For probably 10 years now, Sherman County law enforcement have dealt with calls about a herd of feral cows.
“I call them feral because they just roam the canyons. They’re everywhere,” said Sherman County Sheriff Brad Lohrey. “When I say feral—I mean mean. I’m scared of them.”
In January, Harry Dean Eakin, 79, of Grass Valley, was booked and released—for a second time in five years—on five counts of permitting livestock to run at large, a misdemeanor.
He was jailed again last Monday, March 18, and remained jailed March 20 on five counts of permitting livestock to run at large.
“We are gonna catch every one of them,” Lohrey said of the county’s plans for the feral herd.
The fences that once contained the herd burned years ago—in the 1980s or ‘90s, he said—and were never replaced, Lohrey said. “It’s some rough country. It’s canyons and it’s rough country to get down into. I think if you built fence, I think you’d have to pack it in.”
He said Eakin has a “large amount of property” and Sherman County is a closed range county. Under closed range rules, fencing is required.
The feral cows have gotten on the highway and have led to at least one crash, Lohrey said. That crash—with “a poop truck” for a septic service, which killed the cow, Lohrey said—led to Eakins’s original booking and release.
Lohrey said the herd has reached up to 30 head at times. “These cows have roamed on other people’s property. They have gone down to the Deschutes River. At one point, [the U.S. Bureau of Land Management] came and trapped some of the cows and hauled them off.”
People who round up the cattle get a fee, and the state, which auctions off the cows, also collects its costs, and then Eakin gets what’s left over, Lohrey said.
“So over the years when they’ve got on other people’s property we’ve rounded them up, taken them to Madras, auction them off,” Lohrey said.
Neither Eakin nor his attorney, Troy Pickard of Portland, could be reached for comment.
Lohrey said he’s heard complaints not only from neighbors, but from people driving through the county. “We’ve had numerous complaints from people that don’t even live in the area.”
He said the cows are found on the top of the Macks Canyon area off Hwy 216.
The sheriff’s office had issued several tickets to Eakin for livestock at large, but then decided to move the enforcement action from violations—which are tickets—to criminal charges.
He said Eakin also has about 50 dogs that run the canyon and “have played heck” on the neighbor’s dogs, on their cattle, and on wildlife.
He said the current dogs “are not his dogs. They’re his dogs originally. We’ve caught those dogs when we can.”
Even though the cows are not branded, Lohrey said, “it’s a small community. We know where the cows are coming from. They’re his cows.”
Lohrey said of Eakin, “He’s a very likable guy, he just has a cow problem.”
In a drawn-out 2013 case, Eakin was criminally charged with permitting livestock to run at large. He was booked and released in January 2014 on the charges. He signed a diversion agreement in May 2015 that would drop the charges as long as he got rid of his cows. In May 2016, he was accused of violating the diversion agreement, and the next month the diversion agreement was extended six months and changed to say he could keep his current livestock as long as they didn’t leave his property.
Eakin successfully completed the diversion in January 2017 and the charges were dismissed.