Jefferson County was created on December 12, 1914, out of territory that was once part of Crook County. The county was named after Mount Jefferson, the second highest peak in Oregon with an elevation of 10,497 feet, which marks the county's western skyline. The county is bounded on the north by Wasco County, on the east by Wheeler and Crook Counties, on the south by Deschutes County, and on the west by Linn and Marion Counties. The county encompasses 1791 square miles.
Madras, named after the city in India, was incorporated in 1911 and serves as the county seat. A new county courthouse was built in 1961. County government is administered by a three-member board of commissioners.
The county's population at its first federal census in 1920 was 3,211. The 2000 population of 19,009 represented a 39% increase from 1990.
Principle industries are agriculture, forest products, and recreation. The fertile North Unit Irrigation District in the central part of the county produces seed, potatoes, hay, and mint. The eastern part of the county has dry wheat farming and grazing land for cattle, and the western part is timber country. The Warm Springs Forest Product Industry owned by the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation is the single largest industry. The reservation is located on portions of land in four counties including 236,082 acres in the northwestern corner of Jefferson County.
The county owes much of its agricultural prosperity to the arrival of the railroad in 1911 and to the development of irrigation projects in the late 1930s. The railroad, linking Madras with the Columbia River, was completed after constant feuds and battles between two lines working opposite sides of the Deschutes River.
Did You Know?
Sprawling reservoir Lake Billy Chinook in Jefferson County was named for a Chinook Indian boy who joined up with John C. Fremont's second expedition at The Dalles in 1843. Chinook accompanied Fremont (and Kit Carson of later fame) south through present day Central Oregon to California, including a harrowing journey across the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the heart of winter.
While traveling through what is now Jefferson County, Fremont commented about the chasm-like valleys and vertical precipices that made the region impracticable for wagons and barely useable by horses. In an illustration of the difficulty of the terrain, the howitzer cannon brought by the expedition had to be disassembled and carried separately by hand.