Arrivals, Incidents and Anecdotes of Baker County Oregon

Joseph Kinnison came to Powder River valley in July and took up a ranch where he has ever since resided. To him belongs the honor of plowing the first furrow ever turned in Baker County. In the spring of 1863 he had about forty acres in cultivation. About the first of June there was a severe frost and all growing vegetables seemed to be thoroughly frozen. Mr. Kinnison offered to take fifty dollars for his crop but found no buyer. He was most agreeably surprised to find, when the frost was gone, that no serious damage had been done, and that season he sold nearly four thousand dollars worth of produce from the forty acre lot.

Mr. Hibbard and family from Umpqua valley settled at the foot of the mountains on a claim adjoining Mr. Morrison’s and Messrs. Worley, Spillman, Creighbaum and others took claims in the vicinity. Strother Ison took up a claim on Pine creek where he continued to reside until his death which occurred in the year 1889. Jerry Shea took up a claim south of Ison’s which he afterwards sold to Hardin Perkins who has lived upon it ever since. About the same time James Akers located the claim upon which he still resides. George Ebell settled near the foot of the mountains where he has made one of the best farms in the valley. Mr. Campbell settled on Powder River, near where. Baker City now stands, and resided there until his death in 1889.

Thomas McCurren took up a claim near Pocahontas, and other claims were located in different parts of the valley. Express Ranch and Miller’s ranch on Burnt river were taken up in the fall of 1862.

With the arrival of immigrants from the Western States in the later part of August and first of September, Auburn began to grow rapidly and in a short time it was estimated to have a population of four to five thousand. Every available spot was claimed and buildings were rapidly put up until the town extended down Blue canon nearly a mile. Several new stores, blacksmith shops, a livery stable and a number of saloons were opened for business. All the houses were built of logs, as there was no lumber to be had except what was sawed with whip-saws, and as it cost one hundred dollars per thousand feet, was too expensive to be used except for floors and finishing.

Mr. Leveredge came to Auburn about the first of October, bringing the machinery for a sawmill with him from Portland. I. Bowen, sen. bought an interest and they set it up in lower town and began sawing lumber about the middle of November, reducing the price of lumber to sixty dollars per thousand feet. The next spring they removed their mill to the Boise mines, and Carter and Davidson started a small waterpower mill on the hill east of Auburn. Leveredge and Bowen’s mill was the first saw mill built in Baker County.

About the first of September there was a meeting or election of some kind at which O. H. Kirkpatrick was appointed a member of the legislature from the proposed new county of Baker, to gain admission as a member if possible, and failing in that, to do what he could for the people of this part of the state. Mr. Kirkpatrick was not admitted to a seat in the house, but got an act passed to incorporate the city of Auburn. On his return to Auburn he found there was considerable opposition to the measure, and at a public meeting he made a speech in defense of his acts. He was listened to with respectful attention and at the close of his speech, a resolution, offered by Mr. Packwood, approving of what he had done, was adopted.

Thereupon a man took the speakers place and stated that he was opposed to incorporating the city, but if it had to be done he wanted the office of marshal, and was proceeding to state his qualifications, when interruptions began, the noise subsiding only when he ceased trying to speak, and being renewed again when he made another attempt; but he was persevering and continued at each opportunity to utter a word or two until some one extinguished the lights and the crowd dispersed and what the man’s qualifications for the office of city marshal were, remained unknown to all but himself.

Nevertheless, a city government was established. James Materson was elected marshal, his official bond in the sum of two hundred and fifty dollar, given, with J. H. Williams and E. B. Moore, sureties.

O. M. Rowe was recorder, official bond five hundred dollars. S. McFadden and E B. Moore, sureties.

Isaac Hascal, city attorney, official bond five hundred dollars. S. A. Clarke and A. Heed, sureties.

Jeremiah Dooley, treasurer, official bond one thousand dollars. Geo. W. Hall, J. R Totman, and J H. Williams, sureties.

Mr. Norcross was elected mayor and Daid Johnson, A. C. Loring, John H. Williams and two other councilmen.

The business of the country, the style of living and the manners of the people, were in a great measure, strange to newcomers and many amusing anecdotes are told about their mistakes and misapprehensions. Of course, they had never lived in a county where timber was free for anyone who wished to make use of it, and it is related that Tom Law got some hundreds of cords of wood cut by letting contracts to men for one half of what they cut. Mr. Dooley, who arrived with Mr. Bowen the 8th of September, tells his experience and first lesson in timber cutting, with evident enjoyment now, although at the time it happened there was no fun in it, for him at least. Soon after his arrival he set about building a house as others were doing, and providing himself with an ax, went to the nearest timber and felled a tree with great labor, he not being accustomed to the use of an ax. About that time a man came to him and forbade him cutting any more, stating that the timber was his own. Mr. Dooley politely apologized and assured the gentleman that he had not intended to trespass, etc., and left for home thinking he would be more careful another time and not cut a tree down without getting the owner’s consent. At camp that evening he learned that he had as good right to all the timber he needed as anybody else, and no man in the country had authority to forbid him cutting any trees he might desire to use. The next morning he went back to his fallen tree determined to make house logs of it. The same man who had called upon him the day before, came again and ordered him to quit cutting timber, whereupon Mr. Dooley promptly and emphatically directed the aforesaid man to a country which is reported to have a climate hotter than that at Aupleburn, and went with his work without further interruption.

The experience of a certain young lady on her first arrival in the country afforded much amusement to her friends, herself enjoying the joke as well as any of them. Her brother-in-law, her sister and herself had come from Omaha, and arrived at Washington ranch one evening, the encamped for the night intending to go over the hill to Auburn eight miles distant, the next day. The young lady had heard that Auburn was a city containing five thousand inhabitants, a more populous city than Omaha was at that time, and she naturally felt somewhat anxious about her appearance when she should come into the city. Accordingly she overhauled her trunk and attired herself in the Omaha fashion as it was when she left town. Her sister and herself walked up the hill to spare their jaded team, and after arriving at the top the young lady continued on ahead of the team and came to a house back from the road a little way. Quite a number of men came out of the house, no doubt surprised at seeing her traveling alone, and looked at her with what she considered an impudent stare. The building was the storehouse of Ira Ward, and she noticed the sign over the door which was simply I. Ward. Coming to a cabin a few rods further on she stopped and asked for a drink of water. This was soon offered to her by a tall fine looking man who apologized for offering it in a tin cup stating that they had no other kind of drinking vessels. The young lady assured him there was no need of an apology, as she had used no other kind herself for the past six months. After drinking the water and passing the cup back again, she inquired how far it was to the Second Ward of Auburn. Glancing at the sign over the store door, the man burst into a laugh and told her it was about four miles to the second Ward. Ira Ward had a son, Samuel, living at Auburn, remembered by old residents as a spruce young beau of the period, and some time afterwards, at a party he was introduced to the young lady as the second Ward of Auburn.
In July 1862, several families came to Auburn. Mrs. Love being the first woman in the town, although a number of others came immediately afterwards. Mrs. Lovell and Mrs. Rackerby and daughter being of the number. Dr. Rackerby built the Pioneer hotel, the first hotel in Auburn, a log building of two stories. Mrs. Love kept a boarding house for two or three years when the family removed to Goose creek in Lower Powder river valley where she died.

C. M. Foster came to Auburn in June and during the summer, fall and winter was engaged in mining and exploring the Country. R. A. Pierce and family came in September from Wisconsin, and J. H. Slater and family from Southern Oregon. Mr. Slater bought an interest in the claims of the Jones Brothers on Blue canon believing that a few months of hard work would restore his failing health, and for some years he worked in the mines when not professionally engaged.

Another of Baker County’s substantial citizens is Thomas Smith. Born in Yorkshire, England, in 1817, he came to the United States in 1842 and settled in Wisconsin where he was married to Tamer F. Hartley, a native of Pennsylvania; moved to Missouri in 1863 crossed the plains, arrived at Auburn in October, where he established himself in the boot and shoe business to which he added a stock of general merchandise in 1886. In 1870 he quit the mercantile business and engaged in stock raising which has been his principal occupation ever since. Mr. Smith succeeded Mr. Able as Justice of the Peace in 1863, and held the office during eighteen of the twenty-four years of his residence at Auburn; he was also postmaster and clerk of the Auburn school district for the same length of time. In 1866 he removed to Baker City where he still resides. He has been a member of the city council and Justice of the Peace in the latter city, making forty Years service in the last named office in Oregon and Wisconsin. In 1891 he went to England on a visit, but says he felt he was an American when there. He is now seventy-five years of age, and, excepting occasional attacks of rheumatism, enjoys good health and could doubtless complete a half century of service as Justice of the Peace. Quiet and unobtrusive in manner, he has never been a office seeker, but when called upon to assume official responsibility, has always attended to the duties of his position to the satisfaction of concerned. Mr. Smith has a wooden safe made of whipsawed lumber in 1862, which he says he will donate to the Pioneer Society of Baker County.

D. B. Schofield came to Auburn in 1862 with a small stock of goods with Mr. Thompson as a partner. In 1864 they dissolved partnership, Mr. Thompson withdrawing from the firm and Mr. Schofield continuing the business for several years finally closed out and removed to Baker City. He served as county commissioner four years and subsequently was county judge for four years. Recently he removed to Josephine County.

In September 1862, the citizens of Auburn were shocked at the announcement that two men had been poisoned with strychnine. They lived together in a tent, having lately arrived from Colorado, and one morning when eating breakfast, one of them was suddenly seized with violent pains. The other one hastened to summon Dr. Rackerby, and on his way back, halted at a spring to take a drink of water, whilst the doctor went on to the tent, and immediately announced that the man had all the symptoms of being poisoned with strychnine and asked Mr. Littlefield and two or three others who had been attracted to the spot by the cries of the sick man, to hasten to the spring and look after the other man. Hurrying forward, they found him in convulsions lying in the spring where he had fallen. They carried him to the tent where the doctor administered anecdotes to the two men, but was too late to save the life of the one who was first attacked. The other one recovered.

Some one took a piece of bread from the table and threw it to a dog standing before the tend door, and soon after eating it he was taken with convulsions and died in a few minutes.
The doctor examined the contents of a sack from which the flour of which the bread was made and evidently been taken, and found therein some small crystals of strychnia. It was plain that the men had been poisoned with strychnine, and that the poison had been put into the flour with murderous intent, and suspicion immediately fell upon a Frenchman with whom they had quarreled. The Frenchman threatening them with vengeance at some future time. He was arrested, and public opinion demanded that he be tried in Auburn. The only legally organized seat of justice east of the Cascade mountains at that time was The Dalles, two hundred and fifty miles distant and it was apparent to all that the purpose of the law could not be served by sending him there for trial. The best citizens of the town took the matter in hand and in a few days organized a court by appointing Mr. Able, judge, James McBride and W. H. Packwood associates justices, Shaw and Kelley attorneys for the people, and George Hall, sheriff, Pierce and Grey appeared for the prisoner. A jury was empanelled and the trail conducted in accordance with the forms of law. The jury returned a verdict of murder in the first degree and he was condemned and executed.

The ability and integrity of the court and officers could not be questioned. The whole business from first to last, was conducted with a deliberation dignity and fairness worth of any tribunal organized in a strictly legal form. Had the same men been selected for their several positions by the same constituency at a regular election and all the formalities of the law been observed throughout, their action in the matter could not have been different, and had there been a legally constituted government with officers at hand to enforce the law, they would have been the last men in the community to attempt to assume charge of the affair in any manner in the least infringing upon the prerogative of the proper officers.

The conduct of Matt Bledsoe on the occasion, is worthy of notice as showing how little hope there was of the law being enforced if the prisoner were sent to The Dalles for trial. Bledsoe was a kind of leader of a gang of roughs that infested Auburn at that time, at least he was the most prominent as far as bluster and noise could make him so. He aspired to be a desperado, but was deficient in the essential quality of courage, both animal and moral, and knowing that he was liable to be arraigned at any time before a citizen’s court or a court of law, he would naturally prefer the one which would afford the best chance of escaping the penalty of any crime he might commit. Hence he denounced the court and all who had anything to do with the Frenchman’s trial, becoming all at once greatly concerned for the sanctity of the law. After the execution of the Frenchman, Bledsoe was called upon by two different men, each one challenging him to repeat to his face something he had said elsewhere, but in neither case would he do so, even getting down on his knees at the demand of one of the men, and recanting what he had said. His favorite way of blustering was to ride his horse into a saloon and call for liquor, and then ride rapidly up and down the street, making people run out of his way. That same day he received the lessons alluded to above, he rode down upon an Irishman in the street who did not run, but tapped the horse with his cane and stopped him. Bledsoe muttered some threats and turned his horse and rode back some fifty yards, when he wheeled about and rode at the Irishman again and met with the same kind of reception the second time. Bledsoe threatened the Irishman again, with his hand on his pistol as if about to draw it and shoot, but seeing the man was not in the least intimidated and was daring him to make a hostile movement, he turned and rode away to domineer over some one who would not resent it.

From the spring of 1862 until the middle of the summer of 1863 letters and newspapers were brought from Walla Walla by express men. Letters were delivered for one dollar each, and newspapers sold for one dollar per copy. Mr. Mossman was probably the first one on the line, though Rockfellow and Burnett were both in the business soon afterwards, yet competition did not reduce the charges.

J. M. Shepherd came to Auburn about the first of July, and engaged in mining for a few weeks without obtaining enough to pay expenses. Late in July he received two letters for which he paid the usual price, and after reading them and reflecting for a few minutes on what they had cost him, he went into the street and mounting upon a stump, announced that on the next Wednesday, the first of August, he would engage in the express business, and carry letters to or from Walla Walla for fifty cents apiece.

He left Auburn on his first trip at 1 o’clock a.m. with five hundred letters, and arrived at Walla Walla at 9 p.m., being twenty hours on the road, getting ahead of Burnett twelve hours.

The latter crossed the Blue Mountains by the Meacham route whilst the former crossed on a trail from the lower end of Grande Ronde valley where Linkton and Woodward road was afterwards built. Shepherd returned with five hundred letters and a number of newspapers which he sold for fifty cents apiece. Burnett drew off soon after that, leaving it all to Mossman and Shepherd between whom there was a lively competition. It happened one evening that Shepherd and Kinney, who was carrying express matter for Mossman, stopped at Morrison’s ten miles from Auburn, and put up for the night. Before daylight the next morning Shepherd quietly departed and was in Auburn selling papers by the time Kinney had started from Morrison’s.

In 1863 Shepherd had extended his operations until he had a through line to the Boise mines stocked with twenty-six horses. On one of his return trips from Boise he was approached on the Payette River by a man whom he took to be a robber, and held his shotgun in position for immediate use if it should be necessary to shoot. “What are you going to do with your gun?” asked the stranger. “Shoot, if its necessary.” Shepherd answered. “Oh, well there’s no necessity for that, I don’t mean to trouble you,” the man replied still coming nearer, and Shepherd recognized him as the notorious robber, French Charley or California Charley as he was sometimes called. Shepherd had known him years before when Charley was a drayman in Sacramento, Cal., and in answer to a question of Charley’s, told him that he had seventy pounds of gold dust in his pack. Charley then informed Mr. Shepherd that he did not rob men who were working for a living, but only rich men or rich companies like Wells, Fargo & Co.’s express, and told him that if he fell in with any of the boys just tell them that French Charley said they must not molest him. Shepherd proceeded on his way, and when near the Weiser River saw the light of a campfire in the dusk of evening. Riding up to the camp some half dozen guns were presented at him and he was ordered to halt. Realizing his situation in a moment he told them of French Charley’s order, when the guns were withdrawn, and he was welcomed to the camp. He spent the night with the outlaws and the next morning went on his way with his seventy pounds of gold dust. In the fall of 1863 Wells, Fargo & Co. had their arrangements made to carry letters and packages to all the principal points in the upper country and Mr. Shepherd sold out to them for three thousand dollars.

The road in those days was beset with robbers who plied their vocation unmolested by officers and travelers were also in constant danger of being attacked by roving bands of Indians. Such were the perils express men and others had to encounter thirty years ago.


Collection: Baker County Oregon Genealogy.

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