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  • Ednold

A Different Wold 8/17/21

We recently traveled to central Oregon to see one of the oldest ranches in Crook County. There are more ranches in that part of the state than you can shake a cattle prod at, but this particular one is special. I’ve been doing a little reading about that ranch lately and the story is unlike that of any other place in Oregon. I’ve never heard of anything like it and I'm pretty sure it's going to be a hit movie someday. It's like a fairy tale in reverse. It's got everything, including a happy ending. Except for the fact that everyone in it is dead now. But I guess that's the way all stories end eventually.

We made our way east out of Redmond on Highway 126 toward Powell Butte. There are other ways to get to Prineville, and we didn’t have to go through Powell Butte but... well, yeah, we had to go through Powell Butte because that little place was named for one of my great, great, great grandfathers, John Powell. Someday, when I have a place named after me, it would be nice if one of my great, great, great grandsons would pass through Ednoldville once in a while to check it out and make sure it’s still being maintained up to my standards. So, yes, Grandpa John, your little crossroads town is looking as good as ever. You're welcome.

The view as we kept rolling east down into the Crooked River Valley wasn’t as spectacular as usual, with the wildfire smoke hanging low over the valley obscuring the surrounding mountains, but we could see enough of the valley below to see why it was the original heart of Central Oregon. We stopped at the Bowman Museum on Prineville’s Main Street to see if they had any additional information for us before we made our trip out to Westernwold. I wasn’t sure what we would encounter when we got there and I was hoping they could give me some tips. I didn’t know if the people at the ranch would welcome curious visitors or if I should prepare to be met with a shotgun aimed at my head. The young lady on duty at the museum couldn’t give us much help when I told her where we were heading and, in fact, asked us to report back and let her know what we found out. So, without knowing what to expect, we headed out of town on Highway 370 and followed the Crooked River back west toward Terrebonne.

Young Dorothy Lawson

Most of what I know about Westernwold I learned from Dorothy McCall in her two memoirs about living there. Dorothy’s story is fascinating and if she turned out to be a little bit crazy in her old age it’s not hard to figure out why. She had been born to one of the wealthiest men in the world, who’s wife, Dorothy’s mother Mary, was always in poor health and died when Dorothy was young. Dorothy grew up on the sprawling family estate, Dreamwold, on the coast just south of Boston. Though, as one of the wealthiest young ladies in the country she could have had her choice of young men to marry, she was smitten by a family friend, Hal McCall. Hal was a baseball star at Harvard when the two became seriously interested in each other, and she decided she wanted to spend her life with him, whatever that would entail. At the time, she assumed it would mean being the wife of a politician or Wall Street tycoon. But Hal had other ideas.

As the Crooked River winds its way between two mesas about five or six miles east of Terrebonne you can see Westernwold ranch off to the north, about a half mile across the valley under the rimrock on the other side. There’s a gravel driveway that makes its way across the river, through some alfalfa fields and finally winds around to the parking lot behind the house. The ranch doesn’t belong to the McCall family anymore. The nice ladies at the museum weren’t sure who owns it now, but it was for sale in 2013 for $5.5 million, and from the looks of the huge facilities behind the house it’s probably no longer a little family operation the way it was when it was originally built over a hundred years ago. But I only got to see it all by looking from a distance. A few hundred yards down the driveway there’s a conspicuous NO TRESPASSING sign in front of a large steel gate. The gate was actually open at the time and, had I been alone I may have ignored the sign. But I wouldn’t want Mrs. Ednold to be an innocent casualty of an attempt to reach the house, knock on the front door and try my “Sorry, Google steered me wrong” excuse that comes in handy sometimes. I just took a few pictures from that distance, turned The Bucket around, and left.

Westernwold 1913

Hal and Dorothy McCall were married at Dreamwold, the sprawling Lawson family estate, in 1910. A wold, if you’re wondering, is an area of “open high ground”, according to my dictionary. Hal had always felt the magnetic pull of the western states and had managed to land a banking job in Portland soon after graduating from Harvard. Dorothy wasn’t thrilled about this but she figured Hal would soon have his fill of life away from their pampered east coast lifestyle and they would be back in Massachusetts before long. When they arrived in Portland Dorothy hated it. She had never seen rain so wet. With no sun and no snow, just month after month of grey skies and rain, she couldn’t wait to get the heck out of Oregon. Then Hal got sick and his doctor prescribed a vacation to Central Oregon to recover. Though she never tells us so, it’s hard not to think that Dorothy cursed that damn doctor for the rest of her days.

Dorothy and Hal on the future Westernwold site

During that first short stay in Central Oregon, Hal fell in love with the sand and sagebrush and scraggly juniper trees in that part of the country. In the days when Prineville was bigger than either Redmond or Bend, Hal picked out an area between Redmond and Prineville, just a few miles upstream from what is now Smith Rock State Park, that he wanted to be his family’s home for the rest of his life. Dorothy did not share his enthusiasm, to say the least. She had thought she had hated Portland, but Central Oregon 110 years ago was taking things to an entirely new level. She still hoped that it wouldn’t take too long for Hal to get enough of that godforsaken place so they could get back to the posh life she was accustomed to. That never happened. She published her first book in 1967, having spent the rest of her life on that same plot of land that Hal had picked out 56 years earlier.

The ranch was dubbed Westernwold in homage to Thomas Lawson’s Dreamwold estate back in Massachusetts. It was paid for by Thomas as a wedding gift to daughter Dorothy and was built as a Cape Cod style mansion on a smaller scale than Dreamwold. It’s an architectural style that definitely stands out amid the stark geographic features and the other, more conventionally designed ranch houses of Central Oregon. It had servants quarters and Tiffany lamps, five indoor bathrooms and other furnishings that would have been hard to find anywhere else within hundreds of miles. Thomas Lawson’s fifty million dollar fortune meant that he was the Bill Gates of his day, and no expense was too extravagant for his daughter.


For their first several years on the ranch Dorothy spent much of the time back at Dreamwold with her widowed father. He insisted she come back home to deliver each of her babies with the help of doctors from Boston. Later, the family would joke that she bore her five children only so she would have an excuse to leave the ranch, and who could blame her if there’s a little truth in that? Hal would occasionally join her in the east, but he had a ranch to tend to and his stays were short while she would stay for half the year or more. More than once she refused to return and divorce was a serious consideration for a while, but in the end she and

her father both realized that she couldn’t live in Massachusetts forever while her husband was on the other side of the continent, and that for the sake of her marriage she needed to go back to Oregon. It was finally starting to sink in that Hal’s obsession with his ranch out west was not just a passing phase, and that they were both in it for the long haul, for better or worse.

Westernwold today - from a distance

Unfortunately, it seems like there was a lot more worse than better in store for them over the years. Hal had no background in ranching and wasn’t a particularly fast learner. While everyone around him raised beef cattle, Hal wanted to have a dairy herd. In the days before refrigeration was common this was not a stroke of brilliance. His father-in-law insisted on importing only pedigreed stock from the east, including fancy horses, several breeds of pigs and Rhode Island Red chickens. Hal was the type to be impressed by this type of thing but he didn’t seem to really know what to do with any of it. None of which really mattered as long as Thomas Lawson was alive and rich enough to bankroll his failures, but that didn’t last forever. By the mid-20s Thomas had managed to lose his fortune as easily as he had acquired it and ended up dying destitute shortly after. And that changed everything.

For the next few decades the McCalls struggled to build a profitable ranching operation but Thomas' death coincided with the bottom falling out of the market in the 1920s followed by the Great Depression. Add to all of this their lack of a sensible business plan and it was not a recipe for success. Through it all, Hal fell deeper into depression until he was almost paralyzed by the hopelessness. Dorothy, as unlikely as it would seem for someone with her background, spat out the silver spoon and came into her own as the one who kept everything going. But you’d never have heard that from her.

Thomas' autobiographical best-seller

Dorothy was an entertaining writer, but I learned from other sources that she had a tendency to leave out the more sordid details of the story. She mentions that she attended the Sorbonne for a short while just before her marriage to Hal McCall. As part of her education,

she traveled to Europe and studied French and Italian. But she doesn’t mention that her father had sent her there to keep her out of reach of Hal, who had already put her in a position to require an abortion before their engagement. She lets us know that her father was known as The Copper King. In fact one of her books is called “The Copper King’s Daughter”. Yet she is careful not to go into any of the details of exactly how he swindled his way to that title and the massive fortune that came with it. She makes no mention of how he later went bust and lost everything, including the Dreamwold estate, and was nearly penniless in his final years. She tells of the hardships and difficulties of ranch life, but makes no mention of the fact that it was never a profitable enterprise and they were hounded by creditors for decades. Hal is presented as a hardworking Ivy League graduate who’d managed to tame his little corner of the wild west. She never tells us that he was almost a complete failure as a rancher and that his inability to make it work led to years of depression and ultimately to his early death at age 60. Dorothy was the one who hawked a lot of family heirlooms to help keep the family afloat. Dorothy was the one who made trips to the electric company each time their electricity was shut off for nonpayment, threatening dire consequences if power wasn’t restored so the ranch could continue to operate. It was Dorothy who met other creditors at the door with a shotgun to keep them from foreclosure. It was Dorothy, the coddled daughter of The Copper King, who ran the domestic side of the ranch, cooking and cleaning, baking and sewing and everything else that needed to be done in a house with five kids and several hired hands.

Dorothy was obviously very proud of her upbringing and took pains to mention certain brands of clothing and particular designers who must have been impressive to someone back in the day. She tells of the fine horses and boats that her father bought, and lots of other details that made me feel like I wasn’t quite as impressed as she was hoping I’d be. She also always refers to the Dreamwold estate as being on Cape Cod, so, of course, I had to look it up and see exactly where it was. To my surprise, it was on the shore just south of Boston. Now, I know I’m just a guy from Oregon, but isn’t Cape Cod that crooked piece of land that sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean? I’d always thought so, so I had to turn to an expert. My Aunt Paula is the family go-to for all things east coast, so I asked her if I might be getting a little too picky about the Cape Cod thing. Her response was that maybe some of the south shore communities could be considered Cape Cod, but suggested I research the boundary lines. Of course, I’m much too lazy to do that, so I’m just going to declare myself correct on this one. And I think she’s confused now as to why someone from out here would consider a Cape Cod residence more impressive than a residence “on the coast somewhere south of Boston”, and if she asked me I don’t think I’d even have a good answer for her. She probably thinks I’m an idiot now. Thanks, Dorothy McCall. Anyway, my point is, read Dorothy’s books. Just take them with a rancher’s block of salt.

The McCall kids in 1933

Of course, as everyone knows, the one successful crop Hal and Dorothy McCall did raise was their children. Son Tom, in particular, became a successful journalist in Portland and eventually became the Governor of Oregon. His dad’s father had been Governor of Massachusetts, so he had it in his blood. I remember Tom from when I was a kid and was always intrigued by his voice, with no idea what accounted for that unique accent. And it was 50 years ago this year that he gave a speech and referred to Oregon’s tourism industry: "I urge them to come and come many, many times to enjoy the beauty of Oregon, but I also ask them, for heaven's sake, don't move here to live." That certainly fell on the deaf ears of a million Californians. Tom and his siblings did well enough that they were able to hold on to Westernwold until after their mother was gone in the 1980s, and all of them must have been pretty proud of that.

Dorothy and Tom

As you can see from watching these newsclips, Dorothy remained feisty to the end. I found something that mentioned she was voted “The Outstanding Mother of America” in 1976. I’m not even sure what that is and no additional details were provided, but that’s pretty cool. And she once said that if she still had the energy she would poke Governor Vic Atiyeh's eyes out. You go, Dorothy! No, really. Go! Before you end up in jail! Again, no details were provided but I can only assume Vic had it coming.

Hal and Dorothy

For good measure, as we passed through the town of Redmond we stopped at the Memorial Cemetery there to see the markers for Dorothy and others from her family. She took up residency there beside Hal in 1982, just a year before her son Tom joined them there, and now Tom’s brother, sister, wife and son are there next to him. As with Gustavo Envela Sr. and Audie Murphy from recent stories, it doesn’t seem quite right that other people in the cemetery have big, tall headstones begging for us to pay posthumous attention to whomever lies beneath them while the really significant people have such plain and humble headstones. Or maybe they were special because they were the type of people who didn’t need a huge headstone. Hmmm. Yes. I'm beginning to see a pattern.

Maybe one of the reasons this story is so interesting to me is that there are some parallels to the time my own family left the big city for the ranching life. Apparently my own dad had some of that Hal McCall in him, even down to the attraction of raising pigs (you’ll have to read Dorothy’s books and /or my dad's autobiography to hear all about that). The Poison Creek Ranch was certainly no Westernwold, and I didn’t have a gazillionairre grandfather to get us through the hard times, and I didn’t turn out to be a governor (yet!), but I can relate to a lot of the pictures Dorothy paints in her books, and I’m sure my parents can relate to the financial side of her story and some of the other concerns that are pretty universal for ranchers everywhere. Also, it’s hard to imagine anyone else who lived the first third of their life so differently from the rest of it, and that’s what makes Dorothy’s story so fascinating to me. If you would have told the young Dorothy that she and her family would one day end up in a cemetery in Redmond, Oregon I can imagine she would have wondered what the hell had happened to bring that about. What calamity would befall them to go from Massachusetts aristocracy to that place in the Oregon desert? That first third included having tea with Mark Twain in London and breakfasting in Buckingham Palace with the Duke of Argyll. The second third was all about keeping the wolves from the door. She doesn’t talk much about what life was like for her after Hal was gone, and nobody else seems to know much either until her son became governor and she got a few of her books published. I don’t know much about that final third, especially from 1947 to 1966, but she must have found a way to be happy with where she had ended up, which is remarkable when you think about how different her life might have been. I wonder if she would have made the same choices all over again if she had had the chance. For some reason, I think she’d say yes.

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