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At 80, Dee Douglas’s dark saffron hair still dominates the gray. Her tanned and lined skin accents kind brown eyes set in a strong western face. “I’ve always believed in hard work and I always will,” she says. “My doctor can’t believe how healthy I am. I tell him, ‘You find something you love doing, stick to it, and it sustains you throughout your life’.”

Dee still raises horses, sheep and mules on her small ranches in Merlin, Oregon, and Clovis, California. “Stock and critters are my children. My husband and I never had kids,” Dee says. “I wanted a baseball team but we never even got to first base.... Give me a day in the saddle or driving a team of horses from a wagon seat and I’m content.”

Dee grew up in the shadow of World War II and mirrored the life of Rosie the Riveter, earning money repairing military aircraft. “My only sis, Eloise, and I worked like men. Actually, we could outwork many men.” The two raised and rode horses after school and took them to the race tracks in California’s Central Valley to test them for time trials. Her two brothers were military pilots who died young and in combat: one was 18, the other 19.

Baseball occupied much of Dee’s life during the war and into the ’50s. Soon after the war ended, she helped lead her team to state, regional and the 1954 World Series Women’s Softball title.

“We traveled to games often by rail, similar to what you saw in the Geena Davis and Tom Hanks movie, ‘A League of Their Own’.”

Her family’s Doubletree Ranch along Oregon’s fabled Rogue River has been her favorite retreat since she was 10 years old. “Some of the finest years of my life were spent there during the summer months.”

Leaving husband Clay behind to care for the Clovis ranch, Dee still travels north to spend summers into autumns at her rustic Oregon log cabin. She cooks on an old wood stove, chops her own wood and often uses kerosene lamps to light the house. “Just a habit, I guess. Some are hard to break and why change them, anyway, if they work.”

She’s most proud of her recent wagon-train adventures. “Sixteen years ago, I took up driving a team of horses. In 1996, I spent nearly two months driving a team from Winnemucca, Nev., to Rickreal, Ore., following in the tracks of the old Southern Route Oregon Trail, now called the Applegate Trail.” Every October she is wagon master for the Josephine County Pioneer Day Wagon Train in Oregon.

“The most beautiful crossing was in Nevada’s High Rock Canyon. Most people,” she says, “don’t understand open country. It kinda scares them. They think there’s nothing there. Well, there’s a lot there. But they can keep thinking that, though. Leaves more elbow room for mavericks like me.

“What endeared me to the wagon train reenactment in 1996 was the parallel between how we did it compared to the pioneers and drovers of the mid-1800s. The biggest difference was in our use of horses instead of oxen. Wagon repair, travel style, activities, food and clothing were similar.”

Above: At her Oregon log cabin, Dee cooks with wood she chops herself and illuminates the place with kerosene lamps. “Why change if it works?”
Below: The cabin at her family’s Doubletree Ranch along Oregon’s Rogue River has been a favorite haunt of Dee’s for 70 years. She still spends summer and autumn there.

The Applegate Trail brought stock into northern Nevada, northeast California and southern Oregon. “By following that trail, I’ve gained a greater respect for the early day drovers, stockmen and pioneers. They led the way, developing a tradition and lifestyle known throughout the world as the ‘American cowboy’.

“I’ll keep active until the day I die,” Dee says, “and I hope I’m in the saddle when that takes place. Give me a good day in open country with a grand view. Heaven couldn’t be better.”

Larry Turner is a photographer and writer from Malin, Ore. He is the sharpest dresser and best dancer at “Shooting the West” in Winnemucca, Nev., each March. He appreciates the rural West. He appreciates women.

Spring 2003 Contents | Git Home!

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