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Ralph Burdett Dunbar

Birth place or City of origin: Joseph
State of origin: OR
Last known City:
Last known State:
Start/Birth date: 1892
Death/End date: 1959

Ralph Burdett (“Goog”) Dunbar
Very little ins known of Ralph’s early life. One of nine siblings born to Alfred and Laura Dunbar, Ralph was born in Joseph shortly after the Dunbar family migrated from Syracuse New York. to Wallowa County.

Ralph his borther Bert and younger brothers Chaarlie, Reuben and Ora were raised on the family’s Butte Creek homestead. Charlie, the only one who married, moved away early and raised 5 children of his own. Bert, Ralph, Rueben and Ora farmed on the Lewis Road not far from the pink Dorrance barn on Crow Creek. George Justice recalled that during 1920-30s, the Dunbar brothers would haul their sacked grain to Enterprise in large wagons each pulled by six stout horses.

During much of his adult life, Ralph was a sheep hereder thorughout easter Oregon. He hered sheep for the McClaran Ranch for many years. On a 5 day horse ride through Wallowa County back country during the 1970s, several Dunbar family decendents took shelter from a thunderstorm in an old line-cabin to Camp Creek. To their amazement, they saw the following carved into the table top: “Ralph B. Dunbar December 25, 1925”!

Ralph was extremely hard of hearing, and had a speech impediment which made him talk funny. Consequently, he was shy around people who percieved him as mentally “slow”. Hence the nickname “Goog”. The locals all remember him as “Goog”, and few today can recall his real first name. His hearing and speech impediment were also the reason why he was rejected for enlistment in the US Army during WWI.

However, Ralph possessed surprising talents. One story describes his ability to balance empty their bottom edge at at 45 degree angle. During calm weather, he once balanced a row of cans on a fence rail, to the amazement of onlookers. In spite of his hearing loss, he played harmonica while Reuben played the fiddle and accordion.

Self taught, Ralph began making spurs as a hobby. Cowboys were amazed that he could make something so beautiful and functional. Soon his spurs were in demand by Wallowa County cowboys. It is estimated that he made less than a dozen pairs of spurs and only 2-3 bits. He also made silver belts, headstalls, and jewelry for family members. He gave away most of his work. Ralph used silver coins for his source of silver.

In later years, when metal working became too difficult, Ralph began wood carving. He carved a corral, a set of horses, and a conestoga wagon for a niece. His wood carvings frequently included a “diamond” or “horse head” as the central theme.

He died in the Wallowa Memorial Hospital May 27, 1959 after being in failing health for 15 years.

According to Dick Hammond, Ralph never marked his work. However, his engraving style is unique and consistent.

Source: Bit, Spur and Saddle Makers of Wallowa Couty Oregon

 

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