The Seven Toughest Men in Oregon History – Part 8 – Sheriff Til Taylor
Of all the stories here, that of Sheriff Til Taylor is perhaps the saddest.
Sheriff Til Taylor was born in 1866, murdered in 1920 during a jail break. He was appointed Sheriff Deputy of Umatilla County in 1898 at the age of 32. Four years later he was elected to the post of Sheriff after the previous Sheriff, William Blakeley, retired.
He was a Democrat in a land of Republicans and was so popular that he would continually run unopposed for the post of Sheriff. Sheriff Taylor saw the end of the Wild West and highwaymen, and saw the start of Bank Robbers and Safe Crackers. It’s said that he had a memory for faces and would study pictures on wanted posters for hours on end, he frequently found men who had drastically changed from pictures twenty years old.
Once in custody he could get a confession from a criminal more often then any other Law Man around. His success rate, and general good nature, was such that he was envied by most other Police, and admired by crooks. Thieves wouldn’t even think of robbing anything in his territory.
Here is the part that puts Sheriff Taylor on this list. He personally arrested 2,645 men in 18 years as Sheriff. AND, he never killed anyone at all. He wounded several, but either relied on getting the drop on crooks, mentally staring them down, or simply wrestling them to the ground.
The murder of Sheriff Til Taylor set off one of the largest man hunts to that day. Over 1000 citizens spent a week tracking down the murderer and the five others who escaped at the same time in the Umatilla Mountains. When caught, a lynching of the six men was narrowly avoided when the Sheriff’s brother (who had been elected to fill Til’s vacant position the day after the murder,) spoke to the crowd and invoked the Sheriff’s memory to disperse the crowd and kept the prisoners from being lynched.
Despite Til Taylor’s important work as a Sheriff, his biggest contribution and what he is most remembered for, is as the repeated President of the Pendleton Round-Up and the work he put into making the event what it is today.
Oregon history is full of lots of other tough people. From the Governors prim and proper secretary who declared Martial Law in Oregon’s most Lawless Town, to the Cattle Baron who knew he was going to die. I love stories like these people’s lives, they’re inspirational. They didn’t just give up in the face of adversity, they just buckled down and kept going.