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.