The Seven Toughest Men in Oregon History – Part 4

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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.

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On to Part 5

The Seven Toughest Men in Oregon History – Part 7

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The Seven Toughest Men in Oregon History – Part 7 – Lige Coalman

In 1915 the United States Forest Service built a house on the top of Mt. Hood (11,237 feet above sea level) to serve as a fire outlook post for pretty much the entire area that is now Mt. Hood National Forest. Lige Coalman (nick named the Iron Man of Hood,) was the first person stationed there and helped with it’s construction. Despite being paid a rate of $5 a day, most of the packers quit before all the parts of the building were packed to the top. On the last day Lige carried 120 pounds of nails and other hardware up on the last load.

Lige lived there for four years. The “trail” from the top to a place called Crater Rock usually takes about an hour. Lige could make it in six minutes by running and leaping large distances. He did this stunt not once but pretty much every time he came down the mountain. He also participated in many spectacular rescues, all of which were extensively written about in local newspapers.

Here’s why this is impressive. More then 130 people have died on the slopes of Mt. Hood in climbing accidents.

Last but certainly not least, Sheriff Til Taylor

The Seven Toughest Men in Oregon History – Part 6

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The Seven Toughest Men in Oregon History – Part 6 – Mat Taylor

In the 1870’s, Mat Taylor worked as a blacksmith in Pendleton, Oregon. He also taught dance classes. It’s said multiple times that he never started a fight, but he finished them. A frequent weekend past time for town locals would be to get drunks of all types mad by telling them that Mat Taylor challenged them. The drunk would get mad, then challenge Mat to a fight. He would put down his hammer, or pause his dancing class and then go bare handedly whip them.

Simply because he taught Dance Classes in the 1870’s Wild West, this would be enough to put Mat on this list. The fact that he also took on all challengers…

Click here to read about Lige Coalman – who lived on top of Mt. Hood

The Seven Toughest Men in Oregon History – Part 5

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The Seven Toughest Men in Oregon History – Part 5 – Survivors of Battle Rock

Battle Rock is one of the most well documented conflicts in Oregon history. Two of the major participants wrote diaries and newspaper articles about it, plus submitted articles to the Oregon Historical Society Quarterly Magazine in 1902.

In June of 1851, 9 men were landed at was is now known as Port Orford, Oregon. Their goal was to plat the town of Port Orford as a supply depot between the California Gold Fields and Portland. Armed with only a few ancient and not reliable muskets, plus the ship’s four inch cannon that they demanded from the ship’s Captain at the very last moment, these men suddenly found that the previously friendly indians had turned hostile when their passage out steamed away.

Finding themselves outnumbered 40 to 9, they camped on a rock part way in the ocean. The cannon was pointed down the only accessible path up the rock and they proceeded to attempt to hold off the Indians all night. The next morning about 60 Indians including a Chief started climbing up the rock into the camp. The Chief attempted to wrestle a musket out of the hands of one of the men and was clubbed over the head for it. A volley of arrows fired over the camp and J.M. Fitzpatrick fired the canon into the crowd. After the fifteen minute battle, 13 indians were dead on the ground, four of the party were wounded. Later accounts say that there were 20 dead and 15 wounded indians.

The Indian kept firing muskets at the party camped on the rock, but never hit anything. That afternoon another Chief came and asked to remove the dead. They informed him that they would be gone in 14 days (when the ship was scheduled to come back.) At that point the Indians left them alone.

Unfortunately, urgent repairs to the ship delayed it’s sailing from San Francisco on time, so on the fifteenth day the Indians attacked again, this time in much greater numbers. The attack was repelled and the Indians would not attack again, instead firing arrows towards the rock which fell short. At this point the party on the rock was running short of ammunition.

Luckily, a large group of the indians set up a camp to the south of the rock near a creek. A small party remained to watch the rock. Those on the rock started building up fortifications in preparation for another attack. Satisfied that they were not leaving, the remaining Indians joined the rest of their party at the creek. Using this opportunity those on the rock managed to get into the woods undetected. As most of their ammo and food was gone they subsisted on salmonberries and a few roots. After four days of being followed and tracked by the hostile indians, they managed to get a friendly tribe of Coos Indians to ferry them across the river by trading their shirts for passage. J.M. Fitzpatrick carried one of his comrades most of the way, despite demands to be left so the rest could get away. After eight days of constantly traveling through the woods with little to eat, and 4 wounded men to care for, the party managed to make their way to Umpqua City on the Umpqua River.

A second party of 67 men was put together with enough supplies to last four months. These men built two blockhouses and managed to later create the city of Port Orford. Another similar incident happened several months later. This was also a party of 9. Five of those were of the first party. But this time they only had to run for two and a half days. These two battles signify the start of the Rouge Indian Wars which lasted from 1851 to 1856.

Next up is Mat Taylor, the Dancing Blacksmith

The Seven Toughest Men in Oregon History – Part 3

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The Seven Toughest Men in Oregon History – Part 3 – Joseph Meek

With little doubt the single most important person in Oregon History is mountain man Joseph Meek. Ironic that he was barely ever mentioned in any of my grade school or high school history classes, nor in the college level Oregon History class I took at one point. The introduction paragraph of his Wikipedia article misses the full measure of the man.

Quoted from Wikipedia “Joseph Lafayette “Joe” Meek (1810–1875) was a trapper, law enforcement official, and politician in the Oregon Country and later Oregon Territory of the United States. A pioneer involved in the fur trade before settling in the Tualatin Valley, Meek would play a prominent role at the Champoeg Meetings of 1843 where he was elected as a sheriff. Later he served in the Provisional Legislature of Oregon before being selected as the United States Marshal for the Oregon Territory.”

By the time Meek came to Oregon, he had already been a fur trapper for over ten years. He joined in on the political fray and was instrumental in the narrow vote to organize the Oregon Territory as a United States possession, instead of a British one. He organized and financed the first cattle drive to Oregon, from California. After the Whitman Massacre where his own daughter was killed, instead of try to take revenge, he took the news to Washington D.C. in the middle of winter. After meeting the President of the United States and urging Oregon be officially recognized as a State, he was then made the Oregon Territory Federal Marshal. A position which he held for five years.

After that he organized a volunteer militia company to fight in the Yakima Indian Wars, then did it again a few years later during the Rouge Indian Wars. Through all this, Meek seemed to be constantly opening up new areas of Oregon, scouting out and building roads, and generally helping out wherever he could. He died at 65 years of age on the farm he settled on in the Tualatin Valley, and is buried at the church that he raised funds for and helped build.

Onto Part 4 – Nimrod O’Kelly