“Anytime I see something like this it’s a real thrill,” said regional historian Steve Lent as he carefully paged through the document in front of him. “This is probably one of the most important documents for the establishment of Culver.”
This document labeled “Abstract of Title to the following described real estate in Crook County, Culver Townsite” has been missing since the 1970s.
“This documents the whole process from homestead to becoming the town of Culver,” said Lent.
It seems this historic document got lost in the shuffle when Vernon Benson, Culver’s city recorder for a stretch during the 1970s, packed up his office and moved to Madras. Contacted at his current CPA office in Eugene, Benson had no idea he ever had possession of the document.
“I can’t remember what I had for dinner last night, much less something that happened decades ago,” said Benson.
When Benson served as city recorder, it was a part-time job. Culver didn’t have a city hall. Benson kept the city documents in his accounting office.
When he moved his business to Madras, he says, he had his office staff pack up his things.
Half a century later, friends found boxes of Benson’s files and decided to look through them before throwing anything out and discovered this treasure.
“Historically it would have been bad to have lost this,” said Lent. “I’m surprised it wasn’t locked in a vault somewhere.”
The second page of the document displays a plat map of the Culver township.
Turn the page to find the words, “Signed by the President: Theodore Roosevelt. ”Nowhere, however, does Roosevelt’s signature actually appear in this document.
Lent tells us that land office patents had to be approved by the president. Presumably, somewhere, Teddy Roosevelt signed a document confirming this title abstract.
The oldest date on this document goes back to 1907, but the story of Culver begins before that.
Originally settlers built the town of Culver near Haystack Butte, near what is now Haystack Reservoir on the ranch owned by Perry Read.
According to an entry local historian Jarold Ramsey wrote for the Oregon Encyclopedia, the town had a store, a blacksmith shop, a school and a hotel. It served as a stagecoach stop.
In the 1880s, the settlement went by the name of Perryville. Lent says when the town applied for a Post Office, the Postal Service didn’t like the name Perryville or the second choice, Collver (after resident O.G. Collver), and settled on the simplified name, Culver.
With news of the railroad coming to Central Oregon, the few residents of Culver decided to move the whole town west to take advantage of the prosperity a railroad certainly would deliver.
Which is where the found document picks up the story.
According to our found document, in 1908, the United States certifies to Daniel W. Swift, a 160 acre homestead "the southwest quarter of section 18, township 12 south, range 13 east of Willamette Meridian."
A few months earlier, our found document states, Swift appears to have purchased that homestead from a Laura E. Sandoz for $800, what would be about $25,000 in 2023. Lent speculates Swift may have mortgaged his homestead for cash and purchased it back from Laura Sandoz in 1908.
The following pages chronicle Swift selling portions of his land to Central Oregon Railroad and to the Deschutes Railroad Company.
Then few months later, Swift sold the property to J.C. Cockerham, who sold strips of land to the Oregon Trunk Railway.
Then in April of 1910, Cockerham conveyed some of the land to William Barber. Lent says Cockerham, Barber and a third man, Harold Lawrie, have long been considered the founders of Culver.
Sure enough, page 16, Barber declares that he has laid out the plat of Culver “consisting of lots, blocks, streets and alleys,” which the map labeled Culver Junction illustrates on page two.
The predicted prosperity indeed arrived with the railroad in 1911. Wheat farmers in the region built walls of grain sacks at the Culver depot waiting to transport their product to market, far better than driving their wares to Shaniko for shipment.
This gem of history sat in a dusty box, until someone curious or cautious or both decided to sort through the material before callously tossing it away.
Joanne Heare brought the document to the Culver City Council at their September 19 meeting and gifted it back to the city of Culver.
No one even knew that it had been missing.
No disputes went unsolved because the city recorder couldn’t consult this document.
No one knew what the yellowed pages meant, until the Pioneer asked Lent to shed his expertise on the material.
“This is their founding document,” said Lent, who says each page of this document should be stored between sheets of acid-free tissue paper. If the city displays the document, it should be protected from ultraviolet light.
Culver Mayor Bart Carpenter says he’ll likely bring the issue of how to handle the document to next City Council meeting.