Pete French first arrived in what is now Harney County, Oregon, in 1872. He promptly began accumulating farmland (some say illegally); 10 years later, he had amassed 70,000 acres of land, home to 45,000 cattle. He was dubbed the “Cattle King” for building the area’s largest cattle empire at the time.
On his extensive property French built three round barns for training his horses during the winter months. However, only one still stands today, exactly as it was 130 years ago ago. While the circular barn was somewhat common by the late 19th century, it was more rare in Oregon, and French’s exceptionally large round barn was an engineering marvel at the time it was built in the 1880s.
The inner ring of the 100-foot-diameter barn held the stables, while the outer was a track used to exercise the animals. Each ring was separated by a circular wall built from lava rocks. The umbrella-like ceiling was held by local juniper posts (which now house a family of owls). French most likely learned about these engineering techniques in California before bringing them to Oregon, where he used local materials to create the same design.
Because of French’s shady land dealings, he was somewhat disliked by locals. When he was murdered by rival homesteader Edward Oliver after an argument, Oliver was not found guilty. Supposedly, French had whipped Oliver with a cattle whip before riding away and getting shot in the back. Despite this unfortunate end, French lives on through his historical round barn representing the industry he built. The site has been added to the National Register of Historic Places and was recently restored using the same techniques as it was built with.