Peter Christman and
the Naming of Christmas Lake

by Melany Tupper

The prevailing theory of how the central Oregon community of Christmas Valley acquired its unlikely name is that some unidentified map maker clumsily mislabeled a lake in the valley “Christmas Lake.”1 But careful examination of the written record and the map archives of the Oregon Historical Society reveal that the rural community must have been fated, destined to be called "Christmas." Key features in and around the valley have been dubbed "Christmas" on at least three separate occasions dating back to the early 1800's.

The first notable appearance of the word "Christmas" in the vicinity is in relation to a mysterious river on Washington Hood’s map of the Territory of Oregon published by the Bureau of Topographical Engineers in 1838.2 Oregon was largely uncharted in those days. Explorers had plotted the Pacific coast and had a fair grasp of the course of the Columbia River, but inland Oregon was basically unknown.

Christmas River could have been known to Hudson’s Bay Company trappers, but it vanishes from maps after 1846, so the river is probably not linked to the modern day Christmas Lake. By 1843, Lake County had entered into a technologically superior epoch, this time under the cartographic superiority and devil-may-care direction of John Charles Fremont who passed through the region on his way to California.

Fremont's orders were to survey the Oregon Trail all the way to the Pacific, but the course he took on the return trip was up to his discretion. Having never been known for his discretion, Fremont radically overspent his budget that year and decided to go south through Oregon and California, rather than going east, retracing his course back to Independence, Missouri. Several landmarks in north Lake County still bear the names that Fremont gave them, including Winter Ridge, Summer Lake, and Lake Abert, named for Fremont's commanding officer. Fremont's 1843 trip to Klamath and Lake Counties is also commemorated by the Fremont National Forest and the Fremont Highway (state highway 31) which connects federal highways 97 and 395.

Fremont's explorers found themselves on the shore of one of Lake County's lakes on Christmas morning in 1843. The men, perhaps as a practical joke on their oh-so-eccentric commander, jarred Fremont from his bunk at dawn with a frenetic discharge of howitzer fire. It was a salute, the men said, a tribute to the day. They further marked the occasion with precious sugar in their coffee and a shot of brandy for each man. It was in this air of celebration that the men named the lake "Christmas," then ventured on their way.3 However, this was not how the lake in present-day Christmas Valley was named.

The lake where Fremont's party spent Christmas was in the southeast portion of Lake County, and would be known by the name “Christmas” until 1849 when Captain William H. Warner, another US topographical engineer, and some of his men were ambushed and massacred by Indians there.4 On maps published from about 1865 through 1908 the lakes where Fremont’s men spent Christmas are labeled "Christmas” or “Warner.” The establishment of Fort Warner in the year 1866 seems to have permanently affixed the name "Warner" to the area.5

In 1905 and 1907 maps by Rand McNally show two separate lakes in Lake County with the name of "Christmas." One of these two lakes is the lake Fremont named in the Warner Valley. The second lake is still known to most residents of Christmas Valley, and lies just to the north and east of that town. In the early 1900's the community of Christmas Valley was known by residents as "Christmas Lake," and the fact that two Christmas Lakes appear on at least two maps of the day would seem to refute the old theory that Christmas Valley was named "by mistake" when a map maker accidentally picked up the name "Christmas" from Fremont's lake and moved it to another body of water in north Lake County. Clearly, the people at Rand McNally were aware of two separate lakes existing at the same time and both bearing the name "Christmas."6 Three decades after Fremont, another cartographic party would conduct a survey of north Lake County, having been summoned there when a rancher made an astonishing discovery.

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Surveyors’ field map from 1877, when Whiteaker’s party visited Fossil Lake, shows nothing on the boundary between sections 32 and 33 where Christmas Lake was located. The Canyon City Road was the only thing noted, probably because the area around Christmas Lake would not be the subject of a government survey until 1882.

"I have in my possession some bones which doubtless once belonged to some prehistoric animal of much larger size and different form from anything now known to exist in this country, or probably any other," wrote former Oregon Governor John Whiteaker in an 1875 editorial that appeared in the Eugene City Guard. "...whether it was pachyderm or ruminant, hirsute or bare... That he was a monster, there can be no doubt." Whiteaker was writing of some of the first specimens from the Fossil Lake fossil beds. They were the bones of a mammoth that were extracted by a "stock-keeper," and delivered to Whiteaker.7

Whiteaker visited north Lake County frequently throughout the 1870s, traveling by horseback from Pleasant Hill, near Eugene, to check on what he called "business interests" in Summer Lake.8 According to the tax rolls of 1875, Whiteaker possessed $2,500 in gross taxable assets in the Summer Lake precinct that year,9 and given that there were no businesses or industries in Summer Lake other than ranching in the 1870's, it is probably safe to assume that Whiteaker owned livestock there.

It was during this early, pre-homestead period that the lake that would come to be known as "Christmas Lake" was named. Christmas Valley was open range land in the 1870's, and government records of the time show no permanent inhabitants.10 Numerous Summer Lake, Chewaucan, and Silver Lake ranchers used the valley as winter range for livestock, and the only structures were a few scattered range cabins used seasonally.

"On all the neighboring ranches, the cattle were turned into the desert for food and shelter in winter," wrote fossil hunter Charles Sternberg of his August 1877 visit. "It was the custom of the country at that day to consider food and shelter free to all."11

Whiteaker visited the Fossil Lake site in June of 1877, and sought advice from Thomas Condon on how to pack and transport the fossil specimens.12 Condon was the first professor of geology at the University of Oregon, and Condon and Whiteaker were acquainted. Whiteaker's son Charlie was a pupil of Condon's and a classmate to Condon's daughter Ellen. Their class saw the university's first graduation ceremony in 1878.13 Whiteaker personally delivered the fossilized bones of mammoth, camel, horse, and reindeer to Condon in Eugene by September of 1877.

Pulling strings like only a former governor and current president of the state senate can, Whiteaker spearheaded a government surveying expedition to Fossil Lake that included four Summer Lake ranchers, four men from the General Land Office, Whiteaker's son Charlie, and George Duncan, the Silver Lake postmaster. Whiteaker said that a "herder" had made the initial discovery of the fossil bed in 1874, and although the individual is not named, he would have been one of the very earliest settlers in the region.14

Melva Bach, in her History of Fremont National Forest, stated that Christmas Lake had been named by what she called "early pioneers,"15 and maps of the period, littered with the names of Silver Lake and Summer Lake ranchers who were pioneers in every sense of the word, stand to enforce Bach's opinion. These maps offer a who's-who of the day by associating names of the pre-homesteaders with various features like springs, creeks, lakes, and hills.

Names of these early pioneer ranchers can be found in the U.S. census of 1880 16 and scattered across maps of the day. George Duncan of Silver Lake had a creek located near Silver Lake named for him,17 and a spring named for him five miles to the east of Christmas Lake.18 Another man with a spring named for him was Joel Langdon of Summer Lake. Langdon Springs lie about three miles east of Christmas Lake, and were referred to through the early 1900's as a place where ranchers would corral their livestock.19 Joel Langdon died in 1894 and is buried in the Summer Lake Cemetery.20

The Connley Hills are another geographic feature named for pre-homestead ranchers. "Connley Hills between Fort Rock and Silver Lake were named for a local family," wrote Lewis McArthur, author of Oregon Geographic Names, "The compiler has seen the name spelled in other ways, but Connley was the style use by postal officials."21 A Conley family shows up in the census of Silver Lake in 1880 with a James Conley listed as a fur trapper and laborer, and a stockman by the name of Samuel Conley.22 In addition, there is one account of several Conley ranchers driving cattle eastward over the Willamette Pass.23

A rancher by the name of Levi Button gained some notoriety for having appeared in Sternberg's book, Life of a Fossil Hunter.24 Button is named as a business partner of Joel Langdon in the 1880 census, and although several accounts indicate that Button had a cabin near Christmas Lake, the location of the cabin is unclear. Since the land surrounding Christmas Lake was not surveyed until 1882, and thus was not yet open to homestead claims, it is more likely that Button only used the cabin near Christmas Lake seasonally. Levi Button, generally known as "Lee" Button, had a ranch of his own and a set of springs named after him elsewhere, located about 20 miles northwest of Christmas Lake.25

In 1882 a federal survey crew arrived on the scene to chart the remaining portions of Christmas Lake Valley. Whiteaker’s crew had only charted three townships in the area of the fossil beds. The 1882 survey crew created a map and notes that mention two ranches then existing near Christmas Lake.

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The surveyors’ map of 1882 shows Christmas Lake very plainly, also the barn of John Jackson and the house of A. B. Chase.

"Two settlers John Jackson on the West side and A.R. Chase on the East side of the lake have houses and other improvements," wrote deputy surveyor John Meldrum.26 The map shows the locations of the ranches, the west ranch being on the lake shore, and the east ranch being set back in the vicinity of Langdon Springs, about two miles away.27 Alexander Chase is shown as having a permanent residence in Silver Lake in the census of 1880, as is Charles P. Marshall, Chase's business partner.28 John Jackson shows up in the tax rolls of 1875 as a resident of Silver Lake with $5,945 dollars in assets that most likely included livestock.29 Meldrum's survey map of 1882 is probably the first published map to show Christmas Lake in it's present location in Christmas Valley.

Most of the people who settled in Silver Lake, Paisley, and Summer Lake in the 1870's were stockmen originally from the Eugene area of Lane County. The Oregon Trail had brought a crush of homesteaders to the Willamette Valley, creating a shortage of grazing land and an escalating real estate market. The Oregon Central Military Road was a project that gained strong support from Eugene stockmen that needed range land and were looking for an easier route to take their cattle to hungry soldiers at the cavalry forts that dotted eastern Oregon.30

Congress provided a land grant for the road project in 1864 that allowed promoter B.J. Pengra to sell land on either side of the road as a means of paying for construction. The first usable section of the road was completed and allowed settlers to breach the mountains in 1865. Union Army supply trains began using the road almost immediately, and many men who enlisted in Eugene found themselves mushing food and other goods to forts around the region, an experience that exposed them to the country and led many to eventually settle in the north Lake County communities of Silver Lake, Summer Lake, and Paisley.31

A man by the name of Stephen Rigdon kept a fairly complete record of those who passed through his "Pine Openings" toll station, located on the Oregon Central Military Road, from 1873 to 1896. The road was the only one between Lake County settlements and the Willamette Valley for several years,32 and Rigdon's books are a sort of "guest registry" that provides details as to the names of persons in parties, their direction of travel, type and number of livestock, wagons, and the purpose of their ventures.33

Peter Chrisman was a Cottage Grove cattleman who liked to introduce himself as "Major,"34 probably because of military experience. A Peter Chrisman enlisted in the Union Army in Indiana on April 11, 1865.35 Several volunteer regiments were organized in Lane County during the Civil War,36 but were never called to active service. Chrisman may have been among the residents of Lane County that went to eastern states in order to join the Union Army.37

Chrisman is named in Rigdon's records as coming and going from the Silver Lake area seven times before the survey of 1882, but probably crossed more frequently than that as the records are not comprehensive. The Major is shown bringing his wife and three children over the pass heading east in September of 1874, and he and his brother Gabriel are shown to be associates of other cattle-raising families like the Martins and the Smalls. In June of 1881 Peter Chrisman and eight men herd 600 head of cattle over the pass bound for Silver Lake.38 The cattle were probably from the 500 acre ranch of the Major's stock dealing brother, Scott, in Cottage Grove.39

To this day the Peter Chrisman's family is recognized as being the owners of the Chrisman building in Silver Lake where one of the most appalling tragedies in Lake County's history occurred, the horrible Christmas Eve fire of 1894 in which 43 people perished.40 Aside from this one catastrophic and unfortunate event, the Major's family was quite successful and well-connected.

The family immigrated to Oregon in 1851,41 and Peter Chrisman was a teenager driving a team of oxen when his family reached Lane County in 1853 to settle in Cottage Grove.42 Chrisman had five siblings,43 and his father was an Oregon state senator from 1862 to 1866.44

At least two of Peter Chrisman's three children attended the University of Oregon, and his son, Francis, ran a successful mercantile store and hotel in Silver Lake, was postmaster there for a time, helped to start the town's first newspaper, the Leader, in 1907, and was vice president of the Lakeview Telephone and Telegraph Company. The Major's son Francis also had the singular honor of having the first telephone in Silver Lake installed in his office, and the first building with electricity that was generated by the power plant located on his Silver Lake property.45

The Peter Chrisman family was one of the first to settle in Silver Lake,46 and the Major was thought of as the founder of the town and so was also referred to as "Mr. Silver Lake."47 The original town site was located close to the west side of Silver Lake, and the Major built a log cabin school house on Silver Creek and hired a teacher so that his children could begin their education in 1880.48 The Major had begun his own education in a log cabin school house that was erected in Cottage Grove in 1853.49 Chrisman “was very liberal in his dealings," reported the Illustrated History of Central Oregon, and "was highly thought of by his neighbors, who had the utmost confidence both in his integrity and his ability to handle finances."50

The Major sold all of his interest in the cattle business in 1882 and his Silver Lake ranching headquarters to Fred Cox and John Jackson,51 the same man whose name appears on the west side of Christmas Lake on the surveyor's map of that year. Many ranchers suffered major losses of stock during the previous winter, which had been unusually harsh.

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The faded signature of John W. Meldrum is barely visible at the end of surveyor’s field notes of 1882 for township 26 south range 18 east. Christmas Lake and the buildings of Chase and Jackson are noted.

"It was so bad in 1880-81 that it became famous as the 'Double Winter' and scores of stockmen lost their herds. Some burrowed tunnels through the snow to reach their barns, and livestock ate the bark off trees in a futile effort to relieve their hunger.... Thousands of head of cattle died across the region," wrote David Braly in his self-published work, Juniper Empire.52 Many dead cows and dead trees were found in the spring time, and the larger cattle ranchers seized the opportunity that year to buy out smaller ranches and claim as much as they could of the range land that was already being gobbled up by homesteaders after passage of the Homestead Act of 1862.

Peter Chrisman probably rounded up what was left of his herd that year and drove them down to water at Peter's Creek, a seasonal stream that was a place where cattlemen would originate their cattle drives for decades to come. "The Sinks of Peter's Creek," or "the Sinks," as the area would come to be known, were a place where water from the creek, when it came in contact with the sandy soil, would "sink," being absorbed at once at its outlet. Peter's Creek was probably named for Peter Chrisman because the tax rolls of 1875, the census of 1880, and the deed and title records up to 1900 show no families in north Lake County with the name of "Peters."

About eleven miles from the Sinks of Peter’s Creek was Peter Chrisman's small log cabin on the west side of Christmas Lake. It was taken over by John Jackson and was later used by a rancher named Thomas Farrell,*** and finally by the Reub Long’s father Alonzo, who filed the first homestead claim on the land in 1912 and became its first legal owner.53 Researcher Barbara Allen, in her book Homesteading the High Desert, has also documented how this cabin was transferred from Jackson, to Farrell, and finally to the Long family.54 In The Oregon Desert, Reub Long reports that the cabin was already on the property when his family moved to Christmas Lake in 1900.55 Long believed the cabin to have been built around 1880,56 and it remained standing until 1981.57 It is not known who built the cabin, but it certainly could have been built by Major Peter Chrisman or other early ranchers.

The Long's cabin differentiated itself by being constructed of hand hewn logs rather than the broad planks most typical of the later homestead period, probably because the early pioneer ranchers of the 1870's did not have sawmills.58

The Major's family name, Chrisman, was often spelled with a "t," making it “Christman.” It appeared that way in the tax rolls of 1875,59 in an article in the Lane County Historian 60, in the naming of a Lane County post office,61 and in another Eugene City Guard editorial, published September 29, 1877 and written by former Oregon Governor and then president of the state senate, John Whiteaker.

When Whiteaker gave this editorial description of his Fossil Lake expedition to the Guard in 1877, he was kind enough to include detailed directions to the fossil beds and his trip past Christmas Lake.

"Near the center of this basin, and about 18 miles from Silver Lake, in a northeast direction, is "Christman Lake;" eight miles from Christmas Lake, in the same direction, and apparently on the same level, are the Fossil Lakes,"
wrote Whiteaker.62

Whiteaker's use of quotation marks around "Christman Lake," is an example of how one punctuates a phrase with an esoteric meaning, an indication that the name had only been known to a small group of people. It is quite likely that Whiteaker knew Peter Chrisman, as they both were from Lane County and Chrisman's father and Whiteaker were both active in the government there.63 Whiteaker's sentence is a compound, divided by a semicolon, which indicates that the two names, "Christman" and "Christmas" are closely related in meaning.64

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This photocopy of Whiteaker’s article in the Eugene City Guard of September 29, 1877 shows Whiteaker referring to the same lake as both “Christmas” and “Christman.” It was apparently first known as “Christman Lake” to friends and ranching neighbors of Peter Christman. “Christmas Lake” became the accepted name for the place after 1882.

So it would seem that Peter's Creek and nearby Christman Lake were named after Major Peter Christman. Sometime between 1873 and 1877 people started calling Christman lake "Christmas." It is yet to be discovered exactly how the "s" came to replace the "n", but maps bearing the name "Christmas Lake" would go into the hands of every homesteader that would come to the valley. By the time they arrived in north Lake County, the homesteaders had already learned to call the community "Christmas Lake."65

Peter Chrisman went on to establish the first bank in the county, the Lakeview Bank, and served as it's president for 11 years. Upon his retirement, Chrisman went to live with his daughter in Baker City where he died of pneumonia after an illness of four days at the age of 69 and was buried there in the Masonic cemetery.66

***Since the publication of this article in 2000, while researching another subject, the author has learned that Anna Linebaugh was mistaken about who John Jackson sold the ranch to. Ownership of the ranch improvements on the west side of the lake went from Peter Christman, to Fred Cox and John Jackson, then to John and James O’Farrell, then to Ed O’Farrell, then to Alonzo Long. Fred Cox was a cattle dealer in the Sacramento area. John Jackson was listed as a stockman in the 1880 census for Lake County. Ed O’Farrell is often credited with having been the heroic rider of the Christmas Eve fire of 1894.


1. Christmas Valley Women’s Club, Where the Pavement Ends, Christmas Valley 1968, 15.

2. Map of “The United States Territory of Oregon West of the Rocky Mountains, Exhibiting the various trading depots or forts occupied by the British Hudson Bay Company connected with the Western and northwestern fur trade”, drawn by Washington Hood compiled in the Bureau of Topographical Engineers under the direction of J.J. Abert, Washington, D.C. 1838.

3. John Charles Fremont, Report of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains in the year 1842, and to Oregon and North California in the years 1843-’44, Washington 1845, 174. Fremont’s journal was reprinted by the Ann Arbor University Microfilms, Inc. in 1966, and his notes regarding place names in north Lake County can be found on pages 207-11 of that edition.

4. Lewis McArthur, Oregon Geographic Names, Portland 1982, 358-359. McArthur states that the valley was named in honor of Warner by Leutenant-Colonel C.S. Drew in 1864.

5. Information derived from author’s research at the map archives of the Oregon Historical Society, Portland 2000.

6. “Map of Oregon”, Rand McNally & Co., Chicago 1905 and 1907.

7. “Fossil Bones,” Eugene City Guard, November 6, 1875. This article was actually a letter to the editor of the Guard, written by John Whiteaker from Pleasant Hill, Oregon on October 27, 1875. A typographic error has placed a date of “Oct. 27, 1876” at the top of the letter, a date which would have been impossible in this 1875 edition of the newspaper.

8. Central Oregon Emigrant Military Wagon Road, Cascade Mountains East and West, Stephen Rigdon papers, Oregon Historical Society ManuscriptsDepartment, Lake County, Pine Openings, 1873-1896.

9. Western Historical Publishing, An Illustrated History of Central Oregon, Spokane 1905, 821. Lake County tax assessment rolls for 1875.

10. Western Historical Publishing, An Illustrated History of Central Oregon, Spokane 1905, 821-22. Lake County tax assessment rolls for 1875; Oregon State Archives. U.S. Census Bureau, Tenth Census of the United States, 1880.
11. Charles H. Sternberg, The Life of a Fossil Hunter, New York 1909, 156-57.

12. “A Trip to the Fossil Beds,” Eugene City Guard, September 29, 1877. This article was actually a letter to the editor of the Guard, written by John Whiteaker.

13. L.W. Moore, N.W. McCornack, G.W. McCready, The Story of Eugene, New York 1949, 144-45.

14. “Fossil Bones,” Eugene City Guard, November 6, 1875. This article was actually a letter to the editor of the Guard, written by John Whiteaker from Pleasant Hill, Oregon on October 27, 1875. A typographic error has placed a date of “Oct. 27, 1876” at the top of the letter, a date that would have been impossible in this 1875 edition of the newspaper.

15. Melva Bach, History of the Fremont National Forest, Portland 1990, 37.

16. U.S. Census Bureau. Tenth Census of the United States, 1880.
17. Lewis McArthur, Oregon Geographic Names, Portland 1982, 271.

18. Editorial, Eugene City Guard, Sept. 29, 1877. A letter to the editor, written by John Whiteaker, with the title, “A Trip to the Fossil Beds.”

19. E.R. Jackman and R.A. Long, The Oregon Desert, 1964, 122

20. I Dream of Genealogy. Summer Lake Cemetery records Site accessed 7 November 2000.

21. Lewis McArthur, Oregon Geographic Names, Portland 1982, 173.

22. U.S. Census Bureau. Tenth Census of the United States, 1880.

23. Central Oregon Emigrant Military Wagon Road, Cascade Mountains East and West, Stephen Rigdon papers, Oregon Historical Society Manuscripts Department, Lake County, Pine Openings, 1873-1896.

24. Charles H. Sternberg, The Life of a Fossil Hunter, New York 1909, 156.

25. Lewis McArthur, Oregon Geographic Names, Portland 1982, 101.

26. John W. Meldrum, field notes, General Description of Township 26S, Range 18E, Willamette Meridian, Christmas Lake 1882, 38-39.

27. John W. Meldrum, survey map Township 26S, Range 18E, Willamette Meridian, Christmas Lake 1882, 3223.

28. U.S. Census Bureau. Tenth Census of the United States, 1880.

29. Western Historical Publishing, An Illustrated History of Central Oregon, Spokane 1905, 821. Lake County tax assessment rolls for 1875.

30. A.G. Walling, Illustrated History of Lane County, Portland 1884, 351.

31. E.R. Jackman, R.A. Long, The Oregon Desert, Caldwell 1969, 34. Friends of the La Pine Branch Library, History of the La Pine Pioneers, Bend 1983, 10-11; Western Historical Publishing, An Illustrated History of Central Oregon, Spokane 1905, 815.

32. Friends of the La Pine Branch Library, History of the La Pine Pioneers, Bend 1983, 10-11.

33. Central Oregon Emigrant Military Wagon Road, Cascade Mountains East and West, Stephen Rigdon papers, Oregon Historical Society Manuscripts Department, Lake County, Pine Openings, 1873-1896.

34. Western Historical Publishing, An Illustrated History of Central Oregon, Spokane 1905, 914; Central Oregon Emigrant Military Wagon Road, Cascade Mountains East and West, Stephen Rigdon papers, Oregon Historical Society Manuscripts Department, Lake County, Pine Openings, 1873-1896.

35. CivilWarResearchandGenealogy Database Site accessed 17 August, 2002.

36. Dorothy Velasco, Lane County, an Illustrated History of the Emerald Empire, Northridge 1985, 38, 40.

37. A.G. Walling, Illustrated History of Lane County, Portland 1884, 351.

38. Central Oregon Emigrant Military Wagon Road, Cascade Mountains East and West, Stephen Rigdon papers, Oregon Historical Society Manuscripts Department, Lake County, Pine Openings, 1873-1896.

39. A.G. Walling, Illustrated History of Lane County, Portland 1884, 502.

40. Western Historical Publishing, An Illustrated History of Central Oregon, Spokane 1905, 915.

41. Western Historical Publishing, An Illustrated History of Central Oregon, Spokane 1905, 914.

42. Lake County Examiner, “Brief Description of Life History of P.G. Chrisman” (obituary) May 1, 1911.

43. A.G. Walling, Illustrated History of Lane County, Portland 1884, 495.

44. Cecil L. Edwards, Alphabetical List of Oregon’s Legislators and Related Information, Salem 1993, 23.

45. The Oregonian, “F.M. Chrisman, Pioneer of Silver Lake, Dies at 82,” (obituary), August 23, 1948; Western Historical Publishing, An Illustrated History of Central Oregon, Spokane 1905, 914-15.

46. Western Historical Publishing, An Illustrated History of Central Oregon, Spokane 1905, 914.

47. Newspaper clipping, The History of a Bank, history file on Lake County banks, Lake County Museum. This article appeared in the Lake County Examiner, and although the date of the article is not known, it may have appeared around the time of the death of Dr. Bernard Daly in 1920. The source cited for the article, who employed use of the nickname “Mr. Silver Lake,” is Andy J. McCAllen of Portland, who was the son of Andrew McCAllen, a business partner of Peter Chrisman’s in the founding of the Lakeview Bank.

48. Western Historical Publishing, An Illustrated History of Central Oregon, Spokane 1905, 915.

49. A.G. Walling, Illustrated History of Lane County, Portland 1884, 442.

50. Western Historical Publishing, An Illustrated History of Central Oregon, Spokane 1905, 915.

51. Lake County deed and title records, Lake County Courthouse, Lakeview, Index Volume 3, Grantors. Peter Chrisman’s ranching headquarters were located in Silver Lake at township 28S range 14E.

52. David Braly, Juniper Empire: Early Days in Eastern and Central Oregon, Prineville 1976, 95.

53. Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records, Oregon, Land Patent Description for Alonzo W. Long, issued November 23, 1912.

54. Barbara Allen, Homesteading the High Desert, Salt Lake City 1987, 28.

55. E.R. Jackman, R.A. Long, The Oregon Desert, Caldwell 1969, 20.

56. Barbara Allen, Homesteading the High Desert, Salt Lake City 1987, 28.

57. Barbara Allen, Homesteading the High Desert, Salt Lake City 1987, 41. Allan’s information as to the date of the demise of this cabin came from an interview with Reub Long’s sister, Anna Linebaugh, on May 23, 1985.

58. Barbara Allen, Homesteading the High Desert, Salt Lake City 1987, 41.

59. Western Historical Publishing, An Illustrated History of Central Oregon, Spokane 1905, 821. Lake County tax assessment rolls for 1875.

60. Lucia Moore, The Lane County Historian, (vol. 4, February) Eugene 1959.

61. Lewis McArthur, Oregon Geographic Names, Portland 1982, 177. McArthur received this information from a John C. Veatch of the Cottage Grove area, who wrote that the Christman post office was established in 1888 on the Row River, southeast of Cottage Grove, the same area where the ranch of Scott Chrisman (or Christman) was located. Veatch attributes the naming of the post office to a Wes Christman, and A.G. Walling’s Illustrated History of Lane County Oregon, published in 1884, names William Wesley Chrisman as being a son of Scott Chrisman.

62. Editorial, Eugene City Guard, Sept. 29, 1877. A letter to the editor, written by John Whiteaker, with the title, “A Trip to the Fossil Beds.”

63. Cecil L. Edwards, Alphabetical List of Oregon’s Legislators and Related Information, Salem 1993, 139.

64. Editorial Staff of the University of Chicago Press, The Chicago Manual of Style, Chicago 1982, 137.

65. Huber & Maxwell, civil engineers, Map for the Title Guarantee and Trust Co., 1904. This early map is important because it mirrors modern maps showing Christmas Lake and Warner Lake in their current locations. Only two earlier maps show Christmas Lake in its current location, Meldrum’s survey map of 1882, and the concurrent 1884 map of the state of Oregon published by the Department of the Interior General Land Office. Research conducted by author at map archives of the Oregon HistoricalSociety Museum, Portland.

66. Lake County Examiner, “Brief Description of Life History of P.G. Chrisman” (obituary) May 1, 1911.

One Man’s Dream for Christmas Valley

by Melany Tupper

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This small office remains much as it was in 1961 when it was constructed as the first building in the new town site of Christmas Valley. The office was the headquarters of none other than real estate magnate M. Penn Phillips, who at the time of his arrival was believed to have sold more parcels of land than any other living person.

In many ways, M. Penn Phillips was the archetype of what it means to be an American. Some would say he was progress without a conscience, paving everything in its path. Others admire his pioneer spirit, his ability to think big, his improvements to previously barren land, and his facility for making things happen.

In July of 1961 the M. Penn Phillips development company hit town, before Christmas Valley really was a town. Riding high on a wave of newspaper, television and radio advertisements, they quickly snatched up over 72,000 acres from the ZX and Century ranches at ten dollars per acre. One year and a million dollars later, the company had bought even more land, for a grand total of 90,000 acres, an area roughly twice the size of the District of Columbia.

In that first year they built 30 miles of roads, 15 homes, the Christmas Valley Lodge, a motel, a 5,000 foot airstrip, a 40 acre experimental farm, and a 3,000 foot-long lake. They renamed our valley, shortening the name from “Christmas Lake Valley.” Phillips started the first newspaper here, called the Christmas Valley Gazette, that featured a column by Phillips revealing many insights into his character and how he dealt with challenges. Each month the face of M. Penn Phillips would grin from his front page column, called “Penn Points,” with a kind of cigar-flicking arrogance regarding the future; tempting readers to join him in his Daddy Warbucks paradigm.

“I believe that more than forty years’ experience in helping to build the west qualifies me to write with some degree of authority,” Phillips wrote. His columns were characteristically choked with economic predictions for our valley and the country.

These were idealistic times for M. (for Marion) Penn Phillips and for the world. He was a visionary living in a conceptual, postindustrial age when people believed that anything was possible. Look on the flip side of one of Phillips' newspaper ads for lots in Christmas Valley and you’ll find an article describing how a man by the name of John Glenn is about to be flung into orbit.

Phillips already had a score of successful developments under his belt, including Hesperia, Salton City, Palmdale, Azusa, Compton, Ensenada, and Coos Bay, Oregon. He had even bought and sold property on what is the present day site of ‘The Strip’ in Las Vegas, Nevada.

“Man can do anything he dreams,” Phillips was inclined to say. His columns make it clear that in his mind, it was just a hop, skip and a jump from draftsman and engineers’ drawings to the realization of his dreams. “Now it’s real, not a dream,” Phillips wrote. At the age of 72 in a 1959 article that appeared in Time magazine, Phillips claimed to have sold more parcels of land (around 100,000) than any man alive.

Almost before valley residents knew it, and shortly after the airstrip was complete, the Phillips company had set up shop in three trailers and started flying in land buyers from California on a DC-3. The humongous plane would land at our airport every weekend, dwarfing the Trailways bus that came to take land buyers on tours of the valley.

“When the wheel hit the bank they swung around so
far sideways that I thought they were a sunk duck.”
-Witness to landing of DC-3

“I sure had a good look at the landing though and it was a mess,” wrote one witness to the spectacle that took place on our runway each weekend. “There was about eight inches of snow and they plowed out only a sketchy track in the center of the runway. Way too narrow for a large plane. When the wheel hit the bank they swung around so far sideways that I thought they were a sunk duck. The tail got clear out in the sage brush and it poked a hole through the elevator or whatever they call the horizontal fin.”

Although these sometimes terror stricken visitors were promised their money back if they didn’t like what they saw here, a down payment on land in Christmas Valley automatically got them a plane ride from California. Approximately 1,400 people took the ride, and the plane landed here 67 times over a ten month period. Approximately sixty-five percent of these folks were younger people from central California who were interested in farming. The other 35 percent were people nearing retirement, mostly from the Los Angeles area.

Long time residents of the valley were not always thrilled with the changes taking place here. Some called the town site “Sand City,” and the new arrivals “Asphalt Farmers.” A story appearing in 1962 states that some Christmas Valley natives were concerned that they would have to begin locking their doors, and that school and tax problems would outweigh any other gains made by the Phillips development.

Phillips had a magnetic effect on the Californians. His dream was so engaging, the picture he painted so inviting, that many came to believe in and focus on what “could be” in Christmas Valley. Phillips had a reputation as a fast talker, and enticing slogans abound from his days here.
“Buy land and keep it. Some day it will keep you.” And, “Will you be ready for the boom years ahead?” Phillips proclaimed as he sold real estate as a hedge against inflation. In mid-September of 1961 a full page ad appeared in three Los Angeles area daily papers announcing the “Christmas Valley Rural Retirement Project.” According to Phillips' records, these early ads resulted in 1,600 mail inquiries and a deluge of phone calls to his Azusa, California base office.

“Then comes the earth moving equipment...particularly the bulldozers. That’s the part I like...pushing the first brush and dirt. When I step on that accelerator I get the same feeling that I think a racing driver does when he starts a race.”
-M. Penn Phillips

As early as 1959, Phillips had told associates that retirement cities would prove extremely popular with older citizens. In a full page ad selling Christmas Valley lots that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on January 2, 1962, Phillips’ artists depict what he called “The great American Main Street.” At the top is a large painting of a well developed and landscaped downtown with thriving businesses and locust trees in bloom. The ad features verbiage by none other than Mark Twain describing the fragrance in the air and the cheer on every face. “The small town--cradle of our traditions and the birthplace of thirty-four of our presidents--is assuming new importance today as our generation rediscovers the heritage of Hometown USA,” the ad pitch reads. People bought the message, hook, line and sinker. Ninety percent of the land in Christmas Valley was sold within three months of Phillips’ arrival here.

In an October 1961 article that appeared in the Ruralite, Phil Washington, Phillips’ General Project Manager, stated that “H-bomb jitters and the war scare” were partly responsible for prompting people to move from Los Angeles to a remote place like Christmas Valley. “Our idea is to fulfill a need that is rapidly developing in Southern California. There’s too much congestion. People want to get away. They want to get back to the farm, to the ranch,” Washington said.

The rich and rapacious M. Penn Phillips was the embodiment of the American spirit in his day, and his heart did often seem to be in the right place. During World War II Phillips was enormously successful as vice-chairman of the southern California war bond drives, although he was paid only one dollar per year for the four years he did the job.

In 1963 Phillips paid $55,000 for materials to improve Arrow Gap Road that now links Christmas Valley to highway 31 near Silver Lake. Lake County personnel completed the work in this unusual cooperative venture in which Phillips supplied 681 tons of asphalt. In 1962 Phillips donated ten acres for the future site of an elementary school, and in 1964 an article describes how he paid for five children to attend a 4-H education program at Oregon State University. A 20 acre site in Christmas Valley was donated for “schools and churches,” and in 1963 Phillips donated some of the materials for the building of the church.

“The nastiest thing my mother ever said about anybody was, ‘They’re just renters.’”
-M. Penn Phillips

Carlo Giuntini, President of the M. Penn Phillips Company and son-in-law of the man behind the dream, called Christmas Valley “the town that had to be built.” It was true that by 1963 all of the developers’ goals had been met, perhaps save one. The construction projects were complete and most of the land had been sold, but where were all the people? Where was the bustling main street? The census of 1963 reports 57 families and 203 people living in Christmas Valley. Most were employed as surveyors, road builders, or other service jobs for the Phillips company.

“Our company enjoys the enviable reputation of completing any community it undertakes to develop,” Phillips said from a 1963 column that carries a reassuring undertone. “Have you ever thought why a town grows in a certain spot? Someone builds it,” he wrote. Perhaps Phillips was trying to reassure himself? Yet, by the end of 1964 there were only 34 telephone customers in Christmas Valley. An ad in the Oregonian in that year proclaimed, “For almost 50 years, M. Penn Phillips has accurately forecast when and where land values would increase most rapidly. Now this pioneer developer pinpoints Christmas Valley, Oregon as the best land investment opportunity in the United States today.”

On May 31, 1962, Phillips’ sales manager in Bend told the Oregonian that the company was now stressing the area as suitable for retirement and that it would take too much of an investment (an estimated $25,000) to make an ordinary-size ranch profitable. What he neglected to say to prospective retirees was that, in the 1960’s, it might cost over $10,000 to install electricity if land was three miles from the nearest power pole. In those days the company was still claiming to expect completion of the development and the arrival of 5,000 people by 1965, and almost got its wish with the dawning of that year and the proposal of the Ontario to the Ocean Highway.

“O.T.T.O.,” as it was called, would have connected the Oregon towns of Ontario, Burns, Wagontire, Christmas Valley, Silver Lake, Roseburg, and Coos Bay with one continuous stretch of interstate. Hopes ran high that the creation of this new super highway would allow farmers in Christmas Valley to truck their crops to the Coos Bay harbor and sell them to overseas buyers at a premium. The highway, proposed in 1965, was never completed. Over 56 miles of the proposed route consisted of Lake County roads that needed considerable upgrading.

Prior to the arrival of the M. Penn Phillips Development Company, the only land grab to strike our valley within written record occurred in the late 1800’s when promoters blatantly misrepresented the land to lure settlers. One railroad company published a prospectus that claimed, “The soil consists of a rich black loam and grows wheat, which will average 60 bushels to the acre. All varieties of fruit...and berries grow in abundance.” The Pacific Land Company of Lakeview claimed the area contained “Thousands of acres of the finest grain and fruit lands on earth.” From 1908 to1916 the population of Christmas Valley went from 25 to over 1,000 persons, but lack of rain, the harsh climate, and the short growing season made farming nearly impossible. Hundreds left, and the area went into a steady decline after World War I ended in 1918.

Some farmers tried to make a go of it from 1900 to 1930 when large areas were cleared and planted in dry land crops, but these too were later abandoned when farmers discovered that rainfall was inadequate and the aquifer was inaccessible. In 1955 the arrival of electricity to Christmas Lake Valley prompted some growth and the start of alfalfa irrigation.

According to an article in the Oregon Journal in April of 1963, Phillips had arrived in Christmas Valley in 1961 on the heels of a 160 day license suspension by the state of California against his development company and eight of its members--a period of time that he later euphemistically referred to as his “retirement.”

“Sold out completely and retired...for three months. That is, sold Hesperia and Salton...” Phillips wrote in the March 1962 first edition of the Christmas Valley Gazette and his first installment of Penn Points. According to the Oregon Journal, the suspension stemmed from “substantial misrepresentation in land sales and failure to exercise reasonable control over sales personnel.”

“Now I’m off...on what I consider the most intriguing development of my long career in real that I believe will give the most profit and satisfaction to my clients,” Phillips wrote of his new venture in Christmas Valley.

In September of 1961 Phillips prints copies of a document called the “Christmas Valley Information Report” and requires that all prospective land buyers read, sign and date it before putting money down on land. “The lands being offered are undeveloped acreage. Any representations other than those contained in this report are not authorized by the M. Penn Phillips Company,” read the disclaimer on Phillip’s report, which went on to outline things such as the presence of utilities, future development, climate, availability of ground water, and suitable crops. Signed affidavits from longtime valley residents such as well drillers and ranchers in August of 1961 testify to the availability of water and suitable agricultural pursuits like alfalfa, grain, cattle, sheep and horses.

By March of 1962 the Statesman newspaper from Salem reports that some of Phillips’ visions of what “could be” in Christmas Valley, like artists’ depictions of small farms with deep grass and large trees, are in question; his methods were under fire. “Already the Real Estate Commission is planning recommendations for new laws to give the state more control over subdivisions and their advertising. The Christmas Valley development has been the chief incentive,” the article states.

The Bend Bulletin took the nearly identical course and wrote, “This newspaper objected loudly to the original promotion of the area, which we felt was misleading. As a result of our protests, which were joined by others around the state, action is being taken which could cure some of the evils in the original promotion. The M. Penn Phillips Company, promoters of the project, has voluntarily removed much that we found objectionable in its promotional material. Our objection to the original Christmas Valley advertising and publicity was that it painted the Christmas Lake area as a veritable Garden of Eden, located in a banana belt, with low priced land which would provide sufficient side income to augment retirement resources. And this is a far fetched picture, as anyone familiar with the country is aware.”

“A man has to take a chance. Buy something that looks good at the moment and hold onto it. These were things I guess I was doing right; plunging headlong into something I believed in, even if others didn’t,” Phillips wrote in March of 1968. According to a Willamette Week article of September 1979, Phillips at the age of 86, “abandoned” the venture in 1973. At the time only a few dozen people had moved here, and most of the land had changed hands and was being bought by Willamette Valley residents.

The decade that followed saw marked growth in Christmas Valley, leaving some to wonder if Penn Phillips’ dream was more mistimed than it was misbegotten. During the three year period from 1979 to 1981, prices on alfalfa doubled, spawned by a shortage of hay. The high protein content of Christmas Valley alfalfa was in demand. The State Water Resources Department issued 13 loans for irrigation projects during this time, and the state land board changed their management policy away from “grazing only” and began allowing development of land for crops and leasing it for agriculture. In 1980 more than 8,000 acres were reportedly transformed to alfalfa fields, hearkening back to Phillips’ depictions of small farms with deep grass. A Chamber of Commerce Publication in 1982 proclaims that barley, potatoes, mint and sunflowers were also being planted.

“Oddly enough, by looking back you can see the road ahead.”

-M. Penn Phillips

By 1995 land sales in Christmas Valley still consisted mainly of smaller improved parcels being sold to people from the Willamette Valley and Washington state. An Oregonian article of that year reports that realtors here who had been waiting twenty years to see the valley grow were seeing properties selling before they could make it into their listing books.

“This raw land, starting from scratch, is going to be turned into a marvelous, integrated community. It’s ideal for rural retirement,” Phillips said of Christmas Valley in 1961.

The senior population of the United States is predicted to rise to 97 million by 2010 and 115 million by 2015. By 2030, those 65 or older will make up 20% of the U.S. population. According to a new report by Lend Lease Real Estate Investments of New York, the aging of America is likely to be the most important demographic trend in the next 50 years, which will have a significant impact on the real estate industry. The report predicts that “today's affluent baby boomers are likely to live longer than their parents, travel more, and move to senior-friendly locations.” Many developers are predicting explosive growth for the construction and real estate industries in the years to come. One Florida developer interviewed in 2000 stated, “"By 2002, they'll drive this market to unprecedented highs--all the way to 2015. Twice as many babies were born in 1946 as in 1934. Lately, I've been selling houses mostly to people born from 1934 to 1938."

Getting a toe hold in Christmas Valley is not quite the challenge that it once was for people looking for a place to retire. With the advent of fuel-efficient cars, cellular phones, mini dishes, and electronic mail, no-one has to feel isolated anymore. Even electricity itself has become more attainable, and great advances have been made toward making solar and wind power more practical. Was M. Penn Phillips mistaken in his dream for Christmas Valley? Were his predictions completely wrong? Maybe all he needed was a little more time and a little more technology.