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.