For many years, the tinkling of a bell in the forests surrounding Kamela greeted hunters and loggers traveling through the Blue Mountains east of Pendleton. The ghostly sound, and reports of voices heard among the trees, gave rise to a legend that haunted the region for many years. Those who heard the bell often kept it to themselves so as not to be branded lunatics.
Time magazine on July 16, 1951, reported that lumberjacks clearing the right-of-way for a power line from Bonneville Dam brought down a towering Ponderosa pine near the former hamlet of Kamela and found a bell attached by a shriveled leather thong to a branch high in the top of the tree. Residents of Kamela suggested that the bell might have been hung by a Swiss pioneer when the tree was very small. The hand-hammered bronze cowbell, four inches high and three inches in diameter, was cast in 1848 in the northwest Swiss town of Saignelegier by bellmaker Chiantel. The bells were said to have graced the necks of Willamette Valley dairy cattle owned by early pioneers of Oregon country, according to the book “The Bell of Kamela” by Lillian Budd, published in 1960.
After the finding of the Kamela Bell, five Portland residents came forward claiming to own one of the bells. And a July 21, 1951 article in the East Oregonian brought local bell owners out of the woodwork as well.
Several bells were in the hands of Pendleton residents. Roger Kay owned one of the bells, found by his mother in 1915 at Mohler, near Tillamook. Roy Johnson found one about 10 miles west of Ukiah at the base of a tree while on a cattle drive. George Perry and his wife found one in what they called “old trash.” And Bruce Williams, an employee of Harris Pine Mills, found one while loading sheep near Denver, Colo. He owned a collection of bells and had originally planned to learn to play them, “but I got side-tracked with other things and never learned,” he said. The Blaine Noble family of Hermiston also kept track of a pet sheep with a Saignelegier bell.
A Portland historian had another theory as to how the Kamela bell may have ended up atop the tree. She said her father, a lighthouse keeper on Puget Sound, kept 36 cows and each of them had a Saignelegier bell. As a child one of her chores was to search for lost bells in the pasture. She frequently found them tangled in small trees; she said the leather straps, after rubbing on the sharp edge of the bell’s housing, often snapped and flung the bells among the branches while the cattle grazed.