If anyone could qualify as an elder statesman among Wallowa County ranchers, for many years that man was Jack McClaran. His death at age 87 last month leaves a void not only in the ranching community, but in all of Wallowa County.

Hundreds of people crowded into Enterprise First Baptist for his memorial service Jan. 4 to honor and say farewell to a man who has always stood tall in Wallowa County life.

“He had many and varied interests, not just in ranching,” said his son, Scott, who now operates the McClaran Ranch, which is one of the few that runs cattle in the wild Snake and Imnaha canyon country. “He had a lot of friends and acquaintances not involved in the agriculture community, and that gave him a lot of balance in the way he looked at issues.”

In 1994, when McClaran was a relatively young man of 68, the Wallowa County Chieftain described him as a “man who’s ridden close to 100,000 miles on horseback, raised nearly 35 million pounds of beef and dedicated himself to improving range conditions in and around Hells Canyon” when he was chosen as honorary member of the Wallowa County Stockgrowers.

“There’s not a better ranch cowboy,” Scott McClaran said proudly of his father at that time.

The McClaran family went into ranching in 1919, when Jack’s father, Joe, returned from World War I. Scott – and his three daughters, Jill, Beth and Maggie, who work alongside him – make the third and fourth generations on the McClaran Ranch. Running cattle and riding the rugged canyon country isn’t just a tradition, it’s a continuing way of life for them.

When the 1994 Chieftain story was written, Jack McClaran had previously earned the Stockman and Grassman of the Year titles from the Stockgrowers organization, and served as Oregon Cattlemen’s Association vice president, as well as being on the Hells Canyon NRA planning team in the 1970s and later on the state’s scenic rivers ad hoc committee. He was always a thoughtful, soft-spoken but strong champion of private property rights.

The father of three children and booster of education in the county, he’d been chairman of the Enterprise School Board. Though the Chieftain story didn’t mention it, he and his wife Marge – alongside good friends, historian/author Alvin Josephy Jr. and his wife Betty – were among the founders in the 1960s of the educational Wallowa County Day Camp, still going today as Chief Joseph Summer Camp.

Also not mentioned was the fact Jack was a charter director on the Wallowa Valley Health Care Foundation board, which has raised millions of dollars for hospital and health care improvements in Wallowa County.

McClaran still had many miles to ride before he was through, both literally and off his horse. “After a while, when you’ve spent a lifetime on the land, you understand you don’t own the land, the land owns you,” he said during a ranch tour a few years ago.

Jack McClaran’s skill as a storyteller was well known and appreciated, ranging from being a campfire presenter on the first Appaloosa Trail ride in 1965 to more recently being a Rotary speaker and holding Rotarians spellbound with his tales of ranching in the rugged Imnaha/Snake River canyon area.

For more on Jack McClaran, see Rich Wandschneider’s Main Street column on Page A4.

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