Sheriff William Kilburn {left, bottom row}
is joined by other county officials in 1894 photo.

Click Here To View Baker County Sheriffs List 1862 to 1991 & Photos

George Washington Hall, who was born on Sept. 25, 1826, in Wayne County, Illinois, was the first Sheriff in Baker County, a major stopping-off point in Eastern Oregon for the early pioneers who traveled the Oregon Trail. Hall was appointed Sheriff in 1862 by a group of miners who got together and also named three men to serve as judges in the county.

In 1862, Hall also married Sarah J. Lowry and they became the first couple to be married in Baker County. The Halls had seven children. Baker County was established on Sept. 23, 1862 from part of Wasco County. The county was named for Col. Edward D. Baker, a United States Senator from Oregon. Baker was a Union officer and close friend of President Abraham Lincoln. Col. Baker was the only member of Congress to die in the Civil War.

The first county seat in Baker County was Auburn, a city that no longer exists. Baker City, incorporated in 1874 and the 17th oldest city in Oregon, became the county seat in June 1868. Before 1861, most of the immigrants travelling the Oregon Trail only stopped off in Baker County on their journey west, unaware of agricultural and mineral resources waiting to be tapped.

When the great gold rush began, Baker County became one of the Northwest's biggest gold producers. Farming, ranching, logging and recreation now are the county's biggest economic draws. The current population of the county, which1876. He was succeeded by Robert C. George, who was elected in 1876 and served until 1880. Wallace W. Travillion, a former Deputy Sheriff in Baker County and later a County Judge, was Sheriff from 1880 to 1884. J. Thomas Dealy was elected in 1884 and was Sheriff for only two years before "Ike" S. Henshaw was elected ap d spent four years as head of law enforcement in Baker County.

Porter Alexander Conde followed Henshaw with a four-year period as Sheriff. W.H. Kilburn, Baker County Sheriff from 1894 to 1898, was followed by Alfred H. Huntington, who served in the position from 1898 to 1902. Huntington platted the City of Huntington. Harvey Kimbell Brown succeeded Huntington, taking office in 1902 and serving until 1906.

James Edward Rand, who at one time was an Internal Revenue Service Agent and marshal for Sumpter, was elected to four consecutive two-year terms to become the first Sheriff to serve that long in the county. When he left Baker County, Rand became a Deputy U.S. Marshal and later a Deputy State Fire Marshal.

Following Rand in the list of Sheriffs for Baker County was R. Price Anderson who served a four-year period through 1921. George Addis Herbert, who once served as Sheriff of Wasco County from 1886 to 1890, was elected to a four-year period in Baker County from 1921 to 1925.

Henry McKinney, who spent several terms as mayor of Baker, took office in 1925 and was Sheriff of the county for 12 years. Before being elected, he was a State Representative from 1909 to 1913. Fred Virgil Spence followed McKinney, also serving for 12 years, taking office in 1937 and leaving in 1949, when Fred C. Thom was elected. Thom resigned in April 1955 and Lloyd R. Cook was appointed to the position. Cook resigned 14 months later and was replaced by Lavaughn Dennis, who finished up Cook' s term.

Delmar Dixon was elected to the Sheriff's position in 1957 and ended up serving one of the longest terms in Baker County history -- 20 years. Ross D. Hunt was elected as Baker County Sheriff in 1977, resigning only three years into the term in December, 1980.

Terry Wayne Speelman, the current Sheriff, was appointed to finish up Hunt' s term and was later elected to the office.

First Public Hanging

Pleasant Armstrong
Pictured Below/Right

The only legal hanging in Baker County was an emotional one involving a young man who murdered his sweetheart after she broke off their engagement. Pleasant Armstrong was hanged on Jan. 22, 1904 following several appeals that took the case all the way to the state Supreme Court. The hanging came more than a year after Armstrong killed Minnie Ensminger on Christmas Day in 1902.

following several appeals that took the case all the way to the state Supreme Court. The hanging came more than a year after Armstrong killed Minnie Ensminger on Christmas Day in 1902.

Armstrong had been keeping company with the young school teacher, who was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Ensminger, a prominent, well-to-do family in Baker County. The family did not approve of the relationship and asked their daughter to stop seeing Armstrong.

Minnie Ensminger took the advice of her parents and broke off the relationship, something that angered Armstrong. He continued to pursue her, but the young woman ignored his attempts at getting her back. He finally sent her a strange letter, but she thought nothing of it. A week before she was gunned down, Armstrong wrote:

"Dear Minnie, I hate to tell you, but you have to talk to me. Let me know when it will be.
Let me know before the 25th. Don't forget.
Ples Armstrong"

On Christmas Eve, Minnie attended a dance at a nearby farm, along with dozens of others from the county. Armstrong, a violinist, was at the dance to play his instrument. He played for the dancers for a while, breaking strings on his violin and playing poorly, obviously upset about something. At 10 p.m., he set his violin aside and left the dance hall, entering a side room where he laid down on a couch. He remained theire for several hours and appeared despondent, although he claimed he had a headache. At about 1 a.m., the party was breaking up and the Ensmingers were ready to start home. One of Minnie' s younger sisters went to Armstrong to help him with his coat. He then left the house ahead of the family.

Armstrong apparently was waiting outside for the Ensminger family when they headed out of the house for their sleigh, which was to take them on the six-mile trip home. As the family walked down the path to their sleigh, Armstrong jumped out at his former sweetheart and fired twice at her point-blank. Both shots hit her and she fell to the ground with a shriek. Armstrong then turned the gun, a .44 caliber Colt that had been purchased by a friend, on himself and fired at his own head. The bullet found a mark and he sank to the ground with blood flowing from his head.

Several people ran to Minnie and carried her back into the house. A doctor was summoned while those attending the critically-wounded woman stayed with her. Armstrong's wounds were superficial and he was treated and then carefully guarded.

Minnie Ensminger was later moved to her home and a watch was set up to see if the young woman would live or die. If she died, there already was talk of a getting a lynch mob together to take care of Armstrong, who had been taken to the jail in Baker City.

The young, popular schoolteacher died three days after she was gunned down. Armstrong pretended to be crazy for several days after the killing but later settled clown and talked freely of the passion crime he had committed.

It took a while to bring the case to trial, which frustrated the county residents. In March 1903, a lynch mob was organized because of the inaction in the case. The residents decided to take the law into their own hands, but Baker County Sheriff Harvey Kimbell Brown, with the help of his deputies, was able to calm the crowd and talked them out of the lyching. Armstrong was hidden away somewhere in the county courthouse and later moved to Portland for safe keeping.

The trial, which was one of the most interesting in the history of the county, finally began on March 23, 1903. An attempt was made to get a change of venue because of the emotional aspects of the trial. The request was denied. Selecting a jury proved to be tough because it was hard to find anyone who did not have an opinion on the case already. The jury of 12 men was complete on March 26, 1903, three days after the trial began.

The Prosecuting Attorney was able to prove easily that "Armstrong deliberately shot the young woman without cause."

Armstrong took the stand in his own defense, weeping freely as he talked about his early life and the night that he shot the young school teacher. "I was at the residence of Joseph Henner on December 24, 1902. I went to play the violin. I played until about 9:30. I went outdoors then on the lounge to lay down. I saw Miss Ensminger there that night. I saw her after she left the house.

"Mr. Caster came and said they were ready to go home. I went out, then came back for the overcoat. Then I went out into the kitchen and Miss Blanche Ensminger gave me the overcoat.

"The girls went out a little ahead. I stopped to tell Minnie goodbye. She turned away. I turned to kill myself, saying "Goodbye, Minnie." I don't know what made me shoot at Minnie, but I did. I had contemplated taking my own life, but surely not hers. I bought the pistol on the 16th of December."

Armstrong was presented the letter he had supposedly written to Minnie and admitted that he had, indeed, sent the letter.

"In another letter, Minnie asked me to write that letter," he told the jury. "I received that letter at the Maxwell Mine. The letter said, as I remember, that I had wrote her. This was an answer. She was sorry that she had not wrote sooner. She said we have got to keep the promise we made in Baker City and we cannot get married on Christmas nor yet in the world...

"People had objected to us getting married but she would die before she would go back on me or that she would be dead before she would go back on me. She invited me, in a small enclosed envelope, to visit her. I burned the letters up. She invited me to take dinner with her on New Year's Day."

Armstrong refused to say what was on the slip of paper with the invitation. He went on to tell the jury that when Minnie left the Christmas Eve party, she was a few feet in front of her sisters. He said he does not know why he fired on her.

The jury was out all night deftberating the case. At 1:30 p.m. the next day, which was Saturday, the jury brought in a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree. The time for sentencing the killer was set for 10 a.m. on the following Tuesday.

Armstrong was sentenced to death, with the time of execution set for May 8, 1903.

The case was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, which upheld the ruling of the lower court. The appeals delayed the execution until Jan. 22, 1904, two years after the murder.

The day before his death, Armstrong was visited by three brothers and he told them he welcomed the execution. He appeared to be in good spirits as he waited for the death sentence to be carried out.

Shortly before 7 a.m. on Jan. 22, Armstrong was dead. The neck of the criminal was broken instantly and doctors witnessing the execution pronounced him dead eight minutes after the trap was sprung and he was left hanging.

Who Killed Harvey Brown?

The grisly murder of former Sheriff Harvey Brown in 1907 remains as Baker County's most perplexing unsolved mystery.

Brown was returning home the night of Sept. 30 when a container of dynamite exploded just as he was passing his front gate.

As he lay mortally wounded, the 36year-old former peace officer reportedly told the first persons to arrive at the scene: "They've got me at last, boys, they've got me sure this time." Brown died three days later.

Authorities originally believed the "they" Brown referred to were people reportedly connected to a labor dispute involving miners in Idaho. A radical mining ing federation reputedly hired a man named Harry Orchard to assassinate Idaho's ex-Governor Harry Steunenberg in 1905. Brown, who was in Idaho at the time of Steunenberg's death and reportedly witnessed the crime, identified Orchard and another man named Pettibone as the men responsible for the murder.

Steunenberg, like Brown, had been killed by an explosive device as the exgovemor was passing through the front gate of his Caldwell, Idaho, home. Orchards was already convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. Brown was to testify against Pettibone during the latter's upcoming trial in Boise, and authorities speculated someone had been hired by the mining federation to shut Brown's mouth, permanently.

But in spite of those suspicions, and a $5,000 reward for the capture and conviction of those responsible, Brown's murderer-- or murderers -- were never found. Two days before he died, Brown told Leroy Lomax, then Baker County District Attorney, from a hospital bed that he had noticed a tall man following him around town. However, he was not positive whether this man was the same person who had planted the dynamite on the front gate or whether the man was in any way connected with the radical Idaho mining federation.

There was a common thread, however. Red crosses were found painted on the fence posts outside Brown's house similar to those found on the fence posts outside Steunenberg's house when he was killed two years earlier. Authorities weren't sure if this was the work of Orchard's comrades or some copy-cat killer.

But there were others who had possible motives for killing Brown. Though popular with many local residents, business people and church leaders, Brown made a few enemies with his reformist stance. While in office, he initiated a movement to suppress gambling, to shut down saloons in Baker County on Sundays, to close dance halls, and to halt the sale of illegal opium and morphine.

Brown once told a reporter for The Evening Herald in Baker City that he did not see himself as a religious do-gooder or social reformer, but as a man elected to uphold and enforce the laws of the state. Nevertheless, certain "businessmen" were furious with the young sheriff for obvious reasons. But furious enough to want him dead?

Then there was the Pleasant Armstrong matter. Brown had spirited Armstrong away from Baker County just as a group of angry Haines residents were threateningto take the law into their own hands. A hooded and heavily armed lynch mob marched on the Baker County jail March 3, 1903, demanding Armstrong. Some of those people reportedly never forgave Brown for transporting Armstrong to Portland in the nick of time so the defendant could receive a fair trial.

Brown also made several enemies by enforcing his other official duty -- as Baker County's chief tax collector. Some locals were miffed with Brown for his tenacity in collecting delinquent taxes. He spent nearly his entire first, two- year term straightening out Baker County's muddled tax rolls and putting the county on an even financial footing, but stepped on a few precious toes in the process.

But in spite of all these possible motives and numerous potential suspects, no one was ever brought to justice for the murder of Harvey Brown.

The Telltale Palm Print

Baker residents were horrified and perplexed by the brutal murder of one of the town's most respected citizens, but none more so than Baker County Sheriff Henry McKenney.

The battered, bloody body of Jessie Koehler, wife of Dr. Albert Koehler, a prominent Baker physician, was discovered by a neighbor near the backyard of the Koehler's country home outside of Baker on the morning of Aug. 24, 1933.

A deputy coroner who examined the body told McKinney the elderly woman had been shot in the breast with a .32caliber revolver, but the wound was not fatal. He concluded the killer finished the job by slashing her head and body with one or more sharp objects.

Deputies searching the property for possible clues to the killing discovered several blood-stained objects -- a broken beer bottle not far from the body, broken bricks a short distance away and an old ax in some bushes alongside the house.

But none of these clues explained the motive for this grisly murder. Jessie Koehler was a dearly-loved member of the Baker community, noted for charity work in helping the needy. A faithful church-goer who devoted countless hours to church works and community service. Everyone who knew her liked Jessie Kohler, which puzzled McKinney and Capt. Lee Noe of the Oregon State Police, chief investigators in the case. Noe had been Malheur County Sheriff from 1919 to 1925.

The victim's clothing had been disarranged, but the autopsy later revealed she was not sexually assaulted by her attacker. The house had not been ransacked, obut deputies discovered the victim's purse laying on a table in the living room had been looted.

Tire marks found outside the Koehler home, not far from the body, led investigators to believe the killer, or killers, entered and left the Koehler property by car or truck. But they discovered that one of the vehicles was a taxicab which had come to the Koehler residence the night before to take Dr. Koehler into town.

The physician was quickly cleared as a possible suspect, however, after one of the Koehler's neighbors told investigators Dr. Koehler was just leaving in the taxi when she arrived at the Koehler residence about 8:30 p.m. the night of Aug. 23. The neighbor said she chatted with Jessie Koehler for about an hour before leaving for home.

McKinney and Noe uncovered few helpful leads during their initial interview with the victim's husband. Dr. Koehler said his wife had no enemies he could think of and he could not recall anyone ever threatening his wife. The physician said he saw $25 in his wife's purse when he asked her for change to pay taxicab fare into town the night before.

Dr. Koehler was convinced robbery was the murder motive, but McKinney and Noe were not so sure. The cold-blooded shooting and mutilation of the victim made McKinney suspect revenge as the motive for Jessie Koehler's murder.

Investigators learned the bricks and ax were so badly smeared with blood that crime analysts could not lift any legible fingerprints. But the broken beer bottle did yield a palm print. Still, McKinney and Noe found little encouragement in the findings.

The days and weeks that followed produced a smattering of leads on possible suspects -- drifters who had wandered into the area looking for work, a few suspicious transients looking for quick money and a place to bed down. But none of the leads materialized. Even the tire marks found near the body were from a standard brand of tires used by most popular cars of the day, with no distinguishing marks.

In desperation, McKinney and Noe turned back to Dr. Koehler for help. Could he think of someone -- anyone at all -who might want to harm his wife, they asked the physician? After considerable thought, the doctor came up with a name out of the past: Dave Brichoux.

Brichoux was the brother of his first wife, Dr. Koehler told the investigators. He had visited the Koehlers several times after being paroled from prison, the physician added. But, no, it couldn't have been Dave Brichoux, said Dr. Koehler. He liked Jessie.

Noe instantly recognized the name Dave Brichoux. He was a Deputy Sheriff in Malheur County in 1916 when he arrested Brichoux for killing a man during an argument. Brichoux was sentenced to life in prison, but Noe was not aware he had been paroled.

Dr. Koehler told the lawmen Brichoux had been working on a farm 10 miles outside of Baker and seldom came into town. The investigators went to the farm but learned Brichoux had quit his job several days earlier and moved away. With Koehler' s help, however, they were able to track Brichoux to Placerville, Idaho.

When confronted with information about Jessie Koehler' s murder, Brichoux immediately denied any involvement in the crime, or that he was even near the Koehler residence when she was murdered. Although his palm print matched the one found on the broken beer bottle, Brichoux claimed he had cut himself while picking up bottles around the Koehler country home for Jessie Koehler.

Further investigation revealed Brichoux had used the car of the farmer he worked for in Baker on the night Jessie Koehler was killed. But the key evidence uncovered by McKinney and Noe was a letter written by Brichoux to a fellow prison inmate. In it, Brichoux wrote his intention to get some money and buy a farm. It continued:

"There's a person in Baker who owes me plenty. She's the wife of the man who used to be married to my sister. I figure I'm entitled to some part of the money my sister should have got -- and I'm going to collect it."

McKinney confronted Brichoux with the incriminating letter and presented his own theory on how the murder occurred: Brichoux tried to get the money from Jessie Koehler and she refused. An argument broke out. He threatened her with a gun, but she would not back down. He shot her, but she was still alive. He broke a beer bottle over her head, then gashed her with it. When she continued to straggle, he picked up the bricks and smashed her face, then went into the woodshed to get the ax to finish the job.

Although Brichoux refused to talk, first-degree murder charges were filed against him. But Dave Brichoux never went to trial. His body was discovered the following morning in his jail cell. He had committed suicide by severing a vein in his right wrist with one of the knives issued inmates during dinner the night before. Jail officials suspect Brichoux sharpened the knife's dull edge by running up and down against the stone wall of his jail cell.

Return to "A History of Oregon Sheriffs Index"
Return to "A Place Called Oregon"