Cowboys, wagons, miners, immigrants, homesteaders—all these and more made their way along the Oregon Trail in the 1800s in the hope of finding their dream—whether that was gold, cattle, a new business venture, or land—each person was drawn by their own individual vision. Baker City, Oregon, dubbed The Queen City of the Mines, was a booming mining town in the 1880s, but started as a small way-stop for supplies during the 1860s and early ’70s.
Baker City sits in a beautiful valley nestled between the Elkhorn and Wallowa Mountain ranges, with abundant grass for cattle, and from the mid 1860s on, gold and silver mining boomed in the surrounding hills. Walking the town and its outskirts was a delight, as the Powder River runs through the outer edge of the business district. I set my heroine’s boardinghouse a short walk away from the river, with the main business street a couple of blocks beyond.
During the early 1800s, the time Dreaming on Daisies is set, the town grew from 300 people (in the ’70s) to well over a thousand in the early 1880s. By 1890 it crested 2600, with miners and hangers-on pouring in and hoping to make their fortune, to its present-day population of nearly 10,000.
With 10 of my 11 books, my husband and I traveled to the area to do onsite research, in the hope of getting a deeper look into the history. In Baker City, we discovered a mix of the old and the new and were delighted to find a large museum, as well as the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center which history buffs would love, as it offers living history demonstrations.
Something that took us by surprise and is located just across the road from our motel was an old Chinese cemetery. Before visiting the town, I didn’t realize it had contained a sizeable Chinese population that was brought in to work the mines, and included a one-to-two block-long section of town built specifically for the workers and their families. That aspect of the story is included in my 162 pg novella in this series, Forget Me Not.
One of the things I loved about Baker City was the diversity. You’ll find the ornate Geiser Grand Hotel containing stained glass ceilings and fancy wood work, and then a few miles from town the valley contains expansive, rugged cattle ranches and barbed wire fences. The hotel wasn’t built until 1889 at the height of the gold rush, or I would have featured it in my series, as it was the most elegant hotel in the Northwest and it’s still in use today.
I discovered an interesting aspect about the hotel known to some of the locals. In its heyday, women of ill repute were brought in to entertain the wealthy miners and businessmen. Most of the bedrooms were on the second and third floor, and an open, circular hallway was visible from the ground floor. The circular railing curves around with rooms opening off of the hall. When the ladies of the town discovered their husbands visiting the Grand for not-so-respectable reasons, they would sit in the dining area. There, they could keep a hawk eye on the hallways and doors, as the dining area is open up to the stained glass ceiling three floors above. Finally, in desperation as his business was ebbing, the owner built an external stairway at the back of the building and snuck his customers up that way, thus avoiding the watchful eyes of the women.
All in all, our research trip to Baker City was charming, and most of the historic places open to tourists were a wonderful source of material as well as an inspiration. We found the people to be friendly and helpful, and stories about the area abound at every turn—truly a writer’s delight.
I hope you enjoyed learning about Baker City. Leave a comment and you’ll be entered in a drawing for a copy of Dreaming on Daisies.
Dreaming on Daisies—Just Released—Part of the Love Blossoms in Oregon Series
When her father’s debts, brought on my heavy drinking, threaten Leah Carlson’s family ranch, she fights to save it. When handsome banker Steven Harding must decline her loan request, he determines to do what he can to help. Just as he arrives to serve as a much-needed ranch hand, Leah’s family secrets—and the pain of her past—come to a head. They could destroy everything she’s fought for. And they could keep her from ever opening her heart again. This is historical romance that offers hope and healing to the deepest wounds in a woman’s past.
Miralee Ferrell is a multi-published, award-winning author of 11 books. She lives in the Pacific NW with her husband of 42 years, where they enjoy working in their yard and garden, riding horses and playing with their dogs. Two of Miralee’s books in the Love Blossoms in Oregon series are currently on sale—with Wishing on Buttercups offered FREE on all ebook formats until Oct. 4.