top of page
  • Ednold

Mitchell 10/8/21

Even being on the main road, Highway 26, between Prineville and John Day, the town of Mitchell in southern Wheeler County could easily be missed if your eyes are diverted for just a second. It has just over a hundred residents and the majority of them live out of view beyond the small downtown that’s barely visible from the highway. The town was named after a U.S. Senator from Oregon, John Mitchell. It got a post office in 1873, a school was opened in town the following year, and it was incorporated in 1893. By the turn of the century Mitchell had five saloons, all located in the downtown area along Bridge Creek. That part of town became known as “Tiger Town”, while the residential district, where there was a church, was located on the heights above the downtown south of the creek. That part of town became known as “Piety Hill”. Today Mitchell calls itself the Gateway to the Painted Hills, and the hills and the John Day Fossil Beds, two major tourist attractions, are only about a dozen miles from the town.

Here’s a fun fact: In Max Brooks’ novel World War Z, the people of Mitchell are turned into zombies and the town is turned into a K-9 Urban Warfare school where military dogs are trained with live zombies. I’ve never read it, but now I kinda want to, even though the people of Mitchell probably deserve a better fate than that.

We pulled off the highway onto the main street through the tiny, old downtown area which, unsurprisingly, is called Main Street. It’s definitely like stepping back in time. The Oregon Hotel and the Wheeler County Trading Company buildings dominate, and they both look like they’ve been there forever. I remembered reading a story about former Governor Tom McCall playing a concert with his siblings at a hotel in Mitchell almost a hundred years ago. As told by Dorothy McCall, “Hal piloted the car through the huge snowdrifts and down into the little town, now crowded with fun-lovers from miles around. It was Washington’s Birthday and this February dance had become a traditional event in Mitchell, with couples coming from as far as fifty to a hundred miles away”. I wondered if the old Oregon Hotel was that place.

The less conspicuous Bridge Street Cafe and Tiger Town brewpub show that there has been some development in Mitchell within the past 100 years. We didn’t have time to stop at Tiger Town for a pint, but that was the last time I’m going to Mitchell without stopping there. Their motto is “Buy our beer or we’ll punch you in the face.” We escaped unscathed this time but I’m not going to press my luck. While we were there a biker gang had taken over the downtown area or, more correctly, a group of bicyclists. I assume they were making a pit stop on a tour through the Painted Hills area, but I could be wrong. Anybody willing and able and crazy enough to ride up and down those hills on those roads wasn’t someone I was going to approach to find out.

I didn’t take time to research the location of the school beforehand. How hard could it be to find the school in a town of 150 people? You’d be surprised! Deceptively, it appears that Main Street is the only street in town, but we didn’t see a school there. With a little searching we found Nelson Ave. leading south up into the hills and, though it didn’t look promising, it was the only other street we could find. A little ways up the road we saw a tiny sign pointing the way to the school, up the hill and around the corner to the Piety Hill district, at the far end of High Street. It’s an unlikely place to find a school, at the dead end of a road that probably hasn’t been resurfaced in my lifetime, but there it was, with the football field out front. If you're looking for the gym, though, you'll have to drive a quarter mile to the other end of High Street.

Mitchell is a strange town, divided as it is into two separate parts. I’ve never seen a place where the business and residential areas are so distinctly separated. But I guess there really wasn’t any other way to arrange it, since Tiger Town is situated in the narrow gap between hills along Bridge Creek leaving no room down there for people to live.

The school sits on top of the plateau which drops off steeply to Bridge Creek just east of the parking lot, with a panoramic view across the surrounding hills and valleys to the north and east. The building itself isn’t much to look at, and the football field with a dirt running track around it looked like it hadn’t been watered in a while, but the setting is still pretty stunning. None of the pictures I took do the location justice, but if you have a chance to check it out on Google Earth you’ll see what I mean. I can’t say that Mitchell is a beautiful place, but there is certainly a certain type of beauty to it, and the location of the school takes full advantage of that. If the high school students in Wheeler County are like I was they probably don't even notice how lucky they are to have those surroundings, but someday they'll appreciate what a special place they live in. Or maybe they're a lot smarter than I was and already do.

I couldn’t find any record of the Mitchell Loggers ever having made it to a state championship football game, or what kind of success they may have had before they got together with Wheeler and Spray high schools to form a football team. Actually, I don’t even know if they had a team before that, but they are onto something good this season and look like they could make some noise in the playoffs as part of the Wheeler County Rattlers. If you want the details on this game you'll have to read the Spray story, since that's where the game was played, but one of these years we’ll probably make our way back to Mitchell when they host one of the Rattler games, and we’ll stop in and buy some Tiger Town beer. Seems like a small price to pay to not get punched in the face.

15 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page