Lynching of W.S. Thompson

Unfortunately, Oregon has not historically been a friendly place to African Americans. The State very nearly came in on the side of the Confederate cause during the Civil War. It’s very creation was delayed as the US Congress debated the rights of blacks before succession fever set in.

One of the earliest recorded lynchings was of W. S. Thompson on August 2, 1894 in Lakeview Oregon. More ironic considering the large numbers of Irish sheepherders in Lakeview during that time who had to contend with religious prosecution. The town population was 761 people in 1900, and the town had only been incorporated in 1889.

My research into this subject started with the statement “a desperado who lived in Warner Valley.” My question was, what made W. S. Thompson a desperado? Visions of stage coach robbing or burning down homesteads. With a simple Google Search, I found his name listed in 100 Years of Lynchings by Ralph Ginzburg. It may be the fact that he was simply black was enough to cause him to be labeled such.

Reportedly he had beaten his wife, broke her nose and three ribs. He then proceeded to slash her saddle horse to death, and ripped open the abdomen of several other horses. Such things seemed to have been more common in that day.

Unfortunately for W. S. Thompson the Lake County Sheriff, Frank Lane, was out of town. Joe Morrow led a group of citizens to the jail, took the keys away from Al Heminger who was Deputy Sheriff at the time. The lynch mob dragged Thompson out of the jail and promptly hug him from the porch of the Court House.

Lake County Courthouse Lakeview FSDM2
Court House as it appeared in 1915. It was replaced in 1954.

The coroner’s jury found that Thompsan died of strangulation by unknown parties. But this verdict must have caused some anger among the citizens even in the day. It’s reported that a local from Warner Valley asked one of the jurors, Mr. M. Barry what the verdict was. When he found out he replied “Then I guess I’ll go and get my rope.”

Al Heminger, the Deputy Sheriff, later committed suicide due to his guilt in not being able to stop the lynching.

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11 Responses to Lynching of W.S. Thompson

  1. Pingback: Warner Creek Correctional Facility in Lakeview - Oregon (OR) - City-Data Forum

  2. John Griffin says:

    Mr. Hamell,
    I read your posting on the lynching of William S. Thompson in Lakeview OR in 1894. You got a few things wrong, and may have let your prejudices overcome your ability to engage in unbiased historical research.

    There is absolutely NO evidence that William S. Thompson was a black man. He was almost certainly white. His widow was listed as white in the 1900 census, as was his daughter. No newspaper account, or local recollection ever mentions him as being black. I assure you that a black man married to a white woman in Eastern Oregon in 1894 would have been worthy of note if the man had been lynched.

    Many Irish sheepherders lived in Lake County at that time. There was less religous and national origin prejudice than you imply. Many (most?) of the Irish did quite well, and their descendents continue to make this their home. What prejudice that did exist dealt less with religion than the fact that some Irish sheepmen returned to Ireland after doing well in the sheep business. This seemed to really anger some non-Irish ranchers. It is strongly believed that some of Thompson’s lynching party were Irish immigrants who lived in the Adel area of the Warner Valley. The Barry that you mentioned as a lynch party member was definitely an Irish immigrant, and a reswpected member of the Lake County community.

    In 1894, the Warner Valley was a violent little corner of Oregon where the occupants had much more to worry about than a person’s skin color. A consortium of land buyers from the Surprize Valley California was attempting to oust many small ranchers by way of legal manipulation of the Swamp Land Act Small ranchers would cut hay for the consortium (later the MC Ranch) during the day, and burn the haystacks at night. People were getting killed, stock was being stolen, and into the middle of the fray arrived William S. Thompson.

    I have spoken with descendants of those who knew William Thompson (and probably descendants of the lynch party). All say their grandparents or great grandparents reviled the man. I’ve never heard one word of remorse, nor a statement of rebuke for the act. Thompson was described as the meanest, cruelest man that ever lived. The few period newspapers that mentioned the incident did not seem to have any sympathy whatsoever for Thompson. One newspaper mentioned that Thompson had earlier killed his son….this was false. Evidently, about a year before the lynching, Thompson’s infant son drank some caustic lye. He was given medical attention, but died from the effects.

    There were blacks in Lakeview, but not many. They were probably treated about the same here as in any other Eastern Oregon town. Some established a niche and were valued community members….some didn’t and were not. There was never enough blacks, then or now, to be considered a “community”.

    Enough of my rant. Please change the posting of Thompson being black, or provide some proof that he was. I would love to see it! If you finally agree that Thompson was white, will that make his lynching less newsworthy?

    Most Respectfully,
    John Griffin
    Lakeview OR

    • Rick says:

      Hello John and thank you for you comments.

      My sources are three: 100 Years of Lynchings by Ralph Ginzburg which is supposedly based on newspaper accounts.

      History of the Fremont Forest Volume 2 which was published as a circular by the Lake County Historical Society some time in the mid 70′s, and one of Ralph Friedman’s books, probably Oregon for the Curious or the Other Side of Oregon. It is possible that all three of these sources are wrong, although Ralph Friedman tended to only write what he was told orally.

      I have tried to collaborate with newspapers, but the Lakeview Library apparently does not have copies of the Lakeview Herald from that date. If you have a copy of it I would be extremely interested in obtaining a photocopy or digital copy for myself. I’ve been informed that the University of Oregon has a copy on Microfilm but I have not had a chance to drive there to find it myself.

      As for your last statement, I wrote this article not because of Thompson’s race, but rather because I was more interested to see that one of the few recorded lynchings in Oregon happened in my home town.

      You also need to keep in mind that Oregon barely made it as a Northern State. Post Civil War was even worse for racism due to the large number of “Democrats” (read ex-Southern Slave Holders and their supporters,) who moved to Oregon instead of pledging their loyalty to the United States.

  3. David says:

    your only source is a liar and that makes you a liar as well. The court records and census records state other wise. Ralph Friedmans books metions nothing about him being black, niether does the History of Fremont Forest so this makes you a liar and the author Ralph Ginzburg one also. Get facts before posting crap about thing you know nothing about.

    • Rick says:

      David, I would be interested in obtaining any primary documents that would help shed light on the mystery of Thompson’s race. If you have copies of the original articles from the Lakeview Hearld, please email them to me otherwise I can only go on the documents that I’ve already uncovered.

  4. David says:

    Like I said you need to do better researching it’s in the census records and the court house records. I had to pay for my copies so you can pay for your own copies.

  5. Rick says:

    And where did you go to get copies of the records? When I called the Lakeview Courthouse at the time of this writing, they didn’t have any records going back that far. Nor did the Lakeview Library.

  6. David says:

    Most of my records are over 30 years old when I started doing research. As far as the court records you might have to search by hand like I did and the newspapers. If you don’t find it there you can find it in other newspapers like the Capital Journal (Salem OR) 22 Aug 1894, The Record Union (Sacramento CA) 23 Aug 1894, the Weekly Stockman Gazette (Reno NV) 23 Aug 1894, the Daily Nevada State (Reno NV) 23 Aug 1894 and about 3 more if you want them. None of them state he was black. In the Lakeview Examiner it states 13 Jun 1895 “ a marriage license has been issued to Mr. John T. Maupin and Mrs. W.S. Thompson, both of Warner Valley” then you go to the 1900 census and low and behold there they are listed in lower Warner Valley Precinct and not only them but also Mattie Thompson and it clearly states race white not Black not mulatto but white. There were blacks living in Lake County as early as the 1870’s but this family was not black. The only place I haven’t checked is the Ousley Osterman Huffstutter Funeral home as if anyone has more Info on William S Thompson it would be them. Also a note not long after this all took place a close range gun battle broke out in Warner Valley after reading the book called tales never told around the camp fire by Mark Dugan the first chapter. then you will understand why.

  7. Leanna says:

    I know this posting is from long ago, but I am the gg granddaughter of George Maupin, brother to John T. Maupin who married Thompson’s widow. I have pics of Melvina and her daughter Mattie and I can assure you that they are very much white. J.T Maupin was involved in the lynching of Thompson and our family stories are that he was caught stealing cattle and sheep from several owners in the area. He was not a well liked man and this most likely led to the lynching. Thompson came from Nevada before coming to Oregon and was most likely born in Texas.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ’0 which is not a hashcash value.

    • Rick says:

      Hi Leanna!

      Based on the number of comments I’ve seen about this, I believe he was white. Unfortunately I have yet to see an actual primary source that says otherwise. If you have copies of newspaper records or anything, that would be great.

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