Jim Horne and Priscilla Weaver, who live near Buncom, warm up before the parade Saturday. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

Still Here

BUNCOM — If Hollywood produced an American version of "Brigadoon," the setting could well be here at the junction of Little Applegate and Sterling Creek roads.

Buncom is a village kept alive primarily in memories and myth, whose official existence ended generations ago. Even its annual celebration fell by the wayside for six years. Yet for five vigorous and shining hours Saturday, Buncom sprung to life under a canopy of towering Ponderosa pines, drawing about 300 celebrants to the tidy little ghost town.

Buncom Day proved to be a pioneer version of a museum reception, patriotic festival and country fair rolled into one.

In an era where austere green measures have eclipsed grandiose pageantry, the rural gathering bridged past and present. A pair of trombones and piccolo took center stage, filling the air with patriotic songs of centuries past.

As the band broke out in "When the Saints Go Marching In," Buncom's grand dame, Lyn Hennion, perched on a John Deere tractor, led a parade of nine entries ranging from a Model A truck to a miniature horse on a route of perhaps 100 yards down Sterling Creek Road to the junction and then back up the hill.

Like many aspects of romanticized American crossroads, if you blinked, you missed it.

Kenneth Helphand found both the scene and the surrounding scenery fascinating.

Helphand, a landscape architecture professor at the University of Oregon, sketched the surrounding ridges in a notebook filled with postcards he sends to friends. While it was his first venture to Buncom, he often leads student expeditions to out-of-the-way locales.

"It's a crossroads transformed into a community for a day, much the same as a farmer's market transforms a parking lot," Helphand said.

Ghost towns are an American phenomena, said Helphand, who has had more than passing interest in such places during his 37 years teaching courses such as landscape architecture history.

"In Oregon you had mining and logging towns where people came to extract resources," Helphand said. "They would literally lift a logging town and move on when they were done. When it came to mining, the towns became something because of what was in the ground, or they were gone."

Ghost towns aren't the stuff of horror movies; rather they are more akin to "Casper the Friendly Ghost," he said. "There's something in the memory that speaks to you, the spirit of the place. The few remaining buildings here remind you and let you imagine the place."

For a few moments, the narrow country road became Main Street USA.

"There's something oddly patriotic about this place when they start playing 'It's a Grand Old Flag,' " Helphand said. "Over the years, there was a gradual realization the historic sites had an appeal that was a) worth preserving, and b) had an educational dimension and heritage."

Mining remains a lasting element of Buncom's heritage and a handful of latter-day sourdoughs still work the nearby ground in search of the payload.

Robert Edwards was among the mining fraternity on hand demonstrating panning techniques.

Edwards has lived in the Sterling Creek region for 15 years and is quick to admit his methods and those of the hundreds who came during the 19th century differ as much as a telegram and cell phone texting.

"I often think about how hard they had to work to get to it," said Edwards, who operates a patented claim. "I've got a backhoe, bulldozer and dredge."

Stories of a 30-foot sluice box loaded with 1,000 ounces of gold sent to the bottom of Sterling Creek during a flood motivate Edwards and other modern miners. Just as the Great Depression brought people back to Buncom to search for gold, astronomical prices have induced a new generation to seek its fortune.

"To extract gold, you have to move material, lots of material with gold in it," Edwards said. "There are pockets, lots of pockets, but nobody has ever found the source, the big vein."

The payoff for most of Saturday's visitors, however, was the brief moment when they could engage the past and return to the present a few miles down the road.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email

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