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The Hawley Ranch Story

Hawley Ranch is owned and operated by 5th generation family members, Bill and Sharon Hoyt. In 2002, the family celebrated 150 years of ranching on the same ground as their Hawley ancestors have since 1852. This is Bill Hoyt’s personal history of the ranch beginning with his ancestors coming west to present day ranching at one of Oregon’s oldest family operating ranches, Hawley Ranch.


Heading West

Our story begins with the founder of Hawley Ranch and family patriarch, Ira Hawley (born in New York, 1816). In 1848 Ira was farming with his wife, Elvira Riley Hawley, in Rome, Illinois when gold was discovered in California. Gold fever struck Ira; in 1859 he and a friend headed for California to claim their fortune. He did not return to his family until January of 1852. Ira’s first odyssey across the country is a story unto itself.

Ira would later write that he felt gaining title to land in California would be legally burdensome and that Oregon held better promise. In the spring of 1852, he loaded his family of three young boys, ages 9, 4 and 2, along with his wife in a wagon. Their team consisted of 5 head of cattle and 2 saddle horses.

Little did they know that their epic wagon trail journey west to Oregon would begin a lasting legacy for the Hawley family for generations.

Establishing Roots in Ranching

After months of travel and hardship, Ira set down “stakes” in our present location some 6 miles south of what is now the town of Cottage Grove. Our family is lucky to have numerous stories, written by Ira and other family members, which detail the crossing and eventual final destination. Ira explained that on the journey down the Willamette Valley in the fall of 1852 from Oregon City to what is now Creswell “all the good places were taken.”

The land that Ira secured and where our ranch is now located is the spot which marks the division between the waters of the Umpqua and Willamette Rivers. Over the generations, old time residents have referred to us as the “ranch at divide” where Ira Hawley found good water, good grass and what would become a crossroad for progress.

True to his generation, Ira had great vision for the future: he predicted the value of timber, mining, roads and the judicial use of Oregon’s natural resources. Among his many accomplishments, Ira is credited with building roads, providing a stage stop between Portland and Sacramento, hosting a community school and starting the first cattle drive up the Willamette Valley to markets in Oregon City which fed the expanding Oregon population.

Ira’s wife Elvira served as the midwife for our area of Oregon for many years and there are countless stories of her heroic exploits. Ira and Elvira welcomed 12 children of their own, including 5 boys and 1 girl who lived to adulthood. I am proud to say that I am a direct descendant of their only surviving daughter, Medora Ann Hawley Stockwell.

Ira Hawley’s Legacy

Ira and Elvira have been honored in the pioneer museum in Oregon City and mentioned in many books on the history of the Oregon territory. Before his death in 1901, Ira owned property in what is now Linn, Lane and Douglas County and had dispersed family members to all corners of Oregon. He helped buy farms and ranches for many of his sons and grandchildren. In 1889 Ira purchased a farm for my Grandfather near what is now Shedd, Oregon. The Shedd farm was operated by my Grandfather until his death in 1971.

Following Ira’s retirement in the early 1890’s, the ranch was operated by Ira’s youngest son James and his wife Alice Withers Hawley. I will always be grateful to James and Alice Hawley for raising my orphan grandfather, Eugene L. Stockwell, son of James’ sister, Madora Ann Hawley Stockwell (1855 – 1888). James and Alice’s wedding license hangs proudly in my living room to this day. This is just one of many amazing stories that make up the Hawley Family legacy.

After the death of James Hawley in 1930, the ranch was left to and operated by his daughter, my great aunt, Alsea Hawley (1891-1973). Alsea brought the ranch through the Great Depression and WWII. During that period, she embraced many great innovations occurring in agriculture. In 1958 the Oregon Agricultural Education Foundation presented Alsea Hawley with the distinguished Century Farm designation. Alsea also ventured into the seed stock business, purchasing the Canadian National Champion Polled Hereford Bull. The ranch quickly became one of the most widely recognized seed stock producers in the state of Oregon.

When Alsea died in 1973 and having no children, she left the ranch to her cousin who was raised with her as a brother- my grandfather Eugene L. Stockwell (1884-1971). Since Eugene’s health was not stable, the ranch fell to my mother, Elizabeth Stockwell Hoyt (1923-1975), and her brother.

My uncle, who had no wish to be a rancher, sold his interest to my father. For several years my parents operated the ranch in the tradition established by Alsea Hawley. In 1975 my mother was taken by cancer and the ranch is now owned and operated by myself, my father and my younger brother.

As the great great grandson of Ira Hawley and in companionship with my wife, Sharon Michael Hoyt, whose family is also of Oregon pioneer heritage, I have lived at “divide” and operated “Hawley Land & Cattle Co.” for the more than 30 years.

Life at Hawley Ranch Today

In addition to cattle, we have diversified our operation to include the production of sheep and goats. Our operation is currently involved in cutting edge forage and livestock production. We now use new tillage tools which leave limited footprints, and allow us to grow forages that compliment the land and its occupants. While increasing production, these new techniques require less conventional fertilizer and conserve water.

We produce “natural” grass fed lamb and beef sold in numerous Oregon markets. Our goats are used by several Portland metro communities and the US Army Corps of Engineers for control of invasive weeds in environmentally sensitive areas. The goats serve the same useful purpose on the ranch. Much interest in this area has recently been generated, and we agreed to host a PHD project from OSU dealing with the grazing of goats to promote the natural control of invasive weeds. I am grateful to the Department of Rangeland Ecology at OSU for the opportunity to be part of such a study and I believe that it may lead to more use of natural grazing techniques for weed control. We are also a member of an Oregon forage group exploring innovative solutions to the challenges of forage production in 2008.

In the years since Ira Hawley founded the Ranch it has seen many changes including statehood, transportation, commerce and the advance of progress. We have been host to the Overland Stage Line and the Interstate Highway system. Through it all we have adjusted to the changes, learned from our mistakes and tried to grow a sustainable ranching operation. The family has always tried to continue the legacy left to us by our founder.

During my stewardship of the ranch, I have been privileged to serve as the president of the Oregon Polled Hereford Breeders Association, the Douglas County Livestock Association and the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association. I have also been active in moving Oregon agriculture through challenging times and into the future of ranching by testifying to the Oregon legislature on relevant natural resource issues and working with others in the Oregon agriculture and livestock community.

As a family, we are deeply rooted to the Oregon agricultural and livestock communities. I am continuously grateful for the past generations that paved the way more than 150 years ago. I am very, very proud of my heritage and the privilege I have to add to the Hawley Ranch story.

- Bill Hoyt