Posts filed under 'Oregon'

1865: George Baker and George Beal, Salem murderers

Add comment May 17th, 2020 Headsman

A 1938 Oregon Magazine retrospective on the May 17, 1865 Salem, Ore. hanging of George Baker and George Beal(e) comes from a compilation of research on the wonderful site Oregon Pioneers.

These were very much pioneer days. The Pacific Northwest Oregon Territory started drawing large scale white settlement from the 1830s, with the onset of the Oregon Trail, the means by which both the offenders and the victim in this case arrived at this distant land.

The state of Oregon (only a subset of the Oregon Territory, which also comprised the present-day states of Washington and Idaho) attained statehood in 1859 with the census population weighing in at 52,000 the following year. Its first judicial executions only occurred in 1850 — so this punishment was very much a novelty, as the piece below indicates. (I’ve added some line breaks for readability.) There’s a great deal more at the Oregon Pioneers site.

SEVENTY-THREE Years is a long time, yet there are people now living who witnessed the execution of Beal and Baker on May l7th, 1865. The writer was a boy of 10 years at that time. Well do I remember the trial and execution of the men, for the murder of Daniel Delaney for his money.

Daniel Delaney was a wealthy stock raiser living about two miles southwest of Turner. He was a southerner and brought slaves with him to Oregon. He was a good citizen and a clean man, and his stock roamed over the hills and the valleys around Turner Station.

At that time he settled here there were no fences and the stock roamed over the whole country. There were no banks in this part of the state and whoever had money must hide it about his premises.

Delaney was supposed to have a lot of money. Beal was keeping a saloon in Salem in a building now occupied by the Marion Hotel. He lived across the street in a house south of the old Rector Hotel with his wife and mother. Beal had a partner in the crime, George Baker, who drove cattle for the early day butchers of Salem. He was a weak minded man, and lived on the block south of Beal’s saloon with his wife and three or four children.

On the night of the murder, Beal met Baker at a point on Mill Creek, formerly agreed upon. Beal was walking and Baker was riding a black mare hereafter mentioned in this article. At this point they obtained some charcoal which they used on their faces to disguise themselves, as Beal was well acquainted with Delaney, and often would stay all night with him while off on hunting trips when in that part of the country. He also crossed the plains in the same train with Delaney in 1843.

Delaney lived alone except for a colored boy, 12 years of age, and his dog. They called the old man out of the house and shot him and also the dog. The colored boy hid in the wood pile near the house. Delaney, who was wounded, recognized Beal and said to him, “Spare my life, Beal, and you can have all the money I have got.” Beal drew a revolver from his pocket and said to him, “Dead men do not talk,” and fired a shot that finished Delaney, who was wounded.

The colored boy remained in hiding until daylight next morning, then taking the dog, which was badly wounded, carried him over to one of Delaney’s sons about a mile away, giving the alarm.

Beal and Baker were soon arrested for the crime on suspicion. One of the suspicious circumstances was that the black mare which Baker was riding on the night of the murder had lost one shoe. Another was the finding of a hat band which had been lost off Beal’s hat.

The trial was very interesting and so many people wanted to hear the trial that there was not room in the old wooden court house which occupied the same ground as the present one, so the trial was held in the Holman block, used by the legislature before the state capitol was built.

The prisoners were defended by Caton & Curl with David Logan, prominent attorney in Oregon at that time. Rufus Mallory was prosecuting attorney. The colored boy proved to be a very good witness for the state; also the hat band which fitted Beal’s hat was found in his bed room after his arrest; also the black mare had one shoe missing.

The prisoners were found guilty after a long and tedious trial and were sentenced to be executed on the 17th day of May, 1865. For this purpose the county of Marion erected a wooden scaffold on the block on South Church street, bounded by Church, Mill, Winter and Leslie streets.

The prisoners were confined in a small brick jail on the northwest corner of the court house block, until the day of the execution, when they were taken from the jail by the then Sheriff of Marion County, Samuel Hedrick, and placed in a hotel bus and taken to the place of execution, where they paid the penalty of their crime.

The death march was impressive. At that time Marion county had a militia company known as the Marion Rifles. They were dressed in gaudy uniforms as on dress parade and formed around the bus in a hollow square with fixed bayonets. Marching east on Court to Church street, thence south on Church street to the place of execution. The procession was followed by a vast crowd of people.

The military unit then formed about the scaffold until after the execution. People came to witness this execution from all parts of the state, even some Indians from Grand Ronde and the Siletz reservations. In fact, it was considered a public holiday. My old school teacher, Pearson, a law and order man, dismissed school so his pupils could witness the execution of these men as an object lesson.

The high grounds about the mill race formed a natural amphitheater for the occasion. Beal walked up the steps to the platform on the scaffold with a firm step. He then produced a small bible and read from it a short chapter, and then said in a firm voice, “Now take this book and read it and follow its teachings and you will never come to what I have.” He then tossed the book to the people in the crowd.

Baker was very weak and had to be assisted up the steps.

Soon the rope was placed about the necks of the prisoners and it was soon over. Public sentiment was strong against these men, especially Beal, who was considered the master mind in this sad affair; even so much so that objections were made to them being buried in our local cemetery. But Daniel Waldo, a good old pioneer, granted space for them on his farm on what is known as the Waldo Hills. He said every man, good or bad, should be entitled to six feet of earth.

The public sentiment against the murderers was so far reaching it even extended to the attorneys for the defense, in the loss of practice. However, it sent Rufus Mallory, who prosecuted the case, to the lower house of congress from Oregon.

And it must have had some good effect in a moral way, for it was twenty years before another man was executed for murder in Marion County.

I wrote this story as I remember it as a boy of ten years of age. I had a chum like most boys, and we were interested very much in the trial and excitement. Sometimes we could not get a seat. One time we secured good seats but the sheriff, Samuel Hedrick, made us give them up to older people. We did not like it very much, but had to do it with a smile. But twenty-three years later the ten-year old boy had taken over his office.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Oregon,Public Executions,USA

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1899: Kat-koo-at

Add comment May 5th, 2020 Headsman

From the Corvallis (Ore.) Gazette, May 9, 1899:

Says that the Clootchman Anna and Okh-kho-not are equally guilty — body delivered to the medical college for dissection.

Kat-koo-at, the Chilicat Indian who was tried, convicted and sentenced to death in the United States Circuit Court for the murder of Thomas J. Brown, in Alaska Territory last January, was hanged yesterday afternoon. [This article is not explicitly datelined, but the day referred to is May 5, 1899 -ed.] United States Marshall Waters performed the unwelcome official duty of carrying into execution the sentence imposed by the court, and vindicated the outraged law. The execution took place in the jailyard, the same gallows on which James Johnson and Archie Brown suffered the extreme penalty of the law being used. Notwithstanding the public was well aware that Kat-koo-at was to be hanged there was very little excitement felt over the event and no guards or military companies were ordered out as in the case of Brown and Johnson. The stockade which had been erected to shut out public view from the appalling spectacle, did not prevent many from witnessing it who were not holders of tickets. Spectators were admitted until all the available space inside the enclosure was occupied, and many curiously disposed persons clambered up to the top of the fence and looked over, or peeped through the cracks between the planks and watched with evident interest the preparations which preceded the execution.

Kat-koo-at’s conduct.

Yesterday morning the doomed man ate a hearty breakfast at 6:30. After dispatching his meal Kat-koo-at sat down very composedly and smoked his pipe for some time. About 10 o’clock in the forenoon, Rev. W.C. Chattin called at his cell. Mr. Chattin, who converses quite fluently in the Chinook tongue, asked Kat-koo-at after the usual saluation if he was aware of the fact that he was going to die soon. The Indian replied:

“Yes, I know that; what time is it now?”

Mr. Chattin said “ten o’clock;” to which Kat-koo-at responded:

“Three hours yet before I die.”

He asked Mr. Chattin if he was afraid to die, to which he answered negatively.

This Indian it is said had been a regular attendant of the Mission School of the Greek church at Sitka, and has been taught about as much about God and Christ, and heaven and hell, as his untutored mind can comprehend. During his confinement, he frequently sung Sabbath school songs which he learned at Sitka.

Kat-koo-at was reminded by Mr. Chattin how upon the cross Christ forgave his enemies and asked whether he did likewise. Kat-koo-at answered: “Annie and Och-kho-not helped to kill Brown, and were as guilty as he himself; but I forgive them; I have put away all angry feeling; I feel as though you are the only friend I have, and I want you to be present with me to the last and pray for me.”

In the Prison.

U.S. Marshal Waters had made every preparation for the execution. The rope had been attached to the beam above the scaffold, the fatal drop drawn up to its proper position and all that was needed was the victim. To prevent a crowd, the court house doors were closed at 12 o’clock and about 75 persons who held tickets of admission were allowed to enter. In company with the officers, Rev. Mr. Chattin entered the cell of the doomed Indian at 12:45 and said (speaking the Chinook tongue), “Kat-koo-at, you are near your death.” He answered, “Yes.” Mr. Chattin continued, “You know it is a bad thing to die. Now tell me, were Annie and Och-kho-not equally guilty?” To which he responded “yes.” The question was asked Kat-koo-at whether his people would be angry with the whites for his execution, and whether they would take revenge for it. Kat-koo-at answered “no.”

The Fatal Drop.

Precisely 53 minutes past 12 o’clock Kat-koo-at, followed by U.S. Marshal A.W. Waters, Deputy Marshal W.P. Burns, Sheriff B.L. Norden, Constable M.B. Wallace, and Rev. W.C. Chattin, left the cell, ascended the steps leading to the scaffold, and took places thereon. As Kat-koo-at took his place in the center of the trap he surveyed the bystanders and made a profound bow. Marshal A.W. Waters then read the death sentence in paragraphs, which was interpreted to the Indian by Constable M.B. Wallace. At the conclusion of each paragraph, Kat-koo-at nodded assent. Mr. Wallace asked him whether he had anything to say, which was answered in the negative. Mr. Waters then drew the black cap quickly over the murderer’s face and adjusted the noose, while Mr. Burns placed handcuffs on the wrists and buckled a strap around the ankles. From the time Kat-koo-at came upon the scaffold until the drop fell, he maintained a stolid indifference, and not a quiver of a muscle was visible. However, he was under excitement, as his pulse beat 120 when he left his cell.

At 12:58, after the noose had been adjusted, Mr. Chattin advanced, and offered the following prayer in the Chinook tongue:

Oh, God! Thou art the Father of us all. Look in pity on this poor Indian, who is about to die. Although he has been a wicked man, he has renounced his sins and prays forgiveness.

The “Amen,” the click of the trigger, and a thud were then heard almost simultaneously. Kat-koo-at had stood too close to the edge of the trap, and as he dropped, his body struck the side of the trap-way and bounded to the other side. The breast heaved for two minutes and then the body was still. At 1:02 the shoulders were drawn up. This was the last perceptible movement of the body.

At 1:02½ Dr. Littlefield, the attending physician, felt the pulse and pronounced it very feeble.

At 1:03½ the pulse was barely perceptible.

At 1:04½ the pulse had ceased to beat, but by auscultation the feeble heart beats were counted 80 to the minute.

At 1:06, 58 to the minute.

At 1:09 there was only a slight murmur. At 12 he was pronounced dead, but the body was allowed to hang until 1:18, having hung a little longer than 19 minutes.

The fall was about 5½ feet — quite sufficient to have dislocated the Indian’s neck had he not struck against the edge of the scaffold. An examination was made after Kat-koo-at whas [sic] dead which disclosed the fact that death had been produced by strangulation instead of dislocation. After life was

Pronounced Extinct

The body was cut down and placed in a rude coffin. Subsequently it was conveyed to the medical college in conformity with the order of the court, and delivered to the professors and students of that institution.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Oregon,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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1899: Claude Branton, gallows photograph

Add comment May 12th, 2019 Headsman

Claude Henry Branton was noosed in Eugene, Oregon on this date in 1899, with the last words, “I haven’t much to say. I hope for God’s sake no one will try to run my folks down on account of this. They are innocent. I hope people will learn a lesson from this and tread on the right path. I hope to meet you all in the other world. I ask this for Jesus’s sake. Amen.”

Branton with another young farmhand named Courtland Green murdered rancher John Linn when the three were in the wilderness driving horses to Oregon’s McKenzie River Valley for sale. The motive was the thousand dollars or so that they thought that Linn was carrying; instead, the two killers found only $65 to split: he’d wisely given his ready cash to a friend for safekeeping before setting out.

And now they had to explain why they were arriving as a duo when they had set out as a trio.

A retrospective (May 20, 2018) from the Redmond (Ore.) Spokesman compares their subsequent situation to Melmoth the Wanderer, vainly sounding the valley for someone to give them an alibi.

The two of them decided what they needed was to find some rustic sucker willing to perjure himself by swearing that he had seen the three of them together, bringing the horses down.

And so commenced Branton and Green’s Melmoth-like wanderings through the McKenzie valley, horses in tow, looking for friends old and new who would be willing to perjure themselves in exchange for the pick of the herd.

Branton even made a fake beard so that he could pretend to be Linn at one spot. This didn’t work, though, because the rancher he was trying to fool recognized his voice.

The two of them tried several times to sell the horses, too, but no one would take them because Linn wasn’t there to sign the bill of sale.

Eventually the two murderers split up, Branton fleeing out of the state and Green into the bottle. But neither man found his refuge secure. Conscience and drink overcame Green’s composure and he revealed the crime (he ended up with a life sentence). Branton unwisely returned to Eugene without realizing that the murder had been exposed, and was instantly arrested.

There were about 50 official witnesses to the hanging, which took place within a stockade outside the Lane County courthouse while a large crowd milled outside or sought elevated vantage points in order to steal a glimpse. A few years later, a similarly raucous scene outside a similar “private” hanging in Portland, the Beaver State moved all executions indoors to the state penitentiary at Salem.

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

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1852: Adam Wimple, his executioner’s lodger

Add comment October 8th, 2018 Headsman

This date’s story of the condemned killer of a child bride lodging with his own executioner comes from the recollections of Dallas, Oregon frontierswoman Mrs. Frank Collins, nee Martha Elizabeth Gilliam.

Frank Nichols, who married my sister Sarah, was the next sheriff. One of his first jobs was hanging Adam E. Wimple.

Wimple had stayed for a while at our house in 1845. He married a 13-year-old girl in 1850 and within a year killed her. They lived in Cooper Hollow, four or five miles from Dallas.

My brother-in-law, Alec Gage, and his wife stopped at Wimple’s house the morning he killed her. Mrs. Wimple’s face was all swollen and her eyes were red from crying. Wimple saw they noticed it, so he said ‘Mary isn’t feeling very well this morning.’

My brother-in-law and his wife had not gone over a mile and a half when they saw smoke rising from where the Wimple house was. They hurried back and found the house in flames. It was too late to save anything in the house.

When the fire had burned out they found Mrs. Wimple under the floor partially burned. Wimple had disappeared. He was more than double her age. She was 14 and he was about 35. A posse captured him and brought him to Dallas. I knew Wimple well, so I asked him why he had killed Mary? He said, ‘Well, I killed her. I don’t really know why.’

There was no jail so Frank Nichols took Wimple to his house to stay.

Frank swore in four guards, but Wimple got away and was gone four days before they found him and brought him back. They tracked him to the house where he had killed his wife.

I went over to stay with my sister, Mrs. Nichols, while he was boarding there waiting to be hung and I helped her cook for him.

Frank hung him early in October, 1852. Wimple sat on his coffin in the wagon when they drove to the gallows where he was to be hung. They passed the sheriff’s father, Uncle Ben Nichols, while they were on their way to the gallows. Wimple was afraid Uncle Ben would be late and miss the hanging, so he called out ‘Uncle Ben, ain’t you going to the hanging? Ain’t you coming down to see me hung?’ Uncle Ben said, ‘I have seen enough of you, Adam. No, I ain’t going.’ Uncle Ben was the only man in Polk county to receive a personal invitation and he was about the only one who didn’t take a day off to see the hanging.

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

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1813: A Nez Perce thief, by the Pacific Fur Company

Add comment June 1st, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1813, Anglo-American fur trader John Clarke had an indigenous Nez Perce summarily hanged for stealing a goblet … dangerously poisoning relations between the respective communities in the Pacific Northwest.

We lay our day’s scene in the Oregon Territory, far frontier of then-only-prospective American continental expansion, beyond even the fathomless reaches of the Louisiana Purchase. The Stars and Stripes had penetrated there courtesy of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, but British, Spanish, and Russian expeditions had planted their own flags too, to say nothing of the claims of its native inhabitants.

And all these claimants had one common desire: the pelts of the beavers swarming that verdant sector.

The New York businessman John Jacob Astor bought a stake in the fur trade in the form of the Pacific Fur Company, and set down the outpost of Astoria, Oregon. (Astor was destined to become one of the republic’s early homegrown plutocrats, a fact which is merely incidental for our purposes. It was the fur business that propelled him to wealth.)

One agent of the P.F.C. was a singularly undiplomatic trader aged about 31 summers, John Clarke. Calling on a mixed Nez Perce-Palouse village to trade his canoes for horses to make an overland journey, Clarke was irritated to find that prices weren’t to his liking and the locals enjoyed pilfering his baubles.

American scribbler Washington Irving recorded the ensuing events:

[Clarke] was a tall, good-looking man, and somewhat given to pomp and circumstance, which made him an object of note in the eyes of the wondering savages. He was stately, too, in his appointments, and had a silver goblet or drinking cup, out of which he would drink with a magnificent air, and then lock it up in a large gardevin, which accompanied him in his travels, and stood in his tent. This goblet had originally been sent as a present from Mr. Astor to Mr. M’Kay, the partner who had unfortunately been blown up in the Tonquin. As it reached Astoria after the departure of that gentleman, it had remained in the possession of Mr. Clarke.

A silver goblet was too glittering a prize not to catch the eye of a Pierced-nose. It was like the shining tin case of John Reed. Such a wonder had never been seen in the land before. The Indians talked about it to one another. They marked the care with which it was deposited in the gardevin, like a relic in its shrine, and concluded that it must be a “great medicine.” That night Mr. Clarke neglected to lock up his treasure; in the morning the sacred casket was open—the precious relic gone!

Clarke was now outrageous. All the past vexations that he had suffered from this pilfering community rose to mind, and he threatened that, unless the goblet was promptly returned, he would hang the thief should he eventually discover him. The day [May 31st, 1813] gassed away, however, without the restoration of the cup. At night sentinels were secretly posted about the camp. With all their vigilance a Pierced-nose contrived to get into the camp unperceived, and to load himself with booty; it was only on his retreat that he was discovered and taken. At daybreak the culprit was brought to trial, and promptly convicted. He stood responsible for all the spoliations of the camp, the precious goblet among the number, and Mr. Clarke passed sentence of death upon him.

A gibbet was accordingly constructed of oars; the chief of the village and his people were assembled and the culprit was produced, with his legs and arms pinioned. Clarke then made a harangue. He reminded the tribe of the benefits he had bestowed upon them during his former visits, and the many thefts an other misdeeds which he had overlooked. The prisoner especially had always been peculiarly well treated by the white men, but had repeatedly been guilty of pilfering. He was to be punished for his own misdeeds, and as a warning to is tribe.

The Indians now gathered round Mr. Clarke and interceded for the culprit, They were willing he should be punished severely, but implored that his life might be spared. The companions, too, of Mr. Clarke, considered the sentence too severe, and advised him to mitigate it; but he was inexorable. He was not naturally a stern or cruel man; but from his boyhood he had lived in the Indian country among lndian traders, and held the life of a savage extremely cheap. He was, moreover, a firm believer in the doctrine of intimidation.

Farnham, a clerk, a tall “Green Mountain boy” from Vermont, who had been robbed of a pistol, acted as executioner. The signal was given, and the poor Pierced-nose, resisting, struggling, and screaming, in the most frightful manner, was launched into eternity. The Indians stood round gazing in silence and mute awe, but made no attempt to oppose the execution, nor testified any emotion when it was over. They locked up their feelings within their bosoms until an opportunity should arrive to gratify them with — a bloody act of vengeance.

Having made his grand gesture, Clarke quickly realized that he had enacted it while his small party was alone in an Indian village where they were at the mercy of their far more numerous hosts. Fearing a backlash, the white traders accordingly hightailed it back to Astoria, and then evacuated Astoria itself.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Oregon,Public Executions,Summary Executions,USA,Wrongful Executions

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1962: LeRoy McGahuey, the last involuntary execution in Oregon

3 comments August 20th, 2017 Headsman

The U.S. state of Oregon has the death penalty on the books, but hasn’t employed it on a non-consenting prisoner since August 20, 1962.

That was the date that former logger LeRoy Sanford McGahuey, with a shrug of his broad shoulders and the sanguine parting observation “That’s it,” paid in the gas chamber for the 1961 hammer slayings of his girlfriend and her son.* (He’s also the last of seventeen people executed by lethal gas in Oregon history.)

The late Oregon political lion Mark Hatfield, who was governor at the time, permitted the execution to go ahead despite misgivings about capital punishment. It was the only time he would ever be called upon to shoulder that burden: Oregon repealed its capital statutes in 1964 during the nationwide death penalty drawdown; Hatfield had moved on to the U.S. Senate by the time voters reinstated capital punishment in 1978. In an interview almost 40 years after the fact, Hatfield said that being party to McGahuey’s death still troubled him.

As Governor of Oregon, how did you resolve your legal charge versus your moral feelings about the death penalty?

Having been governor when we had an execution, I can tell you it still haunts me. However, when you swear to uphold the constitution of the State of Oregon you swear to uphold all of the laws — not just the laws you agree with. I felt there were too many examples in our history when people tortured the law or played around with it.

So if you were governor today, would you have commuted that death sentence?

I don’t know. I would have to wrestle with that. We experienced the repeal of the death penalty when I was Governor. After the first execution, I had my press secretary have as many press people there to witness it as possible; reporting it in all its gory detail. By making it a broadly based experience for all people — by not having it at midnight — we were able to garner enough support to get it repealed. Even though there were executions scheduled to happen during the hiatus time between when the law was passed and the time it took effect, I immediately commuted all the sentences. I believe it was seven. [actually, it was three -ed.]

Oregon currently retains the death penalty but has had a moratorium on executions enforced by its governors since 2011. Its only “modern” (post-1976) executions were in 1996 and 1997, and both were inflicted on men who voluntarily abandoned their own appeals to speed their path to the executioner.

* Technically, McGahuey was executed for the murder of the child, 22-month old Rodney Holt: he’d slain the mother, 32-year-old Loris Mae Holt, in a fit of passion, but he followed up by bludgeoning the tot with premeditation out of (as he said) concern for the boy’s upbringing now that he’d been orphaned.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gassed,Milestones,Murder,Oregon,USA

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1945: Robert E. Folkes, the first condemned man to see the Oregon gas chamber

Add comment January 5th, 2016 Headsman

(Thanks to Robert Elder of Last Words of the Executed — the blog, and the book — for the guest post. Fans of this here site are highly likely to enjoy following Elder’s own pithy, almanac-style collection of last words on the scaffold. -ed.)

“I have nothing to say except that I am innocent. It’s easier to convict a Negro than a white person. So long everybody.”

Robert E. Folkes, convicted of murder, gas chamber, Oregon.
Executed January 5, 1945

Folkes, age twenty-three, was convicted of slashing a woman’s throat on a Southern Pacific train while working as a cook. The Associated Press described him as “the first condemned man to see the chamber,” as Folkes was the first prisoner to ever walk into the Oregon gas chamber without a blindfold on.

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1878: Sevier Lewis, a family affair

2 comments August 30th, 2014 Meaghan

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

On August 30, 1878, Sevier (aka Severe, Savier) Lewis was hanged in Empire City, Oregon — today known as Coos Bay — for the murder of his much younger half-brother, Zachariah T. “Zack” Lewis on May 22, 1876.

The brothers were two of Hiram Hamilton Lewis’s nine children. Hiram was 74 years old at the time of Zack’s murder, and ambitious in spite of his age: he was running for state legislature.

Sevier, who was in his early fifties, was married and had seven children. Zack was twenty-five, single and still living at home. It was said he’d taken an interest in Sevier’s sixteen-year-old daughter Sylvia. Her father warned him to stay away, but Zack wouldn’t listen and kept coming around pestering his niece with unwanted advances. Finally Sevier had had enough.

Well, that’s one version of the story. Here’s another one:

Sylvia confided to her young uncle that she’d been raped by her father, and become pregnant. Zack went to Sevier and told him to stop the molestation immediately or he would tell the entire family what he had done. He helped Sylvia move in with her grandparents to protect her, and told Sevier that if he touched her again, he would kill him. Sevier touched her again.

These starkly contrasting purported motives may assign which characters, in the ensuing violent tableau, don the white hats and which the black. But either way, one late spring day, Sevier loaded his gun and went to his father’s home where he found little brother working in the fields. Sevier shot him dead, and then took flight.

In December 1877, a full year and a half after the shock murder and probably about the time Sevier was getting comfortable with having gotten away with it, a Coos County man chanced to recognize the fugitive in a hotel bar in Seattle and had him arrested.

Sevier’s own father and Sevier’s own son both testified against him at the subsequent trial, traveling 200 miles to to so. His defense attorney didn’t try to pretend he was innocent and only pleaded for a recommendation of mercy. He was convicted of his brother’s murder in June 1878 and sentenced to be hanged by the neck until dead. The judge also ordered him to cough up $830.10 in court costs, including $21 worth of beer he’d been prescribed during his incarceration.


Oregonian, August 31, 1878.

Lewis’s scaffold speech was bitter and disjointed — “bravado and blasphemy on the gallows,” the Portland Oregonian headlined it. He rambled on about how everyone was prejudiced against him, expressed love for his family and added, “If I could die a thousand times and save my daughter I would do it. If I could save her I would be satisfied to die.”

Author Diane L. Goeres-Gardner describes his final moments in her book Necktie Parties: Legal Executions in Oregon, 1851-1905:

Defiant, stubborn and vindictive, he finally forced Sheriff Aiken to manhandle him closer to the hanging rope. Even as the black cap was pulled over his head and he was being pushed forward he yelled, “What in the hell are you doing that for? I am not afraid to die.”

It was a clean hanging. His neck snapped and Sevier Lewis died within minutes.

What happened to Hiram Lewis’s political aspirations? Well, given the scandal, it’s no surprise that he lost the election. He moved to Lane County after Zack’s murder and died in 1879, supposedly of a broken heart.

What can history tell us about which brother to believe? Was Sevier really trying to protect his daughter, or did Zack pay the ultimate price for his attempt to rescue Sylvia from her predatory father?

Andie E. Jensen, author of Hangman’s Call: The Executions and Lynchings of Coos County, Oregon 1854-1925, studied the available records and notes that Sevier’s youngest child Lucy’s year of birth is unknown — the dates range from 1875 to 1877 — while all his other children had their exact date and place of birth recorded. He speculates that Lucy, said to be the daughter of Sevier and his wife Elizabeth, was in fact Sylvia’s child.

“Fact or fiction,” he concludes, “we will never know for sure. The end result was the execution of Sevier Lewis, whose act of murder victimized more than just his half brother Zack.”

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1850: Five Cayuse, for the Whitman Massacre

Add comment June 3rd, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1850, five Cayuse were publicly executed in Oregon City for the Whitman Massacre.

Beginning in earnest in the 1830s, Anglo settlement in the Oregon Country presented for the native inhabitants of the Pacific Northwest the same Hobson’s choice that had confronted tribes further east long before: resist or accommodate.

The New York-born couple Marcus and Narcissa Whitman* were two of the most notable figures among the hundreds, and then thousands, of settlers pouring into the territory every year. In 1836, they founded on the banks of the Walla Walla River a Christian mission to the nomadic Cayuse who roamed the territory. It’s in present-day Washington State, which was then part (with the current U.S. states of Oregon and Idaho) of a single frontier territory collectively known as Oregon.

The Whitmans’ early settlement, offering medicine, education, and (of course) proselytizing, proved a success at first; it would become for several years a waypoint on the developing Oregon Trail.

White diseases came with the settlers.

The Cayuse people had already dwindled (pdf) to just a thousand or two after the decimations of smallpox and other plagues swept the region in the decades preceding. Now, outbreaks of measles were ravaging those remaining.

Marcus Whitman, a doctor as well as a spiritualist, proved unable to check the new epidemic. Rumors went abroad that the missionaries were bewitching or poisoning the Cayuse, as the vanguard of a coming territorial conquest; the Whitmans themselves were very keen to the hostile feeling the situation had engendered and had even heard whispers that they were the targets of assassination plots. Bravely, they stayed.

“Perhaps God thought it for the best that your little child should be called away,” Narcissa Whitman said in strange consolation to the grieving mother of an Anglo child who also succumbed to measles in 1847. “It may calm the Indians to see a white child taken as well as so many natives, for otherwise we may all be compelled to leave within two weeks.” (pdf source, op. cit.; this document also reconstructs a detailed narrative of the unfolding tragedy)

But that remark was only days before the terrible November 29, 1847. On that cold autumn Monday, a small party of Cayuse led by a chief named Tiloukaikt fell on the mission and slaughtered both Whitmans plus another 11** inhabitants of the little compound.

Some 54 surviving women and children were taken hostage, and several of these died in custody as well. A Canadian official of the Hudson’s Bay Company hurried to ransom the captives at the price of 62 blankets, 63 cotton shirts, 12 muskets, 600 loads of ammunition, 37 pounds of tobacco, and a dozen flints.†

This quick response might have forestalled a worse tragedy for the missionaries — but as far as the Cayuse went, the die was already cast. A volunteer militia of Oregonians under Cornelius Gilliam soon mobilized to retaliate, driving many Cayuse into the Blue Mountains.

By mid-1848, spurred in part by the Whitman bloodbath, Congress officially incorporated the region as the Oregon Territory; arriving early in 1849, the new territorial governor Joseph Lane immediately opened negotiations with the Cayuse to hand over the perpetrators of the massacre. With federal troops arriving later in 1849, the Cayuse at last capitulated and gave up five warriors: Tiloukaikt, the leader; Tomahas; Kiamasumpkin; Iaiachalakis; and Klokomas. (There are numerous alternative transliterations of these names.)

They were tried in Oregon City, the territorial capital at the time — a town of 500 or so on the Willamette River Falls — in a landmark case: the first proper death penalty trial in the young territory.‡ This would fall a little short of modern standards, and not just because it was held in a tavern for want of a regular courthouse. The prosecution was not especially rigorous linking all the defendants to specific violent acts, but the defense’s recourse to Cayuse cultural practices that held shamans liable for the failure of their medicine conceded the point by implication. The judge‘s final instructions simply directed his jury to “infer” the defendants’ culpability by virtue of “the surrender of the Defendants by the Cayuse nation as the murderers, the nation knowing best who those murderers were.” So why even have the trial? Kiamasumpkin, against whom no evidence was ever individually presented, went to the gallows insisting that he didn’t even arrive to the Whitman Mission until the day after the massacre.

All five were condemned in the end, and executed by prominent early pioneer and lawman Joe Meek.§ “On the 3d of June an election and a hanging match took place at Oregon City,” ran the Aug. 22, 1850 story in the New York Tribune — for the Whitman massacre had been a matter of national interest. “The town was full of men and women, the former coming to see how the election resulted, and the latter to see how the Indians were hung.”

“Their tribe, the Cayuses, gave them up to keep peace with the whites. Much doubt was felt as to the policy of hanging them, but the popularity of doing so was undeniable.”

Fears that the quintuple hanging would stoke a running conflict with the Cayuse were not altogether misplaced, but over the subsequent years the dwindling tribe was simply dwarfed by over 30,000 newly arriving settlers lured by a congressional grant of free land. By 1855, the defeated Cayuse were forced onto the small Umatilla Reservation, ceding (along with the Umatillas and the Walla Wallas) 6.4 million acres to whites. The Cayuse tongue was extinct by the end of the century.


Present-day memorial obelisk at the site of the Whitman Massacre, now a national historic site. (cc) image from Jasperdo.

* Present-day Whitman College (Walla Walla, Wash.) is named for them.

** Figures of both 13 and 14 (inclusive of the Whitmans) are cited in various places for the Whitman Massacre’s body count; the discrepancy turns on whether one’s tally includes as a casualty Peter Hall, who escaped from the mission, fled to Fort Walla Walla, and then made a panicky attempt to reach The Dalles. Hall disappeared into the wilderness, and was never heard from again.

† Ransom covered gratis by the Hudson’s Bay Company.

The Espy file‘s index of U.S. executions lists only a couple of undated executions many years before under informal frontier justice.

§ Cousin to the recent First Lady Sarah Childress Polk.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Milestones,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Occupation and Colonialism,Oregon,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Soldiers,USA,Washington,Wrongful Executions

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1902: A day in the death penalty around the Pacific Northwest

Add comment January 31st, 2014 Headsman

The U.S. states of Washington and Oregon both hanged murderers on this date in 1902.

Oregon

The death knell for local public(ish) hangings in Oregon took place this morning in the courthouse of Portland’s courthouse under the eyes of 400 invited witnesses and numerous additional gawkers who scaled telegraph poles or stationed themselves on nearby rooftops.

Jack Wade and William Dalton hanged together for murdering one James Morrow just three months for two bits. It was an uncomplicated crime: the villains stuck Morrow up as the latter returned one night from paying court to a young lady, then shot him when Morrow made a sudden move.

On hanging day, the pair addressed an ample breakfast of ham, chicken and eggs, knocked out some hymns and an impromptu rendition of “Where Is My Wandering Boy Tonight?”

… and then took a cavalier stroll to the gallows where Wade displeased right-thinking folk with his devil-may-care attitude towards his own execution. He tossed a cigar to the crowd, and played his fingers over the hemp as the rope was fastened, remarking with a wink, “it is tough.”

While the hanging itself went off without a hitch, the curious onlookers pushed through the rail meant to restrain them once the bodies were cut down and began scrabbling for bits of hemp. The sheriff finally had to clear the courtyard.

Even worse, “ten or 12 women witnessed the execution” from atop a building at Fifth and Main street, according to the Oregonian‘s report the next day. “It is doubtful if such a thing ever occurred before at a legal hanging in this country.”

The legislature some years previous had tried to get a handle on execution decorum by moving hangings off public squares and into jails, so this public(ish) execution wasn’t technically public at all. But as seen, these facilities with their barrier-toppling invited mobs and conspicuously feminized illicit peepers surrounding still affronted the alleged solemnity of the moment and led the legislature at its next sitting in 1903 to enact a statute requiring that “all executions should take place within the walls of the [state] penitentiary, out of the hearing and out of sight of all except officials.”

Wade and Dalton weren’t actually the last to hang publicly(ish) in Oregon, however. Since the law wasn’t retroactive, several additional executions occurred after the penitentiary-hanging law was enacted — the last as late as 1905. (See Necktie Parties: A History of Legal Executions in Oregon, 1851-1905).

Washington

Chinese immigrant Lum You was hanged at South Bend, Washington on January 31, 1902. He shot a man named Oscar Bloom during a drinking bout that turned into a drunken bout.

Lum You actually escaped his condemned cell on January 14 when his dinner was being fetched by the jailer and stayed on the lam for a couple of days, but was recaptured on January 17 by a posse. He allegedly begged them to shoot him dead right there, then changed his mind when some business-minded character actually produced a weapon. (Credit to the great Northwest for its highly accommodating vigilantes.)

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Oregon,USA,Washington

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