Shaniko 2022 - Ongoing

Secluded in the lonely, wheat-hued cattle lands of Central Oregon, the town of Shaniko is frozen in time. Built in the late 1800s, Shaniko still has its original wooden mercantile storefront, red brick hotel, and defunct railroad. A high-desert backdrop completes this Wild West vignette, which sees cloudless summer skies and sheets of winter snow that whiten the rolling landscape as far as the eye can see. Today, only 28 residents call Shaniko home, but it wasn’t always that way.

For one illustrious decade, Shaniko was “The Wool Capital of the World,” transporting millions of pounds of wool via railway annually. The town’s promise was crushed in 1910 by a railway that rerouted existing train traffic, and two devastating fires in Shaniko’s business district put the nail in the coffin. The population began to decline steadily, leaving behind few surviving buildings. Among them is the infamously haunted Shaniko Hotel, rumored to house the agonized spirits of multiple people who died violently on the premises. Guests still report ghost sightings at the hotel to this day.

The town’s remaining old West relics make an ideal backdrop for the Shaniko Gunslingers, a group of locals and regular visitors who stage elaborate black powder gunfights in the streets. Donning old-west garb and six shooters, the Gunslingers embrace the maverick-esque mythology of the American West. Such portrayals belie an urge to escape modern society’s complicated grip. The Gunslingers continually reach for folklore and the mirage of a simpler time, with some even bringing the act into daily life, their cowboy personas bleeding into their actual selves.

There is a pervasive sense of desperation in Shaniko, yet it still carries a magnetic draw. Perhaps this is the result of its frontier aesthetics commingled with a sordid history. As the townspeople blend vestiges of old-time fantasy with ghost-town reality, the line between the two often becomes murky, adding to Shaniko’s haunting allure.

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