This small piece of mountain vacation paradise tucked into Southern Oregon's Cascade Range has a history that speaks of nearby Indian paths, the U.S. Cavalry, railroad tycoons, miners, loggers and cowboys, of famous pioneer trails, lakes, streams, mountains, warm summers and winter snows, tall timber, grizzly bears and wolves, fish and eagles, a U.S. President and a homesteading entrepreneur he never met.
Just four miles from a railroad survey camp at Lake of the Woods in the Cascade Mountains lay a homestead ripe for the plucking of a 19-year-old from Dodge Center, Minnesota…Clayton Edmond Burton. Civilization, such as it was, lay on opposite sides of the summit. It was a one day’s wagon ride to the East to reach the old lumber and cow town of Klamath Falls or the more “urban” city of Ashland, to the South.
It was 1903, and Clayton had come to the area, summoned by Brother LeRoy Burton, who had filed an earlier homestead on Jenny Creek, closer to the Klamath River. Clayton, like LeRoy, was somewhat of a loner. He had come west when another brother and sister had decided to leave the family home in Dodge Center and make their fortunes ranching in the Spokane, Washington area. Clayton hired on as a stock wrangler for the trip, but after a brief stay in Spokane where he tried his hand at western logging, he heeded LeRoy’s call to come homestead in the area.
His two horses served as the power for dragging huge Shasta red cedar, sugar and white pine logs to the mill. He added chickens, then hurriedly built a chicken coop to keep his new, unwanted companions, a small pack of timber wolves that also smelled opportunity, away from his sources of meat and eggs. According to descendents, the pack often followed Clayton into the still-untamed wilderness as he went about his work or guided big game hunters who came up Dead Indian Road from Ashland in search of trophy bear, deer and elk.
Logs were turned to lumber for the nearby mines, ranches, farms and homes springing up in the mountains, around Lake of the Woods, Howard Prairie and other developing areas. As a central drop-off point, residents, and especially the workers at the nearby Great Northern Railway survey camp, left mail to be taken to the Rogue Valley or Klamath Falls or to be sent on to distant points. Clayton was still proving up his homestead claim, and the workload between logging and milling lumber, maintaining a drop-off point for mail, a rest station for travelers, and guiding hunters up Mt. Pitt (later Mt. McLaughlin), was taxing even to the young man.
Luella arrived and in 1909 they converted the chicken coop into a post office. Burton was named “postmaster,” and his sister “assistant postmaster.” It remained open just a short while, then the survey crews left as the Great Northern dropped plans to build a railroad through that part of the rugged Cascade Range, and the need for the post office dwindled, closing in 1911.
Other things changed during that period. Brother LeRoy left for Ashland to pursue a career in newspapering, eventually ending up as owner of a weekly in Brookings, Oregon. The post office “building” that had started out as a chicken coop served second duty as a cookhouse where Luella prepared meals for the travelers and hunters who had engaged Burton to guide them.
It was the summer of 1910, while Luella worked in the kitchen for Clayton, that she met and soon after married frequent visitor Roscoe Applegate. Roscoe was a descendent of the founders of the historic 1847 Applegate Trail, the wagon road, whose roots can still be traced across the vast eastern Oregon desert. It turned out for some to be a safer alternative from Wyoming to Oregon than the original Oregon Trail.
Family being a major concern for many of the early settlers and their descendents, Mr. and Mrs. Roscoe Applegate moved next door to his parents, the Henry Applegates, along the lower reaches of the Dead Indian Road, leaving Clayton alone again except for the visitors, his animals, and the neighborhood wolf pack.
Clayton never lacked for things to do. The same year Luella married, Clayton joined forces with Wren Frain, a Shasta Indian who had ranched land along the Klamath River and north across what is now Oregon Highway 66, between Keno and Klamath Falls.They harvested the abundant wild wheat that grew among the volcanic rocks in the Buck Lake area about ten miles east of Clayton’s homestead. Finally, in 1913, Clayton Burton proved up his homestead claim, President Woodrow Wilson’s office sending approval that year. And four years later, Clayton was not alone anymore. In 1917, at the age 35, he married Annie Laura Nelson, daughter of the owner of the Nelson Ranch between Keno and Worden. Her father gave the couple a parcel of ranch land next to his place as a wedding present and Clayton left the homestead near Lake of the Woods.
Over the next six years, Clayton and Laura were blessed with the arrivals of two daughters and two sons. And for nearly half a century from the time he arrived, Burton explored, logged, ranched, hunted, trapped and harvested wild wheat along the countryside and creeks from Mt. McLaughlin to the north, Topsy Reservoir to the south, and Round Lake between Keno and Klamath Falls to the east.
Clayton’s original homestead was eventually purchased by David Hammonds of Eagle Point, Oregon and Norm Mathis of Palm Desert, California. Hammonds and Mathis had been friends since childhood, and they saw the possibilities in Clayton’s old 140-acre mill site. They aptly named it “Lakewoods Village,” sitting like an uncut jewel in the center of pristine national forest, surrounded by lakes, hiking trails, mountain views and places to see and experience on all sides. Dead Indian Road had become Dead Indian Memorial Road, a direct route from the Rogue Valley, open in all seasons as an easy access to the lakes, the Klamath Basin, the site of the old U.S. Cavalry post of Fort Klamath and Crater Lake National Park.
Dreamers like Clayton Burton, who discovered this remarkable location, minutes away from a half dozen lakes, and now less than an hour away from three major Southern Oregon communities, would probably agree with all of the above.
For information on the history of Southern Oregon, visit the Southern Oregon Historical Society.