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There are thyirty-six counties in the state of Oregon. The Oregon Constitution does not explicitly provide for county seats.

Malheur County, Oregon

Malheur County Education, Geography, and HistoryMalheur County, Oregon Courthouse

Malheur County is a county located in the southeast corner of the state of Oregon. Based on the 2010 census, the population was 31,313. Its county seat is Vale, and its largest city is Ontario. The county was named after the Malheur River, which runs through the county. "Malheur" is French for misfortune.

Malheur County is included in the Ontario, OR-ID Micropolitan Statistical Area, which is also included in the Boise City-Mountain Home-Ontario, ID-OR Combined Statistical Area. It is included in the eight-county definition of Eastern Oregon.

Etymology - Origin of Malheur County Name

The county was named after the Malheur River that flowed through the area. Peter Skene Ogden, a Hudson's Bay Company trader, referred to this river in his journal as "Riviere au Malheur" which translates as "unfortunate river."


County QuickFacts: CensusBureau Quick Facts

Malheur County History

Malheur County was created February 17, 1887 from the southern portion of Baker County. The county was named after the Malheur River that flowed through the area. Peter Skene Ogden, a Hudson's Bay Company trader, referred to this river in his journal as "Riviere au Malheur" which translates as "unfortunate river." It was given this name because during an expedition into the Snake River country in 1825-1826, property and furs hidden in the area were discovered and stolen.

Malheur County is located in the southeast corner of Oregon. It is bordered by Baker County on the north, the State of Idaho on the east, the State of Nevada on the south, and Harney and Grant Counties on the west. Malheur County is the second largest county in the state with 9,874 square miles.

The county seat is Vale. The first county courthouse was built in 1887 at a cost of $1,400. The second courthouse was built in 1902 after several years of rivalry between localities contending for the honor of being named the county seat. A third courthouse was built in 1958.

Malheur County held its first general election in 1888 to elect a judge, sheriff, clerk, two commissioners, treasurer, assessor, superintendent of schools, and coroner.

Malheur County was first settled by miners and stockmen in the early 1860s. The discovery of gold in 1863 created an interest in this area which resulted in the establishment of settlements and stock ranches. Basques settled in the region in the 1890s and were mainly engaged in sheep raising. The principal industries of Malheur County are agriculture, livestock, food processing, and tourism. The Western Treasure Valley located in the northeast corner of the county is the center of diversified and intensified farming.

The population of Malheur County steadily increased from 1890 through 1980. From 1980 to the 1990 there was a 36% decline partially due to weak agricultural seasons between 1982 and 1986. However, the 2000 population reached 31,615, which represented an increase of 21.42% from 1990. Over half of the county's population is within the cities of Ontario, Vale, and Nyssa in the Western Treasure Valley. A large number of the county's rural residents live in unincorporated areas on farms and ranches in the same valley.

Geography: Land and Water

As reported by the Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 9,930 square miles (25,700 km2), of which 9,888 square miles (25,610 km2) is land and 42 square miles (110 km2) (0.4%) is water. It is the second-largest county in Oregon by area.

Neighboring Counties

Bordering counties are as follows:

  • Harney County (west)
  • Grant County (northwest)
  • Baker County (north)
  • Washington County, Idaho (northeast)
  • Payette County, Idaho (east)
  • Canyon County, Idaho (east)
  • Owyhee County, Idaho (east)
  • Humboldt County, Nevada (south)


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