Remember the American folktale about Babe the Blue Ox? You could say that Babe and his sidekick Paul Bunyan were a just a tad bit on the extra large size—gargantuan even. Recently, real life mimicked folklore when two supersized oxen calmly grazed inside a horse corral at Oregon Travel Experience’s Stanfield Rest Area. Travelers were eager to take a closer look at the real-life giants and learn more about them.
“I arrived at work and noticed two enormous animals in the corral, but I couldn’t tell for sure what they were,” said OTE Rest Area Specialist Jon Tucker. “I looked around and saw a rig nearby with a logo and the words ‘Old World Oxen’ in the parking lot, so I walked over and introduced myself to the truck’s owner.”
Tucker found himself face-to-face with a celebrity of Oregon history—“Bullwhackin’ Kass”—or as she’s known when she’s not in front of an audience, Sheryl Curtis. Curtis’ stage name honors three female bullwhackers from the Victorian era—Arizona Mary, Madam Knutson, and Calamity Jane—each who drove 16-head hitches throughout US territories and states.
Curtis trains the gentle giants (a breed called Brown Swiss Oxen) to help illustrate pioneer history. She established Old World Oxen Living History Company to introduce children and adults to life on the Oregon and California Trails. Oxen once pulled wagons across prairies and mountains, deserts and forests, one-step-at-a-time, in harrowing trips to new settlements in the Oregon Territory.
Moving at a faster pace, Curtis transports her 6-foot tall animals in a custom-built tractor-trailer, and participates in parades and living history camp demonstrations across Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. She teaches chuck-wagon cooking in a covered wagon replica that she designed, and fixed onto an original freighter undercarriage with wooden wheels.
Curtis especially enjoys helping children create historically accurate meals in cast iron Dutch ovens. She uses authentic recipes lifted from the pages of pioneer diaries, and they include items such as cricket soup, pancakes, hardtack, eggs, and mosquito bread—aptly named for a trail bread recipe that instructs bakers “If mosquitoes are thick, they can get into the dough and turn it black. There is nothing you can do about this.”
Although four-legged rest area visitors are not uncommon, Tucker noted that he was unusually impressed by Curtis and her oxen.
“She does this all by herself, including driving the big truck and trailer,” Tucker said. “She sleeps with her oxen in the trailer, travelling all over.”
On this recent stopover, Curtis was transporting her team home to Washington State from a demonstration at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Baker City.
Tucker added that amenities such as horse corrals are unusual at Oregon rest areas, and in fact, Stanfield Rest Area’s east and westbound corrals are the only ones within the state with viable livestock enclosures except for one other (located at the westbound Charles Reynolds Rest Area) near LaGrande. The corrals were built many years ago, most likely for livestock traveling to the annual Pendleton Round-Up in Eastern Oregon.
Animals of all kinds have passed through Stanfield’s corrals, including llamas, horses, bulls, and donkeys. All of OTE’s rest areas are the perfect place to stop for a bit of exercise and a short nap, whether the traveler boasts hide and hooves or paws and claws.
If you are traveling through Oregon with household pets such as cats, dogs, birds, etc., you are welcome to give them some fresh air and water at all of our locations. However, they must be kept on a leash, or restrained and contained by the owner, and exercised within officially signed pet areas. Out of courtesy to others, please remember to “scoop if they poop.” Pet waste bags are located within all of our rest areas for your convenience.
Check out other OTE rest stop amenities at http://ortravelexperience.com/news-press/safe-summer-vacation-driving-tips/. For more information about Old World Oxen Living History Company, write Sheryl Curtis, at Old World Oxen, 1212 Tunk Creek Road, Riverside, WA, 98849, or telephone 509-449-2977.