Events in Baker County, Oregon History

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Most of the miners about Auburn, and throughout the country also, during the first years of the development of the mining business, were Californians, and that there was a difference betwixt them and Oregonians at that time, was apparent to any one who met a considerable number of persons from each of the two states. It seems remarkable that such a difference should exist between the people of two adjoining states which had been settled by immigrants from the same sections of the country east of the Missouri river, and that settlement, too, of so recent date that the youths born and educated in either of them were too few in number to exert any great influence on the general characteristics of people in their respective states. The difference was observable in the bearing and manner of the people more than in any real qualities of mind or character, and was greater thirty years ago than at the present time. After the discovery of gold in California in 1848, a greater proportion of the most adventurous and reckless classes of emigrants were undoubtedly attracted thither, whilst the greater proportion of those who followed, me to Oregon were favorable to frugally, leading to penuriousness in a sufficient number of cases to make that the prevailing character of the people in the estimation of a California miner.

On the other hand, the business of mining for gold and all the influences surrounding the miners tended to prodigality and often developed into profligacy, and Oregonians were somewhat prone to consider the latter the prevailing characteristic of California miners a fault of sufficient magnitude to obscure many virtues. It has been said that a California had rather be called a horse thief than to be called “picayunish”, a term which, in the language of the country, meant having a care for things of small value, not necessarily stinginess, but only a disposition to save and economize in cases where small sums of money were involved. The distinguishing characteristic of the old style California might be defined as an aggressive dash and boldness of manner and an air of self-sufficiency which seemed to indicate that he expected to be master of the situation in any emergency which might arise. It was noticed in New York City in the days of travel by way of the Isthmus, that returning Californians were not molested by that class of persons who prey upon travelers and strangers in the city. They were warmhearted and generous to those deserving of pity, but impulsive under excitement, and the most determined mobs that ever took a matter in hand in disregard of the authority of law, were composed of California miners.

Amongst themselves it was expected that any one should take a joke in good humor, however rude it might be, and not being regardful of the sensitiveness of others not of their own style in that particular they often made themselves disagreeable even to the extent of incurring the hatred of those who were the subject of their sport. This rudeness of manner and apparent recklessness of principle of a portion of the miners, was enough, in the estimations of a great many persons, to condemn the whole class. But aside from all that, there were some people in the Willamette valley victimized in ’61 and ’62 by fellows claiming to be California miners, in such a way that one cannot wonder that a foundation for the deepest hatred was laid.

When the mines in Washington were discovered in 1861 there was the usual influx of that class of people who rush into every newly discovered mining camp to watch for opportunities to get something of value without having to work for it. Small gambling, small confidence games, and small stealing, varied to suit opportunities, makeup the sum total of their business. Some of this class of persons went to the Willamette valley to spend the winter, their worldly possessions consisting of a cayuse horse, a pistol and an unlimited amount of having rich claims at Oro Fino or some other place, they would have fraudulent pretenses. Representing themselves to be California miners no difficulty in engaging board at some farmer’s house for the winter, and sometimes such an adventurer would soon become son-in-law to his host; but in any event, with the return of spring, the man of golden prospects would mount his cayuse and take his departure for some mining camp, leaving the confiding farmer minus son-in-law, board bill and horse feed bill. Such tricks were charged to California miners as a class, and there was a time when they could get no kind of accommodation when traveling through some parts of the Willamette valley, and their manner of dealing with the prejudices of the people was not such, in general, as would best serve the purpose of removing the stigma from themselves.

Any peculiarity which might be observed in the character or manner of an individual citizen was treated as if it were a characteristic of the whole people, and he was sure to be subjected to a most trying ordeal of wit, burlesque and ridicule.

An account of a part of a journey through the Willamette valley in the year 1865 may be given here in illustration of the state of feeling above described. Three men with the usual miner’s outfit on pack animals started from near Salem for the Idaho mines. Neither of them had ever seen California, but as soon as they got far enough away to be in no danger of meeting acquaintances, they began passing themselves for Californians just for the fun there was in it. They were well qualified to play the parts they had undertaken, having made the acquaintance of California miners in Idaho the year previous, and learned how they were regarded by many Oregonians, by a residence of a few months in the Willamette valley. Their way of making fun was to burlesque Webfooters in all possible ways, and at the same time make the impression that they were traveling terrors themselves. For purposes of history their names may be given as Brown, Smith and Jones. It happened one morning after they had left camp, that a boy on horseback overtook them, and entered into conservation with Brown and Smith who were traveling behind the pack animals. They immediately began to utter imprecations against Webfooters and to recite their experiences in traveling amongst them, relating in the coolest manner how presuming Webfooters all along the route had been taught, by terrible chastisements, that it was not safe to play Webfoot tricks on Californians. The boy, evidently thinking he was in dangerous company, urged his horse to a more lively walk, and came up with Jones, who had heard all that his companions had been saying, but, turning to the boy as though he had just become aware of his presence, he inquired how far it was to where they would have to cross a stream on a ferryboat. The boy told him the distance and Jones next inquired if the ferryman would take socks for toll. The boy replied that he did not think they would, whereupon Jones, who happened to have a pair of socks in his coat pocket, drew them out and showing them to the boy, exclaimed: “now look here! Ever since I’ve been in this state I’ve been paying out gold coin and taking socks in change till I’ve got every one of my pockets stuffed full of ‘em, and over two hundred pairs of ‘em done up in that pack on that horse. This thing of people paying out socks in change and them refusing to take their own currency back again, is played out with us. When we get to that ferry they’ve got to take socks for toll or fight.” The boy gave his horse a dig in the flank with his heal, and left them at a lively gait, doubtless thinking the pent up wrath of the California terrors was liable to explode at any moment.

A mile or two further on the travelers came to a blacksmith shop standing at the side of the road and near it hitched to a post, stood the boy, the blacksmith, and a half-dozen or more of his customers who happened to be present, filed out at the door and ranged themselves alongside of the shop to take a look at some specimens of genuine California terrors. With tightly compressed lips and lowering eyebrows, the terrors marched on, casting ominous glances at the crowd as they passed the shop, and when far enough away to escape observation, laughed to their full satisfaction at the result of their prank.

Rough jokes did much to embitter the feeling between Webfooters and Tarheads, but all differences soon disappeared in a community composed of both classes. Californians were prone to boast of their state and the great knowledge and skill in the affairs to be acquired there-a trait of which many Oregonians availed themselves to retaliate with burlesque and ridicule in turn, when such was heaped upon themselves, and that method of treating such witticisms is the most effective remedy known.

California miners in general were not disposed to monopolize everything in a newly discovered mining camp, but after securing claims for themselves, were always willing to help others to locate claims, a kind of liberality that won the confidence of strangers. It was this disposition shown to the immigrants of 1862, which did more than anything else to lead them to affiliate with Tarheads in any controversy between the latter and Webfooters. The differences between the two parties were not of a bitter or spiteful nature at all, but took more of the style of jokes and fun. Many who crossed the plains that season remember the fall and winter they spent at Auburn, with most pleasurable emotions, and take delight in telling their experience whilst being initiated into the new order of life.

Placer mining, as a business, is not what it once was, and miners of the old type are fast disappearing as a distinctive class. Their true history has not yet been written nor ever will be by one who gleans his facts from superficial observations. Such able writers as Brooks, Bret Harte and Mark Twain selected such characters as best suited the particular purpose for which they writing, and, whilst illustrating the particular theme then in hand, with no intention of depicting all the features of mining life, still convey the impression that all miners are ignorant and uncultured and led by the passion of the hour without restraint from principle and reason. Appearances grotesque and ludicrous and conduct rude and boisterous are so prominent in a mining camp that they must inevitably attract more attention than the less obtrusive ways of the more quiet portion of the community. The writer who undertakes the task of portraying mining life in all its phases, must treat ‘surface indications’ as a miner would treat them, and then dig down to the ‘bedrock’ and carefully ‘pan out’ some of the auriferous gravel, and thus learn something of the true value of the ‘diggings.’

We sometimes see a brief notice in a newspaper of some old miner living in a cabin in the mountains all alone, apparently a passive creature having no motive for either living or dying. If one could learn his real history, how he left home and friends when he was an ardent youth, with high hopes of obtaining the means which he deemed necessary for a start in life, how he worked to accomplish his purpose, expressing hopes of a speedy return in his frequent letters to friends at home until the year or two years of his promised stay gone and still no fortune acquired. Having left home for money, he would not return without it, so year after year passed away without a realizations of his hopes; letters were sent and received less frequently; the desire to return to his old home waned as the years of his absence increased, and finally he came to think there was no place for him amid the scenes of his youth. Having held all other hopes and ambitions in abeyance to the one desire of obtaining wealth by sudden stroke of fortune, he finally came to consider his opportunities gone, the best part of his life wasted and himself unfitted for any other mode of living. Such is a brief outline of the life many a gold seeker, who, when all his aspirations had died, was known to the world as a hermit or a tramp.

It should be borne in mind that it is not the miners who cause a new mining camp to get the name of being a ‘hard place,’ a ‘rough camp,’ &c. At the same time it must be admitted that the miners are prone to indulge in rude jokes and boisterous mirth, and are easily excited to lawless acts and when the mob spirit is once thoroughly aroused no one can tell to what excesses it may lead.

In November 1862 the people of Auburn were startled by the report that two men had been fatally stabbed by a man called Spanish Tom. All three had been gambling in a saloon when some misunderstanding arose and hard words were exchanged between the Spaniard and the two men with whom he had been playing, and they went out on the street to avoid further difficulty. The Spaniard followed and stabbed both of them just outside of the saloon, and immediately fled.

The citizens offered a reward for his apprehension and two or three days afterwards he was arrested at Mormon Basin and brought to Auburn and delivered to the sheriff. At the session of the legislature in September an act had been passed to organize the County of Baker with the county seat at Auburn, and J. Q. Wilson was appointed county judge; S. A. Clarke, clerk; George Hall, sheriff, and Mr. Able and Mr. Morrison, justices of the Peace.

Sheriff Hall put the prisoner in a room and placed guards over him and took every precaution to keep him safely until the proper examination could be had before a justice of the peace. It was well known that there was a desire on the part of a great many, perhaps a majority of the people, to hang the Spaniard regardless of the forms of the law, and whilst the citizens who were in favor of strictly legal proceedings in the case remained passive in the belief that the prisoner was in safe custody, there were others actively engaged in a scheme to get possession of the prisoner and hang him without delay.

A certain Captain Johnnson was called upon to head the crowd when the time came to seize the Spaniard. Keeping their plan of operations secret, they assembled in large numbers at the building where the prisoner was held, and demanded that his examination should be held outside of the building where all would have a chance to see and hear what was said and done. On the hillside a little way from where the prisoner was confined, stood an open shed, and to this some seats and a table were taken and preparation made for holding the examination there. The officers did not know there would be a premeditated attempt to seize the prisoner, but Sheriff Hall had about forty armed men with him to guard against any sudden attack that might be made. When everything necessary for the examination had been prepared, Justice Able took his seat at the shed and order& the prisoner to be brought before him.

The sheriff with the prisoner surrounded by the guards, marched up to the shed, and Captain Johnson gave the pre-concerted signal or order, and his men surrounded the sheriff’s guard and began to demand possession of the Spaniard. Mr. Kirkpatrick mounted a stump and urged the people to desist and let the officers do their duty.

Captain Johnson mounted another stump and urged the mob on; the noise grew louder and the excitement increased. About one half of the sheriff’s posse deserted him, but with the rest he kept the crowd back and held the prisoner for a while when about half the remaining guards deserted. It was now evident that the mob would carry their point. Justice Able quitted his post, and Captain Johnson slipped around to the sheriff and attempted to apologize and excuse himself for the part he had played. Pressed as Hall was with the duties of his position, he yet found time to administer a scathing rebuke to Johnson for his cowardice and perfidy. The sheriff still had hopes of getting the prisoner back to the house where he could protect him from the mob. The crowd pressed the guard closely against the prisoner and some one stooped and seized the end of a chain which lay on the ground between the feet of the guards, the other end being fastened around the Spaniard’s ankle. Others seized the chain and began to pull whilst the sheriff and his men laid hold of the prisoner and endeavored to pull him away from the mob, but soon finding it useless, the Spaniard himself telling the sheriff to let him go, they relaxed their hold and the crowd snatched the prisoner away and dragged him to the street below, where they halted an instant and fastened a rope around his neck. Spanish Tom called on some Mexican friends to shoot him and a few shots were fired inflicting a flesh wound upon one man. The rope was seized by scores of excited men who immediately started down the street at the top of their speed, dragging the Spaniard after them. When near the crossing of Freezeout gulch his head struck a log and his neck was undoubtedly broken, but the crowd never halted until near the lower end of town they stopped by a tree and threw the rope over a limb and drew the body of the Spaniard up and fastened the rope and left it hanging there.

The following is a transcript of the only official record of the affair:
The people of the State of Oregon)
vs Murder
Spanish Tom. )

Complaint filed the 21st day of November 1862. Warrant issued of same date. The defendant brought into court the 22nd day of November 1862. Kelly appointed for prosecution and McLaughlin for defendant. Witness sworn and testified-mob seized the defendant, dragged him through the street and hung his lifeless body on a tree.
S. Able,
Justice of the Peace

Matt Bledsoe had been making threats, while the contest between the mob and the officers was going on that many men would be killed before the mob should hang the Spaniard, but when the crowd ran down into the street dragging the man after them, Bledsoe ran for the open door of a house at a little distance away, never looking back till safe within the building.

It was a lesson for the roughs of Auburn and one that never had to be repeated. They left Auburn shortly afterwards and most of them terminated their career in the usual manner of such men, either in Idaho or Montana.



MLA Source Citation:

AccessGenealogy.com. Baker County Oregon Genealogy. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 28 July 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/oregon/events-in-baker-county-oregon-history.htm - Last updated on Nov 29th, 2012


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