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Poplar Giants of Antelope, OR

Some friends and I were recently talking about the strange energy in Antelope, OR which is decidedly eerie if not foreboding.



Poised on the northern portion of the “Journey Through Time” Oregon Scenic Byway, Antelope has a tumultuous history - not that you would know it passing through today. It's barely a town at this point, with a population of 37 and its one café closed and dilapidated… the only apparent connection to the outside world being the post office which is housed in a small trailer. 


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I’ve passed through Antelope a couple of times now, and after the first trip through, I couldn't stop thinking about the giant poplar trees that tower over the main street, swallowing the ancient, spindly houses that seem to be fading before my eyes. Antelope isn’t a ghost town, but it seems to have become a shadow of a place - its memory preserved in the quivering leaves of the poplar trees.


Established in 1863, Antelope came into being as a freight wagon stop along the Dalles Military Road road, which transported gold from the gold mines in Canyon City to the Dalles. By the late 1800’s the vast grassy hills became a haven for sheep farmers, making Antelope the world’s center for wool exports. Antelope was booming, with seven saloons, four hotels, and its first school. But by the early 1900s, its brief boom was already in decline. 


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After a devastating fire that destroyed much of the town, came the violent range wars between sheep and cattle farmers. Disputes over land-use and the destructive nature of sheep grazing began with small acts of vandalism that quickly escalated to the mass slaughtering of sheep. This, coupled with the expansion of the railroad which diverted the town's freight traffic, brought Antelope’s economy into sharp decline.  


And then of course there were the Rajneesh. A cult following their mystic leader sought to create a utopia in the desert. Between 1981-1985 over 7,000 followers flooded the town. They took over Antelope and its government by outvoting the small, local population - changing the name of the town from Antelope to “Rajneesh.” I imagine the landscape once swarming with sheep, now swarming with long-haired devotees dressed in varying shades of red. But like the previous boom, this era was also short lived - collapsing after their criminal activity was discovered (spiking restaurants in the Dalles with salmonella in order to gain political power).


Taken by a storm, Antelope soon returned to its former state. Silent - save for the rustling of the poplar trees. 



Following my first drive through the town on my way home from Bend, I made a point of returning to get out and take more in. I had to see those trees again… 


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Upon returning it was as quiet as ever. Still - except for the poplar trees and a few locals out pruning them. “They’re a lot of work” one man told us as he tended the giants that surrounded his trailer home with care. 


Places like Antelope always mystify me. The way they can explode and implode all in the span of 100 years, leaving behind nothing but some dusty, forlorn buildings and a giant stand of poplar trees. The quiet nature of its streets makes it hard to believe that anything ever happened there, but that’s the amazing thing about trees. They live so much longer than us… they witness so much more - booms and busts, prosperity and disaster, peace and violence. The trees are living witnesses to our past and hold memories that long outlast our own.


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Further Reading:

"Antelope Oregon." Visit Oregon, https://www.visitoregon.com/cities/antelope-oregon/.

"Antelope." Historic the Dalles, https://historicthedalles.org/antelope/.

Jette, Melinda. “Central Oregon Range Wars.” Oregon History Project, Oregon Historical Society, 2004, www.oregonhistoryproject.org/articles/historical-records/central-oregon-range-wars.

Ramsey, Jarold. “City of Antelope and Muddy Ranch.” The Oregon Encyclopedia, 25 Feb. 2022, www.oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/city_of_antelope_muddy_ranch/.

"Stories of Oregon Ghost Towns: Antelope." Oregon Secretary of State, https://sos.oregon.gov/archives/exhibits/ghost/Pages/default.aspx.







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