (which has quite the story behind it), Mary’s Cabin, the McCarty Gang Cabin, the original barns and corrals, the first Locey homestead that is a historical Tiny Home and, one of the most interesting, is the Locey family ranch house which the managers still live in today. The intricate details of this old home take you back in time. The Locey family’s success is apparent in the meticulously designed home. The current ranch managers greatly enjoy reading about the daily lives of the Locey family and imagine all the happenings in the very place they sit scanning the scribbled handwritings of Mr. and Mrs. Locey. Their diaries are available at the Oregon Historical Society and are truly a must read for any history buff interested in the lives of those who settled the west.
The current managers say that some days Cyrus’ life as he described it doesn’t look much different than life today; fixing fences, moving cattle, brandings, doctoring calves, farming… the tools may have changed, but the iconic heritage of ranch life and the challenges that go with is live on.
The ranch today supports 1200 head of commercial Black Angus cattle over 60,000 acres. Breeding heifers and cows to Wilks Ranch sires (CLICK HERE); the ranch is a successful cow-calf operation. The ranch also supports a full time logging crew working to harvest and clean up the timber as the ranch turns upward and becomes thick forested land. The land has also been used for mining and other agriculture related ventures. The Reservoir Ranch is a true piece of cowboy history and the ranch lives up to that heritage today.