The performance of the century

Jefferson county residents put on a show to mark the county’s 100th birthday

By Scott Hammers / The Bulletin

CROOKED RIVER RANCH —

The world’s only amateur theater troupe dedicated to re-creating notable events in the history of Jefferson County turned up at the Crooked River Ranch Independence Celebration on Saturday, performing two short skits to celebrate the county’s centennial.

The on-again, off-again “Jefferson County Players” are on the road this summer to mark Jefferson County’s 100th birthday, performing at community events in every corner of the county. Jerry Ramsey, president of the Jefferson County Historical Society, said the performances are a fun way to engage local residents with the community’s past.

Along with the skits, the historical society has assembled a traveling exhibit of historical photos, maps and other documents it’s been taking from town to town this summer.

The Jefferson County Players performed two skits Saturday, the first telling the story of how Culver was named the county seat when Jefferson County split from Crook County in 1914, only to lose the designation to Madras two years later.

Ramsey said Gov. Oswald West inadvertently created the spat by appointing a Madras resident, a Culver resident and a Metolius resident to serve as the new county’s commission. When it came time for their first order of business to name a county seat, the three men all cast votes for their hometowns and refused to budge.

The deadlock continued over more than two days and 280 ballots, Ramsey said, until commissioner and Metolius resident John King gave in and cast his vote for Culver. Two years later, county residents voted to establish a permanent county seat in Madras, Ramsey said, and a few months after that county officials, joined by a few “good ol’ boys,” headed to Culver and carted away the records and other holdings of the fledgling county government.

Ramsey said there’s still some low-level resentment in Culver about the episode, and he expects to hear about it when his group performs the skit later this summer at the Culver Crawdad Festival.

“We do expect a bit of booing and hissing in Culver, if not more,” Ramsey said.

‘Singing Moonshiner’

The troupe followed up the story of the county seat with “The Singing Moonshiner of Camp Sherman,” another true story adapted for the small stage by Ramsey.

Moonshiners were active throughout Jefferson County during the Prohibition years, Ramsey said, drawn by lightly populated places where a still could go undetected that were still fairly close to the drinking populations in Bend and Redmond.

Law enforcement did pursue and often find outlaw distillers during those years, Ramsey said, including the one who became known as the singing moonshiner of Camp Sherman.

As the tale goes, a group of county sheriff’s deputies had closed in on a Camp Sherman moonshiner’s cabin, but hearing the singing and other commotion coming from inside, they retreated to Madras for reinforcements. Upon returning to the cabin, they found just one man, who had taken to singing and talking to himself in an array of voices to alleviate his isolation.

Jefferson County Commissioner Mike Ahern — playing the part of Metolius resident and commissioner John King in the first skit and a sheriff’s deputy in the second — said his acting skills have slipped a bit since he was active in school plays as a young student.

“But it’s a lot of fun; we’ve got a good group,” Ahern said.

The historical society’s traveling exhibit and live performances have three more scheduled stops this summer: at the Jefferson County Fair later this month, at the Culver Crawdad Festival in August, and at Spike & Rail Day in September.

— Reporter: 541-383-0387, shammers@bendbulletin.com