Forest Service veteran presents Santiam Wagon Road history to museum organizers

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local
Despite increasing fears about catching coronavirus, residents of Lebanon and the surrounding area did not hesitate to fill a room to hear Tony Farque speak about the history of the Santiam Wagon Road on March 10.
The Lebanon Museum hosted Farque at the library community room, drawing a full-house audience to listen to the storyteller’s knowledge and funny quips about the development and preservation of the Santiam Wagon Road from the 1800s to present day.
In the 1990s, Farque and Ann Rogers, who sat on the Oregon Historical Trails Advisory Council, identified and worked to preserve parts of the historical Santiam Wagon Road, a nearly 400-mile path that helped establish settlements in central and eastern Oregon.
“We determined it’s not just a narrow strip of passage,” Farque said. “It really reflects the corridor of travel and cultural use through time.”
Before there was a road made by settlers, there was a trail, he explained. Trappers and travelers began making their way through the Santiam Pass, and then came the gold rush.
Luther Elkins formed the Willamette Valley Cascade Mountain Logging Road Company, which became what is now known as the Santiam Wagon Road.
Entrepreneurs invested in the roadway, and toll gates were established. A wagon with four horses could pass through for $6, and 50 cents was charged per head of cattle.
“Once you got to the toll gate, the gates were made of large timbers crudely roughed out. (There were) big posts, a sign that tells you what to do, a big padlock and big chains.”
Passersby had to find the gatekeeper and pay the fee, and receive a ticket that would allow them through the gate at the other end of the road, Farque said. Rest stops, fun times and tragedy made their marks along the passageway during its 74 years of use.

Guests peruse the many items Farque shared during his presentation.

Farque dropped more than two dozen names and stories that make up the history of Santiam Wagon Road, and changed hats, quite literally, throughout the presentation.
The presentation Farque’s second time speaking for the Lebanon Museum’s “Our Lebanon Story” series. The foundation’s goal is to find a building to house local artifacts, and to continue offering educational presentations.
“I think one of the things that’s gonna help us succeed is doing programs like this, because it’s not just about a building,” said Paul Aziz, who sits on the foundation’s board of directors.
“It was really nice to see so many people,” Aziz said. “It’s just exciting, the passion for the history of the area is here, and we’re fulfilling a purpose, I think.”