Nimrod: Courts, Claims, and Killing on the Oregon Frontier

nimrodReaders living in the Pacific Northwest sometimes lament the lack of attention paid to the history of their neck of the woods by writers of Western Americana.

The latter seems to be hypnotized by Texas ranches, Kansas cowtowns and Southwestern mining camps. Not to mention Plains Indian villages and U.S. Cavalry barracks. They seem uninterested in farming and lumbering, fishing and shipping, and the urban history of Portland and Seattle. But here is a good example of the True Crime genre with an Oregon setting. It is a scholarly, yet readable, account of the first major homicide (1852) in Oregon Territory. A loner who objected to encroachment on his land claim disposed of a trespasser, really a claim jumper, with a load of buckshot. The author takes us through the case from the murder to the trial, a sentence to hang, appeals and, finally, a governor’s reprieve, followed by a pardon. The story indicates the importance of a frontier justice of the peace, in addition to the sheriff, when the Willamette Valley was without a courthouse or a jail.

 

—Richard H. Dillon


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