Monday, November 25, 2013

Twenty-first birthday celebration held for unique resident

Kathryn Searcy of Pendleton held a special 21st birthday celebration in December of 1963 — so special, in fact, that the East Oregonian sent two reporters to cover the party for the Dec. 4 edition.

The twist? Blackie, the birthday boy (or girl), was a goldfish.

Searcy knew the fish was 21, she said, because “when my grandson Steven was a baby he used to watch the fish, and Steven will be graduating from college.” Blackie had outlived three bowl-mates in his long life.

For the celebration, Searcy placed a photo of Steven next to Blackie’s bowl, and one of the reporters brought a cupcake. Blackie, however, didn’t seem interested in the festivities.

The articles about Blackie’s birthday, especially the one written by Carolyn Frown, were quite tongue-in-cheek, but the reality of goldfish ownership is that these inexpensive beauties can become longtime companions. According to The Goldfish Tank (, goldfish can live an incredibly long time with proper care. WikiHow cites a Guinness Book of World Records fish that lived 43 years after being won at a fair in England in 1956. Most goldfish, however, live for just a few years (some much less than that) because they are not treated with the same care as other, more expensive pets.

The best start to owning a goldfish (or any pet, for that matter) is to buy from a quality store or private breeder. Goldfish also need a lot of room, so a big tank is essential. As with any fish, filtration, aeration and regular changing of the water will ensure the fish’s living environment is optimal. And proper nutrition will ensure your goldfish leads a long, healthy life. The Internet has lots of great information on getting a great start with goldfish, and your local pet store also is a good source of advice.

Fish also need mental stimulation. Add plants and other decorations to spruce up the tank. Goldfish also can be trained to eat from your hand and perform simple tricks.

It’s a shame that goldfish are often considered “throw-away” pets, since owning a fish tank can provide a relaxing atmosphere in any home, and goldfish are an inexpensive way to get started. So the next time you’re at the county fair and win yourself a goldfish in a plastic bag, consider that you might just be bringing home a longtime companion, and treat it as such.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

John Day tapped for bullfrog ranch

Eastern businessmen thought Grant County was the perfect place to start a new ranching enterprise in 1937, but they weren’t interested in the usual livestock. R.J. Paul returned to John Day in November of that year to check up on “plantings” of bullfrogs, Rama catesbeiana, that had been placed in ponds just outside of the city a few years prior, and “marveled at the size attained by the amphibians.”

A Nov. 27, 1937, story in the East Oregonian interviewed Paul, who said the bullfrogs would be shipped to several markets, including restaurants and private homes for French cuisine gourmands and laboratories for medical and drug research. Tentative plans had been made to place about 1,000 two-year-old bullfrogs in ponds outside John Day for breeding stock. Shallow ponds left by dredgers were perfectly suited to the breeding of bullfrogs, according to Paul. Bullfrogs can reach 8 inches long and weigh up to 1.5 pounds by the time they are fully mature, about five years old, and can live as long as 40 years — barring freezing, drying out or begin eaten by other wildlife.

A further benefit for area residents was touted by Paul — a reduction in the mosquito population. Mature frogs derive much of their food from mosquitoes and other insects, but also eat birds, snakes, mice and fish. Bullfrogs only eat moving prey, but they will eat almost anything that fits in their mouths.

Male bullfrogs are also very territorial and cannibalistic, eating smaller bullfrogs if they can, and tadpoles also prey on each other. A publication by the Missouri Department of Conservation says that a mature bullfrog will defend as much as 20 feet of shoreline as its “exclusive hunting preserve.” Which means that anyone wanting to raise bullfrogs commercially would need either a lot of shoreline or a way to keep them from eating each other.

Of course, when you introduce a non-native species to a new area, trouble often follows. A bullfrog’s native habitat is in the southern and eastern parts of the United States. These transplanted monsters have, understandably, taken over many of the habitable areas of the John Day River system, and often out-compete Pacific tree frogs, western and spade foot toads and other native amphibian species for food and breeding grounds. Bullfrogs are, however, classified as a game fish in Oregon, so if you have a hankering for frog’s legs, you’ll be doing the area a favor if you grab a bucket and catch yourself some dinner (just be sure to follow state fishing guidelines).

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Sheep losers in battle over grazing land

The Oregon Woolgrowers’ Association came to Pendleton in September 1902 for its annual convention, with 50 members from all sections of the state attending the meeting. Among the attendees was E.F. Day, one of the largest sheep owners in Morrow county, whose story in the Sept. 16 edition of the East Oregonian highlighted the range wars between sheepmen and others needing grazing land for their animals.

Day reported that he had 2,400 yearling ewes on summer range on Greenhorn Mountain near Susanville in August of 1902. Early in the morning of the 27th, a dozen men with their faces blackened came into the camp just before breakfast. Some held the camp tender and shepherd at gunpoint while others started shooting into the herd, killing or wounding 30 ewes. The men then told Day’s employees to move the sheep off the range immediately before disappearing.

As soon as the men were gone, the camp tender rode into Susanville to report the attack to Day by telephone. He noticed several men in town who still had traces of lamp black on their faces.

Day rode to the camp four days later, and minutes after he arrived the herder ran into camp to say a large number of men had surrounded the sheep. Before Day could reach the herd the shooting began, and only when he told the vigilantes he was moving the sheep immediately did they cease firing. At least 300 sheep were killed during the second incident, and many more were wounded and had to be put down.

The sheep grower posited that the guilty parties were miners wanting the grazing land for their pack horses. He added, “As yet, the officers seem to have made little or no effort to apprehend the guilty parties.”

Throughout Eastern Oregon the story was the same for many years, and not just sheep paid with their lives. Shepherds and their dogs also were killed when owners dug in their heels and refused to give way to cattle and other livestock. And sheep required a lot of land — in 1901 nearly 4 million sheep covered the ranges, according to C.J. Millis, general livestock agent of the O.R. & N. Company, which transported local wool and meat to buyers across the U.S.