Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Umatilla County farmers mourn death of medicine man

With the death of 70-year-old Alfalfa Jim just before Christmas in 1922, farmers in northeast Umatilla County wondered: Who will bring the Chinook now?

Alfalfa Jim was a full-blooded Walla Walla Indian known throughout the region as a medicine man who could break a cold snap for the right price. When heavy snow and biting cold settled over the Cayuse and Adams area for extended periods, the farmers would beg Alfalfa Jim to bring a chinook wind. Relief was often long in coming until the farmers could raise a big enough purse to entice him to “mix his medicine.”

Chinooks, according to the Mountain Nature website, are caused by moist weather patterns originating off the Pacific coast that cool as they climb the western slopes of the mountains and then rapidly warm as they drop down the eastern side. Chinooks winds generally begin with a sudden change in wind direction toward the south or southwest and an increase in wind speed, followed by rapid large temperature changes and a significant drop in humidity.

Farmers in the 1920s were fans of chinooks during the winter perhaps because the melting snow allowed their livestock to move around and find forage more easily, cutting their costs for hay and winter feed. Rapid snowmelt, however, can also result in a loss of soil moisture and plants breaking dormancy early, leading to crop damage when cold weather returns. Cattle can sometimes develop pneumonia or other respiratory diseases, or even be electrocuted when chinooks create a strong positive charge in the air that electrifies wire fences. And flash floods caused by melting mountain snows often spell disaster in low-lying areas.

Modern Umatilla County farmers are wary of chinook winds, partly because every molecule of water (stored in the form of mountain snow) is so necessary to their livelihood as water resources decline and temperatures continue to increase during the growing season. Perhaps, if Alfalfa Jim lived in northeast Oregon today, his services would not be in such high demand.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Bootlegger chooses wrong customer

A man running a bootleg operation out of his room at a Pendleton boarding house in January 1917 was arrested by one of his customers: Pendleton’s chief of police.

Jack Archer was running his business out of a boarding house at 205 West Webb Street, selling bootleg liquor through several agents. Being fairly new in town, Archer was heard to be asking around what the chief of police looked like. Chief Gurdane took advantage of his anonymity and arranged to be introduced to Archer as a merchant.

Archer opened negotiations at once, asking $6 per quart of his whisky. “Seems to me that’s a pretty stiff price,” said the chief.

“It’s a pretty stiff chance I’m taking too,” replied Archer.

The chief agreed to the price and handed over $12 for a half-gallon jug. The interchange had been so friendly that Archer lent Chief Gurdane a grip (like a travel bag) to carry his booty away, and invited him to return the following Saturday if he decided to purchase more. Gurdane grabbed the grip, and then took Archer by the arm and advised him to come along also, identifying himself as a “government man,” to Archer’s astonishment.

Gurdane handed Archer over to Officer Scheer a the police station. It wasn’t until the following morning that Archer was told he had sold liquor to the chief of police. He wilted, and pleaded guilty in court to a charge of bootlegging. Archer was sentenced to 30 days in jail and a $100 fine.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Pendleton man shoots himself, lives

No one in Pendleton’s Fix-It Shop on December 23, 1907, was quite sure why George Bowles would point a pistol at his forehead and pull the trigger in the middle of the store, but fortunately for everyone involved, Bowles survived the attempt to end his own life.

Witnesses in the shop, located near the Lyman Meat Market on Court Street, stated that Bowles came into the establishment several times that day before noon to look at guns. The first time he requested to borrow a large-caliber pistol, saying he wanted to shoot rats. He returned about noon to look at pistols in a display case.

“I wonder what Sorenson will take for this one,” Bowles commented, taking a .32-caliber pistol from the display case. Soon afterward he was seen repeatedly snapping the gun, stooping down behind the counter each time. Others in the shop had no way of knowing that Bowles was loading the gun with long .22-caliber cartridges.

Bowles then pointed the pistol at his forehead and pulled the trigger, the ball lodging just under the skin. When the men in the shop rushed to pick him up, he was reported to have asked, “What have I done?” While Dr. J.A. Best was removing the ball, Bowles seemed confused as to what had happened. Afterward, the wounded man was able to walk to the home he shared with his mother on West Court Street.

Though Bowles was familiar to the employees of the Fix-It Shop, having visited the shop on many occasions, not much was known about him besides his suffering from rheumatism. He moved to Pendleton in 1905 and had just returned from Spokane, where he had been working, two weeks prior to the shooting incident. He also was reported to have had a considerable drinking habit, which many said contributed to Bowles’ rash action.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

December flood inundates Pendleton

The frontier town of Pendleton, first settled in the 1860s and incorporated in 1880, was almost swept away in December 1882 when incessant rains and warmer than usual temperatures created flood conditions that sent the Umatilla River over its banks.

The “sudden and unexpected calamity” began with warm rains early in the week, and by the afternoon of Dec. 13 some of Pendleton’s residents were beginning to worry about the rapid rise of the river. Most, though, expected a small amount of flooding as had happened in previous years. As the evening progressed and the water continued to rise, some families moved to higher ground or into the upper stories of downtown buildings and the Umatilla County Courthouse, while others scoffed and stayed put.

By the early morning hours of Dec. 14, downtown Pendleton was a rushing torrent of water. Townspeople raced frantically about, seeking shelter or trying to help their friends and neighbors. Men on horseback or driving wagon teams ferried goods and people, and those on foot forded streets through sometimes chest-high water. Frightened animals were raising a din, and dozens of drunken men staggered up and down the inundated sidewalks and shouted. The main bridge across the river was swept away by a combination of water, dead and dying animals, farm equipment and the wrecks of houses. One house was reported to have floated down the river with lights still burning inside.

The flood reached its peak at 6 a.m. and remained at that stage for three or four hours, after which it subsided as quickly as it had risen. In the aftermath, it was found that in the parts of town closest to the river only three houses were still on their foundations. And while no lives were lost in the flood, some had close calls. Dr. Aubrey and Fount Perry and their families found themselves afloat, but fortunately the house lodged against a large tree. They cut a hole in the siding and climbed out into the tree, where they were rescued several hours later by men in boats.

Railroad work crews also spent most of two days clinging to the upper branches of trees or, in one case, on the roof of the Bradley residence at Happy Canyon near Nolin. A Chinese labor camp downriver from Pendleton was completely washed away. Railroad tracks and trestle bridges were destroyed, severing communications between Pendleton and its neighbors, and while the O.W.R. & N. Railroad continued to carry passengers and mail on a limited basis, in some areas they had to use boats to skirt washed-out portions of the line.

Looters also took advantage of the chaos and helped themselves to clothing and household items left behind in wrecked homes.

By the following week, after cleanup efforts began, damage estimates ranged from $80,000 to $100,000, or approximately $1.75-$2.2 million in 2016 dollars — considerably less than the original damage estimates by some of up to $1 million in 1882 dollars.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Post-Pearl Harbor blackout practice a success

In the days following the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces, tensions were understandably heightened on the Pacific Coast. Even before the fateful attack, cities like Portland staged practice blackouts to prepare citizens for a possible attack on U.S. soil.

Pendleton staged a 15-minute blackout trial run on Dec. 10 to judge the speed at which Pendleton could plunge itself into total darkness. The downtown fire siren and the whistle at Harris Pine Mills gave two five-minute-long blasts at 7:30 p.m. to signal the blackout, and within three minutes virtually 100 percent of the city had gone dark. Mayor C.L. Lieuallen revealed that only 30 people out of a population of about 12,000 had to be warned by wardens to turn out their lights.

From nearby hills, observers commented that the blackout was so quick and complete that it looked as if the city had dropped into an abyss. But cars approaching Pendleton ringed the blacked-out town, and even though drivers were required to turn out their headlights when entering the city limits, officials admitted it was an issue that would require further thought. Blue cellophane placed over headlights did little to mask them, lighting up the street for several blocks, and even a carelessly lit match or the burning end of a cigarette stood out like a beacon.

Pendleton residents took pride in the success of the blackout practice, even chastising their neighbors when lights were not snuffed promptly. And the only two people who gave wardens an argument about turning off their lights were said to be under investigation “to determine whether or not they are good Americans.”

The blackout ended at 7:45 p.m. when street lights were turned on as a signal that the practice run was over.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Milton-Freewater teen reigns as Miss Oregon

Marjean Langley of Milton-Freewater took the crown during the 1968 Miss Oregon Pageant in Seaside, representing Umatilla County. After taking top honors for the state Langley also traveled to Atlantic City, N.J., to compete for the highest honor in American pageantdom, Miss America. She was named third runner-up.

Marjean came away from the Miss America pageant with $3,500 in scholarships, a new wardrobe, and a car donated by Oldsmobile. But the down-to-earth 19-year-old daughter of Gene and Marjorie Langley hadn’t lost her “relax and have fun” philosophy, and was happy to wash off all the makeup required for pageant appearances and photo shoots.

She returned to Milton-Freewater after the Miss America pageant to prepare for her year representing the state of Oregon. She visited with a crowd of city residents at the Rotary Club meeting to talk about her planned appearances as Miss Oregon, including visits to hospitals, civic groups and high schools, and the possibility to join Miss America and other runners-up on a USO tour. “I’m practicing some soft shoe dance routines for these appearances,” she said. She also stopped by McLoughlin Union High School to tell the student body about her trip, and the First Christian Church, where she had been an active member, to see friends attending a district meeting of the Oregon Federation of Women’s Clubs.

Marjean also expressed her heartfelt thanks to the community that supported her through her pageant run. “You can’t know how much it meant to come in every evening after the events at Atlantic City and find all those heartfelt message, wires, notes, flowers. ... I knew you were all behind me and that I wasn’t ‘on my own.’”

The Langley family planned to find a homelike apartment in Portland for the duration of Marjean’s year as Miss Oregon. Following her reign Marjean planned to return to Linfield College, where she was studying to become social worker for children with physical disabilities.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Stanfield couple’s stolen jewelry mysteriously returned

Longtime Stanfield residents Norman Stewart Jr. and his wife Beverly were understandably distraught when valuable and irreplaceable jewelry was stolen from their home in October of 1991. They were astonished when, less than a month later, the jewelry mysteriously reappeared in the drawer from which it had been taken.

The Stewarts’ story appeared in Al Donnelly’s “Pokin’ Around” column in the Nov. 25, 1991, East Oregonian. The jewelry was taken during a burglary of the Stewart home from a dresser drawer in the couple’s bedroom, where Norman kept his T-shirts. Some of the items were antiques, and irreplaceable. The Stewarts called the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office to report the burglary, and offered a sizeable reward for the return of their property. They also took out display ads in the local newspapers.

Then in mid-November, the Stewarts returned home one evening to find the jewelry had been replaced in Norman’s T-shirt drawer — every single piece.

Beverly Stewart wasn’t quite sure why the thief or thieves brought the jewelry back to them, but she had her suspicions. The sheriff’s office had narrowed a list of suspects to just a few, and were talking about lie detector tests to put pressure on them.

Once an honorary member of the sheriff’s office, Beverly had let her membership lapse over the years. But, she said, “I’ll tell you, I’ll be doing it now.”

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Coffee lovers buy into Stumbo Strip

A 1956 land feud between Oregon state officials and members of the Stumbo family in Azalea, Ore., in the mid-1950s made local news when a Pendleton coffee klatch bought one of the infamous quit-claim deeds central to the dispute.

The Pendleton Coffee Club, a loose association of some 30 men who met at the Oregon Cafe for many years, came into possession of the deed for a four-square-inch piece of U.S. Highway 99 in Douglas County on Dec. 3, 1956. The deed, one of about 200, cost the club $2.

According to an April 23, 2011, article in the Oregonian by John Terry, the Stumbo clan began its residence in Douglas County in the late 19th century when Samuel Stumbo, a Civil War veteran, claimed a 160-acre plot on the Cow Creek watershed. Stumbo build a sawmill on the property, but had to buy a strip of land 16.5 feet wide across a neighbor’s property to access it. Ownership of the strip eventually passed to his grandsons Bob, Allan and Harry Stumbo and a cousin, Clair. The Stumbos learned in 1956 that when the Oregon Highway Department bought right of way on either side of their property in 1946 during improvements to Highway 99, they had neglected to acquire title to the strip of land. Over a few beers at the Wolf Creek Tavern, the brothers decided on an additional plan of action after receiving a bill of $1.50 for delinquent taxes for the strip.

On Aug. 12, 1956, the “Stumbo Strip,” as it was called, featured a large sign that warned access to the property could be revoked at any time. The brothers then strung a thick rope along the strip — across Highway 99 — which backed up traffic 400 deep on each side. The brothers passed out handbills claiming that, in order to repossess the land, it was necessary to temporarily close the road. They took down the sign and the rope 30 minutes later before state police arrived.

The following day, the Stumbos filed an application with the county to designate the strip a toll road. The state responded by offering the brothers $100 for the strip, plus interest from 1946. The brothers promptly listed the property with a real estate broker, touting the “highway frontage on two sides” and that it was located “at the end of the longest dead-end street in the West.”

When the state threatened to have the property condemned, the Stumbos “subdivided,” selling the four-square-inch sections for $2 each, $1.50 of which would go for the county filing fee and the rest to charity. The brothers reasoned that a bunch of costly condemnation suits would deter the state from acting on the case. The state threw Bob Stumbo in jail overnight for selling subdivision land before the plat was filed. The case was later dismissed.

During the condemnation hearing, where the Stumbos asked for $250,274 for the strip of land, the judge ruled that all the quit-claim deeds could be handled as one and the Douglas County Circuit Court awarded the clan $125. The state got the Stumbo Strip, and the brothers lost their appeal to the state Supreme Court.

The Pendleton Coffee Club hadn’t decided exactly what to do with their new property, but member Red Browns planned to record the deed while visiting Douglas County during the Christmas holidays. It was the first real property owned by the group, whose only other possession consisted of a golf trophy a team of its members won several years before at the Pendleton Country Club.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Pony Express rides again in stewardship campaign

Presbyterians in Pendleton took a Wild West approach to their stewardship campaign in November of 1986, adopting a Pony Express theme to contact each of its 400 members for their annual tithe to support the church’s operations budget. And in the process, church leaders hoped to promote new fellowship amongst the families attending the First Presbyterian Church.

A group of hand-picked “station agents,” including Bob Caster, Dale Wilkins, Wally McCrae, Hugh Whitbread and Ewald Turner, chose a group of “trail bosses” to hand-deliver Estimate of Giving cards via a saddlebag to families on their list. Each boss sat down with families to discuss their annual giving, placing sealed envelopes with their promised tithe amount inside the saddlebag. The first family contacted then hand-carried the saddlebag to the next family on a list attached to the bag’s strap.

The campaign had a two-fold purpose: get a good estimate of the church’s budget for the coming year, and touch base with each congregant of the church. Passing the saddlebag off hand-to-hand gave parishioners a chance to visit with each other, deepening friendships and offering fellowship to those unable to attend services regularly.
Brent Fife of Pendleton accepts the "Estimate of Giving" saddlebag from Bill Griffith at the start of the annual tithing campaign for Pendleton's Presbyterian church in November 1986. (EO file photo)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Juniper Canyon gold claim foiled by snakebite

A.P. Anderson of Pendleton got a nasty surprise when he traveled to Pendleton in September 1908 to recover from a rattlesnake bite: a gold claim he planned to record on property in Juniper Canyon near Pendleton had been jumped by a man in his employ.

Anderson claimed to have discovered gold in the sands of Juniper Canyon. A prospector for many years in Alaska, Anderson gathered a bottle of gold grains from the coarse sand of the canyon, which he displayed as proof that the area was richer than anything he saw in the north country. One of the nuggets found by Anderson was worth more than $20.

Anderson said he formed a partnership with a Philadelphia man, J.W. Grier, and began prospecting the Juniper Canyon area with the help of James Conlan, who he and Grier employed as a driver. Anderson struck “pay dirt,” but before he could do more than an initial survey of the property he was bitten by a rattlesnake while gathering gravel. Anderson cauterized the bite with a white-hot iron and came immediately to Pendleton, where he had a home, to recover from the attack.

In the meantime, Conlan rushed to the recorder’s office at the Umatilla County Courthouse and filed a placer claim on the land, 40 acres near his homestead at the foot of Juniper Canyon. Conlan claimed he discovered gold in a stream that runs into the Umatilla River from the canyon. He immediately posted a notice on his claim, staked out the corners and high-tailed it into Pendleton to have the claim recorded. Anderson was informed of Conlan’s claim when he read the story in the East Oregonian.

Asserting his prior right to the claim under the mineral laws, Anderson planned to contest Conlan’s filing.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Hermiston firefighter creates own work

What’s a young volunteer firefighter to do when there aren’t enough fires to keep you busy? Create your own.

A 19-year-old Hermiston man was arrested Sept. 19, 1979, on arson charges after being linked to a series of fires in the western Umatilla County town.

Timothy James Peck, a volunteer firefighter beginning July 22 of that year, became a suspect in a string of blazes after he showed up early for a number of fires. Police also received a tip about a suspect seen running from a fire on Sept. 7. Peck was arrested at the Hermiston Safety Center after voluntarily showing up to answer questions.

All the fires battled in Hermiston since the date Peck was made a volunteer firefighter came under scrutiny as to their cause, and Peck was indicted on eight counts of first-degree arson and one count of second-degree arson, including four homes, two mobile homes, a tent trailer, a barn on Canal Road and the Sherrell Chevrolet garage on Main Street. The final fire attributed to Peck, a mobile home next door to the one he shared with his father at the Punkin Center Mobile Home Park, was the result of increased police patrol activity in Hermiston that forced Peck to pick his targets closer to home. A couple of other fires of “suspicious origin,” including the suspected torching of Fire Chief John Shull’s pickup, were not attributed to Peck.

A Hermiston High School graduate, Peck had interests in music and dramatics and had worked at the Hermiston A&W Drive-In until the end of June 1979. He had a clean arrest record other than a few minor traffic violations prior to the arson charges.

Peck pleaded guilty to five counts of first-degree arson on Jan. 9, 1980, and was sentenced Feb. 6 to 20-year prison terms for each count, to be served concurrently. As a condition of the possibility of parole after serving 10 years, Peck also was ordered to make payments of 15 percent of his net income as restitution for the $251,837 in damages caused by his fires, and an additional $15,071 for four other fires in which he was a suspect, but was not charged.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Ukiah man nabbed for Wallowa bank holdup

A Ukiah man who reported his car and gun stolen in 1933 was instead jailed as an accomplice in a bank holdup in Wallowa.

Glenn Simms, 25, of Ukiah contacted the Oregon State Police on Oct. 15, 1933, to report the theft of his Ford roadster and a gun that was left inside it. The vehicle was linked to a robbery Oct. 16 at the Stockgrowers and Farmers Bank of Wallowa, in which two men made off with $2,200. A farmer in an isolated area near the Flora road outside Wallowa reported two men, known only as “Shorty” and “Slim,” held him up after he refused to sell them six gallons of gasoline. The farmer said the men told him they had just robbed a bank in Wallowa.

Two other men, R.V. Chrisman and the son of the Wallowa cashier held up in the robbery, also saw the bandits near the isolated farm and followed them for about three miles before they were halted by tire trouble. Though the holdup men were armed, no shots were fired at their pursuers.

Wallowa County police captured the two suspects Oct. 19 between Flora and Troy in a mountainous region about 30 miles north of Wallowa. Glenn Simms’ car was found abandoned in the brush. The men were nearly starved and had showed up at rancher Cliff McGinnis’ home to ask for food. They gave themselves up to McGinnis, and the Wallowa County sheriff took custody of the men and the $2,200 in stolen loot.

Meanwhile, state police had been skeptical of Simms’ theft story from the beginning. Simms was arrested Oct. 25 and charged as an accomplice in the robbery scheme for supplying the car and gun to the suspects, identified as escaped Oklahoma prison inmate Jesse Paul and former Texas prison inmate James Dushane, both 35. Simms had confessed to police Oct. 24 in Pendleton about his role in the robbery.

According to Simms, Paul and Dushane had arrived in Ukiah six weeks before and convinced him after several days of discussions to participate in the robbery. In exchange for providing his car and gun, he was to receive one-third of the loot. Simms told police that two days before the robbery he, Paul and Dushane cased the bank and the road they would use in their getaway. The following day Simms had driven with the holdup men to the outskirts of Ukiah and then turned his car over to them, walking back into town alone.

All three men pleaded guilty to charges of assault and armed robbery. Paul and Dushane received life sentences, and Paul was returned to Oklahoma to finish serving his life sentence there for killing a police officer. Simms was given a 10-year sentence; he and Dushane served their time at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem.

Elvis aficionado rewarded for charity work

Richard Cunningham’s love for all things Elvis Presley paid off in September of 1997 when the Pendleton resident was honored for his volunteer work with the music legend’s favorite charity.

Cunningham’s collection of Elvis memorabilia included everything from jewelry to glassware, records to T-shirts and posters to postage stamps, and even a clock with swiveling hips. He was so dedicated to Elvis’ memory that he championed the singer’s favorite charity, United Cerebral Palsy of the Mid-South, holding charity auctions every year to benefit the group. In 1997, the 30th anniversary of Elvis’ death, the charity honored Cunningham’s tireless efforts by flying him to Memphis to be part of the celebration.

UPC representatives picked Cunningham up at the Memphis airport and ensconced him in a Germantown hotel, then squired him to different events each day during his week-long visit. But he didn’t visit Graceland, partly because he had already toured Elvis’ home and partly because “the lines waiting to enter were overwhelming large.” He also met several Elvis impersonators, including one from Mollala, Ore., and also Donna Presley Early, Elvis’ first cousin.

Cunningham returned home to Pendleton with many wonderful memories, and a need for some serious rest.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Beloved police chief dies in Round-Up accident

A favorite son of Pendleton, brother of the famous Sheriff Til Taylor, died Sept. 11, 1925, in a freak accident in the run-up to the annual Pendleton Round-Up.

W.R. “Jinks” Taylor was born in Athena, Ore., in 1869. He spent time raising horses in Grant County but after his marriage in 1890 to Nellie Leeper, he made his home in Athena and Pendleton. Jinks Taylor served as a Umatilla County sheriff’s deputy under his brother, Tilman D. Taylor, for 18 years and took over temporarily as sheriff in 1920 when Til was shot and killed by escaping jail inmates. He was made chief of the Pendleton Police Department in 1921.

A well-known and respected Umatilla County resident, Jinks was given the honor of carrying the American flag into the Round-Up Arena every year on his favorite horse, King, to kick off the rodeo. He also made it his business to handle the stock for the Pendleton Round-Up each year. An ex-cowboy and one of the best riders in the county, Jinks and others were running roping steers through the arena and back to the holding pens when an open gate caused a general stampede for freedom across railroad tracks and toward the river. Jinks and King raced after the steers, but on the uncertain footing the horse stumbled and turned a somersault, trapping Jinks underneath him and breaking his neck. Seeing King running riderless, passers-by found Jinks and rushed him to the hospital, but his injuries proved too severe. He never regained consciousness.

His pall bearers were close friends and members of the Pendleton City Council. Honorary pall bearers were chosen from members of the Pendleton Round-Up board of directors. In honor of the fallen chief, all the city’s cigar stores were closed during the funeral services. Among those honoring Jinks at his funeral were the Pendleton City Council, fire and police departments; the Pendleton Round-Up; Universal motion picture directors Edward Sedgwick and Tenny Wright, and the Universal Company in Hollywood, who were in town filming a movie; patients at the Walla Walla veterans’ hospital; the federal prohibition office in Portland and its agents; and the county sheriff’s office and friends at the Umatilla County Courthouse.

Jinks was laid to rest in the Athena Cemetery. He left behind his wife Nellie, two daughters and three grandchildren.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Happy Canyon bucks fund WWI outing

Those familiar with Happy Canyon’s annual gaming tables know that you can’t bet with real money — you have to buy Happy Canyon Bucks to fund your fun. During World War I these souvenirs of the annual Pendleton Round-Up after-rodeo festivities became common in care packages from home for the soldiers stationed in Europe. And a group of Pendleton locals were able to use their hometown funny money to finance a night on the town when their coffers ran otherwise dry.

A group of Pendleton’s finest formed Troop D, cowboys recruited to the war effort after the United States joined World War I. Several hundred locals were sent a few Happy Canyon Bucks, along with other Round-Up memorabilia, and the fake money soon became a high-value exchange item that was often was used in the place of cash in craps games. The French were familiar enough with American money that Happy Canyon Bucks couldn’t usually be passed off as real money. But in Germany, a group of soldiers was able to finagle a night on the town using only the souvenirs in their wallets.

John Kelley and a group of friends were part of the occupation forces stationed on the Rhine River in Germany, an out-of-the-way posting, and were seldom able to score real money. During a liberty outing in the winter of 1918 the group traveled by train to a small village where there were no American troops stationed, and were pleased to find a group of attractive young German ladies at the station.

The Americans soon exhausted all the cash they had buying drinks for the ladies, and were scrambling to find more money to continue their outing. Kelley happened upon a few of the 10 Buck Happy Canyon bills in his pockets and, nonchalantly, passed them along to the proprietor of the establishment. The Germans were surprised to see the Americans spending so freely and gladly took the Bucks as payment, not realizing the soldiers weren’t using real money.

Kelley and his crew declared that, even on the Rhine, the Bucks lived up to their slogan: “Good for nothing but fun.”

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Sundown took gambler’s chance in famous 1916 ride

Jackson Sundown, a Nez Perce Indian, was named the champion buckaroo of the 1916 Pendleton Round-Up with a sensational ride on Angel to win the saddle bronc contest. But while the crowd cheered their acclaim for the 50-year-old’s feat, only a handful in the arena that day knew just how Sundown won the judges’ approval against fierce competition.

Sundown’s closest competitor in the final go-round was Rufus Rollen of Claremore, Okla., a renowned champion rider, who drew the famous Long Tom as his mount. Both men had successful rides, but the crowd was wowed by Sundown’s flashy style and roared their approval. The judges acceded after just a few minutes, but based their decision on very specific points of difference between the rides of the two men.

Sundown rode first, using an old saddle with a slick tree and the standard-issue halter and rope provided by the Round-Up. He constantly spurred Angel throughout the ride, waving his large hat in the air, long woolly chaps flapping like flags. It was an all-or-nothing ride and a huge gamble.

Rollen, who rode last, was the favorite to win the contest. He used a saddle with large, square-cut bucking rolls designed to help the rider keep his seat, and brought his own halter rope, which was made of cotton and braided and plaited at the end to give him a good grip. Cowboys familiar with Old Tom also suggested that Rollen keep his spurs in the cinch and “ride safe,” which he did.

The bucking rolls and braided halter rope were legal, but in the end they may have been Rollen’s downfall. The judges marked Rollen’s ride down because Sundown had neither advantage. Rollen’s decision not to spur his mount also contributed to his second-place finish.

Sundown was pretty sore and fighting a cold the day following his championship ride, and told the East Oregonian that he was done with riding bucking horses. He planned to return to his Idaho ranch and teach young Native men how to ride. And when he went to Hamley’s to claim his $350 championship saddle, he was disappointed to find out he couldn’t have his wife’s name engraved on the silver plate reserved for the champion’s inscription.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Snowbound skiers make best of situation

In February of 1949, a group of 14 Pendleton residents planning to enjoy a skiing weekend at Spout Springs Ski Resort near Tollgate was trapped when a series of heavy snowstorms buried them in more than 10 feet of snow for 10 days.

The group was distributed between two cabins, one owned by Vern and Teddie Pearson and the other by George and Jean Donnally. The Pearsons and daughters Joan, Linda and Vickie were hosting Jean and Dave Hamley, and Bill and Inez Clarke and their children Billy and Jennifer. Bryson Cooley was staying with the Donnallys and their son Dick. Vern Pearson started to worry about his sheep when heavy snow began to fall on February 4, and left to look after them. The rest of the group was trapped when at least three snowstorms dropped 126 inches of snow in less than a week — but, having laid in plenty of supplies, they decided they would make the best of their unplanned vacation.

The group was able to reassure their families and friends in Pendleton by telephone that, besides being snowed in, they were all fine and in good spirits. The weather was a balmy 20 degrees above zero and the Pearson and Donnally cabins were situated closely enough together that the group could ski or snowshoe between the two for visits. The women had plenty of food with which to improvise meals, and they were also able to snowshoe to Tollgate Store to pick up essentials. The liquor supply, however, ran low early on and the group, who had keys to cabins owned by other friends in the area, were able to “borrow” what they needed and leave IOUs, some of which became cherished mementos for the recipients.

The two groups entertained themselves by playing games, skiing and playing in the snow, and the men exercised by shoveling out vehicles and roads and sweeping snow off the cabin roofs. The children were also expected to spend some time each day studying.

In a spirit of fun, they dubbed themselves the “Slobbovians” after characters in the comic strip “Li’l Abner” — the Pearsons were “Upper Slobbovia” and the Donnallys were “Lower Slobbovia” — and improvised costumes and signs from whatever they could find around the cabins. The costumes were changed and interchanged, often with hilarious results. And when they grew tired of entertaining each other, the whole group marched to Tollgate Store to show off their ingenuity. They also made elaborate plans for the costumes they wore when snowplows were finally able to get through on Valentine’s Day to release the group from its enforced vacation.

The "Slobbovians," in full dress, await snowplows after 10 days buried in the snow near Tollgate in February of 1949. (photo by Dave Hamley)
Every one of the “Survivors of ’49” escaped unscathed from the ordeal, and enjoyed themselves tremendously.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

German man alleged victim of strong-arm plot in Athena

A German immigrant claimed he was strong-armed by an Athena policeman and then further soaked by a city judge after being caught speeding through the small Umatilla County town in 1952.

Konrad H.L. Linke, who emigrated from Germany to the U.S. and landed in Milton-Freewater in November of 1951, claims he was driving home with a co-worker after a shift at Harris Pine Mills in Pendleton at about 2 a.m. on Aug. 5, 1952, and had slowed to 40 mph through Athena when a car began following them. Linke slowed to about 20 mph to make a turn in the center of the business district and then gradually increased his speed as he headed out of town. About two miles outside of Athena Linke and his passenger, K. Wattsburg, heard two “thumps” at the rear of the car, and Linke pulled over to the side of the road to check out what may have happened to the car.

When Linke pulled over, the car following them stopped in the middle of the road and a man in bib overalls got out carrying a flashlight and a revolver, and told Linke to get out of the car. Thinking that either the Gestapo had followed him from Germany, or he was going to be the victim of a holdup, Linke decided to stayed put.

Eventually the man got Linke out of his car, put him in handcuffs and told him he was going to put him in prison. The man then demanded Linke pay him $5 for speeding through Athena. When Linke said he didn’t have the money the man asked for his wristwatch, but Linke said he needed the watch for his job. Linke finally put up his 35-mm camera as a guarantee, and the man wrote out a ticket, signed it “Huffman” and told Linke to appear before Athena City Judge Chet Dugger later that morning.

Neither Linke nor his passenger reported hearing a siren before they were stopped by Huffman. And a third Harris employee, who was following the officer’s car, said that while he saw Huffman fire two shots at Linke’s car, no siren or red light was ever used by the officer.

When Linke appeared before Judge Dugger, he was told he was charged with “passing without clearance, refusal to stop, and speeding.” The judge then typed out a “confession” and told Linke to sign it, after which he told him he would have to pay a $25 fine for speeding. When Linke asked why he had to pay the judge $25 when the officer only asked for $5, the judge didn’t answer. Linke said he was never asked to plead to the charges, nor was he offered the chance to talk to an attorney.

Linke left his camera with the judge as bail and sought out attorney William E. Hanzen, who investigated the incident. Officer Huffman claimed to followed protocol to the letter and claimed he used his siren before firing two warning shots at Linke’s car. Judge Dugger called the whole incident “regrettable,” saying he had also honored all the rights to which Linke was entitled during the brief trial. Because Linke had signed the “confession,” he had no recourse against either man.

Regardless of his alleged treatment at the hands of the law, Linke said he liked the U.S. and planned to apply for citizenship as soon as he had studied enough to pass the test.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Pendleton secretary stumps game show panel

When tiny Tammy Thorne appeared on “What’s My Line” in May of 1967, it wasn’t her day job as secretary of the Pendleton Chamber of Commerce the show’s panel of judges was tasked with figuring out. Her sideline gig as a weightlifting instructor left the panel completely in the dark.

Thorne was unaware her name had been submitted to the show until a representative of “What’s My Line” told her an anonymous person had sent a Yellow Pages ad for Thorne’s Health Spa, a reducing and bodybuilding business in downtown Pendleton she co-owned with husband Lewis, to the show’s scouts. Within days she was winging her way to New York to appear on the famous program that pitted people with unusual occupations against a panel of celebrities from 1950 until 1967.

For each show, “What’s My Line” host John Daly introduced each contestant and revealed their odd occupation to the studio and home audiences. Panelists were given limited information about each contestant: whether they were salaried or self-employed, and whether they dealt in a product or service. The panel was allowed to ask only yes or no questions. If a panelist’s question was answered by a yes, they could continue to ask questions. A no answer moved the questioning to the next panelist and $5 was added to the prize. A contestant won the top prize of $50 by giving 10 no answers, or if time ran out.

As the first guest for the May 28, 1967 broadcast, Thorne was able to stump actress and talk show host Arlene Francis; actress and singer Phyllis Newman; actor, radio and TV personality Robert Q. Lewis; and Bennett Cerf, founder of the Random House publishing firm. None of them could guess that the 5-foot-2, 100-pound Thorne was a weightlifting coach, and could deadlift 175 pounds or do 30 squats with 170 pounds on her back. Following the taping Thorne was able to chat with the panelists and, mindful of her responsibility to represent Pendleton and the chamber, give each of them a Pendleton Round-Up wooden nickel.

Following her appearance on the show, Thorne toured Washington, D.C., and stopped overnight in Chicago for an interview on the Don McNeill Breakfast Club radio show. She returned home on May 30 to a celebrity red carpet welcome at the Pendleton Airport amid a volley of gunfire, courtesy of Pendleton’s Main Street Cowboys and Side Saddlers.

Pendleton's Tammy Thorne demonstrates her ability to lift 125 pounds in high heels prior to a May 28, 1967 appearance on the famous "What's My Line" game show. (EO file photo)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Explosion, fire demolish Pendleton flour mill

A dust explosion on the second floor of the Western Milling Company flour mill on July 21, 1947, and the ensuing conflagration leveled the facility and caused fires that threatened a southeast Pendleton residential neighborhood and the county courthouse.

The explosion at 12:35 p.m. sent a super-plume of smoke into the air reminiscent, according to witnesses, of the mushroom cloud of an atomic bomb. The fire spread so fast that the entire mill complex was on fire within 15 minutes. The suction created by the flames, which shot hundreds of feet into the air, dispersed burning embers over several city blocks to the south and east, bringing residents outside to defend their homes with garden hoses. One grass fire raced up the south hill and threatened the city water reservoir before being doused by volunteers.

Fire Chief William Batchelor directed four fire trucks at the scene, including one from Pendleton Field, and brought the department’s entire supply of hoses — 13 lines — to bear, hooking up to two of Pendleton’s wells, a booster pump and an upriver intake, pouring enough water on the blaze to lower the level of the south hill reservoir by two feet. The heat was so intense for a time that firemen used solid wooden doors borrowed from the nearby Oregon Lumber Yard and other makeshift shields to protect them from the searing flames. Plate glass windows at Comrie Motors and the Leo Goar plant across Court Avenue were cracked from the heat. Utility poles burned, and some of the cable pairs melted, and Pacific Power and Light shut off power to the area until the fire was brought under control. Union Pacific Railroad lost some track at the mill property but rail cars were moved out of danger.

Fire crews battle a blaze at the Western Milling Company flour mill on July 21, 1947, on Southeast Court Avenue and Southeast Fifth Street in Pendleton. (EO file photo)

Traffic snarled as Court, Dorion and Emigrant avenues were shut down near the fire scene. But most of the problem was caused by gawkers who drove as near to the fire as they could and then abandoned their cars. Several thousand people surrounded the fire, and policemen with bullhorns kept the crowd out of danger. Hundreds of onlookers lent a hand as needed to help stamp out smaller fires so fire crews could focus on the main blaze. Prisoners in the Umatilla County Jail, located in the Umatilla County Courthouse across the street from the mill, were evacuated to the city jail for safety, and some volunteers moved files and furniture out of the courthouse while others battled spot fires on the roof.

The following day, firemen were still pouring water on what was left of the mill, and mill officials deemed it a total loss to the tune of more than $500,000. The main mill, two warehouses and an almost-finished wooden elevator were destroyed, along with 75,000 bushels of premium wheat and 700,000 pounds of flour. But not a single person died in the blaze — all the employees were out of the building for lunch. And Chief Batchelor said his crews suffered only minor burns, cuts and bruises.

The only fatality, in fact, was nowhere near the mill at all. Sister Mary Doreen, 29, of the Order of St. Francis, a lab assistant at St. Anthony Hospital, rushed to the outside balcony of the hospital to watch the fire, lost her balance and fell 35 feet to the pavement below. She died of head and internal injuries about three hours later.

This was not the first fire at the mill site, either. The original stone mill, then known as Byers Mill, burned to the ground almost 50 years before the 1947 fire, and that blaze almost took the courthouse with it. The stone building at one time was used as a fort during an Indian scare in Pendleton’s earliest days.

A special thanks to Larry McMillan of Pendleton, who consulted an online inflation calculator and determined the loss in 2016 dollars to be about $5.4 million.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Jailed ‘Houdini’ won’t test skills on cell

His greatest wish was to escape from the water chamber that ended Harry Houdini’s life. His signature feat was wriggling out of a straitjacket and chains while dangling by his feet from a rope hung over busy city streets. But Sam Ross wisely decided to put his skills on hold while on ice at the Umatilla County Jail in August of 1980.

Ross, a 25-year-old escape artist, traveled with a portfolio of newspaper clipping detailing his daring escapes in places like Richmond, Va., Atlantic City, N.J., Dallas, Phoenix, San Diego and more. He began experimenting with escapes at the age of 15, and wriggled out of his first straitjacket two years later in Boston. After three years in the Navy, Ross began a swing through the country in 1978 and 1979, startling passersby with his death-defying stunts. Newspapers were always given a heads-up before the performance, though he was foiled from an escape try on Hoover Dam when a story was published in advance and the Bureau of Reclamation put the kibosh on his plans.

“People think it’s crazy for some reason,” said Ross. “I don’t know why; it’s normal to me.”

But normal took a back seat after Ross was introduced to heroin in San Diego in 1979. A life of crime followed to support a $100-a-day habit, including petty thefts in Las Vegas and Reno, then felony thefts of silverware, guns and a car from a home north of Pendleton. Ross turned himself in to San Diego police after ditching the car and fencing the stolen goods. He was returned to Pendleton and sequestered in the Umatilla County Jail’s maximum security section — with an extra heavy chain and padlock added to his door for good measure.

“When he listed his occupation, he said ‘escape artist,’” sheriff’s Sgt. Tom Campbell said. “So naturally we put him back there. What else do you do with an escape artist?” Ross was eventually moved to a lower security part of the jail with other prisoners.

So did he try to escape? “I’m just gonna do my time and get it over with. ... Try and get myself straightened out,” Ross said. His post-jail plans included a Halloween stunt to commemorate the 54th anniversary of the death of Harry Houdini, where he would be outfitted in a straitjacket, 50 pounds of chains, arm and leg shackles, and hung by a rope 30 feet over swords. The rope would then be set alight, giving him about 60 seconds to make his escape.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Tribes repatriate ancient monolith

A 15,000-year-old carved artifact taken from the Wallula area in the early 1900s and displayed east of Portland City Hall for 86 years was returned to the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in July of 1996.

The 10-ton basalt stone covered in petroglyphs was noticed by Portland engineer J.P. Newell in the spring of 1897 when his engineering crew, working on the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Company line, sat on the stone while eating lunch. Newell mentioned the stone to a museum curator, and in 1910 another curator had the railroad bring it to Portland. Because the stone originally sat on ceded tribal lands, the CTUIR claimed the stone under the 1990 federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

The stone’s original location was five miles west of Wallula, 20 feet south of the railroad tracks at mile post 205.16. According to a consensus of tribal elders, the stone was used during manhood trials for the tribes’ young men. When a Native boy reached the age where he thought he should become a man, he submitted to a course of instruction to give him strength, courage and respect for his elders. One test of courage involved sending him to a spot in the direction of unfriendly neighboring tribes, where he was required to spend a day and a night. The Wallula stone marked a spot where the lands of different Northwest tribes came together.

“This stone is a part of our tribal history,” said Armand Minthorn, a member of the CTUIR Board of Trustees. “Our elders have told us stories about how it was used. It is important to us to bring the stone home and have it be part of our lives once again.”

A flatbed truck provided by the Army Corps of Engineers transported the artifact to Mission, and a 60-ton crane lifted the stone into its final resting place in the center of the Niix-Ya-Wii Warriors Memorial adjacent to the CTUIR tribal offices during a repatriation ceremony on July 27, 1996. Portland Mayor Vera Katz offered apologies on behalf of her city, and said she hoped their efforts would provide an example for others. “It wasn’t ours, we never paid for it, we never asked anyone’s permission to pick it up and take it away from where it belonged, to satisfy our own curiosities. ... Eighty-six years is a long time to wait, but we’re glad it’s back in the hands of those who will honor and care for it as it deserves.”
Ken White, left, of the maintenance department of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, works with Kai Bolen, center, and Leon Shockman, both of Shockman Brothers crane contractors, to place the 10-ton Wallula Stone in the center of the Niix-Ya-Wii Veteran's Memorial in Mission in this July 1996 EO file photo.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Train depot heist leaves thieves empty-handed

Multiple law enforcement agencies and special agents from Union Pacific Railroad and an express shipping company were called to Milton-Freewater in 1939 after a puzzling robbery of the Milton-Freewater train depot that left the would-be thieves with nothing to show for their trouble.

A package was stolen on July 13, 1939, from the express agency in Milton-Freewater’s train station. The package contained approximately $38,720 in negotiable bonds issued by the Eugene Bible College, which at the time of the robbery was defunct and in liquidation. The owner of the bonds, Laura Harris, had shipped the bonds to Eugene to be checked and the serially numbered securities, made out to Harris and her daughters, had arrived at the train station the day before the robbery. The coincidence led some of the investigators to believe the heist was an inside job.

Because of the failure of the college, the bonds were worth about 10 cents on the dollar “if anyone would buy them,” said a trustee of the college. Included in the package of securities were checks, also made out to Harris, as partial payments for liquidation of the bonds. But as the college had stopped payment on the checks as soon as the robbery was reported, the package was worthless to anyone but Harris and her daughters.

The bonds were found July 19 in brush along the tracks about a thousand yards west of the train depot. The worthless checks, however, were still missing. Speculation was that the thief took the package thinking it was an express currency shipment and, finding the bonds instead, simply threw them away.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Kinzua teen rules over tiny town

Like Gulliver in the fictional land of Lilliput, Otis Cody towered over a tiny town built in the community of Kinzua. By July of 1971, 19-year-old Cody had been building the miniature logging town for seven years, and his model community covered a good share of the hillside behind his family’s home.

The town of Codyville included tiny logging equipment, homes and even paved roads. Log decks and stacks of tiny finished lumber dotted the hillside. And when Cody was not hammering and sawing to add to the town, he was managing the weeds — though he left a few to serve as trees. “It gives me something to do,” Cody said.

Deer from the forest around Kinzua often wandered through the town at night, leaving only tracks. Human vandals, however, once raided Codyville under the cover of darkness and caused damage that took weeks to repair.

The adults in Kinzua, including Cody’s parents, loved to show off the miniature town to visitors. Ray Cody worked as a truck driver for Kinzua Corp., while his wife worked on a manufacturing line in the mill, along with the wives of several other Kinzua employees.
Otis Cody looms over his miniature logging town in July of 1971 (East Oregonian file photo)
“We’re proud of the town Cody has built,” said Allen Nistad, Kinzua’s general manager.

The town of Kinzua was owned by Kinzua Corp., which operated a lumber mill south of Fossil in Wheeler County. Kinzua was founded in 1927 to house the mill workers and included its own post office and a Union Pacific rail line to ship lumber to Condon. Once the timber supply started to decline and operating costs increased, the mill was shut down and operations moved to Heppner in 1978. Kinzua Corp. removed all the buildings of the town, including Codyville, and allowed the area to return to a natural state. The only thing remaining of the original site is Kinzua Hills Golf Club, a member-owned six-hole golf course 11 miles east of Fossil.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Uncharged, man insists on fine anyway

An altercation over money on a Pendleton street in 1919 resulted in a conviction and fine, but not exactly in the manner the assaulter had hoped.

Judge Thomas Fitz Gerald, enjoying a quiet afternoon in his office at the Umatilla County Courthouse, was disturbed at 3 p.m. on July 28, 1919, when a young couple entered and asked where they could find a policeman. “A fellow swatted me,” the young man said, “and I want him pinched.” The judge told them they could find an officer somewhere on the city street, and they left.

An hour later, Fitz Gerald was again required to remove his boots from his desk when another young man entered his office and asked if he was the police judge. When Fitz Gerald replied that he was, the man confessed to hitting another man in the street earlier in the afternoon and wanted to turn himself in. “If he has me pinched it’ll cost me $10 or so. Can’t you let me pay up now?”

Fitz Gerald told the man, who said his name was J.O. Hales, that no charges had been brought against him, and that until the victim acted he could do nothing. But Hales insisted that he be allowed to pay a fine and have the matter settled, saying that money matters between himself and his victim were the cause of the strife.

The judge was stumped. Finally, he asked Hales if he wanted to have a charge of assault and battery lodged against himself. Hales agreed, and pleaded guilty immediately.

“Ten dollars,” said the judge.

“Ten dollars?” gasped Hales, who had obviously hoped his preemptive actions would result in a lower fine.

“That is our fine,” Fitz Gerald told him. “Assault and battery, guilty, $10.”

The self-convicted man fumbled through his pockets and ponied up the cash, then left the courtroom. Fitz Gerald never saw either the original accusers or Hales in his office again.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Firemen provide 4th of July entertainment

Among the more colorful entertainments during Pendleton’s celebration of the nation’s birth in the late 1800s and early 1900s were the contests between companies of volunteer firemen, who stripped to shorts and T-shirts and pulled the fire hose carts through a series of tests that showcased the teams’ firefighting abilities.

The first hose team races were held during 4th of July festivities in 1888 between the Protection and Alert companies. Protection Company, as the winner, was chosen to represent Pendleton at the hose races in Walla Walla the following day. The races continued each year, rotating to different Eastern Oregon towns, and by 1894 there was so much interest that the Eastern Oregon and Washington Firemen’s Association was organized in Walla Walla, consisting of representatives of fire crews from Baker, La Grande, Union, Pendleton and Athena, Ore., and Walla Walla, Waitsburg, Dayton and Colfax, Wash. Race rules were codified and the association was touted as “clean and honest sport and of benefit to the public for better fire protection,” according to a story written by Joe Ell in the June 3, 1924 edition of the East Oregonian.

Races consisted of the Wet Test, running a distance of 300 feet while laying 300 feet of hose, and attaching to a hydrant (time was taken when water came through the nozzle); the Dry Test, running 600 feet carrying 250 feet of hose as a team; the Hub and Hub Race, where two teams pulling carts ran side by side for 600 feet; and the Association Championship Race, where teams ran 200 feet, laying hose as they went, attached it to a hydrant and ran water through it, removed the hose and attached a second line from the hose cart, attached it to the hydrant and ran water through a second time. By the 1890s the Hook and Ladder Race was added: Teams ran 150 yards, put up a 30-foot ladder within 10 degrees of perpendicular to the street, and one member of the team climbed the ladder to the top. The winner was the man who touched the top rung first, and held on until the judges called time.

Photo provided by Kenneth Garrett.
A team of volunteer firefighters, including a young Til Taylor, readies for a hose cart race during a fireman's tournament in June 1896 at the corner of Southeast Court and Third Street, Pendleton.

The hose team races grew out of the (sometimes not-so-) friendly rivalry between local hose companies, which were located in different districts throughout Pendleton. According to “History of Round-Up City Fire Department, Pendleton, Oregon” by William R. “Blacky” Batchelor, written in 1967, companies raced to be the first to respond to a fire in the business district of town, and fist fights would often break out if fires occurred on the border between two fire districts. In some cases, fires caused considerable damage while hose companies fought each other instead of the fire, and sometimes more than one fight occurred before an agreement on territory could be reached.

In the late 1890s and early 1900s, according to Batchelor, the emphasis of firefighting was placed on which company could use the most water, rather than keeping fire loss to a minimum. Victory always went to the crew that had the first water on the fire. And the volunteers manning the carts had one advantage over their present-day counterparts: There was always an ice-cold keg of beer waiting for them, either at the brewery or at one of the many downtown saloons, after their fire chores were completed. And if the fire lasted a while, the beer would be brought to them at the scene.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

School cornerstone reveals disappointing treasure

In June of 1966, the old Condon High School building was torn down. Verne Shimanek, the man who bought the property on which the school and its gymnasium stood, began the demolition process by tearing out shrubs from the front of the school. And there, hidden under the undergrowth, was a cornerstone.

Dave Peterson was the owner of Condon’s only museum, and when he heard that Shimanek had unearthed the cornerstone, he asked if he could have it for his collection. As Shimanek and Peterson were prying at the cornerstone they wondered whether the builders of the school had buried something under the stone for posterity when the school was erected in 1909.

The men worked feverishly through their lunch hours trying to pry the stone away. And when it finally came loose, they found a tin box in a crevice behind it.

Shimanek hurriedly called city and county officials for the big reveal. Did the box contain old papers? Was there some kind of historical information hidden in the box? The news quickly spread, and by the time Judge James O. Burns, Mayor Bruce Mercer and ex-sheriff Frank Bennett (who had been present when the box was buried) arrived, quite a crowd had gathered. Excitement was high.

Bennett was given the honor of opening the box. But the “oohs” turned to “awws” when a total of $1.32 in coins dating back to 1890 fell out — and little else.

Bennett explained that the box was placed behind the cornerstone by members of the Masonic Lodge, who had formed a parade and marched to the site where the stone was laid. They had been told that only metal objects should be put in the box, and for that reason they chose coins, mostly nickels and dimes. One apparently wealthy man had donated a 50-cent piece, a scarcity in those times. Also included in the box was a gold pin or brooch — but nothing in the manner of a traditional time capsule.

The man most excited by the finds was Peterson, who quickly gathered up the cornerstone to put on display in his barbershop until he could find a permanent home for it in his museum. Judge Burns took custody of the tin box and its contents until it could be decided what should be done with it.

The old Condon High School, at the time it was demolished, was the last large public building built of bricks made and baked in Gilliam County.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Firemen take work home with them

Firemen wasted no time extinguishing a car fire in July of 1929, but because they weren’t properly dressed to fight an evening fire, they took it back to the station with them instead of risking embarrassment in front of Pendleton crowds.

A fire alarm came in from the call box at the corner of Alta and Garden streets about 9 p.m. on July 15, 1929, and the volunteer crew made haste to the scene. There they found a parked car with the seat cushion blazing merrily away. But because the fire crew was wearing afternoon attire, instead of more appropriate evening clothing, and the firemen did not wish to be embarrassed in front of the crowds that usually turned up to watch them work, a plucky fireman grabbed the flaming cushion and carried it to the firehouse, where the flames were quickly doused.

When the firemen took the cushion back to the scene of the fire, however, the car was gone.

Fire Chief W.E. Ringold immediately set about looking for “a slightly scorched cushionless Ford,” while the soggy seat was retired to a pile of rubbish at the city dump.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Water weapon wielders wage war

Sunny weather in Pendleton brought out weapons of wet destruction in May of 1953, but police were forced to enact a ban on water guns when unsuspecting adults were caught in the crossfire.

Police Chief Ralph Bond laid down the law to local teens (and soon-to-be teens) on May 5, 1953, after several grown-ups complained they were the victims of surprise attacks. The first reported victim was a man who was accidentally soaked on Main Street by a 13-year-old boy. The boy was chased into a nearby business by the man and allegedly assaulted when he was caught. The man was charged with disorderly conduct, and the boy was turned over to his father with a severe warning from the police.

Next, a woman driving her car on Main Street was shot in the face by teenage boys in a passing car as she made the turn onto Emigrant Avenue. Phyllis Fields in her complaint said she nearly lost control of her car and could have caused a disastrous wreck. And Pat Faro of Echo claimed he was the victim of “heavy artillery” when high school-age boys in a passing car doused him from what he suggested was a high-pressure tank of some sort.

Chief Bond instructed his officers to be on the lookout for anyone wielding a water weapon. “If a couple of youngsters want to engage in a water gun fight in their own yards, that’s OK, but if any more youngsters are caught shooting water guns in public places, either from cars or afoot, they’ll wind up in the city jail charged with disorderly conduct,” Chief Bond said in his ultimatum.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Nude man terrorizes Pendleton

It seems nude men running amok in Pendleton is something that has happened before.

In the June 8, 1942 edition of the East Oregonian, Pendleton police revealed a man had been stalking the streets at night, completely nude except for a sack over his head. The man had appeared at least two or three times in the previous month, and on one of those occasions attempted to attack a young woman. Police had kept the man’s antics on the down-low while they attempted to trap him, but the “Nude Terror,” as he was soon called, had up to then eluded them and they were turning to the citizens of Pendleton for their help.

The man was first reported on May 10 in the vicinity of Southwest Court Avenue and Tenth Street, and then again May 25 in the vicinity of the First Christian Church on the North Hill. On the night of May 30 he chased a young woman down Northwest Bailey Avenue to Main Street, then ducked back into the darkness between houses and escaped. During the first week of June a resident of Southeast Court Place called police when she saw a man exposing himself and throwing rocks at her window. Police were unable to locate the man in any of the sightings, and several people arrested for indecent exposure around the same time of the Nude Terror’s night-time excursions were eliminated from suspicion for various reasons.

During a final sighting, a man living on Southeast Sixth Street and Byers Avenue returned home at 2 a.m. June 11 to find a man wearing only trunks and shoes sitting on his front porch. The man fled into the darkness when illuminated by the car’s headlights, but as the homeowner approached his front door he said the man returned and brushed against him before disappearing again into the night.

Almost three weeks after their initial plea in the newspaper, police finally caught up with the man. Lloyd Vernon Scott, 31, was arrested by officers L.A. Bacon and Raymond Bannister at 11:30 p.m. on June 20 in the stairway on the south side of the Christian church. The officers were driving by the church and recalled that their quarry was often spotted near there. They shined the headlights of the patrol car on the stairway and discovered Scott, who was wearing nothing but a pair of socks. He surrendered without a struggle, which was a good thing — Police Chief Charles Lemons had instructed his officers to shoot the suspect if he was spotted and refused to surrender.

Scott was registered at a Pendleton hotel, and in his room police found a copy of the June 8 East Oregonian containing the original story about the Nude Terror. Allegedly a baker by trade, Scott said he had been traveling through the area during the past few months and had a wife in Spokane. Military records show he was discharged from the U.S. Army in 1939 for desertion. It was discovered he also had been arrested in Walla Walla for indecent exposure the previous month, and had skipped bail.

Scott later signed a confession to indecent exposure. In it, he said “I don’t know why I do this,” and admitted to an urge to expose himself — though he professed he had no memory of any of the incidents with which he was charged and claimed he was probably insane at the time.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Truck-train collision spurs crossing closure

A coalition of representatives of Umatilla County, Oregon state, Union Pacific Railroad and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation was scheduled to meet on May 19, 1994, to discuss the closure of a dangerous unmarked railroad crossing in front of Pendleton Readymix near Mission due to safety concerns — and almost too late. Two hours before the scheduled meeting, a collision at the intersection demolished a Gordon’s Electric pickup and injured two employees. Miraculously, neither man was seriously hurt.

Employees of the concrete plant who witnessed the crash at 12:02 p.m. said it was a miracle the men survived at all. The train, traveling eastbound, hit the back of the pickup and spun it around. One of the men was thrown through a window. The pickup was dragged by the train 72 feet down the track from the crossing, according to Tribal Police Chief Leonard Cardwell.

Employees of Pendleton Readymix and Pacific Power rushed to provide aid until emergency services could arrive. The stopped train blocked the intersection and the cars were not separated, so EMTs had to lift the injured men between two rail cars. Gordon’s employee Ivan Nicley, 33, of Milton-Freewater suffered extensive facial injuries and was admitted to St. Anthony Hospital for surgery. His partner, H. Tom Thompson, 29, of Helix was treated and released the same day.

Readymix employees expressed frustration over the crossing, which they said didn’t afford good visibility for oncoming trains that were usually moving at a good clip at that point. “We sit there every day and watch as one after another almost gets hit,” said Readymix employee Jane Clarke. “And then the sickening sound. ... It was just a nightmare seeing people hanging out the front of the pickup,” she added.

The accident did have one upside: Officials at the meeting had a first-hand account of the danger posed by the crossing. Work was slated to begin as early as the following summer to close the crossing and another in front of Hall’s Trailer Court, and build a new crossing about halfway between the two with a frontage road alongside the railroad tracks to access the two businesses.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Cat-killing spree ends in three arrests

Walla Walla County law enforcement arrested three Weston men after a 1952 shooting spree that left at least 15 cats dead and frightened a Milton-Freewater farmer.

Charges of illegal possession of a weapon and contributing to the delinquency of a minor were leveled against 29-year-old Edward Peterson, 19-year-old Ralph Mitchell and 22-year-old Benny Van Winkle, all residents of the tiny burg of Weston. The trio and a juvenile male began their spree outside Milton-Freewater the evening of April 2, 1952, and an unidentified farmer reported the men shot at him from their vehicle and then fled. The gun-totin’ Weston contingent then took their show to the outskirts of southeast Walla Walla, where most of the cats met their untimely end.

Walla Walla deputy sheriff Leonard Krika said a car passed him as he was traveling east on Pleasant Street in Walla Walla about 1 a.m. on April 3, and he heard a gun shot. He had to fire two shots at the vehicle to get the car to stop, and found the four men inside. Van Winkle attempted to flee on foot but fell while climbing over a fence. Walla Walla city police captured Van Winkle, who was transported to the hospital for treatment for a dislocated shoulder.

Milton-Freewater police aided in the investigation after the farmer identified the car as the one carrying the men who shot at him.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Reporter faces fears to brave bee swarm


Just the word gives a lot of people the creepy-crawlies. But for some people bees are a living. In May of 1967, an intrepid East Oregonian reporter braved a swarm of bees to get a story about a local beekeeper and his business, despite his natural inclination to scream, swat and flee.

Reporter Bob Woehler was on the scene May 3, 1967, when Riverside-area beekeeper Closson Scott worked his magic on a swarm of honeybees that had taken up residence on the rear bumper of a car behind Hamley’s Western Store in downtown Pendleton. “I’ve never seen so many swarms of bees so early,” said Scott. “This is the third swarm that I’ve picked up in the back of Hamley’s in less than two weeks.” He pointed to the top floor of the building with his homemade smoker. “They live up there.”

As Woehler went in for a photo of Scott, he was immobilized by a bee walking across his hand, stopping periodically to clean itself. Beads of sweat appeared as Woehler waited for the bee to move on, wishing fervently for a telephoto lens, or that he’d given the story to a different reporter. “They won’t sting you if you don’t handle them much,” Scott said, which was helpful until a couple of bees began to saunter across the back of Woehler’s neck. And his subsequent attempts at getting a photo were obstructed by bees walking across the camera lens.

Scott explained that the bees were just looking for a new home. When a colony gets too big, usually the older workers and the old queen are forced out to find new quarters, while the younger set keeps the original hive location. When bees swarm they send out scout bees to look for a new home and return to the swarm to report their findings. “You can probably hear them buzzing inside the hive I brought. They are probably telling the ones on the outside that this is the place.”

As more bees began buzzing around Scott and Woehler, the reporter began to feel a little panicked. But he checked himself when Scott mentioned that waving your arms doesn’t frighten bees at all. “They won’t hurt you,” Scott said, clutching a horde of bees in his hands and extending them out to Woehler. “Here, look at this.” Woehler managed to screw up enough courage to stretch his neck out for a peek. Sure enough, the bees were behaving beautifully, content to roam instead of sting.

Scott ushered the rest of his foundlings into the hive, then packed up his truck. Another swarm, this time at Helen McCune Junior High School, was waiting.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Pendleton addition would have displaced Round-Up Park

If a platted addition to Pendleton had survived past the 1880s, the west end of the city would look totally different today.

A new subdivision named Sommerville was laid out on February 6, 1882, in the area bounded (roughly) by the Umatilla River on the north, the railroad tracks on the south, Southwest 10th street on the east and Southwest 18th Street on the west — land that now contains Roy Raley Park, the Pendleton Round-Up Grounds and the Pendleton Convention Center, and businesses including Mazatlan, Mac’s Bar & Grill, G&R Truck & Auto Repair and the Albertsons property. According to the plat recorded at the Umatilla County Courthouse on Feb. 9, 1882, “Said town is situated in the SE 1/4 of the NW 1/4 of Sec 10 T2 NR32E of Umatilla County Oregon.”

The community was the brainchild of Stephen Lovejoy Morse, a prominent Umatilla County man in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and the brother of Aura (Goodwin) Raley. The plat was located near Morse’s original homestead claim, and was named after a close personal friend and prominent Pendleton doctor, E.J. Sommerville. It was intended as an addition to Pendleton, and not a separate town, according to Col. J.H. Raley, the county surveyor who laid out the streets and blocks. Sommerville’s Main Street ran roughly east and west, and the streets in the town ran north and south and were named Birch, Taylor, Morgan, Colwell, Coffey, Libe, Ellsworth and Arnold.

Stephen Morse, a U.S. deputy marshal for 14 years, brought his family to Pendleton in 1864 and staked out his homestead claim on the north side of the Umatilla River, across the river from the Goodwin homestead. Among other exploits, he was involved in “moving” the county records from Umatilla to Pendleton in January 1869, a clandestine affair performed under the cover of darkness just after Pendleton was named the new county seat. The Morse family relocated to Pilot Rock in 1894, where he owned a livery stable and was elected mayor in 1902. He died in May 1908 at his Pilot Rock home.

Morse’s plat was vacated Jan. 7, 1884, just two years after it was laid out, and was absorbed into the city of Pendleton. The former burg was discovered in April 1916 when the Blewett Harvester Company bought property across from Round-Up Park (where the former Albertsons building now stands) to build a manufacturing plant.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Historic mining town incinerated for third time

With the cry of “Fire!” at 7:30 p.m. on April 19, 1937, the historic business district of Canyon City in Grant County burned for the third time since its founding in 1862.

Buster Cresop, who lived in the old Elkhorn Hotel, looked out his window and saw smoke billowing up from the attic of the old wooden frame building and sounded the alarm. Some 25 guests were evacuated from the hotel, which was soon reduced to ruins. The flames, pushed by a stiff south breeze, rushed northward and soon most of the wood-framed buildings in downtown Canyon City were ablaze. The fire burned through the night, and when the smoke cleared, 15 businesses and an apartment building had been destroyed. Cause of the fire was reported a carelessly discarded cigarette in the Elkhorn Hotel. Damages were estimated at around $150,000.

The town of 350 was left with its homes, a service station, a Pastime house (bar and card room), the post office, a relief station, the theater and a barber shop. Neighboring John Day sent emergency food supplies to hungry Canyon City residents, and other area cities, including Pendleton, sent relief supplies or cash donations to help the town get back on its feet.

One boy almost lost his life when he attempted to plunge into a burning building in search of his mother. A guard restrained him, and he was later reunited with his equally distraught parent. Two John Day volunteer firefighters were temporarily overcome by smoke, but recovered. And a woman fainted after being evacuated from her home. Otherwise, the townspeople emerged from the fire unscathed.

The tinderbox-dry buildings threw flames so high that they could be seen 25 miles away in Seneca, and within a few hours more than a thousand people had gathered around the fire zone; the city promptly put the gawkers to work in a bucket brigade. In all, more than 500 volunteers pitched in to fight the blaze. In addition to the Canyon City firemen, John Day, Prairie City, Mt. Vernon and U.S. Forest Service crews laid extra hoses to keep the flames from historic buildings like the former home of poet Joaquin Miller and the Episcopal Church, which had survived two earlier fires as well.

Last to leave the downtown inferno was Mrs. Hilda Valade, a telephone operator who stood by the switchboard to call for help through the Mt. Vernon exchange, 10 miles away. She escaped through a rear exit only after the telephone offices had started to collapse.

A view of downtown Canyon City after the devastating 1937 fire. In the foreground, a mangled press was all that remained of the Blue Mountain Eagle offices. (photo courtesy Grant County Historical Society)

At the Blue Mountain Eagle offices in John Day, editor Clint Haight busily put out a special edition of the paper, but his Canyon City building burned as well, destroying all the newspaper’s files and archives. The Eagle (then the Grant County News) had been the only downtown survivor of the 1898 Canyon City fire that started, mysteriously, in the room of a traveling performer about an hour after he sang “There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight” in the town’s New York Theatre. He was arrested and put on trial, but acquitted for lack of evidence. An 1898 East Oregonian story reported an oil lamp exploded in the room of a “morphine fiend.”

Canyon City first burned to the ground in August of 1870, when the town was a much larger, bustling gold mining town. Because the town was built in a narrow valley, and the main street was originally so narrow, no insurance companies would insure the businesses, and in the first and second fires the town was a total loss.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Loose talk aids in murder conviction

Loose lips sink ships — or, in the case of Charles Monte, help ship you off to the penitentiary.

A daring escape on June 9, 1902, from the Oregon state penitentiary in Salem by inmates Harry Tracy and Dave Merrill also led to the death of guard Frank Ferrell. Alleged to have aided in the escape was Charles Monte, who was accused of smuggling guns over the prison wall to the escapees. He in turn implicated a friend, Harry Wright, in the caper.

Sheriff Til Taylor discovered Monte’s role in the escape after a jail inmate, James Morris, came forward in April 1905 to offer information about a conversation he had with Monte while both were jailed in Umatilla County. Monte was in jail awaiting trial for a burglary charge, and evidently got a little loose in the tongue after drinking too much, bragging about how he was one of the two people who helped Tracy and Merrill escape. Morris was hoping his information would result in a lighter sentence for his own crimes; he ended up being sentenced to the penitentiary anyway.

After state law enforcement carefully gathered evidence on the pair, Monte and Wright were indicted on first-degree murder charges in Salem circuit court on April 25, 1905. Monte was brought from his cell at the Salem penitentiary, where he was serving sentence on the burglary charge, and Wright was brought to Salem from the penitentiary in Walla Walla.

Monte’s jury deliberated 18 hours, and required 16 ballots, before returning a verdict of “guilty of murder in the second degree.” He was sentenced to life in prison. While waiting for the street car to take him back to the penitentiary, Monte turned to Sheriff Culver and said, “How would you like to try me for something I had really done? You may have that chance in the future.” It was supposed that Monte meant to have revenge on Morris, who he claimed gave false witness during his trial.

Wright was acquitted of the murder charge in his trial, but he didn’t get off scot-free. Before the murder charge was dismissed, the district attorney filed a new charge against Wright, one of larceny. He was accused of hiring a team and buggy in May of 1902 under the pretense of making a short drive. He promptly drove the team from Salem to Portland and attempted to sell the outfit at a livery barn there. Wright was brought before Judge Barrett and plead guilty, and was sentenced to a year in the pen.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Tree pranksters return 40 years later to show contrition

In a grassy field along the Old Oregon Trail Route on Highway 203 south of La Grande, five former Union County residents each planted a tiny conifer seedling on April 24, 1979, in penance for a 40-year-old prank that toppled a landmark during their wild youth.

The stunt that felled the 97-year-old Ponderosa pine tree, a landmark along the route, made national headlines in 1939. The Lone Tree was the victim of a prank perpetrated by Robert Watts, Roland McCroskrie, Bill Southhall, Bill Wiese and Lyle Morehead, La Grande high school students, who didn’t realize the worth of the tree. “We thought we would cause a little devilment,” said Weise, 59, of San Mateo, Calif.

The group hit upon the idea of cutting down the tree while driving between La Grande and Union and enjoying a little Red Cap ale that warm, drizzly night. Two of the group did the sawing while the others drove up and down Highway 203 in Morehead’s car, keeping a lookout. They were caught the following day, supposedly by an alert Oregon State Police trooper, but more likely because everyone at the high school knew the identities of the tree-cutters.

Not only did the incident make headlines across the country, a national radio show did a skit parodying the prank. “It was blown up to magnificent proportions,” Wiese added. According to McCroskrie, half of La Grande’s residents thought it was funny; the other half was not amused. “Fifty percent were for hanging us and 50 percent for shooting,” cracked Wiese.

The boys were sentenced in June 1939 to 30 days hard labor. They sweated under the summer sun to saw Lone Tree into firewood, dug up the taproot, and then painted guard rails from Kamela to Hot Lake.

The return to La Grande was the brainchild of Watts, who in 1979 was a Clackamas County deputy sheriff and a former police chief for the city of Union. Southhall, who spent 3 1/2 years in a Japanese prison camp, became a world traveler and settled in Kansas. McCroskrie retired a colonel from the U.S. Air Force and moved to Florida. Of the original crew, only Morehead was absent; he died in Italy during World War II when his plane crashed. Another childhood friend, Dr. Leonard Lee (who took no part in the original incident), stood in for Morehead during the planting ceremony.

Wiese also made one final act of contrition: He paid each of his compatriots $3, a sum he had owed them since their time on the road gang for the Lone Tree stunt.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Mail mixup leads to new name for Pilot Rock Junction

While not quite a ghost town, the little burg of Rieth just outside Pendleton is a shadow of its former self. Established in 1907 as a railroad freight depot at the cutoff to Pilot Rock and points south, the town originally was called Pilot Rock Junction. In April of 1916, the name of the town was changed to Rieth because the mail for Pilot Rock and Pilot Rock Junction kept getting scrambled.

By the time the named was changed, Rieth was a bustling adjunct to Pendleton with a store, hotel, restaurant, school and rooming houses to serve the depot and its employees. Rieth became the main freight depot in Eastern Oregon for trains running between Portland and La Grande to switch out crews (passenger trains changed crews in Pendleton). And the main stock yards in the area were moved to Rieth when Pendleton residents on Thompson Street (modern Southeast Third) complained about the smell. In no time there was a housing boom as railroad employees and their families sought to settle there. Portions of town were trucked out of the way when the depot added four new tracks and expanded the stock yards to handle shipping for sheep and cattle ranchers in south Umatilla County. The town even boasted its own baseball team, playing against the likes of Athena, Nolin, Pilot Rock and Adams.

But where did the name come from? In a letter to the East Oregonian, J.H. Raley recounted a discussion he had with William Bollons, the superintendent of roads, on a train trip from Portland. Bollons wanted a short name for the junction, “a name that will be easy to handle over the wires.” Raley told Bollons about the history of the area, and about a pioneer family that had lived at the confluence of Birch Creek and the Umatilla River in the late 1800s, the Rieths. According to Raley’s letter, he also suggested the name Rodeo for the town. Bollons submitted both names to the proper authorities, “and they wisely selected the name Rieth,” Raley said.

The Rieth family consisted of four brothers and two sisters. Two of the brothers, Jacob and Joseph, were part of the famous Bonner party (no, not the Donner Party) that got lost crossing the plains on its trek west. They built a log cabin at the mouth of Birch Creek around 1862, where they were joined by siblings Eugene, Louis, Mary and Julia in the 1870s. The Rieths were cattle and sheep ranchers, and eventually built a large house (called Rieth House) that was very popular with the locals for parties and dances. They sold their property to the Oregon-Washington Railway & Navigation Company in the early 1900s and scattered throughout the Northwest.

With the rise of autos, trucks and barges, train travel and shipping eventually dwindled and Rieth shrank from a population of 200 in 1922 to 45 in 1940. Rieth’s train yard and depot were moved to Hinkle, near Hermiston. The hotel, store and rooming house shut their doors. The post office was closed in 1971, and the school closed in the 1980s when it became too expensive to maintain for its few students. Now with an official population of zero, Rieth is home to Blue Mountain Lumber Products and a bedroom community for Pendleton.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Driving violation leads to melee

Some days, whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. No one knows this better than police officers. And in June 1994, two Milton-Freewater police officers found themselves in a situation in which almost everything that could go wrong did — but quick thinking by a Mac-Hi student saved the day.

Officers Stuart Roberts and Francisco Martinez pulled over Antonio Flores just inside the gates of Orchard Homes Inc., a labor camp housing migrant workers, on June 25, 1994. When they found he was driving with a suspended license and no insurance, they told him that his car would be towed. That’s when things started to get ugly.

Flores became upset when he found out he would lose his wheels, which led to his being arrested for obstructing police. He was handcuffed and placed in the back of the patrol car. But the officers soon found themselves surrounded by about 300 residents of the camp — friends and neighbors of Flores — and about 15 of the men stepped forward and began to assault Roberts and Martinez. Their mace and police radios were taken, and some of the men struck the officers in the face. That’s when Matt Harrington stepped in.

Harrington, a 17-year-old McLoughlin High School student and a member of the Explorer Scouts, happened to be walking by when the altercation began. He slipped into the patrol car and was able to call for backup. “Fortunately, he’s ridden in police cars and he knew how to get into the car and operate the radio,” said Mike Brown, criminal investigator for the Milton-Freewater Police Department.

Law enforcement from all over Umatilla County, and as far away as Union County, showed up to get the crowd under control. But in the melee, someone opened the door of the patrol car and Flores fled into the night in handcuffs.

According to Roberts, now chief of police for the city of Pendleton, the officers were lucky to escape with their lives. Patrol cars had to be left behind, some of which were flipped over by the crowd.

Brown lauded Roberts and Martinez for handling the situation without using their weapons. “When you get a weapon involved under those circumstances, innocent people can get hurt, There’s no justification for it,” he said. The officers were not seriously injured, and Brown said they would be part of discussions on handling such situations in the future.

Flores was sentenced to 20 days in jail and more than $1,000 in fines following his re-arrest. Judge Sam Tucker told Flores that, while he did nothing to incite the crowd, he was responsible for what happened because “your friends were trying to protect you.”

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Pie-eating contest nearly derails Navy career

Herbert Otto Roesch, the son of pioneer Umatilla County brewer William Roesch, served a long career in the United States Navy, beginning with his appointment to Annapolis in 1904 after graduating from Pendleton Academy. Along the way he made quite a name for himself as a championship marksman and a talented ship’s commander. But a pie-eating contest almost squashed his career before it began.

Roesch started his Naval academy studies quietly in 1905, but soon rose to prominence with his marksmanship skills. In 1909 he went up against the best shooters of the Army and Navy during a tournament at Camp Perry, Ohio, and beat all comers. He shot 50 out of 50 at 800 yards, and missed acing the 1,000-yard trial by one point. He scored 98 out of 100 in the skirmish run and fired 10 shots in 40 seconds during the 200-yard rapid fire contest, placing fourth. He beat the veteran international champion, Major Winder, by half a dozen points. He was presented with the governor’s cup, a gold medal and a cash prize of $50.

Home in Pendleton, the town rallied around his new-found fame and presented him with the first-ever blanket woven on the new Pendleton Woolen Mills looms. He also was honored by the National Society of the Sons of the Revolution for “outstanding marksmanship for excellence in practical ordnances.” Herbert Roesch was on his way to big things.

But in August of 1910, disaster almost struck. Graduation from the Naval college was imminent. A group of underclassmen embroiled in a pie-eating contest asked Roesch to referee, and the result was allegations of hazing, the withholding of his diploma and the threat of a court-martial. Fortunately, the Secretary of the Navy deemed the matter too trivial for notice, and Roesch earned his place as midshipman on the USS George Washington.

Roesch proved to be worthy of the Navy’s forbearance. In 1911, during maneuvers in San Francisco Bay, he pulled four sailors out of the water, saving their lives. An East Oregonian editorial suggested he should be considered for a Medal of Honor. He moved up the ladder of success quickly, serving as lieutenant commander of the George Washington by 1918.

Another training exercise on the Pacific coast almost spelled disaster for Roesch and his men in September of 1923. As commander of the USS Nicholas, Roesch and the rest of Destroyer Squadron 11 were taking part in a high-speed engineering run when the leading ships received inaccurate navigation information for the entrance of the Santa Barbara Channel. Seven destroyers in the group, including the Nicholas, ran aground on the rocks of Point Pedernales, known to sailors as Honda, or the Devil’s Jaw. Roesch and his crew valiantly battled the heavy seas but eventually he and the crew had to abandon the ship. All of the Nicholas’ men survived, but 23 other sailors lost their lives in what became known as the Honda Point Disaster.

Herbert Roesch remained with the Navy for the rest of his working life. He died in 1961 in San Diego, Calif., at the age of 75.