AND THE JUNIPER TREES BORE FRUIT
Copyright 1999 by Andrew Gale Ontko
Published and printed by Maverick Publications, Inc.
P.O. Box 5007 Bend, Oregon 97708
In Memory of
Andrew Gale Ontko
Born: August 18,1927
Died: July 2, 1998
(Starts with Chapter 180)
Chapter 181 -- or, Chapter 2 of this book:
"The Rattlesnake Coils"
This country is settled up with a class of men that is good friends but bad enemies. . . .
President, Ochoco Livestock Association
The town mayor's cryptic warning to prospective settlers, in a letter dated April 21, 1882, was never delivered but the implied danger of meddling in Prineville's private affairs had reached fulfillment less than a month before. (1) The raw power of a select few had steadily grown following the discover of gold in Belcher Gulch. Opposition to this movement was strangely silent. Perhaps from fear and perhaps not. It appears that the men who were not intimidated were concerned solely in protecting their own interests and the cancer took root. Aid in the fight for justice would come from an unlikely source. In the sunset of 1881, the notorious gunman, Henry Vaughan, drifted into Scissorsville, took a room at the Antler Hotel and bided his time gambling in Kyle Thompson's Pay Dirt Saloon.
Tempered in the smelter of Canyon City, Vaughan was no stranger to the Ochoco. Rumor had it that he was always welcome at Jim Blakely's big Willow Creek spread. Not a comforting thought to the livestock association for among other things, Vaughan was branded a horse thief and it was common knowledge that he was not adverse to shooting a man. Worse still, Vaughan and Blakely were boyhood friends born and raised just a few miles apart in the Willamette Valley. They had shared coffee and cattle drives, fought Indians side-by-side and wintered together in the worst the Ochoco could offer. Blakely would readily acknowledge that Vaughan was not socially acceptable but as he put it a half century later, "Hank's been called a lot of hard names by the history writers but he was a good friend to me." Among other things, he was called a hard-bitten gunfighter, high-stake gambler, Indian lover and convicted murderer.
(1) The original letter was found in 1942 between the walls of the Elisha Barnes house at 136 South Beaver Street, Prineville, Oregon. It is now on file at the A.R. Bowman Memorial Museum in Prineville.
In 1865 (at the age of sixteen) Vaughan was roaming the gambling halls of The Dalles City when he met Dick Burton. Dick was every bit as wild as his older brother, Billy Burton, who -- along with Henry Plummer -- had just been hanged by the Montana Vigilantes on January 10, 1864. An explosive combination, Hank and Dick soon formed a loose partnership and headed for Idaho Territory to make their fortune. According to Vaughan his new companion neglected to tell him that the horses they were riding were stolen property. In the meantime Sheriff Frank Maddock of Umatilla County rounded up a posse and went after the horse thief. Vaughan and Burton were still in their blankets when about daylight the posse arrived. Somebody started shooting and when it was over, Dick Burton and Maddock's deputy Jackson Hart were dead and the sheriff had taken a bullet through the mouth extracting a few teeth along the way. It wasn't a fatal wound . . . it just disfigured Frank a little bit. For that, Vaughan spent a few years in the Oregon State Penitentiary. (2)
It seemed -- at least to the locals -- that Vaughan had no redeeming features. "My gawd," they exclaimed, "the man's married to a heathen squaw!" (3) They failed to note that she was the granddaughter of a Nez Perce chief and the widow of the respected Harney Valley businessman Henry Robie who, in his advanced years, found comfort in her arms before he expired leaving her a $70,000 inheritance and the reason for Hank's sudden interest in a Nez Perce woman. (4) With her financial backing Vaughan bought a ranch north of the Umatilla Reservation and went into the horse business. He then moved Martha onto the Umatilla Reservation in 1882 so she could take advantage of the proposed Indian Allotment Act which would qualify her to claim 160 acres of reservation land. With the luck of the cards, insofar as Hank was concerned, this act didn't become law until 1887. (5) So with his restless nature and nothing better to do, Hank was again haunting the eastern Oregon gambling halls.
(2) At the time of the shooting Hank's father, Jacob Alexander Vaughan, was serving with the 1st Oregon Volunteer Infantry stationed at Fort Harney, then known as Camp Rattlesnake. Hank was sentenced to life in prison but after serving only 4½ years on his life term, Governor George Woods (who advocated a war of extermination against the eastern Oregon Shoshoni) granted him a full pardon. (Governor's Executive Documents, Records of the Secretary of State, Oregon State Archives, Salem)
(3) That was not exactly true. Apparently Vaughan had left his first wife, Lois McCarty, who he married in Elko, Nevada in 1875. Within three years he wed Louisa Jane Ditty in Pendleton, Oregon, without benefit of divorce from Lois. However when he took up with the Nez Perce woman he did obtain a divorce from Louisa in 1883. But his living arrangement with Martha Robie "the heathen squaw" wasn't quite legal either so in 1888 -- four years after leaving Prineville -- Hank filed for a divorce from Lois which she strongly objected to. Hank finally won out and within days after obtaining his divorce from Lois McCarty he legally married his Indian lover. (Elko County, Marriages, Book No. 1, p. 84 dated May 8, 1875, Elko, Nevada; Umatilla County Court Book of Marriages, page dated August 11, 1878, Pendleton, Oregon; Umatilla County Circuit Court, Divorce Case No. 191-30, June 22, 1883; Umatilla County Circuit Court, Divorce Case No. 191-31, October 8, 1888; Early Marriages of Walla Walla County, 1862 through 1899, Wahington Territory and State, Walla Walla, Washington.)
(4) A.M. Robie, a retired colonel in the 8th U.S. Cavalry and a nephew of Isaac Stevens, first governor of Washington Territory, had made big money in the sawmill business. As early as 1867 his mill cut the lumber for the construction of Fort Harney. In 1877 he sold his 42,300 acre Diamond A ranch to Pete French. At the outbreak of the Bannock War, Robie and French were gathering Robie's horses off the ranch when the Shoshoni attacked. A few weeks later Robie died as a result of exhaustion from his desperate ride to the safety of Fort Harney but before he died he placed a $1,000 reward for the head of Pony Blanket. Maybe this was the reason for the Umatilla's interest in decapitating Pony Blanket. (See Thunder Over the Ochoco, Vol. IV, Chapter 169.) Robie's name has been variously spelled as Ruby, Rubey and Robsy. The Portland papers were partial to the Ruby spelling. The Portland Standard, December 23, 1881, would announce that "a little over a year ago he (Vaughan) married the widow of a man named Ruby." He hadn't but it shows that as early as 1881 Hank was known to be associated with Martha. Then on March 18, 1939, the Sunday Oregonian would quote Jim Blakely in an interview as saying "Hank was living with the widow of the respected Cyrus Ruby [Henry Robie], Colonel in the 8th United States Cavalry." The cavalry unit referred to was recruited in the Willamette Valley and never saw action against the Shoshoni due to a lack of enlistment. (See Thunder Over the Ochoco, Vol. III, Chapter 135, p. 331. For more on Robie see Brimlow, Harney County and its Rangeland, pp 37, 57, 59, 78 and 81)
(5) Called the General Allotment Act, this law would accelerate the loss of Indian tribal lands by granting tracts to individual Indians. The remainder of the tribal lands not selected by individuals were either opened for public settlement or sold for "the benefit of the tribe." Mainly because of this act the acreage of reserved Indian lands dropped from 138 million acres in 1887 to about 50 million acres by 1934 when further reduction was stopped. (Historical Highlights of Public Land Management, p. 38.)
On release, at the age of 33, Hank set up camp at the Pay Dirt Saloon but with the Thompson clan getting more arrogant, he drifted into Prineville gambling some and drinking plenty but he was staying for a purpose. Some Six months before his arrival, Charlie Long -- a fast-draw who bragged that he rode stirrup-to-stirrup with Billy Bonney in the Lincoln County cattle war -- showed up as enforcer for the planned Ochoco Livestock Association. Vaughan knew that Blakely was a law-abiding man and may need help if things turned nasty. And so, Henry Vaughan -- outlaw, squaw-man and ex-convict -- pledged his guns to the decent citizens of Prineville. Blakely, who fought the association from the beginning, would give much credit to his old saddle companion: "I had a few friends but none of them stood by me better than Hank Vaughan." (6)
Caught in the middle of the initial thrust were the men charged with reporting daily events in an unbiased manner. (7) Prineville's first newspaper, the Ochoco Review, appeared in 1880. John Jeffery, editor and publisher, described the publication as a neatly printed 7-column folio independent in politics and devoted to the best interests of Wasco County. Dillard and Company's Prineville News was printed on both sides of an 8½ by 11 inch sheet of paper and for a time in its battle for survival was printed in Silver Lake, Oregon. By 1894, the embattled Prineville News would be absorbed by the Ochoco Review.
Appearing on the scene in 1880, the Ochoco Review was pushing Henry Dillard's Prineville News to the limit temporarily forcing it out of business by summer of 1882. With D.W. Aldridge as editor, John Douthit acting as sales representative and Star Mealey serving as reporter, the Ochoco Review was covering the controversial issues of the day and not everyone was pleased. (8) Others were secretly happy with the coverage. Among these was Jasper Johnson, local school superintendent.
(6) Blakely interview, August 18, 1950.
(7) Rumors persist that there are diaries still in existence written by those who rode with the Livestock Association -- read vigilantes and sheepshooters. Supposedly these journals are sprinkled throughout with dastardly tales and the names of those who committed them. Don't you believe it. There were in fact such diaries and other incriminating documents but at the turn of the 20th century, this evidence kept pot-bellied stoves glowing red hot throughout the night. Those who participated in the ignition were trying to protect the innocent not the perpetrators of these violent acts.
(8) Somewhere in the newspaper battles, the Ochoco Review was either absorbed by or changed its name to the Crook County Journal around the turn of the century. The author was able to obtain some highly censored copies that were printed during the sheep and cattle war with dates from the 1890's up to December 17, 1908. Not only were names blacked out but in many cases, whole sentences. In the 1960's, he loaned these copies to a student of history and when returned all dates from November 15, 1890 (Ochoco Review) up to December 22, 1904 (Crook County Journal) were missing. The only explanation being "I have no idea what happened . . . they must have gotten lost." The Crook County Journal published by A.C. Palmer was originally the Mitchell Monitor. In 1903 it was taken over by S.M. Bailey.
In an effort to improve some youthful education, Johnson -- in a deft political move -- hired Aldridge to start classes at Mill Creek and ordered Dayton Elliott, Howard schoolmaster, into town to reorganize the Prineville public school system. At Elliott's request, Johnson called a meeting of the town fathers to discuss the question of levying a tax to build another school. This proposal was not looked upon with favor. The Ochoco Review took up the battle. In a blistering attack aimed at the "fat boys from the valley" who, in the editor's opinion, were growing rapidly rich in Prineville but didn't expect to remain long so therefore cared nothing for education, he fired a broadside. "The school levy was defeated and the school house was not ordered built because nearly every opulent mossback opposed the taxation.: Aldridge further observed that "it is a common occurrence for any one of our general stores to sell in one day $1,500 to $2,000 worth of goods." (9) In short, the town wasn't exactly poverty-stricken.
Speaking of such matters, neither was the U.S. government hurting for land but after bilking the Indians out of millions of acres it was somewhat reluctant to part with any of its ill-gotten gains. In March 1881, Has No Horse again hiding out near Fort Bidwell and tired of being shoved around, petitioned the government for some land he could call his own. Concerned citizens pointed out to the secretary of the Interior that it might be a smart move to honor this request for it was feared that any effort to remove him to a reservation would trigger a repeat of the Bannock War. Interior Secretary Samuel J. Kirkwood was unimpressed. Fortunately Has No Horse was a patient man as his application wasn't granted until the passage of the Dawes Act on February 8, 1887. (10) However, within a few months after the 1881 rejection of Has No Horse's petition, Kirkwood was looking for a new job.
(9) Ochoco Review, March 4, 1882.
(10) At this time, Has No Horse and his wife Bessie were allotted the SW ¼ of Section 17, T.-46N., R. 17E. M.D.M. in the extreme N.E. corner of California. (Document belonging to Patsy Garcia, Has No Horse's great-granddaughter.)
Another item of economic concern was the winter of 1881-82 when fortunes were made or lost at the whim of the weather. While the Ochoco Valley was experiencing a mild winter with only eight inches of snow in the upper valley which by the first week in February would be completely gone, the rest of central Oregon was not faring so well. (11) Taking advantage of the deep snow in the Cascades, the hide-hunters -- Henry Birchtorf and Mort Venton -- took off in December with a two-fold purpose, to trap fur-bearing animals and to wreck havoc among the starving deer and elk herds. Neither were cattle or sheep exempt from the skinning knife. Birchtorf and Venton alone could have financed a new school building. By January 1, 1882, they had delivered 4,000 pounds of deer hides to Fried & Sickel. Eleven days later on January 12, smoke rose in black plumes from the summit of Mt. Jefferson. According to the Ochoco Review, "the sight from here was a grand spectacle." At least Venton and Birchtorf couldn't be held responsible for this disruption of nature.
Overshadowing Mt. Jefferson's volcanic burp, a more violent eruption had shaken the town two days before. At the Silver Dollar, Vaughan was leaning on the bar sipping a beer when Charlie Long -- a reckless 37-year-old gunslinger -- walked in. Hank casually looked around, pulled out a silk handkerchief from his breast pocket to wipe the foam off his neatly trimmed beard and at that instant, Long drew and fired. Vaughan took a .38 slug in his right shoulder, spinning him around and numbing his arm. In the following confusion, Long calmly walked out and disappeared down the street. The story quickly spread that Vaughan had offered his handkerchief to Long with the intent each would hold one end of it and shoot it out at arms length. Eye witnesses knew it wasn't true but the story stuck.
In an attempt to quiet the onlookers, Deputy Luckey arrested Long and the next day they headed for The Dalles. On arrival at the county seat, Long was bound over to the circuit court and released on $800 bail. Eleven days after the shooting, the Ochoco Review would report that Vaughan was able to be out on the streets again and on February 4, he rented a buggy and headed for The Dalles looking for Long. (12)
Out on the desert from Agency Plain on the eastern base of the Cascades to Wagontire Mountain west of the Steens, livestock were taking a beating. Ranchers reported sheep and cattle dying by the hundreds. With these men going broke, the Ochoco Valley stockmen were reaping the reward of their misfortune. At give-away prices, Ewen Johnson was buying anything that could walk; John Luckey, Hank Breyman and John Sommerville formed a partnership and bought twelve hundred head of steers from Perry Reed, Al Lyle, Bill Gulliford and George Dodson. The Cecil brothers were forced to liquidate their entire herd to California buyers. To salvage a part of his herd, C. Sam Smith (part owner of the Silver Dollar Saloon) bought Jim Miller's Keystone Ranch on the upper Ochoco and in the process acquired Sheriff Luckey's interest in the ranch also. Smith soon spread to lower Crooked River, expanding his holdings to 8,300 acres of which 4,400 acres were Willamette Valley and Cascade Mountain Military Road Company lands. This acquisition would prove to be a costly mistake.
About the time Smith bought the Keystone Ranch, Jim Miller's brother, Joaquin, was taking Europe by storm. In England, Joaquin Miller who served for a time as editor of the Eugene Democratic Register, so charmed sedate Londoners that they named him " the Lord Byron of Oregon." (13)
His fellow Oregon editors were not impressed. After Miller's first book of poems was published in England, the editor of the Albany Democrat offered no congratulations. In a grouch mood he wrote ". . .[Miller] has published a book of poems and become a man of fame in London. This fact makes me think no more of Miller but a lot less of Londoners." (14)
D.W. Aldridge, editor of the Ochoco Review, was a little more realistic when asked if he thought that London journalists were telling the truth about Joaquin's literary talents. "Lord no," Aldridge replied. "That would ruin us. News reporters should write something that everybody will read and state it so that nobody can remember what was written." Makes sense. Now back to the winter of 1881-82.
(11) Ochoco Review, February 11, 1882.
(12) Ochoco Review, January 12, 14, 21 and February 4, 1882.
(13) Lord George Gordon Byron -- the son of Captain "Mad Dog" Byron, a notorious libertine, and Catherine Gordon, a woman of erratic temperament -- was one of the most important of the poets during the English romantic period and the most verstile. Among his outstanding works were "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage," a narrative poem; "Don Juan," generally regarded as his masterpiece; and "The Poisoner of Chillan."
(14) Myers, "Print in a Wild Land," p. 190.
Bob Dorsey sacrificed his ranch to Seth Moore and Lew Hodges for $900. Joe Blakely sold 600 head of yearlings to a Santa Rosa buyer for a flat $24 a head. Ike Nelson, seeing a chance to make it big, sold his half-interest in the Prineville Livery Stable to Pres Perkins and Garrett Maupin for $1,800 to invest in cattle and it paid off. (15) One of the few small outfits who refused to sell was Luke Langdon perched in the snow-zone on the north slope of Grizzly Mountain. Besides shorthorns, Langdon was also raising blooded horses. Gambling on a break in the weather Langdon and his hired hand, Bill Harrison, took wagons into the lowlands on the Thompson brothers range where they cut and hauled wild rye to feed the starving cattle and horses in the hope of keeping them alive. Langdon would be successful in this attempt but in so doing he failed to endear himself with the Thompsons who were buying out every small rancher they could coax or scare into selling. An artist with a .45 Colt, Langdon was not an easy man to bluff.
Big-time operators, the Thompson brothers -- Senator S. G. (George), Judge J.M. (John), Colonel William (Bud), and Duorey -- were running longhorns from Antelope Valley into the lower Crooked River basin pushing dangerously close to Blakely's Willow Creek spread. They too had suffered heavy losses in the blizzard of '82 and were out to recoup their death toll. Leader of the clan was the flamboyant younger brother Bud, known throughout the West as a hot-tempered braggart and outspoken newspaper editor who settled any and all arguments with a gun. A slight-built man in his mid-thirties who packed a .38 bullet in his neck for more than 50 years, Bud honestly believed he towered above the rest of humanity and wasn't shy about letting this be known. He was also a rabble-rouser. In a political payoff for his partisan viewpoint expressed in the Salem Mercury, Gov. LaFayette Grover commissioned Thompson a colonel in the Oregon militia in 1872. Beyond doubt, Bud Thompson -- pony express rider, Snake war veteran and friend of the international celebrity Joaquin Miller -- was a force to be reckoned with in the settlement of central Oregon. The Pacific Monthly in direct reference to his mode of operation would note: "Crook County is filled with men who love to fight and always have. There is also no doubt that a certain outlaw spirit is still surviving from the days when the Vigilantes really owned the County, allowed whom they liked to reside there and drove out whom they pleased." (16) And so it was.
The livestock men who survived the devastating winter were due for a pleasant surprise. By spring of 1882, the cattle market was booming with cows selling at 89¢ a pound live weight. But if the economy was again booming in central Oregon, it wasn't doing so well elsewhere. The Prineville News received a bulletin from St. Louis that a Mr. Stephen Godo -- because he was unable to support his family on $10 a week -- was advertising for sale his six-year-old daughter for $2,000 and his eight-year-old son for $1,000. (17) Also hoping to make a fortune, a local genius named R.H. Volrath invented a set of bed springs made entirely of wood. Neither the timber operators nor the town merchants took much interest in this new innovation. Of much more importance, at least to the citizens of Scissorsville, was the notification that the United States had banned Chinese immigration for the next ten years thus leaving a gap in the labor market.
Then to cause further financial speculation, Dr. Vanderpool -- acting as veterinarian to the starving herds -- revealed that he had discovered an underground river in the desert west of Bear Creek Butte, sparking interest of water development in that area. (18) He was not to reside in Prineville much longer.
The one thing the stockmen didn't want was more publicity about the desirability of the Ochoco. Within a week following Dr. Vanderpool's inadvertent announcement, a group of men met at the Singer Saloon on Saturday night, February 11, 1882 for the purpose of forming a livestock association. (19) Those who attended this meeting had something greater and more sinister in mind. It was a gathering of the big outfits -- sheep and cattle alike -- with strong and often identical financial ties to local business groups, timber operations, and the mining industry. Their enemies were the small producers -- the 50- to 100-head cattlemen; the one-band sheepman; and any shoe-string operation that could conceivably present later competition. In the eyes of the high-stake gamblers, these penny-ante players were nits on the range to be discouraged from coming into the Ochoco or to be run out if already present. This was the unpublicized purpose. The story released to the public was quite different.
(15) The Prineville Livery Stable was located on the corner of East Second Street and North Belknap where the present Miller Lumber Company is now located.
(16) Arno Dosch, "The War for Range," Pacific Monthly, February 1906, p. 157.
(17) Prineville News, March 18, 1882.
(18) Ochoco Review, February 2-25, 1882.
(19) Ochoco Review, February 16, 1882.
To understand the full scope of what was to happen it becomes necessary to acquaint the reader with the underlying current of what would transpire. The eddies swirl from good to bad to good and like life itself, a fair conclusion cannot be based upon a single instant. What came into being was in a state of flux dependent upon the moment, the desire and the goal of the individuals playing out this drama on life's unexplored stage. It is not for us to pass judgment -- only to record what happened -- and as they said at the faro tables in Burmeister's Stockman's Exchange Saloon, "let the cards remain where they fall and the devil take the hindmost!"
The law abiding citizens gathered at the Singer Saloon were going to clean up the country by running out horse thieves, cattle rustlers, sod-busters and mining riffraff thus making the Ochoco a safe place for decent folks to live. Maybe they did scare away a few undesirables but there isn't a single record of their having caught or killed a verifiable law-breaker. That aside, the struggling small operators pitted against alternating droughts, gully-washers, killing frosts and harsh winters would find that nature at her cruelest was kind in comparison to the masked gunmen who painted the landscape with blood.
Those present at that fateful Saturday night meeting in February were Elisha Barnes, powerful political figure, prominent stockman and mayor of Prineville; George Barnes, tough young gunman who had recently been admitted to the Oregon State Bar Association and who -- three days prior to this meeting -- had formed Prineville's first law firm with Sam Richardson (soon to be appointed county clerk); Jim Lawson, member of the first emigration of 1868 whose duty was to provide a base of operations complete with unbranded horses, saddles and guns so those participating in raids would remain anonymous; and Col. William "Bud" Thompson, owner of six cattle ranches and killer of at least three men in gunfights.
Thompson gunned down his first victim in 1871 at the age of 23. Editor of the Roseburg Plaindealer, he got into an argument with the Gale brothers who published the rival Roseburg Ensign and in the process killed Henry Gale and critically wounded Tom Gale. (20) Before 1882 had drifted away, Harvey Scott, editor of the Portland Oregonian, would make the charge that any man Bud Thompson marked for death in central Oregon was destined for the grave. And Scott was in a position to know for Thompson once worked for him on the editorial staff of The Oregonian.
Ironically, the day after this meeting, the wife of Jasper Johnson (the embattled school superintendent) and the mother of four children died in a flaming cabin on Hay Creek. Cause of the fire unknown.
Two days later, Oregon celebrated its twenty-third birthday. John Harrison, a local ranch hand, had something better to celebrate. His wife had blessed him with a baby daughter. In a way, this little valentine helped ease the heartache William Harrison, John's brother, whose wife had died of pneumonia three weeks earlier leaving him with a young son to raise. Then, four days after the birth of baby Harrison, "the honorable John Thompson" expired. No reason was given as to the cause of death. (21)
(20) Kerolevitz, Newspapering in the Old West, p. 135.
(21) Ochoco Review, February 18, 1882.
Within 24 fleeting days the fledgling livestock association would get the opportunity to test its well-oiled machine -- an organization so well planned that for over a half-century many people were led to believe the lynchings and shootings perpetrated by this mob served a just cause and were provoked by lawless acts which could not have been met effectively in any other manner. They would use Hank Vaughan as living proof that outlaws were tainting the land. Not only were the vigilantes backed by active members but they had the strong support of many silent sympathizers who were, in some respects, the more dangerous group.
In 1868, Andrew Warren and his wife Eliza Spalding Warren (the first white child to be born west of the Rocky Mountains) settled on Willow Creek. Their daughter, America Jane, married Joe Crooks who arrived on Willow Creek in 1872 with his brother Aaron. Joe was a soft-spoken rancher who minded his own business but not Aaron. In all likelihood Aaron, an influential man, took after their father John Turley Crooks, a schoolmaster who helped frame Oregon's Constitution. This coupled with strong family ties to the Rev. Henry Spalding -- a prime mover in Oregon's early settlement --gave Aaron Crooks substantial political clout which he wasn't above using to his advantage and the time for such action was fast approaching.
The trap was baited on a raw Wednesday morning, March 15, 1882. Aaron Crooks and his son-in-law, Stephen Jory, began surveying and blazing property lines on the north slope of Grizzly Mountain adjacent to Langdon's ranch. To date, all the private land claims in central Oregon had been filed under the 1862 Homestead Act . . . a piece of legislation which prompted Senator William E. Borah to comment: "The government bets 160 acres against the entry fee that the settler can't live on the land for five years without starving to death." Luke Langdon was willing to take his chances with starvation but he wasn't inclined to let some domineering claim jumper steal his property which -- or so Langdon thought -- was being attempted. For the past six months there had been hard feelings between him and Crooks over property boundaries. The General Land Office in The Dalles would later confirm Lanngdon's title to the property in question but for the moment, it was disputed territory. At the February meeting of the Ochoco Livestock Association, Crooks had been told to go out and claim "his land." On these instructions, Crooks moved onto Langdon's ranch. At noon, March 15, the surveyors leaned their axes against a big pine tauntingly within sight of Langdon's barn and rode home for dinner. This was a provocative -- if not stupid -- move on their part for Luke was known to be hot-tempered and a dead shot with pistol or rifle.
At daylight that morning, Bill Harrison -- Langdon's horse wrangler -- saddled up and rode into Prineville to pick up supplies and visit his motherless son who was staying with his aunt and uncle -- Harrison's brother and sister-in-law. Around noon, Bill decided to have dinner with Annette Tallman. William Henry Harrison, a decent law abiding man was also a full-blood Shoshoni and had known Nettie from childhood. (22) On the way, he passed Jim Blakely's townhouse which sat only two blocks south of Annette's cottage. Well acquainted with Blakely's Willow Creek ranch, Harrison stopped to visit with Jim. Joe Blakely was also there at the time. Across the street, Bud Thompson paused on his front porch to note the exchange of greetings. (23) It was well established that many townspeople knew the whereabouts of Bill Harrison on March 15, 1882 . . . a day that would be held in question for years to come.
Back on Grizzly Mountain, Langdon -- packing a .45 Colt and a double-barreled shotgun
-- was waiting when Crooks and Jory came back to continue their survey. He quietly told them they were trespassing on his land. They chose to ignore him. In the argument that ensued Crooks drew his pistol on Langdon and Jory charged him swinging an axe. Luke shot and killed both men. Glancing up, he became panicked. A rider was approaching. Without thinking of the consequences, he jumped on his horse and lit out for Mill Creek where his brother George was cutting wood. This move would spark the grim series of events which brought the vigilantes into power. A cold, calculated scheme that paid off with the anticipated reaction -- two men dead and another on the run.
Garrett Maupin -- part owner of the Second Street Livery Stable and son of the man who killed Paulina -- was out rounding up horses when he heard two shots. Riding over to investigate, he saw Langdon, heavily armed, riding out at a hard gallop. (24) He then discovered the bodies of Crooks and Jory and took off at breakneck speed for Prineville.
"Two men have been murdered," he yelled reining his foam-lathered horse to a stop at Kelly's Last Chance Saloon. The first men onto the street were Joe and Jim Blakely. While some dashed off to notify Deputy Luckey and form a posse, the Blakely brothers and Bill Harrison volunteered to ride out to Langdon's ranch and bring in the bodies of the murdered men. When they arrived at the scene of the shooting, no one had moved the bodies but Crooks' and Jory's wives who witnessed the killings from about one-quarter mile away had placed their aprons over their husbands' faces. After the bodies were loaded onto pack horses, Harrison stayed at the ranch to look after the safety of Emma Langdon and the children and also to take care of the needed chores. (25) Meanwhile, the Blakely boys arrived back in Prineville late that evening with the dead men where a coroner's jury was selected to determine the cause of death. Being a mere formality, this determination didn't take up much time. Crooks had been shot twice with a .45 Colt having one bullet lodged in his right shoulder and the other having passed through his lungs. Jory in his axe charge had taken a 10gauge shotgun blast in the chest with buckshot penetrating his brain killing him instantly. Once that was established, the verdict read: "We the jury impaneled to inquire into the cause of the death of A.H. Crooks and Stephen Jory find from the evidence that the deceased came to their death by gunshot wounds inflicted by Lucius Langdon. (26) It is apparent that no one else was considered a suspect.
By some twist of fate, another brother to Luke, Perry Langdon -- a sheep shearer -- was living in the Perkins House Hotel with Garrett Maupin. When Maupin galloped into town with the news of Luke's deadly attack, Perry, sensing the mood of the crowd, took no chances and left town that night. He was never seen in central Oregon again.
When Luke fled the death scene, headed for brother George's cabin, he had only one thought in mind and that was to borrow some money to go to The Dalles and turn himself in. In 1882, The Dalles was still the hub of government for central Oregon and Luke was gambling that if he could reach the county seat, he might have a chance for a fair trial. (27) Having been involved in a bitter lawsuit with Aaron Crooks and on the Thompson brother's blacklist for having cut rye grass on their range in January, Langdon was certain if he gave himself up in Prineville he would never live long enough to make it to The Dalles.
(22) Bill Harrison, his brother John and Annette Tallman (daughter of the Buffalo Killer dog soldier Tall Man and niece to Broken Knife) had been captured by the Warm Springs scouts on the John Day River in 1859. As prisoners of war, first at Fort Dalles where they received their Anglicized names, they were later held as slaves at the Warm Springs Agency. In keeping with the times, Bill was named for the ninth president of the United States.
(23) Blakely's house sat on the northwest corner of the intersection of west Fourth and North Claypool Streets. Thompson's house sat on the southwest corner of the intersection of West Fourth and Claypool Streets. Annette's cottage sat on the bank of the Ochoco River at the dead-end on the east side of North Beaver Street one block north of its intersection with West Fifth Street.
(24) The Illustrated history of Central Oregon, 1905, p. 710.
(25) Emma La Francis Langdon was a French-Canadian. Her and Luke's children were Mary, Daisy (Claypool), and Lambert (a gambler). All information on Lucius Langdon is from correspondence with Jax Zumwalt, great nephew of Luke, letter dated October 4, 1977; and Glen Langdon Jr., great nephew of Luke, letter dated September 12, 1977. Their information was contributed by a relative who wishes to remain anonymous. Glen Langdon Jr. was the grandson of George Langdon who was with his brother Lucius in Prineville just hours before Luke was killed.
(26) The coroner's report was signed by: Dr. H.A. Belknap, J.H. Garret, J.W. Page, S.S. Brown, C.A. Newbill, S.G. Wood. Illustrated History of Central Oregon, PP. 710-11.
(27) Lucius Lambert Langdon came west in 1875. He married Emma LaFrancis on February 15, 1875 and took up a homestead claim in central Oregon in 1880 listing his mailing address as Cleek, Wasco County Oregon. This is the reason he was so anxious to get to The Dalles. Cleek post office was established in 1881 and was located west of Grizzly on The Dalles-Prineville stage road. "Crook County's Reign of Terror Blot on History," Central Oregonian, Centennial Edition, Thursday, October 28, 1982, p. 3B.
Playing a hunch that Langdon would attempt to contact his brother George, a posse which Sheriff Luckey didn't accompany, slipped out of town under the cover of darkness and headed for Mill Creek. Led by Bud Thompson, it would include Til Glaze, Sam Richardson, George Barnes, Bob Graham, and Charlie Long. It had been just a little over two months since Long had been bound over to the circuit court on an $8-- bond for taking a shot at Henry Vaughan. The posse returned to town empty-handed insofar as Luke was concerned but they claimed they saw him run from George's cabin and they had confiscated his saddle horse and Winchester rifle.
Thompson's unsuccessful effort to capture Langdon would be described by Luckey in a letter to Sheriff Storrs at The Dalles. ". . .at one o'clock in the night they approached the cabin . . . saw a light but before they could surround the house the dogs gave the alarm . . . it was very dark and he [Langdon] got away . . . a runner was sent back to town and every available man able to bear arms turned out determined to get him if possible. They scoured the whole country and guarded all the avenues where it was thought he was likely to escape. J.M. Blakely and a party of men thought he would return home as the boys at Mill Creek had captured his horse and gun . . ." (28)
Thompson would claim that as he, Barnes, Richardson, Glaze and Long -- "men of unquestioned courage and discretion" as he put it -- approached the cabin both murderers (Luke Langdon and Harrison) escaped in the snow. Then, "eleven men rushed out of the cabin after the two murderers" but, according to Thompson, he and Long leveled double-barreled shotguns and ordered them back inside. They knew only one of the men and that was George Langdon whom they immediately arrested. (29) If Thompson was telling the truth about taking George into custody, and there is no reason to believe he wasn't, the posse had no motive -- legal or otherwise -- to arrest young Langdon as he was cutting wood some twenty miles to the east when the shooting of Crooks and Jory took place. His only crime was being the brother of Luke Langdon.
(28) Luckey's letter to Sheriff Storrs reprinted in The Illustrated History of central Oregon, 1905, p. 711.
(29) Thompson, Reminiscences of a Pioneer, pp. 169-72, published in 1912 when Thompson was editor of the Alturas, California Plaindealer.
To cloak their own actions, Barnes, Thompson and Graham would go to any length to make it appear that fugitives from the law had taken over the community. In fact, Thompson was doing his best to implicate Ewen Johnson in the cover-up. He would publicly announce that Johnson had found a cabin concealed in a fir thicket on Mill Creek in the vicinity of Stein's Pillar; that it contained both provisions for men and horse feed; and it had the appearance of having been used extensively . . . "but there was no visible trail leading to it!" This supposedly was George Langdon's hide-out. It was also claimed that Johnson lead the posse to the cabin the night of March 15 and then sent two of his sons -- one to Scissorsville in the upper Ochoco Valley and one to Prineville -- to alert the settlers that a gang of outlaws were hid out on Mill Creek. It is doubtful that Johnson even saw the posse and it is certain he had nothing to say about the fictitious gunmen.
Many people silently believed that the ten strangers the posse encountered at the Mill Creek cabin were made up to support the charge that Langdon's were part of an outlaw gang in order to justify the next act of violence. Suspicious from the beginning, Blakely questioned Charlie Long. Long, a hired gun who had nothing to hide, readily admitted that the unauthorized posse never saw anyone with the Langdon brothers. Nonetheless, Bud Thompson feigning belief in the outlaw gang theory wouldn't back down.
Several weeks before Aaron Crooks was encouraged to provide Luke Langdon into action, the men who formed the livestock association were spreading rumors that desperate characters had congregated in the Ochoco Mountains where they advanced from petty crimes such as cattle rustling to "bolder acts embracing brutal and diabolical murder." Worse yet, according to the budding livestock association, the settlers were allowing it to happen. It's quite likely the decent element of central Oregon were smart enough to recognize what was about to happen and were hoping to stay out of harm's way. Some would not be so lucky.
In mid-January, word leaked out that Wayne Claypool -- member of the first homestead party to breach the Ochoco in 1866 -- had witnessed a violent act of larceny but was refusing to discuss the incident with local authorities. Whatever he had seen aroused the curiosity of those who were promoting the idea that night riders were inhabiting the land. Claypool was not so foolish as to talk, especially when Bud Thompson -- soon to be secretary of the Ochoco Livestock Association -- tried to pump him for information claiming he'd have the lawbreakers arrested. Perhaps he would have but it's apparent that Claypool didn't believe him. Offering no apology, Claypool told Thompson that "rather than appear against them [the perpetrators of the crime] I will abandon all I have and leave the country because if they don't kill me they'll destroy all I have." To make a volatile situation even more uncertain insofar as Claypool was concerned, his youngest son, Chester, was spending a lot of time on Grizzly Mountain with Daisy Langdon, Luke's daughter . . . not a smart move on Chester's part in view of the fury hovering on the near horizon. (30)
It is evident that Wayne Claypool, one of the most substantial citizens in the Ochoco Valley, was intimidated beyond any normal reaction. Within a week after Thompson contacted Claypool, D.W. Aldridge, editor of the Ochoco Review -- on Thompson's request -- made this meeting public. Why, is not clear but apparently it had some significance in the web of intrigue surrounding the formation of the vigilantes or "the committee" as they preferred to be called. No sooner had the newspaper hit the street when three men "all known to be thieves and desperate characters caught the editor, knocked him down, pulled out his beard and would probably have done him greater bodily harm had not Til Glaze interfered and stopped them. "Supposedly Glaze's intervention in the scrap embittered the whole gang against him and Thompson. (31) In truth, the hit men were range riders employed by one of the big cow outfits and were operating under the direct orders of the livestock association . . . maybe even Thompson himself.
By March 17, the contenders in the main event were entering the ring. The fact that Blakely thought Langdon might return to his home on Grizzly Mountain was enough to convince Sheriff Luckey that he best lead a posse into the Bear Creek country on the chance that Langdon was headed for the California border and being an "Indian lover" might try to tie in with Has No Horse now hiding out on Warner (Hart) Mountain. With Luckey and all available riflemen charging into the rims south of town, other citizens who believed Luke may have returned home asked Blakely to go after Langdon and arrest him. Jim didn't want to get involved in the affair because he was not a law officer and he thought it was the duty of John Luckey to take charge. In the end, the townsfolk won out. (32) So, with the backing of Hank Vaughan, Lucian Nichols (whose brother Frank was a member of the Oregon Legislature), Robert Smith and Jerry Schoolin, Blakely left Prineville at 4:00 p.m. and rode north toward Langdon's ranch.
(30) Chester Claypool (who died at an early age) and Daisy Langdon were married in Prineville, Oregon in the 1880's.
(31) Thompson, Reminiscences of a Pioneer, pp. 167-68.
(32) "Early Day Sheriff Fights for Law," Sunday Oregonian, November 14, 1948.
As Blakely's group was mounting up, George Langdon arrived intending to accompany him to Grizzly Mountain. Earlier that day when Thompson's gunmen arrived back in town more rational minds came to the conclusion that there was no justifiable reason for George's arrest so he was released from custody and given back his revolver. As Langdon approached Blakely, Bill Foren (U.S. deputy marshall) sauntered out of Kelly's Last Chance Saloon and ordered Langdon to hand over his pistol. Giving Foren a cold stare, Langdon quietly told the marshall if he wanted his gun to come over and take it. A coward at heart, Foren was afraid to do it. At this point George decided to stay in town and keep an eye open for any plot that might affect Luke's safety if and when Blakely brought him in.
On the ride out to Langdon's ranch, Schoolin told Blakely that Buckskin Powers -- Prineville's justice of the peace -- had given him a warrant for the arrest of Bill Harrison. This seemed mighty strange but unknown to Blakely's party, the cover-up was already in progress.. In his letter to Sheriff Storrs, Luckey would acknowledge the warrant admitting "they were trying to make Harrison an accessory after the fact." According to Luckey, Justice Powers issued the certificate of arrest because at the inquest Harrison gloated over the bodies of Crooks and Jory and claimed that it served them right, striking his breast and saying "Big Injun me!" (33) Both Schoolin and Blakely knew that Harrison had been in town when the shooting occurred and Blakely knew that he had been at the Langdon ranch when the inquest was held. So they agreed to ignore the summons.
(33) Illustrated History of Central Oregon, 1905, p. 711.
It was getting dark when the arresting posse reached the Langdon ranch. When the men got within about 200 yards of the house a dog barked. They saw a man mount a white horse in front of the house, jump over a ditch and gallop toward The Dalles-Prineville stage road. Vaughan took pursuit and covered him with a Winchester rifle but there was no occasion for gunplay. Blakely called out and the rider stopped. Recognizing Jim's voice he then rode up to the posse. It was Luke Langdon.
Emma Langdon, who was standing in the cabin doorway with two small children clutching her skirts, started screaming. Blakely called out to her and identified himself. The six men, including Langdon, then went into the cabin where Mrs. Langdon invited them to stay for supper. While she was busy with this, Blakely rode over and told the Crooks and Jory families that the posse had Langdon in custody and would take him into Prineville to stand trial for murder.
Neither Schoolin nor Blakely told Harrison about the warrant for his arrest. After supper, Harrison slowly put on his only red silk shirt, handmade boots and black Stetson --his Sunday best -- and asked if he could accompany his boss and friend back to town. Permission was granted.
The guard posse got back into Prineville about 2:00 a.m. and sent for Sheriff Luckey to pick up their prisoner. It was now early Saturday morning, March 18. Shortly after the posse arrived at Hamilton's Livery Stable, Thompson and Luckey came into the stable office and put shackles on Langdon. The sheriff and Blakely then took Luke over to Sam Jackson's Culver Hotel (more commonly known as the Jackson House) had a good fire built and told Langdon to get some sleep on a bar room lounge. When Luke was brought into the hotel -- a choice place to confine a supposedly dangerous criminal -- George Langdon stepped out of the shadows packing a .45 Colt (some claimed it was Luke's) and said he would stay with Luke to ensure that no harm came to him before the legal proceedings scheduled for 10:00 a.m. that morning. At this time, two questions must be asked. If the civil authorities responsible for the community's well-being were operating within the law why were the Langdon's so worried about protection? Also what or whom were they afraid of? It becomes increasingly obvious that the Langdons along with Wayne Claypool, Ewen Johnson and perhaps a few others knew something the general public wasn't aware of and this knowledge definitely troubled them. Whatever it may have been, George stayed with Luke until nearly daylight. Then, against his better judgment, he rode out to Grizzly to escort Emma back to town for Luke's hearing.
Meantime, Luckey asked Blakely to help guard the prisoner but having been in the saddle for ten hours, Blakely wanted some sleep and declined. Although things were beginning to look suspicious none of the men who brought Langdon in thought that Harrison was also considered to be a captive. With U.S. Deputy Marshall Bill Foren present they believed it was safe for Harrison to remain with Luke when they turned him over to Foren and Luckey. Therefore, all of the posse members (except for Nichols who volunteered to help guard Langdon) went home. As further insurance that nothing would go wrong, Jerry Luckey, the sheriff's uncle and highly respected citizen, had been deputized to help keep order. By now a good many men were gathering around the Culver Hotel but no one, least of all Blakely's posse, thought that men like John Sommerville and Eugene Luckey, Gus Winkler and the Barnes brothers would be working up a lynching party. But it was soon confirmed when Winkler tried to talk Joe Blakely into joining the mob.
As the night dragged on, a reporter from the Prineville News burned the midnight oil preparing this glowing account to be slapped on the front page of the Saturday edition: "On Wednesday of this week occurred the atrocious murder of Crooks and Jory on Willow Creek by L.L. Langdon, who a few days after was captured together with W.H. Harrison an accessory and taken to Prineville where they were placed under guard at the Jackson Hotel . . . ." (34)
The reality that Langdon and Harrison were held in a hotel bar room brings up another thought provoking question. Why weren't they lodged in the security of the city jail? Over a year before Luke's indiscretion when the newly appointed city council was exceptionally pure of heart, the first ordinance passed had to do with the use of profane language. (35)
It stated that anyone guilty of using profanity in any house or public place within the incorporated limits of Prineville would be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and liable to a fine of not less than five and not more than twenty dollars. If the guilty parties didn't pay their fines before a certain time, they could be summoned to work on the city streets at the rate of two dollars a day. Since some gentlemen were not inclined to stop cursing or overly eager to subsidize the city maintenance program, the council took drastic measures. On January 1, 1881 -- only five days after the ordinance was enacted -- the council let a contract to Charles Solomon for the building of a jail with room for a recorder's and sheriff's office. It was specified that the building was to be completed by April 1, 1881 and it was. (36) Yet neither Langdon nor Harrison would ever see the inside of it.
At daybreak, March 18, Prineville was jarred awake by the violent ringing of the school bell. Elizabeth Blakely jumped out of bed, dashed to the parlor window and saw a crowd milling in the street. Glancing toward the rear entrance of Graham's Longhorn Saloon -- Dick Graham was the acting coroner -- she shouted, "Oh no! They're carrying the body of a man in a red shirt!" Tight-lipped with anger, Jim exclaimed, "My gawd! That must be Bill Harrison!" (37) Now fully awake, Blakely spirited into the street totally unprepared for what he was about to encounter.
(34) Prineville News, March 18, 1882 published by Horace Dillard. The newspaper office was located on West Third Street in the vicinity of the present Terry's Jewelry and Gift Shop.
(35) The first Prineville city council met in a two-story frame building near the corner of Third and Main Streets on Monday, December 27, 1880 and took their oath of office before S.T. Richardson, justice of the peace of the Prineville precinct, Wasco County Oregon. The members were: Elisha Barnes, council president; F.E. Whitaker, A. Hodges, Josephus Wilson and Dan Richards made up the council> Minutes of the Prineville City Council 1880, p.1.
(36) Minutes of the Prineville City Council 1880-87, pp.1, 9, 13.
(37) Blakely to Herb Lundy, Oregonian reporter, The Sunday Oregonian, March 19, 1939.
"The Rattler Strikes"
I feel conscious of having done my duty as a law officer so there I let the matter rest.
John L. Luckey
Prineville, Oregon, March 18, 1882
No one really knows if that statement is correct. A man from Albany, Oregon checked into the Culver Hotel around midnight March 17. He would recall that very late in the evening, he decided to go downstairs and see what night life was like in Prineville. As he approached the head of the stairway he came up to a man standing there with a six-shooter in his hand that "looked about half as big as a medium-sized mountain howitzer." The gentlemen said, "Mister, wouldn't you just as soon go back to your room and stay there until morning?" The Albany visitor suddenly decided he did, very much, want to go back to his room and stay there until daylight. During breakfast, he learned there had been "a certain vigilante action in town a few hours earlier" and some unfortunate citizen had been ushered out of this world into the next in a rather violent manner. (1)
What happened between 2:00 a.m. Saturday morning when Blakely's posse delivered Langdon to the deputy sheriff and daybreak when the wild ringing of the school bell awoke the town is best described by Luckey in his official report to Sheriff John Storrs. Perhaps confession is good for the soul.
Luckey begins with the arrival of the posse.
They all came to town together, Harrison, Langdon prisoners, arriving about two o'clock a.m. Blakely woke me up saying they had captured Langdon and wanted to turn him over to me. I went down to the stable office where they had him, took him into the hotel, had a good fire built and told Langdon to take some sleep on the lounge. I sat down by the stove to guard him. The town was soon aroused; at least quite a number of men came in to see Langdon, as I suppose, through morbid curiosity. Mr. W.C. Foren, deputy U.S. marshall, came in and stayed with him. [No mention of George Langdon being present.] Harrison went to bed and about 4 o'clock got up and sat by the stove in charge of L. Nichols. At about 5 o'clock in the morning as I was sitting at the stove with my back to the front door, the door was suddenly opened and I was caught and thrown backward on the floor and firmly held, while my eyes were blinded and immediately a pistol was fired rapidly 5 or 6 times. I heard someone groan just about the time the firing ceased. Harrison was hurried from the room. I could tell it was him by his cries. I went to Langdon and found him dead. I looked around and a masked man stood at each door warning by ominous signs for no one to undertake to leave the room. So soon as they were satisfied Langdon was dead they quietly left the room. At daylight I took some men and began the search for Harrison and found him hanging from a banister of the Crooked River iron bridge. (2)
To add further confusion as to what happened that fateful morning, Thompson claimed -- which Blakely firmly denied -- that the posse turned the prisoners (again the plural) over to him and he was helping guard them when the twelve or fifteen masked men burst into the hotel barroom, killed Langdon and dragged Harrison away.
(1) Ned Norton, Centennial Edition, Central Oregonian, July 1968.
(2) Luckey's letter to Sheriff Storrs at The Dalles dated March 18, 1882. Illustrated History of Central Oregon, 1905. Some of Luckey's descendants still live in Prineville. A great-great nephew and niece are also a nephew and niece to the author of Thunder Over the Ochoco.
Thompson's account, which undoubtedly sheds some light as to what happened, doesn't support Luckey's official report. After all, Thompson was covering his own tracks. In keeping with his version of the event, the prisoners were being held at the livery stable when he arrived. Upon his request, Luckey and Foren had them moved to the barroom of the Culver Hotel where Thompson remained to assist in guarding the defendants. The deputy and U.S. marshall guarded the street door while Thompson kept watch on the back door. Langdon, shackled and lying on a couch, fell asleep. Harrison was sitting near Thompson when they heard the street door open. As Thompson turned to look four men burst into the lobby and threw the two law officers to the floor. At the same instant two men rushed across the barroom and leveled their revolvers at Thompson. The whole proceedings took place within five seconds. All were masked, even their hands being covered with gloves with the fingers cut off to better handle their weapons.
In another instant the room was filled with masked figures. Apparently every man had a place assigned to him and in less than a minute every entrance to the hotel was blocked by armed guards. Thompson would then note: "As two men leveled their guns at me I put up my hands and I want to say I stood at attention." At the same time two more men ran around the stove and as Langdon struggled to his feet one of them struck Luke with his pistol knocking him to the floor. Then in a frenzy, they emptied their revolvers into his body. It was later confirmed that Langdon was riddled with bullets from several handguns. Every vital organ including his lungs, heart and liver were pulverized. While this was going on other men placed a rope around Harrison's neck and as he was dragged out of the room he cried out to Thompson, "For God's sake save my life and I will tell it all" implying that he knew something about the murder of Crooks and Jory which he didn't Thompson never saw him alive again.
Twelve men were left in the bar after the main mob had vanished. Not a word was spoken until Thompson asked permission to go to Langdon's body and straighten it out. This he was permitted to do and after about twenty minutes one of the masked figures give a signal and in an instant "all were gone, passing out through the two doors." Keep in mind that this is Thompson's commentary . . . the acknowledged leader of the vigilantes. Thompson, himself would never admit to any participation in the committee's activities -- only to his role in the so-called livestock association. The way Thompson reasoned, just because he was in the Culver Hotel when Langdon was gunned down, it enabled "my enemies, especially the outlaw gang, to accuse me of being the head of the vigilantes." He would also bemoan the fact that Harrison's death gave Harvey Scott an opportunity to declare in the Oregonian that Thompson was the chief of the vigilantes and if he gave the order could have "any man in three counties hanged." (3) There was no doubt in the minds of central Oregon residents that Scott was telling the truth.
Now for the third eye-witness account as to what happened in Sam Jackson's Culver Hotel on Saturday morning, March 18, 1882. Langdon's body was already getting stiff when Leo Fried -- local businessman and soon to be part owner of the big Prineville Land and Livestock Company -- dropped in at the hotel dining room for an early morning cup of coffee before opening his general store. According to him, things had calmed down and all seemed peaceful. Bill Harrison was sitting quietly by the stove sipping coffee and the guards were discussing Langdon's premature death. Suddenly Harrison interrupted their conversation with this comment: "Whatever Luke did, he was always good to me." Following that remark, the cluster of men who were milling about the hotel lobby -- none of them masked -- grabbed Harrison and dragged him outside as he pleaded, "For godsake, I got a little boy with no mother! I ain't done anythin' but work for Luke!" Neither the U.S. marshall nor the deputy sheriff made any attempt to stop them and it was Fried's belief that the men involved were members of the newly formed Ochoco Livestock Association. Once outside, a rope was placed around Harrison's neck and one of the men jumped on a horse and raced down Third Street with Harrison clawing frantically at the noose and dragging behind. Joined by other horsemen, the mob circled several blocks coming back down North Main; then they veered north on Beaver Street towards the back of the Longhorn Saloon before galloping west on Second Street toward the Crooked River bridge. (4) Harrison was already dead.
(3) Thompson, Reminiscences of a Pioneer, pp. 172-74.
(4) Old Timer Edition, Central Oregon Shopper, August 4, 1949, p. 3 col. 5. The first bridge across Crooked River was built in 1874. The lumber used in construction came from Bill McMeekin's sawmill located on the Ochoco River where the Central Oregonian office now stands. The bridge spanned Crooked River at what is now West Second Street about a block west of Deer Street. At that time Crooked River ran through what is now downtown Prineville merging with Ochoco River at a point a block west of the present Deer Street bridge. The old river channel is still visible marked by a three to four foot drop-off which meanders between Fairview Street and Main Street south of SE Second Street.
As a Shoshoni horse wrangler cashed in his chips on a muddy frontier street, the cards were being dealt to a beginner in the elegant community of Hyde Park, New York. This new player in the game of life would find his niche in history as Franklin Delano Roosevelt., 32nd president of the United States.
By the time Blakely got dressed that morning, "the man in a red shirt" had been jerked down West Second Street where a crowd now gathered at the Crooked River bridge to morbidly stare at his battered body hanging on public display. Few people believed that Luckey couldn't identify any of the lynchers. It was also being questioned as to why the two law officers who knew that Harrison was not legally a prisoner didn't intervene as noted by Leo Fried.
For the sake of an argument since Fried was the only eye-witness who claimed to have seen the faces of those who committed the act of violence, let's concede that Luckey was correct and the men were masked. The horse which dragged Harrison to death wasn't masked and it was generally known whose horse it was and who rode it. It happened that the horse was one Jim Blakely had sold a short time before and the deputy sheriff had a strong personal reason to shield the rider.
For the remainder of the day, the townspeople shuffled about in muffled silence. Luckey would write: "The town is quiet today. Powers held an inquest upon the bodies. I am not informed what the verdict in either case was. I feel conscious of having done my duty . . . ." To insure no one forgot what happened, splashed across the front page of the Ochoco Review was the reminder: "At about 5 o'clock in the morning a mob entered the barroom of the Culver Hotel, compelled the guard to stand aside, shot Langdon to death as he lay on a lounge and Harrison was roped and dragged to the Crooked River bridge from which structure he was hanged . . ." (5)
Yes, Prineville was deathly quiet and for good reason but not for long. When George and Emma Langdon rode into town expecting to see Luke before his 10 o'clock trial, the pervading gloom was rent by a scream of pure hatred. Seeing Luke's tortured body still sprawled on the barroom floor, Emma La Francis Langdon's French blood came to a seething boil. Charging into Hahn & Fried's General Mercantile, she bought a .38 Colt, a box of bullets and stalked back to the Culver Hotel. Luke's wife was out for revenge. Entering the lobby, she fired a shot at Luckey but being quite agile he ducked out the rear door and stayed hidden out in Maupin & Perkins livery barn until the Langdons left town the following day. Following this episode, the townspeople were so frightened over what had transpired in the past five hours they wouldn't even help George and Emma prepare Luke's body for burial. (6)
(5) Ochoco Review, Saturday, March 18, 1882.
(6) Testimony of Jax Zumwalt, great nephew of Lucius Langdon, letter dated October 4, 1977.
When he thought it was safe to venture out, John Harrison removed his brother's body -- now swaying ominously in an up-canyon wind -- from the Crooked River bridge and with the help of Annette Tallman and Kate Driggs provided Bill with the essentials needed to enter the land of his fathers. Sunday morning, Langdon and Harrison were buried in unmarked graves on the bleak sagebrush covered hill north of town. For some unexplained reason, Aaron Crooks and Stephen Jory who were buried on Friday, were also laid to rest in unidentified graves. (7)
Soon after Emma Langdon tried her best to remove Sheriff Luckey's badge with a .38 slug, a new development was taking shape. As the day dragged on, a sinister group drifted into the Stockman's Exchange Saloon and the Ochoco Livestock Association transformed into the Ochoco Vigilance Committee dedicated to enforcing law and order in central Oregon . . . and feared by every honest citizen east of the Cascade mountains. Known leaders in this organization were Elisha Barnes, Joe Hinkle, Bud Thompson, and Sam Newsom. How many followers they had is anybody's guess.
By Saturday evening, the Langdon's were aware of this meeting and George was certain that he was the next victim on the hit list. He tried to talk Emma into leaving also but having more nerve than good sense, she refused to be run off of her Grizzly Mountain horse ranch. The next morning after attending to Luke's burial, George gave Emma $300, took Luke's best saddle horse and lit out for the Columbia. Shortly after his arrival at The Dalles inquisitive truth-seekers asked Langdon if he had been run out of town by the committee. In all honesty, George admitted, "I would rather be a live coward than a dead hero and I left Prineville because the crooks there were too strong and too dirty for the small ranchers to handle." (8)
By mid-summer, George Langdon returned to central Oregon to check on Emma's welfare only to find out all of her horses had been stolen. With the help of the Blakelys and C. Sam Smith who placed their range hands at Langdon's disposal, the missing horses were retrieved. Seeing the futility of trying to operate the Grizzly ranch, Emma and her children returned to The Dalles where she later married John Archibald.
It wasn't long before other central Oregon residents were getting nervous as the Ochoco Livestock Association openly embraced a vigilante mode of operation. Frank Loeker put his brewery up for sale and headed for Washington Territory. Leo Fried sold his interest in the mercantile store to Moses Sechel and left for Portland. Realizing he should have kept his mouth shut about underground rivers. Doc Vanderpool took down his shingle and retreated to The Dalles.
And the actions taken by the committee may have been tormenting some people's conscience. Dick Graham, who was staying at his summer resort in Big Summit Prairie, got word to get back into town immediately. Brother Bob who was managing the Longhorn Saloon had abandoned the place and taken the stage for San Francisco. Without comment, Special Deputy Jerry Luckey headed over the Cascades to Eugene were he committed suicide. (9)
Things were not going smoothly in the queen of Oregon cow towns. Adding more fuel to the 1882 summer of discontent, 23,000 head of sheep took the trail east leaving no forage for the big cattle drives to follow.
Only three summers had passed since the Shoshoni war machine laid waste to eastern Oregon. Now better news was in the offing for the empire builders. Word drifted up from California that another blight on the range was about to be eliminated. Bad Face, in an attempt to unite with Has No Horse, was reported to be dying in a remote mountain valley on the Oregon-Nevada border.
(7) Prineville's boot hill is now a part of Juniper Haven Cemetery. The burial sites of Langdon, Crooks and Jory have never been listed in cemetery records although there are known unmarked graves in the old Prineville Cemetery which is now named Pioneer Cemetery, located in the southwest corner of Juniper Haven. William Henry Harrison's name or burial site aren't even acknowledged as being in the old Prineville Cemetery. Some would hint that Harrison was buried in the Grizzly Cemetery but there is no evidence -- other than some unmarked graves -- to support that claim.
(8) Testimony of Glen Langdon, Jr., grandson of George Langdon, letter dated September 12, 1977.
(9) Letter to the author from Eugene E. Luckey dated June 10, 1988, Burns, Oregon.
GALE ONTKO BIO:
Mix together equal portions of the intellectual curiosity and organizational abilities of Benjamin Franklin and the steely determination of Ulysses S Grant, let simmer in the Ochocos of Central Oregon for nearly seven decades and the product is Gale Ontko, the writer of "Thunder Over the Ochoco".
In most respects this is a man who became an author because of circumstances rather than desire. He grew up in Ochoco Valley area east of Prineville and unlike most Oregonians has spent his life on the land. His employment as BLM fire management supervisor took him into back country for long stretches of time and the Indians of the area got to know him so well they finally gave him an Indian name of his own.
It all began innocently enough when he realized that native Americans---had been ignored in the writing of American history as totally as our other non-European minorities. He began to talk with Indians, take notes and enter the world of historical research until one day he felt he was able to add something to what had been written about early days in the Northwest. His other motivation was an increasing belief that the rather desolate land mass of the Ochoco had itself profoundly influenced the history of the region and had a interesting story of its own to be told, if someone was willing to do the work of putting it in proper order.
To a greater extent than is usually the case his writing is a mirror reflection of the man himself. It is said that only the very rich and/or those who live alone can afford the luxury of very strong attitudes and convictions. Gale has lived by himself for many years and the two special gifts of that experience which he brings to his writing are an iron-willed determination to be sure that he has the facts right and an incredible degree of patience. The first has led him to an extraordinary depth of research. There was no solid backlog of Indian data, because the Shoshoni had no written language. So he listened carefully to the oral histories of all the principal tribes and then sought verification by crosschecking contemporary written materials. He has (to) know that his writing breaks new ground and has been determined that regardless of the amount of research required that it stand solid against all inquiry. His remarkable patience has let him continue for years the assembling of his facts before doing the writing.
His book has the refreshing directness and, when necessary, the bluntness that back country people still retain and which their urban cousins have largely abandoned. He has made every effort possible to learn the truth about the people who made the history about which he writes and then to state it. Hudson's Bay Company is not likely to send him a thank-you note, genteel readers may feel they could get along with fewer details of the way the trapper brigades lived and any descendants of Protestant missionaries to Oregon might well consider putting out a cont(r)act on this man. The good news is that when most readers finish this book they are very likely to say, "I had no idea non-fiction could be so interesting."
Robert Harris, Prineville, Oregon, Fall, 1982
I - The Gathering Storm
II - Distant Thunder
III - Lightning Strikes!
IV - Rain of Tears
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