Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Hero laid to rest after Indian uprising at Camas Prairie

On the 20th of October, 1878, a hero was laid to rest in Pendleton’s pioneer cemetery. The remains of J.C. Lamar (also reported as William Lamar) were interred with a large number of Pendleton residents in attendance, and many in the crowd swore vengeance on those responsible for his death and subsequent mutilation.

Lamar came to Pendleton in the winter of 1877 and soon established himself in Pendleton society. When the news came in July of 1878 that hostile Indians were encroaching on the John Day River, Lamar was one of a large scouting party that decided to go to Camas Prairie to find out what the Bannock and Paiute warriors were up to. Frightened settlers had flooded into Pendleton, and were camped in every available vacant spot, including the courthouse lawn.

The scouting party arrived at Camas Prairie July 4, and met the advance guard of the Indian warriors. After killing one of the Indians, the scouting party fell back and held a meeting, deciding to return to settled territory because about half of the men present had less than 10 rounds of ammunition apiece. But before the meeting was over, a band of 100 well-armed Indians suddenly appeared on three sides of the party. A handful of men, including Lamar, decided to stay put and fight. The rest of the scouting party panicked, “and were not particular upon the order of their going.”

Lamar and his few supporters were finally forced to flee, and Lamar took up his place at the rear of the retreat but continued to urge his companions to make a stand. He did what he could, however, returning fire shot for shot for eight miles as often as he could load and shoot his rifle.

Upon arriving in Pendleton, Lamar enlisted Captain Sperry’s Company of Volunteers and returned to meet the Indians the next day. The company camped at Willow Springs on July 6 and, while at dinner, were surprised by the hostiles. About a quarter of the company was separated from the rest and fled; Lamar was among those who stayed and fought. One of two men killed in the battle, Lamar’s body was mutilated and burned by the Indian combatants.

The first news to reach the outside world was when 13 survivors of the battle arrived in Pendleton July 7. Major Throckmorton, just arrived from Umatilla with a company of U.S. cavalry, sent Captain Bernard with a small force to aid the volunteers and the Indians were routed by the use of mountain howitzers. The war was over.

The conflict was short, but disastrous: Altogether, more than 50 stockmen, ranchers and sheep herders were killed and $500,000 in damage was sustained in burned buildings, unharvested crops and dead or stolen livestock. Much of the blame was placed on Snake River Indians, but reports that local Umatilla Indians were involved caused an uproar and censure of the federal agent in charge of the reservation, J.C. Cornoyer.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Orphaned children stay together with help from local service clubs

Janet Goon was determined to keep her family together.

Janet, just 18 years old and a Pendleton High School senior in 1970, became the head of the household in February of that year when her mother died after a two-year battle with cancer and her father, deeply depressed over the death of his wife, apparently took his own life. With the help of a guardian, Roberta Furlong, Janet found a small house where she could take care of her siblings Dennis, 16, Lydia, 10, and Garry, 5. Another sibling, Ruby, 12, lived with her godmother in Canada.

The family home on Southwest Goodwin Avenue had been damaged by a fire and was falling down. Furlong found a little house the Goons could rent, bought some used appliances and helped the family get settled. Janet participated in a head start program for parents over the summer where she learned to sew, got good nutrition advice in cooking, and learned to swim.

By October Janet was attending Blue Mountain Community College on a scholarship, working toward a career in computers. At home, she was in charge of the cooking, making sure her siblings were getting their homework done and taking care of the laundry. Every child did their share, even Garry, whose talent was folding sacks.

The struggling family lived on Social Security benefits and eventually veteran’s benefits, but were determined to avoid welfare, which would split the siblings up into foster homes. So the Pendleton Jaycees and the Veterans of Foreign Wars stepped in to help the Goons. Volunteers, including boys from the Umatilla County Boys Ranch, organized a huge rummage sale and auction for the benefit of the Goon children that brought in almost $1,100.

An email from the wife of Janet’s son Samuel Catherson tells the rest of her story. Janet joined the Army and became a special investigator for San Francisco, and a martial arts master. She had two sons, who were 12 and 15 when she passed away in 1993 from cancer. Her sons went to live with their father after their mother’s death, and both eventually served in the Army as well. Samuel read his mother's story in a faded copy of the original East Oregonian article on May 8, 2015 — 21 years after her death — when the family received a box of her belongings that had been “lost” for years.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Two-year search for missing boy ends in mystery

A family outing in July 1906 turned to tragedy when a four-year-old boy went missing in the Blue Mountains east of Weston, Oregon. Cecil Brittain, son of R.L. Brittain of Walla Walla, disappeared after he wandered away from his family near Tollgate on Weston Mountain July 15, 1906.

Local authorities from Milton requisitioned a set of bloodhounds from the Walla Walla penitentiary, who traced the child to Looking Glass Creek, near the store at Tollgate where Cecil had bought candy before wandering off. Local residents were concerned that wild animals might carry the boy away, and a crowd of men combed the woods looking for him, to no avail.

The boy’s father left no stone unturned in his search. In September, a clairvoyant dreamed that Cecil was hidden in the Bowman Hotel in Pendleton, and Pendleton police searched the premises. While they did find several people who were not listed on the hotel register, they did not find the boy. Major Lee Moorhouse investigated a tip from a Touchet, Wash., man in October who said an Indian on the reservation near Adams might have some information on Cecil’s whereabouts. Mr. Brittain traveled to New Mexico in November to investigate a snapshot sent to him, but the boy in the photo was not his son.

A search of East Oregonian archives showed no progress on the case through 1907. But in March of 1908 the Brittains raised the reward for their son’s return to $2,500 and, on March 27, a man came forward saying he had knowledge about the boy’s disappearance — but only if he was paid for the information. James Breen had been arrested for check fraud and forgery perpetrated in Spokane, and while jailed in Pendleton claimed he knew about Cecil Brittain’s whereabouts. His claims were weakened by the fact that he was a known felon who had spent time in prison for cattle rustling and other crimes. Breen claimed he was living in the Blue Mountains in the Tollgate area at the time the boy disappeared, and demanded payment for his information, saying “he was merely thinking of the future of his wife; that if he got this money it would be used to care for her.”

Mrs. Brittain, in the meantime, traveled to Spokane to investigate a boy found near Marshall, Wash., who was said to be very like her son. While the boy looked very much like Cecil, and seemed to be familiar with the area where the Brittain boy disappeared, his identity could not be confirmed. When confronted with the idea that he was Cecil Brittain, the boy became frightened and hid in the bushes, leading the Brittains to the conclusion that he may have been coached to deny any association with them. The EO reported that, regardless, the Brittains had decided to bring the lad home with them to Walla Walla.

James Breen, however, did not give up in his quest to claim the reward. He convinced the Brittains that he knew where the boy was, and promised on Aug. 19  he would meet them at a camp outside of Walla Walla to hand Cecil over to them. It was unclear whether any money changed hands. Breen didn’t make the rendezvous as planned, and the Brittains went home empty-handed. Breen quietly slipped back into town the following evening and was arrested by Walla Walla police at the East End Saloon while reading about his own escapades in the newspaper. He claimed the Brittains had left the camp too early, and that he had left the child with a friend (who he refused to name) near Fletcher Mill before returning to town. The Brittains were heartbroken.

A search of EO archives did not turn up any further information about the fate of Cecil Brittain.