Enterprise, Wallowa County, Oregon

Cattleman Dead On Canyon Trail

Body of Walter S. Brockman Found By Child Near Path on Snake River.

Brockman, the largest owner of cattle in Wallowa County, was found dead below a Snake River trail Monday afternoon. The trail runs from the schoolhouse to the James Wisenor ranch, climbing up from the river and crossing a bench, and then dropping down to the stream again.

As the slopes are precipitous on Snake River, there are many places where there is a long drop from the trails to the gulches below. The children of Gus Strumbaugh, who attend the school on the river, were going home along the trail Monday afternoon when a girl noticed a dead pack mule lying in the bottom of the gulch below.

The children descended the pitch to the spot and found the body of Mr. Brockman lying near that of the loaded animal. Some of Mr. Brockman’s horses also were in the neighborhood, it is said. The children fled from the spot and reported their discovery. Mrs. Stumbaugh rode to the Imnaha store and told what she had learned, and word was brought to Enterprise on Tuesday by C.C. Boswell.

The place where Mr. Brockman met his death is one of the most remote in the country, as it is 50 miles from a railroad, and there is no wagon road nearer than the breaks of Snake river, the crest of the great canyon. The ranches on the tiny bottom lands along the stream are reached by trail or by power boat from Lewiston. Telephone facilities are meager and uncertain.

The last word which had reached Imnaha yesterday was that Mr. Brockman’s body had been taken to Pittsburg, where an investigation was held by men living there. The supposition from persons who knew the cattleman is that some accident happened as he and his pack animals were traveling the trail, and they were thrown down the steep slope and killed by the fall.

Mr. Brockman and wife and child spent part of their time at the ranch on the river, and part on his wheat farm not far from Grangeville. It was reported that Mrs. Brockman was ill and at a hospital at Grangeville at the time her husband met his death. They were married six and a half years ago.

Mr. Brockman was a remarkable man, suited by nature for life in the canyons, for he was daring to a fault and knew no fear. One of his feats, which were quite in the day’s work for him, was to swim his horse in Snake River for hours while driving cattle across. He would head the cattle into the river, and then force his horse into the current below them to keep them from milling around and turning back. One band after another would be driven over this way until he had got a large herd across.

When a young man, Mr. Brockman was struck by lighting which left a remarkable souvenir of its visit. It struck on the crown of his head and went down his back and right leg, burning a streak which was marked by a white scar. The shock impaired Mr. Brockman’s hearing permanently.

In 1912 he had a characteristic Snake River adventure. He was riding a horse that never relished being under the saddle and usually started a ride with an exhibition of bucking. This time he was on the horse on a hill above a cliff. The animal started plunging toward the brink and before Mr. Brockman had a chance to jump off safely, horse and rider sailed over the edge. As they cleared, Mr. Brockman disengaged himself from his saddle and dropped straight down the side of the cliff. About 35 feet below he struck on a rock ledge, but he could not stop himself and shot on down, although he bumped again on the walls before landing.

There was a bed of gravel at the base of the cliff, Mr. Brockman landed feet first, going deep in the soft gravel. His arms and legs were bruised but no serious injury was suffered. The horse lodged in some brush farther down the gulch, and was got out safely, but Mr. Brockman did not so much as put a halter on it again for at least 18 months. The cliff was measured afterward and found to be 72 feet high. These details were from Mr. Brockman himself when in Enterprise some time afterward.

At the time he said he had 45 acres of alfalfa on Snake River, from which he cut large crops, using mowing machines taken in on pack horses. He had a large farm near Grangeville, where he raised grain for fattening his cattle, his shipping point being Steunenburg. In October 1912 he proved up on a Snake River homestead, although he was at the time the largest owner of cattle in the county. He then had upwards of 1000 head, and the number has grown somewhat since.

Enterprise Record Chieftain, Enterprise, Wallowa County, Oregon, Thursday August 8, 1918.