Ghosts of Grizzly’s Past

May 16, 2010 at 11:06 pm (Historic Cemetery, History, Landscape Photography, Old Homesteads, Oregon, Photography) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Southeast side of the Newbill House with Horse Barn and Windmill

Southeast side of the Newbill House with Horse Barn and Windmill

 As heard at Burmeister’s Stockman’s Exchange Saloon Faro tables…

“Let the cards remain where they fall and the Devil take the hindmost!”

Central Oregon doesn’t readily spring to mind when people think about the wild, wild west, but Prineville and some of the surrounding areas were about as wild as they came.

Back in the early 1880’s a strange combination of politics and large scale cattle ranching brought forth a vigilance committee that on the face of things formed to guard the peace and remove the undesirable elements from the area.  Well, they were honest about one thing:  they removed the undesirable elements, but they were undesirable only to the newly formed Stockman’s Committee/secret vigilance society.

Led by Colonel William (Bud) Thompson, brother of Senator S. George Thompson and Judge John M. Thompson, this Stockman’s exchange included powerful members like Elisha Barnes, the then current Mayor of Prineville and his brother, George Barnes, attorney at law.  The rest of the mob has been rumored to include Sam Newson, Joe Hinkle, Gus Winkler, Sam Richardson, Jim Lawson and John Summerville, though at the time every member’s identity was kept very hush-hush.

As it happens, Colonel Thompson encouraged Aaron Crook and his son-in-law, Stephen Jory to claim a homestead and begin fencing on the north slope of Grizzly Mountain, not far from Prineville.  The problem was that Lucius Lambert Langdon already owned that particular stretch of property, and Colonel Thompson knew it.  It seems that during the previous, particularly harsh winter, Lucias trespessed on Thompson’s lands and cut some rye grass to feed his starving stock.  This really was nothing more than an irritation to Thompson, but it seems to have put him in the frame of mind to eliminate all the small time cow and sheep outfits in the area.

The Newbill House stands close to the disputed lands.

The Newbill House stands close to the disputed lands.

Lucius Langdon was known thereabouts as an artist with his colt .45.  When he confronted the men fencing off his legally owned land, they left for lunch and returned armed.  He returned as well and tried to evict them again, but met violent resistance.  Aaron Crook drew on him and Stephen Jory rushed him with an axe.  Futile actions it seems, for Lucias shot them both dead while their wives watched from about a quarter mile away.

As Lucius’ bad luck would have it, Garret Maupin happened to be riding by and heard the gunshots.  As the rider approached, the idea that perhaps he had unwittingly played right into Colonel Thompson’s schemes struck him and he jumped on his horse and rode hell for leather, intending to take himself to the Dalles and turn himself in, fearing he wouldn’t even make it to trial in Prineville.

As things turned out, he was right.  He was captured and housed not in the brand spanking new Prineville jail, but in Sam Jackson’s Culver Hotel, where he was guarded by Deputy Sheriff Jerry L. Luckey.  Lucius’ hired hand and good friend, a full blooded Shoshone Indian named William Henry Harrison stayed with him, not under arrest, but to keep him safe until his hearing the next morning.  Unfortunately, not only couldn’t he safekeep his good friend, he couldn’t preserve his own life as events unfolded.

Newbill House standing in Grizzly, Oregon to the north of the cemetery

Early the next morning, masked men stormed the barroom in which Luke was held, knocked the deputy to the ground and shot Lucius Langdon dead.  After that they looped a lariat around William Harrison’s neck, drug him behind a galloping horse through the town and hung his dead body from the Crooked River Iron Bridge that stood on the present day West 2nd Street and Deer Street in Prineville.

Luke’s brother, George Langdon was on his way into town with Luke’s wife, Emma La Francis Langdon for the hearing, arriving after Luke’s demise.  Emma was in such a rage that she stormed across the street and purchased a gun and bullets, returning to the barroom to kill Deputy Luckey.  True to his name, he ducked out through the hail of gunfire without suffering a single strike, and hid out until the widow left town.

Southwest side of the house featuring the attached icehouse and cistern cover.

This was the beginning of the vigilante era where the upholders of the law brought a reign of terror upon Central Oregon.  For some reason the vigilantes seemed to prefer dispensing their justice in saloons in the area, often shooting their unsuspecting victims in the back of the head.  Al Swartz was shot in the back of the head at Burmeister’s Stockman’s Exchange Saloon while playing cards.  Mike Morgan was shot in the back of the head at Burmeister’s as well, for the crime of owing one of the Barnes brothers $6.00.  William Thompson killed Mike’s brother, Frank Morgan, shooting him in the back of the head at Kelly’s Saloon.

And so it went until a brave group of citizens formed an anti-vigilance group called the Moonshiners, so named because they patrolled at night to try to stem the vigilante violence.  Ultimately the Moonshiners brought Central Oregon back to the legal justice system, driving the vigilantes out of town.

Panoramic view of the Newbill House on the Grizzly Grasslands

The first vicitms of Colonel Thompson and his band of scary men populate the Grizzly cemetery.  Their graves are unmarked amongst the 19th century headstones, leaning at odd angles from over a century of frost heave.  Aaron Crook and Stephen Jory, unwitting pawns in an old west power game as well as Willliam Henry Harrison, also in an unmarked grave rest in the little knoll in the windy grasslands at the foot of Grizzly Mountain, not far from the disputed property line.

The little town of Grizzly was established around 1880, but a fire destroyed most of the buildings including the schoolhouse in the 1950’s. 

The Newbill House remains close to, if not on Lucius Langdon’s disputed land.  It houses nothing now but birds, its gay antique wallpaper hanging in shreds and the once proud house fallen into dangerous disrepair with the advance of time.  The old horse barn is ready to collapse in on itself and the windmill keens its grief every time the winds rush over the grassland.  The cemetary sits about a quarter mile to the south of the house, whispering of the difficult lives and deaths of the pioneers that tried to make a life in the Central Oregon desert.

Northwest side of the Newbill House

Special thanks to the current owners of the Newbill House and Grizzly Cemetery for allowing me access to photograph this unique piece of Oregon history.

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