Lack of communication and a case of mistaken identity resulted in the shooting of a veteran Union County lawman in June of 1921 by his own men.
Officer J.H. McLachlin had received information that a Cadillac roadster carrying a quantity of whiskey would be moving from Pendleton through a canyon west of Hilgard in the Blue Mountains near La Grande. McLachlin, also a deputy federal agent, decided to lie in wait to capture the suspected bootleggers, and took up a post on the bank of the Grand Ronde River with his gun across his knees.
On the same day, La Grande officers and Union County sheriff’s deputies received a tip that a holdup man was working in the same canyon. When they spotted an unidentified man on the river bank they called for him to put up his hands. When he ignored their request (likely he didn’t hear them), one of the officers fired a shot, hitting the man in the back.
Upon learning McLachlin’s identity, the officers scrambled to transport him to La Grande for medical attention. But before he left for the hospital, McLachlin urged sheriff’s deputies to take up his vigil for the whiskey shipment. And when a Cadillac bearing two “foreign-born” men rolled up later in the day, the deputies were able to capture a cache of Canadian Club.
Known as “Old Mack” for his long service and prowess in catching criminals during his storied career, McLachlin was considered the Til Taylor of Union County, and assisted in the capture of Taylor’s killers in 1920.