Posts filed under 'Oregon'

1889: John Gilman, tetchy landlord

2 comments December 13th, 2012 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this day in 1889, 60-year-old John F. Gilman was hanged in Oregon for the murders of William and Elizabeth Eationhover (Eatenhoover, Etenhover).

Elizabeth and her husband Christopher were German immigrants. They arrived with their five-year-old son William in Coquille, Oregon in July 1888 and signed a five-year lease on farmland belonging to Gilman and his wife.

The Eationhovers built a small house forty yards from John Gilman’s house. They hadn’t lived there long before they began having disputes with Gilman about just what they could do on his land. Gilman wanted them to move and offered to cancel the lease, but the Eationhovers refused to budge.

Less than a year had passed before Gilman had decided the only way out of the situation was to cancel his tenants’ lease … on life.

He tried subtlety first, poisoning their food. That didn’t work and he was forced to use a more direct form of homicide.

On Saturday, July 12, 1889, Christopher was returning home after working all week at another, distant farm. When he reached the river, he noticed Gilman on the other side and asked him to row over and give him a ride. Gilman obliged and Christopher continued his journey home — but when he reached the corral, Gilman came up behind him and hit him in the head with one of his boat’s oars. He then pulled out a knife and stabbed him multiple times.

Gilman had made a miscalculation, though — one that saved Christopher Eationhover’s life. He’d been carrying two knives in his pocket, and one had a broken blade. He’d mistakenly pulled out the broken one, and it could not inflict fatal wounds.

As the two men struggled, ElizabethGilman’s wife came out of the house to break up the fight. Christopher then took the opportunity to get away. He staggered down to the river, rowed the boat across and went to get help.

By the time he returned with a posse, however, his wife and child had disappeared. The kitchen table was set for breakfast, and little William’s plate still had food on it, long since grown cold.

When the authorities arrived at the Gilman house, they found John Gilman in bed asleep. He hadn’t even bothered to change his bloodstained clothes. Arrested, he insisted he had no idea where the Eationhovers were or what had happened to them. He suggested that perhaps they’d followed after Christopher and got lost.

A search party found them the next afternoon, poorly concealed in a shallow grave. Nearby was another, empty grave, presumably for Christopher.

The two had died horrible deaths.

Elizabeth had been beaten on the arms, hips and face, and had a bad cut on the back of her head, but the actual cause of death was strangulation. Medical evidence indicated she’d remained alive for a time after the beating.

Five-year-old William had tried to run away, but his killer was too fast for him. He’d been strangled with a rope and his neck was broken.

Gilman would later confess to the crimes. He said he had beaten Elizabeth and then ran off, leaving her semi-conscious and helpless, to kill the child. He then returned to finish off Elizabeth. He claimed he’d strangled the victims (actually hanging William from a tree) because he didn’t want to leave blood evidence in the house.

While clearing out his conscience in this rummage sale (which sorely tempted lynch law), Gilman also confessed to another murder, that of George Morras in 1888. He later recanted his statements, but law enforcement believed he had in fact committed the crime.

John Gilman was indicted for two counts of murder. His wife, Fidelia, was charged as an accessory, but later acquitted. John’s insanity defense failed, and there was no appeal or executive clemency.

One final tragic detail in this very tragic story: on October 21, 1892, nearly three years after the hanging of the man who killed his family, Christopher Eationhover hanged himself.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Murder,Oregon,Other Voices,USA

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1900: Coleman Gillespie

Add comment October 5th, 2012 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

The story behind Coleman Gillespie’s execution on this day in 1900 actually begins on February 21, 1856: on that winter’s day, a small group of hostile Rogue River Indians murdered more than half of Christina Edson’s family at their home in what would become the state of Oregon.

The victims included John Geisel, Christina’s husband of 13 years, and their sons Andrew, 5, Henry, 7, and John, 9.

Christina, her three-week old infant Annie and her thirteen-year-old daughter Mary were spared and force-marched into captivity at an Indian camp twelve miles away. Along the way they had to pass the burning houses and dead bodies of their neighbors. 24 people were killed and 60 homes burned in all.

The pioneers wanted vengeance and they got it: the rebellious Indians were defeated in May 1856 and mobs lynched more than a dozen of them, including the man who betrayed the Geisel family. In July of that year, more than 700 Indians were forced to relocate to two different reservations.

All in all, it was a terrible tragedy.

And four decades later, indirectly, it claimed its last victim.

Long-suffering: Christina Edson

Christina, somehow, put her life back together after surviving two weeks in captivity with her daughters. She never had any more children, but she remarried three times (divorcing twice, and being left a widow with her final husband’s death in 1883).

In 1887, Christina filed a claim with the federal government seeking compensation for the loss of her first husband and sons and their farm, which the Indians had burned down. It took twelve years to get through all the red tape. In the end her application was successful and she was granted a monthly pension.

Christina turned 77 years old in 1899. Although her grown-up daughters wanted her to move in with them, she cherished her independence and lived alone in a cabin in Gold Beach, Oregon. Her very first pension check, for $75, arrived Monday, September 18, 1899.

On September 19, her cabin burned to the ground.

The postman found her charred corpse lying sprawled on her bed in the ruins. She’d been tortured and strangled. The fire was arson, and authorities presumed Christina had been killed for her money; her pension check was missing.

The brutal murder of this elderly pioneer horrified the community. As Diane Goeres-Gardner explains in her book Necktie Parties: Legal Executions in Oregon 1851-1905,

Christina Edson had seen her husband and sons tortured and burned by the Indians. The savages could be excused because they were fighting for their rights to the land they once owned. [Christina’s murder] was even more horrifying because it was done in cold blood for a few dollars.

The police got a lead when the check was cashed in Roseburg by one C.O. White, who was brought in for questioning. He said he’d bought the check at a discount from Coleman Gillespie, a known criminal with two prior convictions for theft.

Arrested a few days later, Gillespie quickly broke down and confessed in writing to Christina Edson’s murder. He named his co-conspirator as Charles Strahan, a commercial salmon fisherman who had mysteriously disappeared. There were rumors that he’d tried to flee the area but had drowned in the Rogue River, and other reports that he’d drowned in an ordinary fishing accident: whatever the case, he was never seen again, neither alive nor dead.

Authorities thought the fisherman a red herring — that Gillespie had acted alone and, having heard of Strahan’s disappearance, tried to share the blame with the convenient phantom. Gillespie’s statements about Christina Edson’s murder over time evolved to shift ever more responsibility onto the missing “accomplice”, until Gillespie was all but denying his own presence at the murder scene. He didn’t really seem to realize that, at the end of the day, he was legally just as guilty whether or not he himself had done the killing.

He found out on August 23, 1900, when he was condemned to die for robbery and murder.

When Coleman Gillespie was hanged six weeks later — the first and last legal execution in Curry County — his neck didn’t break. He expiated every penny of the discounted $75 pension check slowly strangling at the end of the rope.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Military Crimes,Oregon,Other Voices,Pelf,Theft,USA

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1859: Danford Balch, inadvertent PDX benefactor

Add comment October 17th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1859, five to six hundred folks braved a dreary Portland morning to witness the first execution in the state of Oregon — Oregon having graduated into statehood just that very year, as it says on the flag.

Danford Balch, who would surely merit an entry in these pages for his name alone, had staked out a 345-acre land claim near the small settlement of Portland, but all that money couldn’t buy his daughter’s love.

Anna, the eldest of nine kids at a blossoming 15, was amenable to a suit by the farmhand, one Mortimer Stump — this is a Dickensian roster of characters — and in the face of Papa Balch’s opposition, eloped with him over the Columbia River to Vancouver, Wash.

So Danford Balch stewed, and drank, and was allegedly incited by his shrewish wife Mary Jane — this one has an ironically innocent moniker — until, encountering the Stumps in town for supplies one day, Danford Balch tried to retrieve his daughter and ended up shotgunning his unwanted son-in-law, right in the face.

Ka-blamo.

Bystanders tackled Balch immediately, though it took nine more months to bring the killer to trial: in these sparsely-populated frontier precincts justice was being administered on the old “assize” model of wandering judges who dropped in for a spell to try everything at one go. It was enough time for Balch to bust out of a rain-rotted jail cell once and get recaptured (once on the lam, he returned to his own home).

When court was finally in session, conviction was a mere formality. He’d done the deed in public, after all. But the offended father seemed genuinely bewildered by the outcome: apart from the shooting being accidental (so he said), he clearly expected that a court would uphold the dominion of the family patriarch over his wayward progeny.

Heaven knows what fumes he was fuming by the time he climbed the scaffold and beheld that naughty daughter Anna turned up to witness his hanging — sitting in the front row with the [rest of the] Stump family in what you have to think was a somewhat uncomfortable party for all concerned.

Little more affectionate was the post-mortem behavior of the allegedly un-alienated part of the Balch clan.

That widow Mary Jane, whom Danford hinted gave him quite a goading over their wanton daughter, shafted the remaining rugrats out of inheriting their chunks of the family land and instead routed most of it to her next husand.

Balch Creek in Lower Macleay State Park. (cc) image from Brad Reber.

Though pretty difficult to admire by the yardstick of human decency, that behavior turned out to be Danford Balch’s redeeming legacy.

Having passed through several hands, the lion’s share of his former land was in 1897 donated to the city by its then-owner Donald Macleay, who was sick of paying taxes on the unprofitable parcel. That was the time the famously green PDX received its first land gift designated by the donor for parkland: Macleay Park. (Including a Balch Creek.)

Today, it’s all part of the larger Forest Park, and it’s a lovely hiking space for a city that grooves on its outdoor rec … complete with a gorgeously ruined Depression-era stone ranger station that’s popularly believed to be haunted, maybe by the spirit of poor old Danford Balch himself.


The haunted house … (cc) image from Adam Gaumont.

There’s a Balchipedia for chronicling Balch family notables, so you know the first guy executed in Oregon is going to rate a mention.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Oregon,Public Executions,The Supernatural,USA

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1873: Kintpuash, aka Captain Jack

1 comment October 3rd, 2011 Headsman

It’s fitting, we think, to wrap up our long series on Americana with an entry from that realm’s first nations.

It was on this date 1873 that the Modoc leader Kintpuash, known as Captain Jack, was hanged with three comrades by United States forces after the Modoc War.

Reading from a familiar script, the encroaching whites had squeezed Modocs off their ancestral land and onto a reservation — in fact, the reservation of another, rival tribe. Jack led his people off that uncomfortable lodgings, bidding to return home in 1865 — only to be rounded up and re-confined.

A second attempt to break out would result in his execution.

When an actual fight broke out at the inevitable surrender negotiation, outright skirmishing ensued as everyone reached for their guns.

Jack’s forces broke away, now with the U.S. Army in earnest pursuit. They fell back to the rough volcanic terrain at present-day Lava Beds National Monument in northern California — and specifically to a defensible natural fortification that now bears Captain Jack’s name.


Modoc firing position within Captain Jack’s Stronghold. (cc) image courtesy of Eric Hodel.

From Captain Jack’s Stronghold, the Modoc held off a larger army assault.

Dee Brown relates the tragedy of the fruitless monthslong aftermath, of “peace” negotiations under a gathering siege, in the classic Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

[Indian Affairs superintendent Alfred] Meacham* replied that the Modocs could not stay in peace in the Lava Beds unless they gave up the men who committed the killings on Lost River …

“Who will try them?” Jack asked. “White men or Indians?”

“White men, of course,” Meacham admitted.

“Then will you give up the men who killed the Indian women and children on Lost River, to be tried by the Modocs?”

Meacham shook his head. “The Modoc law is dead; the white man’s law rules the country now; only one law lives at a time.”

“Will you try the men who fired on my people?” Jack continued. “By your own law?”

Meacham knew and Captain Jack knew that this could not be done. “The white man’s law rules the country,” the commissioner replied. “The Indian law is dead.”

You gotta look forward, not back.

In the Modoc camp, militants like Hooker Jim were gaining sway, and by disputing his leadership and even his manhood eventually persuaded/forced Captain Jack to ambush the U.S. general in charge during one of their interminable parleys.

Far from striking a decisive blow at the head of the enemy, this anathematized Captain Jack and triggered a massive, and this time successful, army incursion. Jack persisted on the run for a few months, but he was finally captured wih the help of Modoc turncoats — including that former radical Hooker Jim, who induced him to kill the general in the first place.

“You intend to buy your liberty and freedom by running me to earth and delivering me to the soldiers. You realize that life is sweet, but you did not think so when you forced me to promise that I would kill that man, [General] Canby … I thought we would stand side by side if we did fight, and die fighting. I see now I am the only one to forfeit … Oh, you bird-hearted men, you turned against me.”

-Jack to Hooker Jim

Captain Jack was hanged at Fort Klamath, Oregon after a perfunctory trial all in English, with no lawyer to plead the case. (The gallows was put up outside the courtroom during the trial.) The executed Modocs’ corpses were shipped back to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. (rumor had it that they appeared for a time as circus attractions), and only returned to the Modoc in 1984.

Update: Boyd Cothran explores the Modoc War and the skin-crawling trade in gallows trophies of the hanged Modocs in Remembering the Modoc War: Redemptive Violence and the Making of American Innocence. He discusses his work on a New Books in Native American Studies podcast here.


Image (c) Matthew T. Ravenhouk and used with permission.

* Meacham wrote a history of the Modoc War that’s available free online.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Famous,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Oregon,Power,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Soldiers,U.S. Military,USA,Wartime Executions

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