The History of Burns High School
As presented by Mrs. Kathy Wassom, 2015
Harney County High School was established in 1904 and met in the grade school building, which was located at the present site of the Episcopal Church. The first graduation, a class of two students, was on May 18, 1906. Men’s Track and field was the first extracurricular activity offered but the boys had to coach themselves as there was no supervisor of athletics at that time. The number of students enrolled in the high school gradually increased and in 1911 the school’s first annual , “The Rodeo”, debuted.
1913 saw the school’s first football team. The team practiced three times per week and played an inter-class game. One student, Cecil Bennett, suffered a broken leg during the competition and a benefit dance was later held for him. The following year the first basketball game was played between classes and the school organized a baseball team. The first baseball game between Harney County High School and a team from Prineville ended in a loss of 3-20.
By the fall of 1915, the school’s enrollment had climbed to 51 students. During that year the football team began playing other schools throughout Eastern Oregon such as John Day, Ontario, and Prineville. The three primary sports were football, baseball, and track but with track primarily holding inter-class competitions. During this period the sports programs lacked proper coaching and equipment, which was primarily furnished by the players themselves.
During the 1918-1919 school year a flu epidemic spread throughout the United States and Harney County was not excluded. The schools were only open six weeks that year. Because of the loss of that year, students were required to attend an additional year to graduate. Sometime around the year 1919 the school officially designated purple and gold as the school colors.
The school changed from a county high school to a union high school in 1927. The first student council was formed. In 1928 the money for an athletic field, named Memorial Field, was donated by local businessmen and in the summer of 1928 work began on a new school building. The new building was completed in January of 1929 with a total cost of construction of $100,000. During construction some classes were held in the Presbyterian Church and the Burns City Hall. The old grade school was demolished and the new school, the Lincoln Jr. High building, was occupied. Over the next few years there were improvements to the athletic fields made possible through donations of the local townspeople.
By 1930 the school employed eight faculty, the senior class of that year consisted of 24 students, and the school formed a girls basketball team. Because of the depression, which hit all communities hard, it was difficult to keep the school running. It was a challenge to heat the school and pay teacher salaries. “The Rodeo” had a four year gap in printing from 1931 to 1935.
The enrollment grew to 175 students by 1937. During this year the Pep Pepper Drill Team was organized as a yell club with the main function of promoting school spirit. Their uniforms consisted of matching sweaters and skirts. Two years later the Pep Peppers adopted a Scottish theme and began wearing a Scotch plaid uniform for drills. Shortly thereafter the school band also adopted the Scottish plaid theme, which was designed to represent the Burns clan using a green tartan with blue and yellow accents.
During the war years of the early 1940’s there were few boys in classes and the shortage affected the school’s extra-curricular activities. In 1946 the high school band and the Pep Peppers were invited to perform in the annual Portland Rose Festival Parade. During that year the annual publication was renamed from “The Rodeo” to “The Bard”, which reflected the Scottish theme of the high school. At some time during the 40’s Burns adopted the mascot of the Bulldog and it remained so until 1953 when the Burns Bulldogs changed their name to the Burns Hilanders. The original Hilander was a friendly Scotsman designed and painted by local artist Lee Reed. Clubs and organizations emerged with the Scottish theme, the Bonnie Lassies and the Clansmen debuted as organizations to promote school spirit, and a school newspaper called the “Bagpipe” began.
A new high school was built in 1957-1958 but before the doors were opened it succumbed to a fire and was completely destroyed. Another school was built on the same site to replace it and the doors of the present day Burns High School opened for students in the fall of 1959.
In 1986 a new Hilander was designed and painted by student Ben Beamer. The new design showed the Hilander as a serious Scottish warrior wearing full traditional regalia in purple and gold and brandishing a sword. His image adorns the front of the BHS gymnasium as he welcomes visitors to “Hilander Country”. In the late 80’s the community voted to unify the Burns and Hines school districts thus turning Burns Union High School to Burns High School. In 1987 and again in 1991 BHS was honored in the Blue Ribbon Schools program, the highest honor a school can receive in the United States.
Over the years the original Burns plaid diminished in its presence at BHS and much of its history was forgotten. However, the class of 2011 sought to return the tartan plaid to Burns High School. With a piece of the 1939 green and yellow Hilander Scottish tartan for reference, a new Hilander tartan was designed to resemble the original as close as possible. A traditional kilt was custom made and registered in Scotland as the official tartan plaid of the Burns Hilanders. A second kilt, designed in purple and gold, was made with funds remaining from the class of 2008.
In 2015, under the direction of the art teacher, Ben Holtby, the BHS art club restored the faded Hilander man in vibrant purple and gold. He stands tall and proud in his revitalized colors watching over the students at Burns High School.