Drewsey Rural Community
A Brief History
In 1883, Gabriel “Gabe” Rush, erected a building on the North Fork of the Malheur River at the foot of the Blue Mountains southwest of Castle Rock. Abner Robbins and E.E. Perrington started a general store inside this first structure. The men filed for land for a town site and applied for a post office. It was then that the town of Drewsey officially came into existence.
Prior to that time, the area had been a favorite camping spot for the Paiute Indians, who fished for salmon in the river, hunted deer, and foraged for bitter-root, biscuit root, wild carrots, wild onions and other foods.
In 1872, a federal executive order designated the region, drained by the three forks of the Malheur River – about 2,285 square miles – as the Malheur Indian Reservation for “all the roving and straggling bands in eastern and southeastern Oregon, which can be induced to settle there.” The white-men’s Indian agency headquarters was located south of Castle Rock on the eastern boundary. The Paiutes were encouraged to become farmers and to learn under the agent’s supervision, the ways of “English speaking people,” as the Indian people describe the cultural differences. Military and freight roads from Harney City and Canyon City served the area.
The reservation included about 12,000 acres that were considered tillable. During the Bannock Indian War of 1878 the Paiutes scattered to reservations in Idaho, Nevada and California. The Indian prisoners held at Camp Harney, and their families, were taken to Yakima, Washington as punishment for joining the Bannocks’ uprising as they rampaged through Harney Valley.
Settlers began to eye the reservation lands. As early as 1882, people were acquiring “squatters’ rights” to the land around Drewsey. In 1883, with the exception of Camp Harney, the last of the Malheur Indian lands were restored to the public domain. The “squatters” and other newcomers were able to file claims on the land. From that time on, Drewsey grew quite rapidly for several years, becoming a typical “cow town”. The Pacific Livestock Company acquired considerable holdings in the area and became the principal employer. With an abundance of crops and livestock being raised, two lumber mills in operation, and various smaller enterprises beginning, the town continued to grow and prosper through the 1920’s.
Failure of the railroad to come through Drewsey from Juntura, bypass of the Central Oregon Highway, the Depression, and the demise of the Pacific Livestock Company, all contributed to the decline of Drewsey. Drewsey has gone the way of many of the earlier towns. Today there is a combined garage, store and post office, and a tavern and restaurant. About a dozen occupied homes remain.
Drewsey continues to serve as the local gathering place for surrounding areas. The school is still operating, the two churches have services each week, and the gymnasium is used for school activities, meetings, and other community activities. Fishermen are plentiful during the summer, although the catch today is trout. Salmon can no longer reach the Malheur River because of dams and other changes in the river system of northeastern Oregon. Fall brings an influx of hunters into the area.
The unincorporated community of Drewsey has a zoning designation of Rural Community (RC). The zoning for this community provides for a multitude of uses although space may be limited.