Phil and Nancy Wilson

Photo: Justin Meyers

Your hosts, Phil and Nancy Wilson’s families homesteaded in Wheeler and South Gilliam Counties over 100 years ago and the Wilson Family is blessed with the same pioneer spirit. The Wilson’s ancestors came to the Oregon Territory on the Oregon Trail in the mid 1800’s. Wilson Ranches is a 9,000-acre working cattle and hay ranch located in the Butte Creek Valley, west of Fossil. The John Day Basin and Columbia River Plateau influence the diverse geology of the ranch.

Wilson Ranches was founded in 1962 after the dissolution of L.E. Smith and Sons Company, which was headquartered at the F.E and Mary Smith (great-grandparents of Phil Wilson) homestead in the Mayville area. F.E. (Gene) Smith was a busy man operating a wheat and cattle ranch, raising draft horses, a livery stable in Fossil and a freighting business. He hauled wheat to Arlington and wool to Shaniko with supplies as a back haul. Son, L.E. (Loyd) Smith was involved in all aspects of the business and with the advent of the tractor increased the size of the ranch by acquiring neighboring homesteads, increasing the cattle herd and decreasing the draft horse herd. One of the pastures owned by Wilson Ranches today was originally used by F.E. Smith as pasture for the livery and draft horse operation.

Historic Ranch harvest

Historic Wagon PhotoA Wilson Ranches partnership was formed by Morris E. and Viola Wilson (daughter of L.E. and Weltha Jones Smith) and sons in 1972. In 1997, Phil and Nancy (Stirewalt) Wilson took over as operators of the cattle and hay portion of Wilson Ranches. Cattle and hay ranching has become a very technical and demanding business. Phil’s degree in Animal Science and Ranch Management from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, California, has better equipped him to deal with the rapidly changing ranch industry. Nancy’s ranch and office administration background has prepared her to be a great ranch hostess, partner, mother and cowgirl. Phil and Nancy raised their three children on the ranch, Milne, Kara and Zane. Kara, husband Brian Anglin and family live on and are actively involved in the ranch and the bed and breakfast operations. Wilson Ranches has four generations involved in its success on a daily basis, ranging from Phil’s 100 year-old Dad to a seven-year-old granddaughter.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the year 2000, Wilson Ranches Retreat Bed and Breakfast opened to guests offering an opportunity to experience ranch living and the beauty of Eastern Oregon’s high desert. The bed and breakfast is in a historic 1910 Sears Roebuck Ranch House with six ranch style guest rooms and breakfast being the event of the day. Guests from all over the world have become a part of the Wilson Ranches family.

The Wilson’s run cattle drives throughout the year, in line with a green-friendly twice-over grazing program that promotes perennial grasses. Guests are invited to mount up for scenic horseback rides, cattle drives, pasture moves, riding for strays or checking fence lines. The greatest joy of the year is welcoming new life to Wilson Ranches. The calves arrive at all hours and temperatures from February through early April and keep the Wilson family on duty 24 hours a day. Many guests have watched calves making their way into the world and participate in the roundup for spring brandings.

As a seventh-generation family ranch operation, the Wilson’s pour their lives into the dreams they proudly share with their ancestors. The tradition of pioneer hospitality and the privilege of being stewards of the land is a gift the Wilson family cherishes and is honored to share with you.