Introducing our High Desert Heroines


Last updated 3/12/2024 at 9:44am

We live in the shadow of mountains named after three women. One of the names for the river that runs through town came about because Native American women often camped along its shores. A legend about the black volcano that guards our skyline says it is a woman resting on a long journey with her pouting husband. Our town is even named after the girls in the family. Sisters is the perfect place to celebrate Women’s History Month and the lives that helped make our community what it is today.

Many women walk through the pages of history quietly. It’s hard to find records, stories, or newspaper clippings on their lives and contributions. They are often referred to under their husbands’ names. Many worked as a team with spouses and others, some unpaid and heroic, leading important societal improvements, yet they disappear unrecognized in the historical record. But despite these challenges, some stand out, and we still speak their names, decades after they have left this earth.

There are women worth celebrating in our local history. Martha Cobb Hindman Olson ruled over two of the first way stations for travelers in Central Oregon, owned six businesses in town, and outlived three husbands to become a legend (Click here to see related story.). Maida Bailey was the highly educated, first librarian, advisor, and Dean of Reed College, who fell in love with a sheep rancher and became an integral part of Sisters’ ranching, logging, and library culture. Grace Cyrus Aitken served as postmistress and librarian, ran the drugstore, and heroically saved the mail full of peoples’ paychecks from the 1923 fire that destroyed half of town. Teachers Alice Scott and Tillie Wilson thought to record local history in their book “That was Yesterday,” which has become an invaluable record for researchers today. Elva Smith homesteaded in a remote cabin on the lower Metolius, and rode her horse across the river to teach children at Agency Plains on the Warm Springs Reservation. Gertude Merrill was the first woman fire lookout of the Sisters Ranger District on Black Butte way back in 1921. Bertha Perry Ronalds the tobacco heiress, philanthropist, and socialite played a role in the development of the tourist economy and Metolius Meadows in Camp Sherman. Roblay McMullan was a feisty beauty who reigned over happy family vacations at Lake Creek Lodge for decades.

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There are so many women we know played important roles in the history of Sisters and Camp Sherman, and yet there are so many unanswered questions. What was Daisy Allen like and how did she help her blacksmith husband transition from a horse to an automobile culture? Where did Elva Smith go after she left the her remote Metolius cabin and apple trees? What crises did Leda South resolve while her husband was off being a Ranger? How did Grace Cyrus Aitken mobilize a crew to move groceries out of the fire’s way and reopen the store the day after the building burned? Does anyone still have the recipe for the famous cream and lemon pies Lora Zumwalt made for guests while she was answering the radio, issuing permits, and managing the Ranger Station at Allingham? What happened to Hazel McKinney, her daughters, and their dog Snip once she left the Black Butte cupola lookout in 1927? How did the Women of the Civic Club mobilize community food donations for hungry students during the depression? How did a nationally known French teacher known as Madame Dore end up as Cache Mountain fire lookout in 1945 and what was her first name? So many questions...

Sisters Oregon Guide

If you have any answers, old photos or stories, curiosity to learn more, or the urge to provide monetary support, you are in luck. The Three Sisters Historical Society is currently planning exhibits to highlight local heroines during women’s history month and welcomes your curiosity, volunteer help, and support.

SFF Presents: Big Ponderoo June 29 and 30, 2024

Help us make those quiet footsteps a little louder and inspire our sons and daughters to emulate the women who had the courage and willpower to try to make our world a better place. Visit the Three Sisters Historical Society website at

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