Charles Samuel "C. Sam" Smith served two terms from 1902 to 1906. A rancher and saloon owner, Smith was another native Oregonian who served as Sheriff in Crook County. He was born in 1858 in Brownsville.
Frank Elkins, who was born in Albany, was elected to the first of two non-consecutive terms in 1906, serving the first time until 1911 and coming back later to serve from 1913 to 1915. Elkins was a blacksmith who sold farm machinery and later was superintendent of the Indian Island Ammunition Base in Port Townsend, Wash., during World War II.
Thomas Nicholas Balfour was elected to a two-year term in 1911 in Crook County. He was born in Fifeshire, Scotland and came to Oregon in 1874. A rancher from Paulina, he served as postmaster of Fife for 10 years. Edward Baker "Bake" Knox served for four years as Crook County Sheriff from 1915 to 1919, when Combs was elected to his third term. Otis "Ole" Olson served from 1921 to 1925. He was born in Posgrun, Norway and moved to Oregon in 1914 from Rosebud County in Montana.
Stephen Woods Yancey was elected in 1925 and was Sheriff of Crook County until 1929. After he left office, he served a number of years as a deputy with the department. Yancey was followed by William Sheldon "Billy" Ayres, a former Baptist minister from Dayton, Wash., who died while he was in office on June 2, 1931. Benjamin Barr Groff, a former Crook County Commissioner who was born in Maryland, was appointed to fill the vacancy left by the death of Ayres. He served until February 1938, when he, too, died while in office.
Next in line was Reuben Henry Booton, who was appointed in 1938 and served as Crook County Sheriff until 1947. A cattle rancher, Booton attended schools in Prineville, where he graduated from Crook County High School.
A man who served 20 years as a Deputy with the Crook County Sheriff's office -- Ralph Leon Jordan -- was elected Sheriff in 1947 and served until 1955. Before signing on with the Sheriff's department in 1927, Jordan served as Crook County Treasurer from 1909 to 1913.
Jesse Raymond Wooldridge served a four-year term from 1955 to 1959. Prior to running for Sheriff, he had been with the Prineville Police Department. Joseph Thomas "Tex" King served three consecutive terms from 1959 to 1971 followed by Donald Lee Hanna, who served as Sheriff from 1971 to 1975. Before running for Sheriff of Crook County, Hanna spent nine years with the Eugene Police Department, six years with Oregon State Police and was a deputy for two years with Crook County.
In 1975, Gary Stephens began a four-year term that was cut short when he resigned in 1977. Hobart Thomas "Tom" Lowe was picked to fill his place and was Sheriff of Crook County until he resigned on Oct. 17, 1985. Lowe was a Deputy with Linn County from 1966 to 1969 and a Crook County Deputy from 1975 to 1976.
Howard Becker was appointed Acting Sheriff to fill Lowe's vacancy and served until 1987, when Clark was elected to the office as head of law enforcement in Crook County.
Wild West in Crook County
For a while in the late 1800s, a group of vigilantes ruled the vast territory in several areas of Central Oregon. The community of Pineville was the center of a flourishing cattle industry in that area of the state in the early 1880s. For a time during that period, gunshots could be heard in the night, ranchers disappeared and the bullet-ridden bodies of men who had defied a gang of troublemakers could be found hanging from trees in the wilderness.
Ranchers were terrified at what was going on in the community. The vigilantes featured a group of cattlemen, merchants, saloonkeepers and others who said they joined forces to prevent rustling and similar illegal activities. In reality, they were out to improve their business prospects and satisfy a thirst for power.
The vigilante group was led by Col. William Thompson, a pioneer printer, editor, Indian fighter, rancher and judge. He had been commissioned a Colonel in the Oregon Militia to fight Captain Jack's Modoc Indians and was a friend and classmate of Joaquin Miller, who later became a poet of world reknown at the old Columbia College in Eugene. Thompson at one time worked for Miller's pony express outfit and helped ship gold from the mines at Orofino, Idaho to Walla Walla, Washington.
Thompson learned the printing trade from Miller while working for the Eugene Herald. Thompson later was presented with a newspaper that in reality was merely a political organ in the state capitol in Salem for Gov. LaFayette F. Grover.
It was through James Blakely's leadership that a group known as the Moonshiners was organized to combat the vigilantes. The vigilantes came into existence on March 15, 1882, when A. H. Crooks and his son-in-law, Stephen J. Jory were shot and killed by Lucius Langdon while he was in custody in Prineville. The men then dragged an innocent man, W.H. Harrison, through the main street in Prineville behind a galloping horse and then swung him from the Crooked River Bridge.
Many of the ranchers and townspeople secretly opposed Thompson's methods but were powerless to resist the gunmen and other hoodlums who carried out their leader's orders.
Blakely, who went on to be Crook County's first elected Sheriff, played a big role in driving the vigilante element out of the county. He was elected Sheriff following those troublesome days and distinguished himself as the guardian of law and order in an era of strife and bloodshed in this part of Central Oregon.
Blakely was able to engineer a plan that led to the end of vigilante rule following the slaying of two brothers, Mike and Frank Morgan. Both killings were aggravated by minor differences and the victims were shot down without being given a chance to defend themselves.
Blakely had some help in organizing the Moonshiners, the group that was put together to combat the 75 to 80 vigilantes. The other leaders included D. F. Stewart, Charles Pert, John Combs, David Templeton, A1Lyle and a preacher named Neese. At first the Moonshiners held secret meetings and little was known about what went on at those sessions, although there is little doubt that the activites of the rival organizations were discussed.
When the Moonshiners were strong enough, they made a show of force. Word got out through the grapevine that each Moonshiner had the name of a man to kill if there was one more murder in Crook County. It was a language that the vigilantes could understand and their power was soon crushed.
Two years after the vigilantes were silenced, James Blakely became the county's first elected Sheriff. Although his body bore evidence of bullets that sometimes slowed him down over the years, Blakely lived to be 100 years old.
Modern Day Wild West
Crook County is spread out over 2,991 square miles and is a large county noted for its grazing lands, particularly for sheep and cattle. And with the wide open spaces, many law enforcement problems in the county are related to cattle and sheep thefts. But a newer problem has surfaced over the years because of the county's isolation in the manufacture of illegal drugs, according to Rodd Clark, who was elected Sheriff in 1987.
While Sheriffs of the past combed the countryside in search of illegal liquor stills, modern-day Sheriffs go looking for illegal drag operations.
One of the biggest busts in 1991 involved a man who escaped from the Oregon State Hospital and made his way to Crook County, where he and another man committed a bank robbery and then hid out while setting up a methamphetamine lab. Clark worked with his small staff, which includes the Sheriff, Chief Deputy and six Deputies, in breaking the case open.
Double Murder at Redby
Whitney Taylor was furious, not to mention highly intoxicated, when he turned up at the Redby Rooming House in Prineville the night of Oct. 11, 1936.
Too much wine and beer at a local saloon had turned Taylor mean. But now, unable to obtain the suitcase he had left in a room at the Redby, Taylor's anger had become uncontrollable. And it was all directed toward Harvey and Bannister Puett, two brothers who occasionally helped Amanda Cohrs, owner of the Redby Rooming House.
Taylor, who also was known as Frank Jones, had been visiting at the Redby with a local acquaintance, James Leonard, when Harvey and Ban Puett arrived. Taylor asked Ban Puett, 61, for his suitcase, Leonard would later tell a coroner's inquest. But Ban Puett told Taylor the room was locked and he would have to wait for a pass key. Taylor became very impatient and began demanding that Puett open the room.
A few minutes later, Harvey Puett, 50, arrived with the pass key, which apparently had been temporarily misplaced by Amanda Cohrs.
Harvey Puett begged Taylor "not to blame grandma," apparently referring to Amanda Cohrs. But by this time, the intoxicants had gone to Taylor's head. He became even more belligerant. No one was going to tell him what he could or could not do.
Taylor whipped out a .45-caliber Colt automatic pistol and pointed it directly at Harvey Puett. "I don't think I need a key," he told Puett. In a flash, Taylor pumped four bullets into Harvey Puett at close range. Puett fell to the porch dead.
Still in a rage, Taylor circled the porch and fired three shots at Ban Puett, killing the fleeing brother almost instantly.
Then Taylor turned his gun on a stunned James Leonard and ordered him to leave the porch. As Leonard was walking down the stairs, Taylor ordered him to "put up your hands." Leonard approached Taylor, with his hands still raised, when Ray Putnam, a night officer at the local fire house nearby, arrived at the scene to find out what all the shooting was about.
Taylor then turned his gun on Putnam. But Leonard took advantage of the gunman's mistake and knocked Taylor down with a single punch. Leonard and Putnam jumped on Taylor before the stunned killer could recover his gun.
A coroner's jury found that Harvey and Bannister Puett died from the gunshot wounds deliberately inflicted by Whitney Taylor with intent to kill. A week later, Taylor took his own life. Sheriff B. B. Groff was delivering Taylor's breakfast in jail when he discovered the prisoner's body dangling from an electrical extension cord inside his cell.
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