Editor’s note: Oregon’s COVID-19 restrictions have eased, but businesses may ask you to wear a face cover – bring one along and be patient and kind if asked to wear it. It’s also wildfire season – plan ahead and do your part to prevent wildfires.
Walking through the doors of Eastern Oregon’s Hamley Steakhouse & Saloon feels as though you’ve stepped back in time. Inside, there’s a bank wall from the era of Billy the Kid, authentic tin ceilings boasting intricate design and a stone stairwell leading to the wine cellar. You can order your drinks at a turn-of-the-century bar, and the walls are adorned with Old West artifacts.
“It’s a cornerstone of downtown Pendleton,” says Jan MacGregor, general manager of Hamley & Company, which is now owned and operated by the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla. “People walk in and see beautiful oak everywhere, the antique Tiffany chandelier, and they’re just in awe. It’s absolutely beautiful.”
A Slice of History
Visitors feel as if they’ve time traveled because the story of the company dates back more than 100 years. For generations, the Hamley family were saddle makers and leather workers by trade in Cornwall, England. In 1883 William Hamley moved to the United States, and his sons John James (J.J.) and Henry Hamley started the company, making handmade saddles. The brothers found a permanent home for their business in 1905 along the Oregon Trail in Pendleton. The business resides in the same building today.
Using many of the same techniques used more than 100 years ago, Hamley & Co. has a strong reputation for crafting high-quality custom saddles. J.J. Hamley was instrumental in organizing the first Pendleton Round-Up, which got its start in 1910 (with plans to safely hold the event this September). Over the years, the company has only strengthened its reputation by outfitting hundreds of Round-Up trophy winners and more than 50 rodeo world champions with Hamley saddles.
Tribes Keep the Tradition Alive
Over time the store expanded to carry custom-fitted hats, boots, horse tackle and hand-wrought jewelry, including silver made by Indigenous artists. Native tribes in the area have a long history of selling their goods at Hamley as well as dropping into the store to shop for clothing, tack and saddles. This longstanding good relationship of doing business at the store is one of the driving reasons behind the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla purchasing the business in 2019.
“This store has been part of our history. I remember going there when I was quite young with my grandparents,” says Kat Brigham, chair of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation board of trustees. Brigham is also the co-owner of Brigham Fish Market in Cascade Locks.
When the former owners of Hamley fell into financial trouble, Brigham says there was concern the area would lose the storied business and all it meant to the people of the area. “It was also important to carry on the Hamley logo and traditions. We didn’t know if somebody from out of town would do that,” she says.
Dining in the Old West
Though it got its start selling saddles and other leather goods at its Western store, today Hamley is also home to a cafe, restaurant and saloon, all of which attract visitors with beautiful restoration work, a charming atmosphere and extensive menus. The restaurant serves a melt-in-your-mouth ribeye steak made from USDA prime-grade beef and has two outdoor patios for plenty of open-air seating.
While the steaks take center stage (it is a steakhouse, after all), the menu is robust with salads, burgers, fish and pasta. All of the dressings, gravies and sauces are made from scratch. There’s also a kids’ menu, making it a great stop for families.
The cafe serves breakfast and lunch offerings like pastries, sandwiches and wraps, with indoor dining and a few outdoor tables. Along with its snacks and burgers, the saloon whips up inventive cocktails, some of which feature Pendleton Whisky, a Canadian blended whiskey that shares its name with the city.
When the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla purchased Hamley, they didn’t change anything on the menu of the restaurant or the offerings at the Western store. “They’ve got a great product, great service and great food. We wanted to keep it Hamley,” Brigham says. “We’re trying to continue to live up to the name.”