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Baker City, Oregon

Situated on the upper reaches of the Powder River at a shallow canyon, Baker City was born on the Eastern oregon gold rush when Colonel J. S. Ruckles had begun looking for a site with access to water to operate an ore processing mill which he located on the Powder River.

Baker City was estalished in 1864 as a distribution trade center and named for Colonel Edward Dickinson Baker, who was born 24 Feb 1811 in Pennsylvania. Baker's family left Pennsylvania and went to Indiana and then to Illinois where he studied law and at the age of 19 was admitted to practice. In 1831, he married Mrs. Mary Lee, a widow, and the year following served in the Black Hawk War attaining the rank of a major. He afterwards removed to Springfield and became a partner in the law firm of Stephen T. Logan, J.D. Stuart and A.. Lincoln. Between 1837 and 1845, he served in the Illinois legislature. The follwing year he raised a regiment of Illinois volunteers and served in the Mexican War, and then returned to the state legislature serving from 1849 to 1851. Attracted to San Francisco, he removed there in 1852 and became a criminal lawyer and orator, but seven years later decided to go to Oregon and was elected by the first state senate, but entered the War of the Rebellion as colonel of a regiment of volunteers and became the first northern officer to die in the Civil War, the unfortunate engagement having taken place at Ball's Bluff. He died on 22 October 1861 and was buried in San Francisco.

By 1864, Colonel J.S. Ruckel had built a quartz mill, James W. Virtue a store, and Rev.V. De Roo opened the Arlington Hotel in Baker City. The town was laid out In 1865 with the mail route being established the following year, and Baker City being reached by the overland stage five times a week.

The city's first newspaper, The Bedrock Democrat, began printing in 1870 and was founded by Lewis Linn McArthur who was born in Virginia on 18 Mar 1843 and educated at Brown University. In 1864, he was admitted to the Rhode Island bar but then removed to Oregon and married Harriet K. Nesmith, daughter of Senator James W. Nesmith. While there, he began working on the newspaper at Umatilla Landing and then founded the newspaper in Baker along with partner M.H. Abbott. Their paper was filled with much of the colorful mining life and was widely read, but they sold it two years later to H.C. and J.M. Shepherd of Albany, who then sold it in 1880. The local paper of Baker City is now known as the Baker City Herald.

Incorporated in October of 1874, Baker City for many years thrived with the business of mining and during the 1870's and 1880's was proably the most colorful town in the Pacific Northwest, accessible in 1884 by rail when the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company arrived in Baker City, stretching from Portland and connecting with the Oregon Short Line which was built as a subsidiary of the Union Pacific, thus providing complete coast to coast transportation from Baker City.

The rail became another important factor when logging began in Baker City in 1889 when David Eccles founded the Oregon Lumber company. The company built the narrow-gauge Sumpter Valley Railroad, nicknamed "Stump Dodger" which ran from Baker City to Praire City hauling lumber, passengers, cattlemen, prospectors, and loggers. It continued to carry passengers and mail until 1937, but eventually handled only lumber, and then was abadoned in 1947.

At the turn of the century, Baker City housed elegant restaurants in fine hotels, and the Baker Theatre was often filled to capacity for road-show company productions. All night saloons, gambling houses and hurdy-gurdy dance halls were crowded with gamblers, miners, ranchers, cowboys and sheepherders. The town also had a sizable Chinese population which had come to work in the mines, and build water systems for the mills while others worked as servants in homes, and still others began restaraunt and laundry operations.

During Baker City's second mining boom between 1890 and 1910, many brick homes and commercial buildings were financed by the mines and still stand today, filling the city with historic charm in the 21st century.

Updated 04 Jun 2013
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