In Bend, it was young love on the frontier

Young couples helped establish Bend

By Kyle Spurr, The Bulletin, @kylejspurr

Unlike the classic image of rugged cowboys forging a new life on the Western frontier, it was college-educated, young professionals who were drawn to Bend in the early 1900s, looking for their first jobs and — for many — their first loves.

The new city was becoming a viable place to start a business or find a job out of college. Bend needed city councilors, lawyers, engineers and school teachers. A whole slew of 20- and 30-somethings started showing up to fill those roles.

“It’s just this incredible moment of opportunity, and all of these young people flocked to that. They were here and mingling and falling in love and flirting and sending these funny little notes and having dances,” Kelly Cannon-Miller, executive director of the Deschutes County Historical Society, said. “It’s just really fun to think about this really vibrant time in the city’s history.”

Some young couples arrived in the frontier town already married. Others arrived single and met their significant others at dances and various clubs.

A popular place for dances and social gatherings was Lara Hall, a venue above Arthur M. Lara’s department store on the northeastern corner of Wall Street and Oregon Avenue.

In a 1908 Valentine’s Day edition of The Bulletin, a notice reminds residents to attend a dance that night at Lara Hall.

“Remember the dance to be given by the orchestra in the Lara Hall tonight. Lunch will be served in the hall, 50 cents a couple. Dance tickets, $1.00,” the notice read.

Ann Markel, who came to Bend with her sister in 1909 and found work as a high school teacher, had a famously flirtatious personality. Several men sent her notes asking to escort her to dances.

Her scrapbook, kept at the Des Chutes Historical Museum, includes notes from her admirers.

One suitor asked in a note “that I may have the pleasure of seeing you home from the dance next Saturday morning.”

Markel was an original member of the Priscillas, a group of zany single women who often hosted lively parties. An account in The Bulletin described the high jinks at one of the club’s Halloween parties.

“Each of the eighteen young women who attended came in costume, and it is said that some of them were ‘perfect frights,’ meaning that they were more comical looking than clowns,” the article read.

Cannon-Miller compares the Priscillas to a sorority. The club came about at a time when the only other options were to join groups such as the bridge club or magazine club. The independent-minded women sought their own club, Cannon-Miller said.

Eventually, the Priscillas disbanded as the members started to get married.

In 1914, Markel married Vernon Forbes, a mover and shaker who served as a state representative for Crook and Deschutes counties.

“There is never a continuation of the Priscillas beyond that first group,” Cannon-Miller said. “It’s this really wonderful moment in time, where you have this group of women who are educated and they have jobs, most of them as teachers. They are mingling, and they are single.”

While dances and social clubs were a common way for early Bend residents to date, quite a few couples met on the job.

The young men who served on the city council and school board were hiring young women as school teachers, and in some instances their work together turned into a romantic connection.

“You are mingling on the job and it becomes something more,” Cannon-Miller said.

Harley James “Jim” Overturf, a city leader, hired Ruth Reid, a school teacher who traveled across the continent from New Brunswick in Canada in 1904 for a teaching opportunity in Bend. Reid heard about the open position from her sister, who lived in Bend.

Overturf picked Reid up at the train station in Shaniko, the small Wasco County town, and took her by stagecoach to Bend. Reid went on to become Bend’s first principal and founded the city’s first high school. In 1910, Reid and Overturf were married.

For early Bulletin editor and publisher George Palmer Putnam, he traveled back to his old stomping grounds in New York for his first love.

Having already established himself in Bend, Putnam returned back east for Dorothy Binney, heiress to the Crayola crayon fortune. The two were married in 1911, and become one of Bend’s most influential power couples.

Putnam and Binney had a heightened sense of escapism leaving behind the high society of New York for a Western frontier town, Cannon-Miller said.

“The frontier is closing and that is what brings George Palmer Putnam through the West. He is out of college and still looking for adventure and he wants to see the West before it is completely gone,” Cannon-Miller said.

In Bend, Binney helped lead efforts in the suffrage movement. She brought speakers from Portland and encouraged local groups to join the process to give women the right to vote.

“It was the inclusion of more outlying areas that helped finally pass suffrage at the state level. Bend overwhelming went for suffrage in 1912,” Cannon-Miller said. “I think that is a result of a new generation having arrived in town. They bring with them a much different political mindset than their predecessors.”

Putnam and Binney later divorced, and Putnam married famed aviator Amelia Earhart.

The early frontier of Bend had a romantic atmosphere, Cannon-Miller said. It was a thrilling time when the young couples were starting their lives together, while setting the groundwork for the city.

“You see a group of fresh-out-of-college, early-20-somethings looking for their first opportunity and also looking for adventure,” Cannon-Miller said. “That had to be exciting.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7820,

kspurr@bendbulletin.com

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