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Ralph Graham

Birth place or City of origin:
State of origin:
Last known City:
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Start/Birth date: 1898
Death/End date: 1975

Ralph was raised on Joseph Creek. As a young man, he worked for a time near Grangeville Idaho
where he broke horses and cowboyed at local rodeos. In 1929, he married Cecile McClain and they settled on an 80 acre ranch outside Joseph, Oregon, where they raised cattle and horses. Thir only child died at birth.

Ralph is remembered as being a large, strong, quiet, easy-going man who spoke with a drawl. He loved sitting down with neighbors over a pot of coffee and swapping stories. He was a good story teller, and a “foot stompin giid” fiddle player at local dances. He often reminisced about gowing up on Joseph Creek, where coon hunters and moon shiners were numerous, and dances at Chico were frequently punctuated by drinking and fighting. Ralph drive his old black International pickup everywhere at 15 mph!

For many years. Ralph served as the ditch walker for the local irrigation company. Part of his job was to meter and police the usage of water byt the ranches on the ditch. During draught years, tempers often flared when Ralph was forced to ration water. His easy going nature ususally soothed the angry ranchers, but there was one woman wh confronted him and cursed him mightily. Finally, one day, Ralph had enough and he said to her “ I wouldn’t expect that from you --most “ladies” wouldn’t say those words in public!”. Then turned and walked away.

Since they didn’t have children, the couple liked to spoil all the neighbor’s kids. They had a piano that the kids loved to play. The Graham house was a favorite stop on Halloween because Ralph and Cecile always gave away large candy bars. Ralph owned an old Colt 45 single action revolver that he liked to show the young neighbor boys. They were intrigued by the four notches on the grip.

Ralph, a self taught craftsman, practiced his hobbies during the long Wallowa County winters. He enjoyed copying Charlie Russell paintings ( the walls inside his house were covered with them), but preferred engraving to painting. He made silver bits, spurs, belt buckles and jewelry, plus silver trim for saddles and headstalls. He also made a few leather items. He gave most ofm these items to relatives, neighbors and close friends, as tokens of friendship. He occasionally made buckles and jewelry for some of the Chief Joseph Days Court. He always asked Cecile to approve of what he had made, before he presented it to the recipient. Ralph had a stubborn streak- if he did not like a person, he wouldn’t make anything for them- no matter how much they begged!

As a source of silver, Ralph used silver dollars friends would bring him from Reno. He would lay the coins on the stovetop, to soften, so they would be malleble. He used gold pocket watch cases and gold teeth as a source of gold to decorate his buckles and conchos. He made his engraving tools and leather stamps from old engine valve stems. His vise was made from a Model T Flywheel and steering wheels.

Hamley Co in Pendleton tyried many times to hire Ralph as their silversmith, but he declined. He didn’t want to leave Cecile and the ranch. It has been suggested that Ralph taught Tom Qualey how to do silver inlays. Years ago, a collector saw a photo of Tom standing in front of Ralph’s shop.

Ralph is best known for his eagle bits and fancy pairs of spurs, but he made very few of either. His total production was fairly low. Ralph marked most, but not all, of his work. His mark was either a stamped “R W G” on bits and spurs, or a wiggle patterm, “R W G” on buckles and jewelry. Two unmarked bits (including an Eagle bit) and several unmarked belt buckles have been identified. But, his work is easily recognized by their consistent patterns and engraving style.

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


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