Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Folk song inspiration dies at Pendleton mental hospital

An African-American woman who died January 8, 1952, at the age of 75 at the Eastern Oregon State Hospital in Pendleton claimed to be the inspiration for "Frankie and Johnny," a popular folk song in the early 20th century whose notoriety continued long after her death.

According to an Internet article by Paul Slade, Frankie Baker was a 24-year-old prostitute working the St. Louis, Missouri, vice district in the late 1890s, and Allen (Albert) Britt, 17, a talented ragtime piano player, acted as her pimp in addition to being her lover. The couple shared an apartment on Targee Street and Baker took care of Britt financially.

In Baker's version of events she and Britt had a "misunderstanding" in their apartment about 2 a.m. on Oct. 15, 1899, after she caught him with another prostitute, Alice Pryar. At the murder trial Baker claimed she shot Britt in self-defense, saying he came after her with a knife during a heated argument, and had also beaten her up a few days before the shooting. She was acquitted, and the judge returned her gun.

The song "Frankie Killed Allen" was written by St. Louis balladeer Bill Dooley shortly after the shooting and was making the rounds of the neighborhood even before Britt died on Oct. 19. A variant of Dooley's song was published by Frank and Bert Leighton in 1912 as "Frankie and Johnny" with the words that appear in modern folk song books. At least 256 recordings of the song have been made including folk, country and jazz versions.

The story of Frankie and Johnny also inspired several films starring the likes of Mae West, Cary Grant, Elvis Presley, Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer, and actor John Huston wrote and produced a puppet play in 1930 titled "Frankie and Johnnie" after interviewing Baker and Britt's former neighbor in Missouri.

Baker left St. Louis in 1900 and eventually ended up in Portland, Ore., where she worked as a prostitute for a few years before opening a shoeshine shop in 1925. She always deplored the fact that money was being made from the song, and that she never received a dime. Baker also claimed that the song and subsequent movies were defamatory, and sued twice for damages; she lost both times.

Frankie Baker was committed to the state mental hospital in 1950, and hospital officials in Pendleton described the tiny Baker as a gentle, docile patient. She died after suffering a paralytic stroke and was buried in Los Angeles by her brother.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Pendleton ends 1914 baseball season in true western style

This week’s historical oddity came about thanks to a tweet by Tim Hagerty, a Triple-A baseball broadcaster, Sporting News contributor and author of “Root for the Home Team: Minor League Baseball’s Most Off-The-Wall Team Names and the Stories Behind Them.” The tweet included a photo of the 1914 Pendleton Buckaroos, champions of the Western Tri-State League, wearing rodeo attire with the comment “Class D Pendleton Buckaroos actually took the field wearing these hats.”

The city of Pendleton fielded a minor league baseball team between 1908 and 1914. The Pendleton Pets were part of the Inland Empire League in 1908, and when Pendleton joined the new Western Tri-State League in 1912, the team changed its name to Buckaroos, honoring Pendleton’s singular rodeo and western heritage. The league also boasted teams from Boise (Irrigators), La Grande (Pippins/Spuds), Walla Walla (Bears), Baker City (Golddiggers/Miners) and North Yakima (Braves) during its three-year existence.

Pendleton won the 1912 pennant with a .622 percentage, but dropped to the bottom of the pack in a 1913 season that split into two halves due to financial difficulties. Even before play started in 1914, there were rumblings that Pendleton might be dropped from the league for lack of funds, but the Buckaroos rallied and fielded a team that ended at the top of the standings for the second time in three years.

Pendleton’s last game of the 1914 season was played at Round-Up Stadium against North Yakima. Because Pendleton had already sewn up the pennant race, neither team felt the need to perform to the highest of baseball standards. And, according to the July 27 East Oregonian article, the fans weren’t expecting high quality play either: “Baseball as she is not played was the way Pendleton and North Yakima showed up yesterday in the great American game but despite the comedy of the contest a good gallery of fans enjoyed themselves immensely. Nobody wanted to see a good game, it seemed, but were pleased to watch the antics of such prominent comedians also both teams presented who succeeded in keeping the grand stand in roars most of the time.”

Though the EO didn’t print a photo from the game, a team photo showed up in the Oregonian on Aug. 9 showing the league champions decked out in the best rodeo wear: cowboy hats, neckerchiefs, and fuzzy chaps a la Jackson Sundown. The caption states the team “was photographed in uniforms slightly different from the conventional baseball outfit” at the conclusion of the game. There was no mention of any non-standard garb worn by the Braves.
Oregonian photo, Aug. 9, 1914

In 1915 the league failed to raise enough money to operate and was disbanded. League president R.W. Ritner claimed the failure was due to the North Yakima and Walla Walla clubs not wanting to work together.

Three players from the various Pendleton rosters went on to play in the majors: Homer “Howie” Haworth played seven games at catcher for the Cleveland Indians during the 1915 season; Don Rader played shortstop for the Chicago White Sox in 1913 and ended his career with the Phillies in 1921; and Ed “The Midget” Mensor played outfield for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1912-1914.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Man violently opposes church invitation

A Pendleton man was beaten with a club in November 1932 after asking another resident to attend church.

James Montgomery, an employee of a Pendleton barber shop and a member of the Nazarene Church, went to the home of John Sirvilas on Nov. 11, 1932, with R.S. Taylor, a fellow church member and evangelist. The men wanted to ask Mr. Sirvilas to attend church with them the following Sunday; Sirvilas was known to have attended services several times in the previous week. Sirvilas was in the yard burning when Montgomery and Taylor arrived, and the pair encouraged Sirvilas to come over to the car, Montgomery calling Sirvilas “my brother.”

Sirvilas responded with, “You’re not my brother.”

Montgomery got out of the car to continue the conversation, and Sirvilas suddenly attacked him with a heavy club, bashing him in the temple and knocking Montgomery to the ground. When Montgomery got up, Sirvilas hit him again in the back.

Taylor jumped out of the car, and Sirvilas ran to the rear of his house. Taylor put Montgomery in the car but had to go back to recover Montgomery’s glasses. When he saw Sirvilas returning, and heading in his direction, Taylor jumped in the car and drove with Montgomery to the church. When Montgomery began to feel dazed Taylor took him to the hospital, where doctors treated severe bruises and a nasty gash.

City and state police descended on Sirvilas, who was attempting to get hold of a double-bladed axe when they arrived. Sirvilas was arrested and then committed to the state mental hospital the next morning.

In talking to Sirvilas’ landlord, Lemuel Dunlap, police learned Sirvilas had struck him the previous day when he told his tenant he could rent the property for $10 less than the year before.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Armed posse takes over Stanfield potato shed

The armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns in January 2016 wasn’t the first time a disgruntled group has taken over property in a dispute over ownership of Eastern Oregon land. A group of seven armed gunmen, including an avowed member of the Posse Comitatus, took over a potato shed near Stanfield on Aug. 27, 1976, claiming the land rightfully belonged to them.

Fifteen employees of the Mikami Brothers potato packing plant on Despain Gulch Road seven miles east of Stanfield were turned away at 6 a.m. by armed men when they showed up for work. Most of the employees left the property, but scale attendant Debi Furukawa locked herself in the scale house and called the state police at Hermiston just before the group cut the building’s phone lines. She also communicated by CB radio with her husband Harvey, who had locked himself in the accounting office, until someone disabled the system. The Furukawas later escaped the building unharmed.

The posse included Ervin R. Haring, 54, and Donald A. Goodwill, 46, both of Portland; Robert D. Cummings, 31, of Glendale, Calif.; Donald R. Cooper, 36, and George Hill, 47, both of Stockton, Calif.; and Vernon E. Essig, 48, and Farrell A. Griggs, 18, both of Herald, Calif. They were armed with three handguns, a rifle, a hunting knife and numerous clubs, and Goodwill’s two dogs.

At the center of the dispute was property owned by Sach and Dan Mikami, Ralph Zimmerly and Jack Zabransky that was formerly part of the estate of J.T. “John” Hoskins. The posse, claiming to be Hoskins’ heirs, asserted that the property occupied by the sheds belonged to them because the disposition of the land had not been done properly when Hoskins passed away. In 1974 former Umatilla County surveyor Ralph Thompson and Everett Thoren, an Elgin resident, were arrested for trespassing after they drove onto Zimmerly’s land. In July of 1976 Thoren and Goodwill filed a $6.8 million suit against Zimmerly, the Zabransky brothers and McPherson in U.S. District Court in Portland in an attempt to have the land in dispute returned to Hoskins’ heirs.

Umatilla County Sheriff Bill McPherson said in an interview that his department had heard rumors the night before that the posse might be involved in some kind of takeover, but did not know where the incident would take place. He arrived at 7:15 a.m., and Umatilla County, Oregon State Police and officers from as far away as Milton-Freewater and Baker City joined him throughout the day. FBI agent Dan Jacobson and Umatilla County District Attorney Jack Olsen and his deputies were also at the scene for the 11-hour standoff.
All roads leading to the property were blocked off, and potato trucks waiting to unload were turned away. Police made two flyovers of the property with the help of Ron Linn, whose home and airstrip a half-mile from the sheds were commandeered as a command post for law enforcement. Umatilla County sheriff’s deputy Keith Garoute was posted on a vantage point about 350 yards from the sheds with a scope-sighted .308 sniper rifle.
From left, Dept. Dist. Atty. David Gallaher, Dist. Atty. Jack Olsen, Sheriff William McPherson and Deputy dist. Atty. Fred Bennett confer during the standoff (EO file photo)
Police officers conferred with Goodwill, the group’s leader, several times during the day in an attempt to convince the group to surrender. In mid-afternoon Goodwill rode into Hermiston with state police in an attempt to contact Thoren, who Goodwill said had hired him to take over the shed. Thoren wasn’t home.

Goodwill returned to the shed at 4 p.m., and OSP Lt. Duane Pankratz reported to the command post that the group had agreed to surrender “if met by a show of force.” At 4:30 p.m., 10 police cars loaded with flak-jacketed and helmeted police officers descended on the potato sheds, where the surrender took place. No shots were fired and no injuries were reported.

Deputy Glenn Youngman said, “I think they were hoping we would wait them out.” He said the men had sleeping bags but no food, and that Thoren was supposed to have brought them a camp trailer and provisions.
Donald Goodwill (EO file photo)

Following his arrest, Goodwill said he and his group had succeeded in their purpose, since “possession is nine-tenths of the law.” He and his six co-conspirators faced charges of conspiracy to commit burglary and riot, both felonies, while Essig and Griggs also were charged with criminal mischief and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, and Cummings was also charged with criminal trespass.

The men also would be sued for all police costs for the incident. District Attorney Jack Olsen said charges against Thoren were also possible, as two members of the posse mentioned he had hired them to take over the sheds and Essig claimed to have a signed agreement.

The trials were moved to Hood River Circuit Court. In December 1976, Vernon Essig was convicted of second-degree burglary and possession of a dangerous weapon with intent to use, both felonies, and misdemeanor disorderly conduct and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. He was found innocent of the riot and first-degree burglary charges.

Mastermind Everett Thoren’s trial dragged on through July of 1977. He was sentenced to 150 days in the Umatilla County Jail, Pendleton: 30 days each for second-degree criminal mischief, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and first-degree criminal mischief, and 60 days for carrying a dangerous weapon with intent to use. Though Thoren continued to insist he has a claim to the property, he told the court at sentencing that he was through with the matter.

Trial and sentencing information for the remaining five defendants was not found; the East Oregonian archives from that period are not searchable.