Wandering pioneer family always returned to Central Oregon
Bess Morris was born in Red Bluff, California, on May 7, 1892. Her parents, Howard and Hester Bennett Morris, had previously settled in Crook County near Maury Mountain prior to her birth.
After she was born, the family yearned to return to the lush grasslands of Central Oregon. When she was two months old, they traveled by covered wagon from California back to their old home. Howard developed a ranch on Silver Creek in Harney County, where he ran sheep for five years.
Bess's mother convinced Howard that they needed to move to a community where the children could attend school. They moved to Lebanon, riding over the old Santiam Wagon Road. The trip took several days, with the family riding in a wagon and her two older brothers herding a loose herd of horses along the way.
After five years in Lebanon, the family again grew anxious to return to Crook County. When Bess was 10 years old, they again traveled by horse and wagon to the Maury community. Bess attended school in a one-room school where all eight grades were taught. As many as 10 students attended in three-month sessions.
When she was 18, Bess receive a teaching certificate after attending school in Prineville. She began teaching at Beaver Creek School and Maury School.
She met Dick Bryant, a wrangler working for Bruce Gray, near Post. They were married on Nov. 17, 1911. The young couple soon moved to Corvallis, again traveling in a covered wagon.
Two sons were born while living there. Once again, the urge to return to Central Oregon brought the family back. Dick and Bessie purchased a ranch near Paulina. They operated their ranch for several years. They retired from ranching in 1947 and moved into Prineville.
Bessie was selected as Crook County Pioneer Queen in 1967. She reminisced that she had spent 75 years in Crook County, going away from it and coming back to it.
Dick passed away on April 13, 1978. Bessie lived on for several years, living in the family home until her health deteriorated and required living in the Ochoco Nursing Home. She passed away on April 15, 1991. Both she and Dick are buried in Juniper Haven Cemetery in Prineville.
A historical note is that Bessie's granddaughter Donna Bryant Demaris was selected as Crook County Pioneer Queen in 2013.
Steve Lent is a local historian and assistant director of the Bowman Museum. He can be reached at: 541-447-3715.