Bend, Ore.'s, Authentic Pioneer

Bill Armstrong as Oregon pioneer Hiram Blair

Bend’s own high desert sage: Bill Armstrong as Hiram Blair.

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The Blair family ranch near Bend, Ore., is buzzing over the rivalry for the presidential nomination—between James Garfield and Ulysses S. Grant, that is. (Spoiler: Garfield wins.) Around here it’s perpetually 1880, and the ranch (a barn, cabin, and corral) is just one piece of the High Desert Museum (541-382-4754). Curator of Living History Bill Armstrong—known around the ranch as Hiram Blair—is just one of 30 staff members and volunteers who transform themselves into schoolmarms, miners, and other historical characters.

Q What'’s your role in 1880?
A I’m the brother of the ranch owner. I run a small freight business, so I spend a lot of time talking about wagons, mules, and shipping charges.

Q What else goes on at the ranch?
A Mrs. Blair—my sister-in-law—runs the place. She makes bread and candles.

Q What kind of clothing do you wear?
A It's authentic down to the underwear. I wear a vest and a frock coat. Mrs.Blair wears a petticoat and a corset, which was the fashion even though our nearest neighbor is five miles away.

Q Do you get along with futuristic visitors from 2008?
A Some people try to debunk us. They'll say, "That's not the way my grandparents would have done things." We say, "Interesting, but this is how we do it in the high desert in 1880."

Q Would you have made a good pioneer?
A I could see myself homesteading. The cities in 1880 were dangerous places, and it would have been a rewarding life. But I would have done it somewhere else. This area was 9,000 square miles of nothing.

Q Which is a better time to be alive, 1880 or 2008?
A I’m a fan of cheeseburgers, email, and antibiotics, so 2008.

Photography courtesy High Desert Museum

This article was first published in July 2008. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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