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What is Sherman County?
Sherman County is frequently referred to as the “Land Between the Rivers.” Located in north central Oregon, the Columbia river forms the northern border, while the east and west boundaries are marked by the steep, deep canyons of the John Day River on the east and the Deschutes River on the west. The rugged canyons of Buck Hollow, a tributary of the Deschutes, mark the southwest border.
Sherman County is also known as “the Land of Wheat.” Encompassing a total of531,840 acres (831 square miles; approximately 20 miles wide and 42 miles long), nearly 58% of the county’s land is tilled and soft white winter wheat is the major crop. In fact, Sherman County is annually the third largest wheat producing county in Oregon, despite being 29th out of 36 counties in size. However, the 58% of land tilled ranks number one, far above the state average of 8% of tilled land per county. Sherman County is the only county in Oregon without natural forestation.
The landscape is defined by rolling hills and steep narrow canyons. Elevation ranges from 185 feet above sea level along the Columbia River to 3,600 feet on the highlands in the south. The county experiences 4 distinct seasons. Winters are generally mild with heavy snowfall rare. Annual precipitation is about 11.5 inches, with over 60% occurring November through March. Summers are warm and dry. Annual temperatures may range from below zero to over 100 degrees, but extremes are seldom prolonged. Situated in the rain shadow –transition zone between the Cascade Mountain Range and the Oregon High Desert, the area experiences frequent windy days.
The Sherman County population (which peaked around 1910 with 4,242) is only about 1650 today. Moro (300) is the county seat located in mid-County on Highway 97. Wasco (410), Grass Valley (150), and Rufus (300) are the other incorporated cities in the County. Biggs Junction and Kent comprise the two unincorporated areas. Interestingly, each of the towns is about 9 miles apart, the distance a team and wagon would have traveled between water stops. The area was originally passed over by thousands traveling along the Oregon Trail (it was in present day Sherman County where the wagon trains first saw the Columbia River) and other historical trials that cross the County. However, in the 1870’s stockmen returned to take advantage of the abundant bunchgrasses. By 1881, homesteaders arrived permanently changing the landscape by plowing and fencing the tall grass.
Sherman County was established February 25, 1889, divided from the larger Wasco County to the west and south. The soil, mostly loess (wind blown glacial silt) over residual soil from the underlying basalt, is interspersed with layers of volcanic ash. This soil is highly productive. County wheat yields average about 45 bushels per acre, but yields over 100 bushels per acre have been achieved in non-irrigated conditions. The soils are also highly erodible, but Sherman County farmers have long been recognized as leaders in conservation farming practices, working to protect their soil and water resources.
Sherman County Fast Facts
Sherman County was named after General William T. Sherman.
Area: 831 square miles; 531,840 acres; approximately 20 miles wide by 42 miles long.
Annual precipitation: 11.5 inches, over 60% occurring November through March.
Average day temperature (at Moro, elevation 1810 feet): January, 30.1; July, 69 degrees; Average summer humidity, 35%. Average frost free days, 200-235 days
Main crops: Winter wheat, barley. Major livestock: Beef cattle. Average annual gross farm and ranch sales: $35 million; All crops, 85% gross farm sales; All livestock, 15% gross farm sales.
Schools: South Sherman Elementary in Grass Valley, K-6
North Sherman Elementary in Wasco, K-6
Sherman Jr-Sr High School in Moro, 7-12
Population: Sherman County, 1650. Wasco, 410; Rufus, 300; Moro, 300; Grass Valley, 150
Elevations: Biggs Junction 185 feet; Wasco, 1270 feet; Moro, 1810 feet; Grass Valley, 2270 feet; Kent 2707 feet
The first OSU Extension Agent began work in Sherman County January 15, 1918, although 4H youth clubs were already well underway.