Harney County, Oregon

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Harney County, Oregon
Harney County Courthouse in Burns
Seal of Harney County, Oregon
Map of Oregon highlighting Harney County
Location in the U.S. state of Oregon
Map of the United States highlighting Oregon
Oregon's location in the U.S.
Founded February 23, 1889
Seat Burns
Largest city Burns
 • Total 10,226 sq mi (26,485 km2)
 • Land 10,133 sq mi (26,244 km2)
 • Water 93 sq mi (241 km2), 0.9%
Population (est.)
 • (2015) 7,200
 • Density 0.7/sq mi (0/km²)
Congressional district 2nd
Website www.co.harney.or.us

Harney County is a county located in the U.S. state of Oregon. As of the 2010 census, the population was 7,422,[1] making it the fifth-least populous county in Oregon. The county seat is Burns.[2] Established in 1889, the county is named in honor of William S. Harney, a military officer of the period, who was involved in the Pig War and popular in the Pacific Northwest.

Harney County is a rural county in southeastern Oregon.[3][4] It is a five hours' drive from Portland, Oregon.[3] The county is bordered by Grant County (to the north), Malheur County (to the east); the State of Nevada (to the south); and Lake, Deschutes, and Crook counties (to the west).[4]

At 10,228 square miles (26,490 km2) in size, the county is the largest in Oregon, and one of the largest in the United States.[3][4] The county is sparsely populated, with a population of about 7,700.[3] The county has just two incorporated cities: Burns, the county seat and larger city, with 40 percent of the population, and Hines, with 20 percent of the county's population.[4] About 75 percent of the county's area is federal land,[3] variously managed by the Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Forest Service.[5] About 10 percent of Harney County's area is part of the Ochoco National Forest and Malheur National Forest.[3] The county also contains the Burns Paiute Indian Reservation within and immediately north of the City of Burns; this 760-acres reservation of the Burns Paiute Tribe is a remnant of the former Malheur Indian Reservation, a 1.5-million-acre federal trust land that was encroached upon by white settlement in the 19th century.[4][5][6]

Harney County has a "high desert" topography, with low levels of precipitation.[3] About 500 ranches and farms producing cattle, dairy products and hay operate within the county; in the county, cattle outnumber people 14-to-1.[3] Besides ranching and farming, forestry and manufacturing are important industries in the county.[4]

The county is of ecological as well as recreational importance. Along with neighboring Grant County, Harney County has the nation's largest Ponderosa pine forest.[4] The county was also a focus of recent efforts to conserve the sage grouse; in 2014, Harney County ranchers signed 30-year agreements with the federal government to protect the sage grouse.[3] Visitors are attracted to the county for its hunting, fishing, and camping activities.[4]

According to the website of the Harney County Sheriff's Office, the sheriff has a staff of six law enforcement officers.[7][not in citation given] Burns has a separate police department but, as of 2008, did not employ enough officers to provide "24-hour" coverage.[8]


The Native Americans living in this region at the time of the Lewis and Clark Expedition were the Northern Paiute, who fought with the Tenino and Wasco peoples. Peter Skene Ogden was the first known European to explore this area in 1826 when he led a fur brigade for the Hudson's Bay Company.

Harney County was carved out of the southern two-thirds of Grant County on February 25, 1889. A fierce political battle, with armed "night riders" who spirited county records from Harney to Burns, ended with Burns as the county seat in 1890.

The Malheur River Indian Reservation was created by executive order on March 14, 1871, and the Northern Paiute within the Oregon state boundaries were settled there. The federal government "discontinued" the reservation after the Bannock War of 1878. Descendants of these people form a federally recognized tribal entity, the Burns Paiute Tribe, which had 341 members in 2008.[9] Fewer than 35.5% of the tribal members live on the Burns Paiute Indian Colony near Burns.[9] The tribe earns revenue from a small casino, the Old Camp Casino, and renting out communal tribal lands for grazing rights to local ranchers.

2016 militia occupation[edit]

On January 2, 2016, the headquarters building of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was seized by armed protesters related to the Bundy standoff.[10] The group protested the prison sentences of two ranchers convicted of arson in wildfires set in 2001 and 2006, which the ranchers claimed spread from their land into the wildlife reserve.[11] Militia leaders, including Ammon Bundy and Jon Ritzheimer, were arrested on January 26, 2016, in an event that included the shooting of militant LaVoy Finicum.[12] The following day, only four militants remained, and they surrendered on February 11, 2016.[13]


Sign welcoming drivers to Harney County
Harney County has a population of less than 8,000 occupying a land area about two-thirds the size of Denmark, shown in this overlay.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 10,226 square miles (26,490 km2), of which 10,133 square miles (26,240 km2) is land and 93 square miles (240 km2) (0.9%) is water.[14] It is the largest county in Oregon by area and the tenth-largest county in the United States (excluding boroughs and census areas in Alaska).

Steens Mountain is the county's most prominent geographical feature, rising 9,700 feet (3,000 m) above sea level and spanning many miles across a region that is otherwise fairly flat. To its southeast is the Alvord Desert—the driest place in Oregon[15]—and the Trout Creek Mountains, which extend south into Nevada. South of Steens Mountain, the Pueblo Mountains are another remote range in Oregon and Nevada. North of Steens Mountain lies the Harney Basin, which contains Malheur Lake and Harney Lake.

Adjacent counties[edit]

National protected areas[edit]


Historical population
Census Pop.
1890 2,559
1900 2,598 1.5%
1910 4,059 56.2%
1920 3,992 −1.7%
1930 5,920 48.3%
1940 5,374 −9.2%
1950 6,113 13.8%
1960 6,744 10.3%
1970 7,215 7.0%
1980 8,314 15.2%
1990 7,060 −15.1%
2000 7,609 7.8%
2010 7,422 −2.5%
Est. 2015 7,200 [16] −3.0%
U.S. Decennial Census[17]
1790-1960[18] 1900-1990[19]
1990-2000[20] 2010-2015[1]

2000 census[edit]

As of the census[21] of 2000, there were 7,609 people, 3,036 households, and 2,094 families residing in the county. The population density was 1 people per square mile (0/km²). There were 3,533 housing units at an average density of 0 per square mile (0/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 91.93% White, 3.97% Native American, 0.51% Asian, 0.13% Black or African American, 0.07% Pacific Islander, 1.30% from other races, and 2.09% from two or more races. 4.15% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. 21.1% were of German, 11.1% American, 10.3% Irish and 9.7% English ancestry.

There is a small, but significant Spanish Basque community.[22]

Approximately 75% of the population of Harney County lives in the Burns-Hines municipal district. Crane is the only other localised population center, with less than 7% of the population of Harney County. Lawen and Riley have no localised populations. The remaining population of Harney County is dispersed throughout the countryside, mostly dwelling on large ranches.

There were 3,036 households out of which 29.40% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 58.00% were married couples living together, 6.80% had a female householder with no husband present, and 31.00% were non-families. 25.90% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.20% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.45 and the average family size was 2.94.

In the county, the population was spread out with 26.00% under the age of 18, 6.40% from 18 to 24, 26.60% from 25 to 44, 26.10% from 45 to 64, and 15.00% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 102.90 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 98.20 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $30,957, and the median income for a family was $36,917. Males had a median income of $27,386 versus $21,773 for females. The per capita income for the county was $16,159. About 8.60% of families and 11.80% of the population were below the poverty line, including 12.70% of those under age 18 and 13.90% of those age 65 or over.

2010 census[edit]

As of the 2010 United States Census, there were 7,422 people, 3,205 households, and 2,069 families residing in the county.[23] The population density was 0.7 inhabitants per square mile (0.27/km2). There were 3,835 housing units at an average density of 0.4 per square mile (0.15/km2).[24] The racial makeup of the county was 91.9% white, 3.1% American Indian, 0.5% Asian, 0.3% black or African American, 1.3% from other races, and 3.0% from two or more races. Those of Hispanic or Latino origin made up 4.0% of the population.[23] In terms of ancestry, 28.7% were German, 18.6% were English, 15.0% were Irish, 6.7% were Scottish, 5.1% were Dutch, and 4.5% were American.[25]

Of the 3,205 households, 26.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 52.0% were married couples living together, 8.8% had a female householder with no husband present, 35.4% were non-families, and 30.0% of all households were made up of individuals. The average household size was 2.28 and the average family size was 2.81. The median age was 45.2 years.[23]

The median income for a household in the county was $39,036 and the median income for a family was $46,626. Males had a median income of $40,218 versus $31,046 for females. The per capita income for the county was $20,849. About 14.1% of families and 18.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 27.5% of those under age 18 and 9.2% of those age 65 or over.[26]


Like all counties in eastern Oregon, the majority of registered voters who are part of a political party in Harney County are members of the Republican Party. In the 2008 presidential election 70.45% of Harney County voters voted for Republican John McCain, while 25.79% voted for Democrat Barack Obama and 3.73% of voters either voted for a Third Party candidate or wrote in a candidate.[27] These numbers show a slight shift towards the Democratic candidate when compared to the 2004 presidential election, in which 76% of Harney Country voters voted for George W. Bush, while 22.7% voted for John Kerry, and 1.3% of voters either voted for a Third Party candidate or wrote in a candidate.[28]

Political orientations in Harney County, Oregon (2009).gif[29]


Three industries have traditionally provided the county's economic base: ranching, sheep raising, and timber. The railroad, which extended into the area in 1883, served as a catalyst to the cattle industry but later contributed to its decline. By bringing farmers and sheep men to the area, it created increased competition for productive land. Harvesting and breeding of wild horses was lucrative for a period. Harney County shares the largest Ponderosa Pine forest in the nation with Grant County. Its abundance of game, numerous campsites and excellent fishing have stimulated fast-growing recreational activities.

Although county lands were open to homesteading from 1862 to 1934, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management still owns more than 3 million acres (12,000 km2), or 62%, of the lands within the county boundaries. Facilitated on the national level by the Carey act of 1894, arid land in Harney County was donated to the state for irrigation and settlement, but all water development efforts failed.

Eventually all land claims filed under the reclamation legislation were abandoned or nullified. Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1908 and expanded in 1936. The refuge now includes 159,872 acres (646.98 km2). Borax has been mined in the Steens area, and uranium has been found on its south side.



Census-designated place[edit]

Unincorporated communities[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "State & County QuickFacts". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved November 15, 2013. 
  2. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved June 7, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Noelle Crombie, >Where is Burns? Harney County home to more cattle than people, The Oregonian/OregonLive (January 3, 2016).
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Harney County Transportation System Plan: Revised Final Draft, Harney County Planning Department (June 2001), pp. 9-10.
  5. ^ a b Harney County with Townships 8.5 x 11, Harney County GIS, Harney County/Bureau of Land Management.
  6. ^ Steve Russell, Bundy Militia Musters Again Over Paiute Land, Indian Country Today Media Network (January 3, 2016).
  7. ^ "Sheriff". co.harney.or.us. Harney County, Oregon. Retrieved January 3, 2016. 
  8. ^ Brown, Lauren (February 20, 2008). "Burns, Hines set to share police chief". Burns Times-Herald. Retrieved January 3, 2016. 
  9. ^ a b "Wadatika Today". Burns Paiute Tribe. September 15, 2008. Retrieved April 8, 2013. 
  10. ^ Zaitz, Les. "Militia takes over Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters". Oregonlive. The Oregonian. Retrieved 3 January 2016. 
  11. ^ "Eastern Oregon Ranchers Convicted of Arson Resentenced to Five Years in Prison". United States Department of Justice. U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved 7 October 2015. 
  12. ^ Johnson, Alex; Blankstein, Andrew (January 26, 2016). "Oregon Occupation Leaders Ammon and Ryan Bundy Arrested, One Dead". NBC News. Retrieved January 26, 2016. 
  13. ^ Smith, Alexander; Erik, Ortiz (February 11, 2016). "Four Remaining Oregon Occupiers, Surrounded by FBI, Surrender". NBC News. New York: NBC. Retrieved February 11, 2016. 
  14. ^ "2010 Census Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. August 22, 2012. Retrieved February 25, 2015. 
  15. ^ Lorain, Douglas (2011). 100 Classic Hikes in Oregon (Second ed.). Seattle, Washington: The Mountaineers Books. p. 239. ISBN 978-1-59485-492-7. 
  16. ^ "County Totals Dataset: Population, Population Change and Estimated Components of Population Change: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2015". Retrieved July 2, 2016. 
  17. ^ "U.S. Decennial Census". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved February 25, 2015. 
  18. ^ "Historical Census Browser". University of Virginia Library. Retrieved February 25, 2015. 
  19. ^ Forstall, Richard L., ed. (March 27, 1995). "Population of Counties by Decennial Census: 1900 to 1990". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved February 25, 2015. 
  20. ^ "Census 2000 PHC-T-4. Ranking Tables for Counties: 1990 and 2000" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. April 2, 2001. Retrieved February 25, 2015. 
  21. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 31, 2008. 
  22. ^ Etulain, Richard W. "Basques". The Oregon Encyclopedia. Portland State University. Retrieved May 21, 2014. 
  23. ^ a b c "DP-1 Profile of General Population and Housing Characteristics: 2010 Demographic Profile Data". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2016-02-23. 
  24. ^ "Population, Housing Units, Area, and Density: 2010 - County". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2016-02-23. 
  25. ^ "DP02 SELECTED SOCIAL CHARACTERISTICS IN THE UNITED STATES – 2006-2010 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2016-02-23. 
  26. ^ "DP03 SELECTED ECONOMIC CHARACTERISTICS – 2006-2010 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2016-02-23. 
  27. ^ "Harney County, Oregon, General Election – (Official Results)" (PDF). Harney County. November 4, 2008. Retrieved April 21, 2009. 
  28. ^ http://www.city-data.com/county/Harney_County-OR.html Retrieved on 4/21/09
  29. ^ "Voter Registration by County: March 2009" (PDF). Oregon Secretary of State. April 10, 2009. p. 1. Retrieved September 22, 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

  • George Francis Brimlow, Harney County, Oregon, and Its Range Land. Burns, OR: Gail Graphics, 1980.
  • Dorsey Griffin, Starting at the Narrows: A History of Harney County, Oregon. Netarts, OR: Griffin Press, 1990.
  • Harney County Chamber of Commerce, A Lively Little History of Harney County: A Centennial Souvenir Album, 1889-1989. Burns, OR : Harney County Chamber of Commerce, 1989.
  • Harney County Historical Society, Harney County Historical Highlights. Burns, OR: Harney County Historical Society & Museum, 1997. —Periodical.
  • Royal G. Jackson and Jennifer A. Lee, Harney County: An Historical Inventory. Burns, OR: Harney County Historical Society, 1978.
  • Margaret Justine Lo Piccolo, Some Aspects of the Range Cattle Industry of Harney County, Oregon, 1870-1900. MA thesis. University of Oregon, 1962.
  • Karen Nitz and Claire McGill Luce, Harney County. San Francisco, CA: Arcadia Pub., 2008.
  • Peter K. Simpson, The Community of Cattlemen: A Social History of the Cattle Industry in Southeastern Oregon, 1869-1912. Moscow, D: University of Idaho Press, 1987.
  • An Illustrated History of Baker, Grant, Malheur and Harney Counties, with a Brief Outline of the Early History of the State of Oregon. Chicago: Western Historical Publishing Company, 1902.

External links[edit]

Media related to Harney County, Oregon at Wikimedia Commons

Coordinates: 43°04′N 118°58′W / 43.07°N 118.97°W / 43.07; -118.97