A 1956 land feud between Oregon state officials and members of the Stumbo family in Azalea, Ore., in the mid-1950s made local news when a Pendleton coffee klatch bought one of the infamous quit-claim deeds central to the dispute.
The Pendleton Coffee Club, a loose association of some 30 men who met at the Oregon Cafe for many years, came into possession of the deed for a four-square-inch piece of U.S. Highway 99 in Douglas County on Dec. 3, 1956. The deed, one of about 200, cost the club $2.
According to an April 23, 2011, article in the Oregonian by John Terry, the Stumbo clan began its residence in Douglas County in the late 19th century when Samuel Stumbo, a Civil War veteran, claimed a 160-acre plot on the Cow Creek watershed. Stumbo build a sawmill on the property, but had to buy a strip of land 16.5 feet wide across a neighbor’s property to access it. Ownership of the strip eventually passed to his grandsons Bob, Allan and Harry Stumbo and a cousin, Clair. The Stumbos learned in 1956 that when the Oregon Highway Department bought right of way on either side of their property in 1946 during improvements to Highway 99, they had neglected to acquire title to the strip of land. Over a few beers at the Wolf Creek Tavern, the brothers decided on an additional plan of action after receiving a bill of $1.50 for delinquent taxes for the strip.
On Aug. 12, 1956, the “Stumbo Strip,” as it was called, featured a large sign that warned access to the property could be revoked at any time. The brothers then strung a thick rope along the strip — across Highway 99 — which backed up traffic 400 deep on each side. The brothers passed out handbills claiming that, in order to repossess the land, it was necessary to temporarily close the road. They took down the sign and the rope 30 minutes later before state police arrived.
The following day, the Stumbos filed an application with the county to designate the strip a toll road. The state responded by offering the brothers $100 for the strip, plus interest from 1946. The brothers promptly listed the property with a real estate broker, touting the “highway frontage on two sides” and that it was located “at the end of the longest dead-end street in the West.”
When the state threatened to have the property condemned, the Stumbos “subdivided,” selling the four-square-inch sections for $2 each, $1.50 of which would go for the county filing fee and the rest to charity. The brothers reasoned that a bunch of costly condemnation suits would deter the state from acting on the case. The state threw Bob Stumbo in jail overnight for selling subdivision land before the plat was filed. The case was later dismissed.
During the condemnation hearing, where the Stumbos asked for $250,274 for the strip of land, the judge ruled that all the quit-claim deeds could be handled as one and the Douglas County Circuit Court awarded the clan $125. The state got the Stumbo Strip, and the brothers lost their appeal to the state Supreme Court.
The Pendleton Coffee Club hadn’t decided exactly what to do with their new property, but member Red Browns planned to record the deed while visiting Douglas County during the Christmas holidays. It was the first real property owned by the group, whose only other possession consisted of a golf trophy a team of its members won several years before at the Pendleton Country Club.