GLIDE — William Riley Singleton left Missouri in 1852, crossed the Plains and followed the Oregon Trail west. A year later, the cattle rancher and his wife settled on a land donation claim of 640 acres in one of the Hundred Valleys of the Umpqua in the western foothills of the Cascade Mountains.
Now in 2014, 160 years later, the eighth generation of the Singleton family lives on the same ranch in the same valley halfway between Roseburg and Glide. The latest generation is represented by siblings Nash Singleton, 10, Gage, 8, and twin sisters Ciera and Terra, 8. They’re joined in living on the ranch by three other generations: their great-grandfather Bill, 94, and his brother Charlie, 86; their grandfather Lorris, 67, and their father Doug, 36.
“It’s been a lot of hard work, but it’s been enjoyable for me,” said Bill Singleton of the ranch lifestyle. “If I could live it over, I wouldn’t want to change it. I might change some mistakes, but I wouldn’t change my life.”
“Ranching is a way of life,” Charlie Singleton chimed in during the family’s daily lunch gathering in Bill’s old ranch house nestled toward the south end of the mile-long valley. Out the front window, ewes with their lambs and cows with their calves could be seen grazing the valley’s grass.
“If you don’t like to ranch, it’s absolutely the wrong business to get into,” Charlie added. “You do a helluva lot of work and not make much money at it. You have to feed those animals every day just like you feed yourself. But there’s not a better way of life.”
Over the years there have been a few expansions of the ranch and it now totals 2,900 acres of valley pasture and hay ground, hillside pastures among oak and madrone trees, and some timber. The ranch is home to 275 mother cows and their annual crop of calves, 50 heifers that will replace some of the older cows, 550 ewes and their lambs and a dozen or so Angora goats. Although the Angoras haven’t been a revenue producer for the Singletons for years, a few remain on the ranch to extend a tradition that began in the 1870s and also because the youngest Singleton generation likes them as pets.
Although William Riley Singleton was a cattle rancher and he drove cattle west with him, the animals died in The Dalles area during a harsh first winter in Oregon. When Singleton moved on in the spring of 1853, he headed south, visiting the Salem and Corvallis areas, but continuing on. His living ancestors guessed that maybe because he was from flat land in the Midwest, he wanted something different in Oregon. He finally found the valley in the Glide area.
In the early years, the land was more of a farm than a ranch. Wheat and oats were grown on the valley floor. Hairy vetch was grown and put up to feed the horses. There were also some sheep to produce wool and lambs. A barn built in 1866 finally collapsed beneath the weight of snow and rain that fell last December.
Following in the footsteps of William Riley Singleton and working the land were his sons, Thomas and Bailey, then Thomas’ two sons and daughter, William, Ed and Jenny. William’s sons, Lorris Leroy and Delbert, then took over. Bill and Charlie are Lorris Leroy’s sons. Adjoining ranches were purchased in the late 1930s and twice in the mid-1940s.
The property became more of a ranch in the 1940s and ’50s when sheep and some cattle became the main focus of the operation. More sheep were added to the Singleton flock over the next decade, increasing the number to 900 ewes in the late ’60s.
Lorris Leroy was the ranch boss until his death in 1971, leaving the operation to sons Bill and Charlie, who had grown up working on the place. Their wives, Juanita and Norma, respectively, worked side-by-side with their husbands on the ranch for close to 50 years before each died about 12 years ago.
The two brothers said they most liked working with the livestock. They said their least enjoyable work was “hayin’.”
From 1934 when Bill Singleton started his freshman year at Glide High School to 1996 when his grandson Doug graduated from that school, there was at least one Singleton in the Glide School District.
The brothers also went from putting up loose hay manually to using a rake and baler in the 1950s to make two-tie bales. They later to made big, round bales and handled them mechanically. There was also a transition from working livestock with horses to using all-terrain vehicles.
Lorris Singleton, Bill’s son, worked elsewhere for several years and helped on the ranch on weekends. He returned to the ranch full time in 1994 when his father began to slow down because of age and asked for help. Lorris became a part owner in 2001.
“I grew up here, it gets in your blood,” Lorris said. “You are your own boss, there’s always something to do, you don’t get bored.
“I think it’s outstanding, that it just didn’t go down the pipe somewhere, that it just didn’t disappear,” he added of the Singleton agricultural tradition. “When you look at a land claims map, a lot of those names aren’t here anymore. I’m proud to say that we are.”
Doug Singleton, Lorris’ son, was raised on the ranch and now lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their four kids in the house in which his grandfather, Bill, was born. Doug has worked on the ranch full time since his high school graduation. He’s also been involved in agricultural issues off the ranch, being a member, a board member and president of the Douglas County Livestock Association. He’s brought new ideas to the family’s ranch operation.
“Sometimes there is new stuff that’s worth listening to and maybe modifying our ways,” the young rancher said. “I’ve also learned from Grandpa (Bill), Charlie and Dad (Lorris).”
The Singletons have been selling their lambs and calves via Internet auction for several years now, attracting buyers at distant locations compared to being restricted to local buyers.
The majority of the ranch land is owned by Bill and Charlie. Ownership of the cattle is shared by Lorris and Doug. The sheep are owned by Doug.
A trust has been set up to pass the ranch on to the next generation.
The Singletons are optimistic about the future of the livestock industry and its ability to provide them with a successful livelihood because “People have to eat, don’t they?”
Doug and Jennifer’s goal is to provide a successful ranch life for their children and to some day pass the operation on to future Singleton generations.
“I get to help a lot with everything here,” said Nash, the eighth generation. “It’s a lot of fun. Catching sheep is probably my favorite thing, and fishing when we’ve got time. The work doesn’t bother me.”
“I get to catch the sheep and see the baby lambs, baby calves and baby goats,” added Gage. “And they taste really good.”
Attitudes like those will carry the Singleton Ranch tradition on for many more years.
• News-Review business reporter Craig Reed can be reached by calling 541-957-4210 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.