Pioneer on Bear Creek near Painted Hills
Thomas Jefferson Stephenson was born on Dec. 4, 1832 in Boone County, Kentucky. He grew up in Kentucky. He met Maryette (Mary) Austin. She was born in Illinois on Nov. 19, 1846 in Illinois. They began courting and were married on June 15, 1861. They moved to Oregon near Harrisburg in the mid-1860s. Two sons were born there.
In the 1870s, they decided to move to Central Oregon and try their luck at ranching. They settled on Bear Creek in what was then Wasco County. Their homestead was located a few miles west of Painted Hills. Thomas patented a homestead claim on Bear Creek on March 1, 1889. Another son and daughter were born while living on Bear Creek. His sons also patented claims in the immediate area. They initially raised sheep and extended summer grazing on to the forested land of the Ochoco Mountains and on the forested slopes of a mountain just north of their homestead ranch. The mountain became known as Stephenson Mountain.
A mining flurry began on upper Ochoco Creek in the early 1880s and Thomas became involved in the mining activity near the Mayflower Mine. The mining never became a major operation, but it did produce some gold and silver. Thomas did not stay in the mining operation long.
Gradually, he began to transition from sheep to a cattle business. The transition took place during the period that became known as the Sheep and Cattle Wars of Central Oregon. He was well known in the Mitchell vicinity and often made visits to the community. His ranch was in Crook County when the new county was created in 1882.
The family continued to live on Bear Creek for several years. Thomas died on May 27, 1898. He was buried in the West Branch Cemetery west of Mitchell. Mary lived on for several years and died in Mitchell on Jan. 23, 1936. She was buried beside Thomas in West Branch Cemetery.
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