Taken from the 1984 Klamath County Historical Society book, “Klamath Country History”
By Chester Beers
At one time the town of Bonanza was a Modoc Indian village called “Nushaltkaga,” a reference to the bubbling springs found there, now Big Springs. Bonanza (a Spanish name meaning prosperity for its wealth in water) is situated at the Big Springs on Lost River south east of Klamath Falls some twenty-four miles.
Bonanza was the site of the first homestead filed in Klamath County by I.R. Chandler on July 11, 1873. All of the early settlers in the Lost River area moved to the safety of Linkville (later to be called Klamath Falls) during the Modoc War. John Shook, who enlisted as a scout in the Oregon State Militia, returned to his ranch when the war ended and located a sawmill at the Big Springs in 1873. Shook is also credited for naming the town when he applied for a post office named Bonanza on August 27, 1875.
Bonanza soon became a thriving farm town with many new settlers who began to flock in. The second school in the county (Linkville being the first) was established at the Lost River settlement of Bonanza. Albert Handy was an early settler and opened up a general store with John P. Roberts. Benjamin Price platted the townsite of eleven blocks and recorded them May 16, 1878 in Lakeview which was then the county seat. The stagecoach came through once a week on its way to Linkville or Lakeview.
There were two “up-to-date” hotels in Bonanza which did a fine business and catered to travelers. There were two livery stables that carried 50-60 horses. Bonanza was the supply center for the “four-leaf clover” area. The growth of Bonanza is given in the [Ashland] Tidings of January 18, 1878, where it is reported: “Bonanza has immense springs of cold water — Picturesque and so situated at the gateway between upper and lower valleys of Lost River that it is certainly destined to become an important business point before many years — sage lands will be utilized — grazing lands for thousands of cattle. There is one store, Handy and Roberts; a boarding house kept by Mr. Price (located at the northwest corner of Big Springs Park, at the corner of Main and North Streets); a sawmill owned by John S. Shook, a blacksmith shop (at present with no smith), a school (Bonanza Sage Brush Academy) under the direction of Miss Fannie VanRiper; plus several families. Also, from time immemorial, the redskins came in the early spring, when the river was full to overflowing, to catch the juicy buffalo suckers, just up from Tule Lake, and dry tons for winter use — with fish and game there is no danger of hunger in Bonanza.”
The white school house was the center of community activities. Church was held there once a month to which large crowds came in their horsedrawn vehicles from Langell Valley, Poe Valley and Yonna Valley. The school house was probably a board and batten affair built by volunteer labor during the late summer of 1873. It stood across Lost River from the present Big Springs Park. After this building collapsed in late 1876, a new school house was erected on the same site. This time, however, on information furnished by Birdie Burk in 1952, the school house seems to have been built of logs, probably thought to be more substantial. At one time, twelve or thirteen pupils attended, with Marshall Orr as teacher.
In 1886 the ladies aid of the community held their Christian meetings in the one-room school house. They gave basket socials, made quilts and other fancy work to help build the church. Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Nichols donated the lot, and the first deed was made for $1 on September 3, 1902. The first denomination of the church was the Beulah Methodist Episcopal. In 1947 the property was purchased by the Nazarene Church (who abandoned their work in 1955) and later by the Assembly of God.
On November 20, 1902, the [Klamath Falls] Republican reported: “The force employed by the Midway Telephone Co. completed its line to Bonanza last Saturday and returned to this place. Four phones were located in Bonanza and two at intermediate points — at ranches of Chas. Horton and the Olene Livestock Co. On account of inclement weather, the building of the proposed line Dairy, via Shook Bros. ranch, will probably be delayed until next spring.” Florence Horn, in November, 1971, recalled that Mrs. J.O. Hamaker conducted the first telephone exchange office in Bonanza, and Mrs. Malone served in a similar capacity on the other end, in Langell Valley.
John S. Shook is reported to have donated the land to be used as the Bonanza Cemetery. It was located in a field on his original homestead.
The Bank of Bonanza was established in 1907 by a group of Klamath County residents, some of whom were Alex Martin Jr., William C. Dalton, Dell V. Kuykendall and Jacob Rueck. About 1909, a long time saloon building (Bradburn–Zevely) was removed from the corner of Market and North Street, and permanent quarters for the bank were built there and occupied at that time. On November 12, 1931, according to the Klamath News, three young men drove up to the Bonanza Bank in a battered old car, stolen the night before from the St. Francis Garage in Klamath Falls. They were heavily armed but unmasked and had the appearance of loggers, thus arousing suspicions. Dewey Horn, president, and Miss Sarah Poole, assistant cashier, were in the bank at the time. Horn was forced to unlock the vault and the safe in the vault. Altogether the men secured in the neighborhood of $4,000 in bills and silver. At the end of the year 1934, the Bank of Bonanza liquidated by transfer of all accounts, without loss to depositors, to the American National Bank of Klamath Falls.
Bonanza perhaps holds the distinction of having suffered more disastrous fires than any town of its size in the State of Oregon. The first fire of record occurred September 4, 1900. If there were any fires previous to that date, and it is quite probable there were, no mention of them has been found to date. The next fire of record took place in 1903 or 1904 during a time when a considerable group of Indians were camped across Lost River from Bonanza, perhaps during the spring run of mullet. Two Indians who had reportedly imbibed too freely of “firewater” were placed in the town jail, a wooden building situated north of the west end of the present bridge. The fire was thought to have started from the inside and both inmates were burned to death.
On May 15, 1910, occurred the first of Bonanza’s four big fires in the business section. Next, the [Klamath Falls] Evening Herald of August 19, 1913, reported: “For the second time in the history of the town of Bonanza, the metropolis of the Clover Leaf country was visited by a bad fire last night, when the Harpold Building containing a drug store, general merchandise store, barber shop, confectionery store and hotel and the building occupied by the Broadsword Hardware company went up in flames.” Bonanza’s third big fire occurred on the morning of January 16, 1914, when fire started in the post office building and destroyed other buildings immediately adjacent. The fourth and last big fire occurred on May 30, 1930. The fire started about noon in the blacksmith shop owned by F.W. Bold and Son. For the next two hours the fire, fanned by a strong wind burned through the bank, post office, Sparretorn’s restaurant which was operated by Carl M. Lentz, the drug store run by Lester Boggs and Bradley’s general store.
In 1928 the first Klamath County Branch Library was established here and the Women’s Club has continued as custodians.
The Bonanza Bulletin, only a memory now, came to life around the last of May, 1906. It survived the two disastrous fires of 1910 and 1913 only to fall prey to another, which struck the village in January of 1914. The Bulletin was founded by Charles Pattee and Frank Salcedio, to be purchased by J.O. Hamaker in August 1906.
The pride and joy of Bonanza, among other things, is the Big Springs Park. Interested members of the community began work on getting the park started in 1952. From an unsightly weed patch, willing care created a beautiful spot for picnics, including fireplaces, tables, benches and even piped water. As each year progressed, new things have been added to the park and use of the park has continued to increase. Latest project is a tennis court.