Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Irrigation feud leads to silent shootout

An Echo farmer in 1920 who held a neighbor at gunpoint over an irrigation disagreement — and made him pay for the gun — later died in a shootout with local authorities.

W.H. Smith, a bachelor farmer thought to be about 65 years old, had been farming property near Echo known as the Spike place for a number of years. On June 10, 1920, Smith began to threaten his neighbor, Joe Ramos, who farmed across a shared irrigation canal from Smith and who had control of the gates regulating the water supply. Smith had conceived of a notion to kill Ramos the day before, making threats to that effect to all who would listen, and had scared off the Echo marshal sent to arrest him.

Smith went into Echo and purchased a Colt special revolver and cartridges. He then went to the Ramos place and held his neighbor at gunpoint while forcing him to write him a check for $53.40 — $10 for damages to his land and $43.40 for the gun and ammunition. Smith then told Ramos he would kill him if he told the police or attempted to stop payment on the check. After Smith left, Ramos traveled to Pendleton to report the threats to the district attorney’s office.

An employee of Smith, Everett Thompson, tried for two days to encourage his employer to forget his feud with Ramos and give himself up to the authorities, but Smith swore he had nothing to live for and that lawmen would never take him alive.

Thompson was working in a nearby field when Deputy Sheriff Joe Blakley of Pendleton and Asa Thomson of Echo showed up to arrest Smith on June 10. Blakley and Thomson had agreed on a peaceable arrest, but Smith saw the two men coming as he worked in a box near a gate in his irrigation ditch. Smith grabbed his revolver and shot twice at Thomson, who was carrying a high-powered rifle, from about 45 yards away. Thomson returned fire and killed Smith. The incident happened so fast Deputy Blakley couldn’t even draw his weapon before it was over, and none of the three men spoke a single word, according to Thompson.

A coroner’s inquiry after the shooting cleared Thomson of any wrong-doing, saying he had fired in self-defense. Because of his sudden hatred of Ramos and his defiance of the authorities, Echo residents theorized Smith had had some kind of mental breakdown.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Pendleton cowboy snares unusual prize

Cowboying is hard work, with long hours and often boredom punctuated with the occasional high-energy chase. A Pendleton cowboy looking for more excitement took his expertise to the Blue Mountains southeast of the city and found an unusual challenge for his abilities.

Billy Colb, a well-known vaquero of Pendleton, took to the mountains June 30, 1904, in search of bigger game. Near Hidaway Springs (near present-day Ukiah, Ore.) he spotted a yearling bull elk grazing on the mountainside and, being mounted on his best cow horse, shook out a lariat and made a dash for the unsuspecting beast. The young elk ducked and dodged, but Colb’s horse knew its business and cut the animal off at every turn. Colb settled a loop around the elk’s neck from about 40 feet away — and the fight was on.

The elk made a break for the trees but the lariat around its neck brought it up short. The elk turned a somersault, then commenced a high-kicking, wild plunging, bellowing and snorting tirade, much to Colb’s delight. Finally, with tongue hanging out and legs wobbling, and its red eyes fixated on its captor, the elk trotted quietly into Hidaway Springs camp behind Colb.

William Scott, the proprietor of the camp, paid Colb $5 for his prize. Scott planned a zoological garden at the camp, with the elk as its first inhabitant.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Pendleton family gets Christmas wish

Christmas 1974 was shaping up to be a stressful one for the Wayne Johnson family of Pendleton.

In November of that year, the Johnsons’ youngest son, 12-year-old Randy, came down with what they thought was the flu. He had all the symptoms, and he had been exposed to the virus. But when he didn’t get better, Randy’s parents took him to the doctor — and a six-week medical saga began.

Doctors found Randy’s appendix had burst, and rushed him to emergency surgery. Randy then developed peritonitis, which spread throughout his system. A heart problem developed, and then stress ulcers. Blood transfusions and two more surgeries were followed by internal bleeding and a fourth surgery. Then Randy developed pneumonia.

During his hospital stay, letters, cards and gifts flooded Randy's room. Many of his classmates wrote letters, and he also received mail from unusual sources. His great-uncle in Xenia, Ohio, discovered Randy’s plight and found a seventh-grade class in his town that created a get well card for Randy. He also received get-well wishes from Sen. Robert Packwood and Vic Atiyeh.

Randy’s family was also on the receiving end of a mountain of support. The Girls’ League from Pendleton High School decorated Randy’s hospital room, and the family was continually gifted with meals and Christmas goodies from friends, neighbors, church members and Mrs. Johnson’s sorority sisters. Friends helped look after twins Rodger and Robbin, 14, and little sister Nicole, 4.

But for Randy, the best gift was from a family he didn’t even know. During his hospital stay, the only window in his room framed the twinkling lights of a Christmas tree in the house across the street.

After a six-week stay, on Christmas Eve, Randy was able to walk down the hall in the hospital on the arm of a nurse, toting his IV rack along beside him. He was moved into a two-bed hospital room just in time to open Christmas gifts with his grateful family.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Festive family name a holiday hit

In the run-up to Christmas 1965, a 12-year-old Ohio girl was gleefully anticipating holiday decorating. “I get to decorate the Christmas tree all by myself this year,” she told an Associated Press reporter on Dec. 11, 1965. But this story isn’t really about decorating a tree, though it is about trees. Or, more specifically, the Trees family.

Mr. and Mrs. Jack Trees lived on Firwood Place in Forest Park, Ohio, in 1965 and had three children. Douglas Fir Trees, 25, was the oldest. He married the former Jane Wood, and was living in Copenhagen, Denmark. The second son, Jack Pine Trees, 24, was attending Ohio State University. He was married to the former Jane Groves. And then there was the youngest, their daughter — Merry Christmas Trees. She was the last Trees chick in the nest and so had her namesake all to herself that year.

The family obsession with woodsy names began with Jack Trees Sr.’s father, Forrest Evergreen Trees.

Merry liked her name, even though her seventh-grade classmates teased her about it. Later, once she became an adult, Merry’s car even sported a vanity license plate — XMAS1.

Merry eventually married Gene McMahon and now lives in Dublin, Ohio, where she works a kitchen and bath designer for Home Depot.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Mysterious traveling lump revealed as war souvenir

Joe Cole of Pendleton spent years wondering about a mysterious traveling lump in his leg. He first noticed a hard object in his upper thigh, which bothered him enough that he didn’t sit down on hard surfaces more than necessary.

Over the years it seemed to travel around, each time a bit farther down his leg. Concerned, he visited doctors who speculated it might be the start of varicose veins or a calcium deposit, but none of them seemed to be worried. Finally, while skiing in December of 1984, Cole noticed that every time he returned to the top of the hill the back of his leg would hurt. Doctors ordered X-rays this time, and removed a bullet near a tendon behind his knee cap.

The bullet was from Cole’s time serving on the front lines during the Korean War — more than 30 years before.

At the time the incident most likely occurred, Cole and his unit were fighting about 3,000 to 4,000 feet from a mainline trench. It was winter, so everyone was bundled up in heavy clothing. The battle didn’t allow them to change their clothes, and after the fight they were so dirty, their underclothes were just thrown into a pile and burned. “I wouldn’t have noticed any blood,” Cole said.

He didn’t ever find a scar where the bullet entered his leg, though he figured it must have entered “somewhere in the hip area,” and he said he may have been unconscious at the time he was hit. The bullet, longer and with a sharper tip than American ammo, was thought to be of Russian or Chinese manufacture. The doctor who removed it allowed Cole to keep it as a souvenir.

Cole, the principal of West Hills and Lincoln elementary schools in Pendleton, considered himself very fortunate.