From the Publisher's Desk: The true story behind the Antelope fire of 1960-something

By Michele Grgas Thomas The Triplicate July 21, 2010 02:58 pm

Rick found this road sign on the ground on a trip to Antelope. It’s now yard art in our garden.
Rick found this road sign on the ground on a trip to Antelope. It’s now yard art in our garden.
I’ve only known Rick for 12 years, so there are still stories he has never gotten around to telling me. Sunday morning over breakfast I was sharing my concerns about security at our printing plant. There was a suspicious brush fire nearby last week and then Saturday night we discovered a gentleman using the hose around back to, in his words, “clean up.”

Rick told me to be sure that there was nothing around that could be used to start a camp fire. “Because,” he said, “you wouldn’t want another Antelope.”

Antelope, Oregon (population 59 in the 2000 census), is located near the town of John Day in the north-central part of the state. Antelope was incorporated in 1871 and bustled with stagecoaches, miners, cattlemen and sheepmen. A fire in 1898 destroyed most of the town, but it was quickly rebuilt. However, the railroad bypassed Antelope and laid its tracks in the nearby new community of Shaniko leaving Antelope to become a ghost town.

Lifelong Antelope resident John Silvertooth owned the Idle Hours Saloon and also served as mayor, barber, justice of the peace and town clerk between the 1920s and the 1970s. Rancher Leo Hahn and his son Dick along with a partner owned the Muddy Ranch (which became known as The Big Muddy) just 18 miles from Antelope. The Hahns were good friends of Rick’s dad.

Through the 1950s and early 1960s Rick accompanied his dad on deer hunting expeditions on Muddy Ranch, which covered nearly 65,000 acres. After a day of hunting, the men would stop on the way home at Silvertooth’s saloon for a beer or two.

Silvertooth ran his saloon like a tourist attraction. He boasted quite a collection of antiques and Antelope memorabilia. When someone asked to buy this or that, he responded “all or nuthin’,” Rick said. And so, all his collectibles decked the halls and walls of the Idle Hours.

Coming back from hunting at Muddy Ranch one day, Rick and his dad stopped at the saloon. Some ranchers sat at the bar and at a corner table some ranch hands sat looking down and out. By that time grazing pastures were sparse and the livestock operation was fading. These men were probably out of work and out of cash. One of them asked Rick’s dad if he’d had any luck hunting. They had. Then the fellow asked if Rick’s dad would share some venison.

Not wanting to butcher his deer at Silvertooth’s saloon, Rick’s father, who owned a wholesale meat business, offered the ranch hands beef wieners from his ice chest. He gave them all he had, then he and Rick headed back to Portland.

A few days later they heard the news: John Silvertooth was OK, but his saloon and everything in it had burned to the ground. Some ne’er-do-wells cooking hot dogs behind the saloon had set the place on fire.

A few years later Muddy Ranch was purchased for $5.75 million by the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. His followers, called Rajneeshees, attempted to develop a city and grew to a population of 7,000. A bitter battle over land use ensued and Antelope became the hot spot.

But that is a story you can read about in history books. The real story about how John Silvertooth’s Idle Hours Saloon in Antelope burned to the ground has not made it onto Google or anywhere else I could find. But Rick knows. He and his dad were the last people to see it still standing before a wiener roast took it down. 

Reach Michele Thomas, The Daily Triplicate’s publisher, at mthomas @trip li cate .com, 464-2141, or stop by 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.