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Ernest Caldwell “Ernie” Messner

Ernest Caldwell “Ernie” Messner (1913 - 20__)

Ernest Caldwell “Ernie” Messner was born September 18, 1924 in Adel, Oregon to Karl and Helen Caldwell Messner. He was raised there in a house he describes as being behind the Adel store. The house had no electricity, telephones or plumbing. Ice was cut from the creek back in the days when 40 below was nothing and stored in the ice house. When he was going to school the family had cows to milk every day and night and they brought their groceries at the Adel store (the same one that is there now) where 'they sold everything.'

Ernie's first paying job was in 1932 working for a hay contractor that was stacking hay at the ZX Ranch in Paisley, Oregon. He worked 45 days, 10 hours a day 'hooking nets and pulling ropes', a job he describes as: 'they buck hay on them nets, and then you hook a cable, and they pull it up and I jumped on a horse and pulled 'em back, and that went on all day.' He earned 95 cents a day and room and board.

In 1933 Ernie worked for the same hay contractor around Lakeview, Crooked Creek, the XL Ranch and back to Adel to stack hay for the MC Ranch. He worked this same job each summer and in 1935 was a month late for school because he couldn't leave the job.

In 1936 Ernie's father had cut 1000 posts for the MC. Ernie's job was to haul the posts from McGrew Creek to Parsnip Springs. He had four horses and two wagons and would go one day and load, then go the next day and unload. He was 15 years old at the time.

In 1936 Kittridge bought the MC and the ranchers around Adel ran out of hay in a bad winter. Ernie went with Jim Wakefield, Hugh Cahill and Bill Kirby and drove cattle from Adel to Lakeview. It took three days and the cattle were loaded on the train at Lakeview. Ernie and Jim rode all the way back to Adel that night in the cold.

In 1937 he went to work for the MC and helped take the cattle to the desert. A typical day on the desert began at daylight and a group of about 6 cowboys would gather up to 50 cows, brand the calves, and go bunch up some more, brand them and continue on until afternoon. They were usually in for dinner by 3:00 in the afternoon and then would shoe a horse, repair tack or other such work and then go to bed. The work was seven days a week. When the calves were branded, the crew returned to the ranch for haying and then got a bunch of cows ready to take to Summer Lake. The trip took eight days with horses and a chuck wagon.

In 1937 Ernie and the crew left the MC driving 2000 head of cattle to the Klamath Marsh. They left the day after Thanksgiving and arrived at the Marsh on December 9th. Ernie was asked to stay to help with the cattle and ended up staying on until September 1, 1940. He had planned to go back to school, but Ross Dollarhide, the MC buckaroo boss asked him to come to work for him.

Ernie married Norma Matthews in 1946 in Reno, Nevada during 'rodeo time.' By then Ernie had made a name for himself as a rodeo cowboy. He first rode in the cow riding at Lakeview (there was no bull riding then) in 1940. For several years he entered the bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, calf roping and team roping. Besides Lakeview, he went to rodeos in Klamath Falls and Medford, Oregon, Cedarville, California and Winnemucca, Nevada. He entered the bull riding in Lakeview around 1942, but that was the only time he got on a bull. He was the all around cowboy in Lakeview for four years.

Ernie and Norma first lived south of Adel on the Robinson place. They went 'out towards Denio' in 1948 to take care of Norma's father's cows but it didn't 'pan out' and when Mr. Kittredge and his grandson came out and asked Ernie to come back to the MC, he and Norma returned to Adel and stayed there until 1954.

In 1954 he went to work for Harry Schadler at Cow Head and stayed there until his son, Tim, was old enough to start school. The either had to board him out in Ft. Bidwell or make a very long trip to the school, which would have been hard in the winter. So they left there and went for a short time to work on a ranch in Prairie City. When they left Prairie City Ernie went to the Lake Ranch in Silver Lake where they stayed until 1984. They then went to the ZX and stayed until it was sold to Simplot.

Ernie served as a brand inspector from 1962 until 2004, a job for which he was well-suited with his knowledge of cattle and his acquaintances and friendships with area ranchers who respected him greatly.

More recently, Ernie's efforts to preserve the ranching history of Lake County have resulted in many contributions to the Historic Village at the Lake County Fairgrounds. Ernie's memories of the earlier ranches and residents of the county are a treasure that is preserved by the Lake County Historical Society.

At the time of this writing, Ernie still resided in Lake County and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009.

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