PHOTO: OLD SHERARS HOTEL
Whenever mother got the chance, she liked to take whatever children were at our house and drive over to Tygh Valley. Our family had lived there when I was two years old, so she had friends there. She also knew someone along the way, a woman named Ruby Pettis.
Ruby was a single woman who had come to Sherman County in the early days and taken out a homestead all by herself. She liked being single and independent. If any men came courting, and there were many, she would call out to them to skedaddle, discharging a shot gun over their heads for empasis. When we knew her, she was in her fifties and still single. She lived near Sherars Falls on the Deschutes River. Ruby had no car, so Mother always stopped and took her into Tygh Valley with us. She had a good singing voice, and sometimes she would sing all the way to Tygh Valley and all the way back again. We thought she sang because she was happy, and that she was happy because she didn’t have a husband.
At that time the road going down to the Deschutes River was like going to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It was only a one track dirt road full of switch backs. It had a few wide places where a driver could pull over if there was another car coming. Since you could see the road winding and looping down, down, down, clear to the river, it would have been possible to see another car coming for a long way ahead. But there was never another car.
Sometimes Ruby lived in a tiny one-room shack on one of the curves of the road where there was a spring with green grass and green trees. She lived with five dogs and she would always kiss all of them goodbye when she left. When she got home, she kissed them all hello. She obviously preferred dogs to men.
At other times she lived and worked at the old Sherars Hotel, a luxury hotel built when the Sherars Bridge, constructed just below the falls where the river churned through a narrow gorge between vertical cliffs, was one of only two routes across the Deschutes River between the Columbia River and Bend. When Ruby was working there, it wasn’t operating as a hotel anymore–only as a bar and a “sometimes” restaurant: “sometimes” meaning if she was there to do the cooking. When we stopped there to pick her up, she would let us run through the hotel and slide down the banisters. She took us up to the second or third floor (I can’t remember which) and let us look out the door that opened onto the railroad tracks. In the early days the train would stop and people could walk across a plank into the hotel through that door. The railroad was only about ten feet from the hotel, its bed being carved out of a vertical cliff. We could look straight down from the door into the chasm between the cliff and the hotel.
In the attic she showed us pens that were made of chicken wire from floor to ceiling. They had originally been used for chickens that provided eggs and meat for the hotel, but were now used to lock up patrons of the bar when they were too drunk to drive home.
Once, when we had plenty of time, she took us for a walk back across the bridge to the east side of the river and showed us through the barn that had been built for stage coach horses. One corner of it was built out over the cliff that went straight down to the rushing river so that the manure could be shoveled directly into the water. In our ignorance, we thought that was a nifty disposal system. I remember standing there and looking wa-a-ay down, wondering if one could fish through the hole. Maybe, I thought, the Indians could fish there instead of from the rickety platforms that looked like they were stuck to the cliff near the falls with chewing gum. I also wondered if anyone had ever slipped on some of the gloppy effluvium they were shoveling through the hole and fallen into the raging river. It seemed to me like a better disposal system for drunks than putting them in the chicken pens.
PHOTO: INDIANS FISHING AT SHERARS FALLS
Sometime after I left Sherman County, the Sherars Hotel burned down. I am guessing that the owners had very good fire insurance.
I don’t know what became of Ruby Pettis. She was related to the Alsups and the Tillers who lived near her, so maybe they took care of her in her old age.