Arnold Schaeffer will ride his mule in the Wallowa Fourth of July Parade with his sons, Rick and Randy. (Katy Nesbitt/The Observer)
If you want a Wallowa County history lesson, Arnold Schaeffer is the man to call. The Wallowa Fourth of July parade grand marshal’s family ties go back to the first homesteaders and his stories are steeped in its tradition.
On a late spring day Schaeffer hosts his cousin Rolland Bramlett who travels from Georgia each summer for their joint birthday party. Schaeffer’s sister, Dorothea Stephen, of Walla Walla spends much of the summer on the ranch with him, and cousin Marjorie Hudson joined them at the kitchen table for an afternoon visit.
Schaeffer said his ancestors on both sides of his family were early settlers and the ranch where he now lives has a long family history. In 1946 the ranch was sold, but in 1955 Schaeffer’s brother Charlie bought it back; it’s been back in the family ever since. Schaeffer’s son and daughter-in-law live on the ranch and they keep cattle, horses and mules.
Schaeffer will ride one of his mules in the parade and asked his sons, Rick and Randy, to join him on horseback.
He said his great-grandfather Powers, on his mother’s side, homesteaded the property on the Promise Road in 1872. His great-great aunt and uncle were the first white couple married in the valley, and their son and daughter were the first white children born here.
It’s hard to imagine the wealth of stories that have been passed down through the generations. One family favorite tells how Schaeffer’s grandfather Henry along with Chief Joseph rescued a man, his wife and his baby daughter from the Wallowa River.
“They were friends,” Schaeffer said.
A story from the Powers side of his family tells of a wagon train 100 miles long.
“They hunted buffalo on their way west and settled near Portland,” Schaeffer said.
Gold hunting fever prompted his ancestors to leave Portland and find their fortune in Idaho, but on the way they discovered the Wallowa Valley and saw how healthy the Indians were, so they stayed, Schaeffer said.
There are five generations of family members in the Bramlett Cemetery west of Wallowa; the land for which was donated by his Bramlett ancestors and the first post office in the county was there, as well, Schaeffer said.
His parents were home — schooled, Schaeffer said, but he and his six brother and sisters graduated from Wallowa High School after attending the elementary grades at the Promise School a few miles outside of town. His sons and grandchildren have followed in the
After graduating from Wallowa High School in 1942, Schaeffer headed to the high mountains to run a sheep camp and deferred his enlistment in the Army.
“In 1943, I told the draft board to come and get me. I was tending camp for the sheep outfit and people were looking at me, ‘Why in the world aren’t you in the service?’ And I said, ‘I used to sit on a rock and think and now I just sit on a rock.’ But eventually I felt embarrassed because all my buddies were at war and I was having such a good time.”
In 1944, he joined the Army Air Force and trained to be a radio operator in Sioux City, S.D. He then went to Yuma, Ariz., to train to be a gunner on a B-17.
Schaeffer said, “They had a B-17 fixed up with a bench on each of the fuselage and took us for a ride to familiarize us. I stood up and looked through the bomb bay and the pilots looked at me and I thought ‘They look like nice guys.’ Then they took a nose dive and I was on the ceiling — then they pulled up and threw me to the floor!”
Schaeffer was never deployed to either front during World War II and left the service in 1946.
He returned home, married, and briefly lived in Portland selling vacuum cleaners. There he met his wife, Lorraine.
“I didn’t stay long in Portland, I couldn’t take it,” Schaeffer said. He and Lorraine settled in Lostine and Schaeffer worked as a truck driver and raised cattle with his brother, Charlie. In 1999 at the tender age of 75, he said Henderson Fuel “kicked him loose” and he retired from driving trucks.
Now he spends his free time writing stories that he submits to the Wallowa County Chieftain, The Observer and Western Horseman. His favorite submission is about rounding up an uncooperative bull by himself in the Promise land north from his ranch.
Like so many other Wallowa County historians, Schaeffer’s tales add to the rich fabric of the county’s continuing story. The lives of the ancestors are as integral as the generations who are born, raised and make their homes in the valleys and canyons of Northeast Oregon — continuing in the farming and ranching tradition — riding horses and mules, raising crops and grain, and passing down stories that are as much a part of the landscape as the rivers and mountains that surround them.