Murder of an Ex-Sheriff

While there was one Sheriff from Harney County killed in the line of duty, there also was an ex-Sheriff who died at the hands of a man who at one time had been committed to an insane asylum by the Sheriff.

Andrew Johnson "John" McKinnon, who served as Sheriff of Harney County from 1896 to 1900, was gunned down hundreds of miles from Harney County on Sept. 12, 1903, in the little town of Guerneville, California as he was sitting in front of the old Joost and Starrett Saloon.

The killer, Addison Garred, walked up to the ex-Sheriff and fired a shot from a rifle without a warning. The bullet passed through McKinnon's heart and he died a while later.

McKinnon had returned to Guerneville earlier in the day from Camp Vacation, where he had been doing some work for a friend. He spotted some acquaintances sitting on the porch at the saloon and crossed the road to greet them. As they sat talking on the porch, Garred came along carrying a rifle on his arm. He walked in front of the men and then suddenly turned to greet McKinnon. In the next moment, without removing his rifle from across his arm, he sent a bullet crashing through McKinnon's chest.

Without a word, Garred continued on down the road. The suddenness of the shooting nearly paralyzed the owner of the saloon who was sitting with McKinnon. He cradled the dying man while someone summoned the doctor.

Sheriff McKinnon had known all three of the Garred Brothers. The sanity of Ad and another brother, Joe, had been questioned before. The older brother, Charley, ran a ranch with the help of the other two brothers. While McKinnon was Sheriff of Harney County, Joe had been taken into custody in 1899 and later sent to the state hospital in Salem. As Sheriff of Harney County, McKinnon took him to the state hospital.

Ad Garred later was committed to an insane asylum in Ukiah, not far from the town where McKinnon moved after he left the Sheriff's Office in Harney County. Garred escaped from the Ukiah institution about three weeks before he gunned down McKinnon. He stayed during that time with his mother, who lived in Guerneville.

Garred's mother testified at the inquest that her son had escaped from the institution and had been staying with her. She said her son left home on the day of the murder carrying a gun with him. He told her before he started out that he was going to see his brothers in Oregon.

For three months after the shooting, Garred remained on the loose. He finally was captured on Dec. 22, 1903, while working on a ranch in Red Bluff as a woodchopper. Law officials went to the ranch at 3 a.m., but Garred had taken to the hills.

The Sheriff's Deputies followed and gun shots were exchanged. Garred ended up surrendering after he was hit. His wounds were not serious. Garred was offered the chance to go back to the mental institution, but refused and was charged with the murder of ex-Sheriff McKinnon.

First Hanging at State Penitentiary

The first hanging at the Oregon State Penitentiary was that of Harry G. Egbert, a Harney County man who was convicted of killing John Saxton and Jack West, two Harney County Deputies.

Egbert was hanged for his crimes on Jan. 29, 1904. An article that appeared in the Times Herald in Burns on January 30, 1904 gave this account:

"The trap was sprung promptly on time which sent Harry Egbert, the slayer of John Saxton and Jack West, into eternity. He kept up his nerve to the last and stated from the gallows that his downfall was due to his raising and women.

"On Tuesday last he was interviewed by an Oregonian reporter to whom he talked. The article says in part "Smoking cigarettes incessantly and trying to reconcile himself to the inevitable, Harry G. Egbert (is) passing the time in his prison cell awaiting the day of his execution January 29 .... "He is in the best of spirits, eats heartily, sleeps well and talks pleasantly. If he is sorry for his foul deed, there is no intimation of it in his conversation. During his conversation today, Egbert said that he was aided in his escape after killing Deputy Sheriff West and Saxton by Sid Kurtz.

"This is information which the Sheriff of Harney County has much desired but has been unable to secure. Egbert secured Kurtz' horse with which to make his escape. There have been doubts whether Kurtz knew that a crime had been committed when he let Egbert have the horse. Egbert said today that when Kurtz was at the place he saw the bodies of West and Saxton and they talked of the killing. Egbert says Kurtz gave him his horse and money he had with him to help him out of Harney County."

As Egbert waited in his cell for the hanging, work on the construction of the death chamber at the state penitentiary moved ahead quickly in order to meet the execution date.

Boots Trip Killer

One of the strangest murder cases in Harney County involved a pair of mismatched boots.

Of course, Sheriff C.W. Frazier didn't know that on the August night in 1935 when his office called him to report that Edward H. McDonald, a well-known livestock buyer in Harney County, had just been shot.

Frazier and his chief assistant W.W. Gould found McDonald stretched out in front of the home of Sarah Skeins, an elderly widow, when they arrived at the scene a few minutes later. McDonald had been shot once in the abdomen. An empty cartridge fired from a .32-caliber automatic pistol was found laying in a street gutter not far from the victim.

Frazier had hoped McDonald would recover well enough to identify the person who shot him, but he died on a hospital operating room table that same night. Deputies discovered McDonald's billfold and gold pocket watch were missing, and that the victim had no money in his possession when deputies checked his clothing, leading them to believe that robbery was the motive for the shooting. But that's about all Frazier and his men could come up with as they began piecing together the mystery.

With few leads to go on, Frazier and his men began canvassing the neighborhood where the shooting occurred in hopes of finding someone who might have seen a suspicious person or persons in the vicinity at the time of the shooting.

They got their first big break from a woman who said she saw a strange man running down the street two blocks from where McDonald was shot at about 11 p.m., the approximate time of the shooting. Although she didn't get a good look at his face, the woman told deputies the runner was of medium height and build, was wearing a hat with the brim turned down in back, a leatherjacket, jeans with the cuffs turned up about two inches and traditional cowboy boots.

At best, it was a general description that could have matched one of a dozen or more men in the Burns area. But Frazier sent the description out to the local and state police agencies and railroad officials, hoping to come up with some new leads.

That same day, Frazier' s office got a call from a local railroad official who reported a hobo wearing the same type clothing of the killer was taken off a freight train 30 miles south of Burns. Investigators found a gold pocket watch on the hobo.

When confronted by Harney County Deputies, the tramp said he purchased the watch from another hobo in Portland. Unfortunately, Frazier and his men later learned the hobo's gold watch was a different make than the one Ed McDonald carried.

But the Sheriff' s Office didn't stop there. They began contacting various businesses McDonald patronized, including several local taverns. One tavern owner came up with another big lead. Ed McDonald had been at the tavern with a young, blonde woman for about two hours the night he was shot. They left the tavern together about 10 p.m., the tavern owner said.

Unfortunately, Frazier and his Deputies were unable to track down the mysterious woman with McDonald. Another subject who had gotten into a bitter argument with McDonald over the sale of a steer emerged briefly as a possible suspect. But the man had an air-tight alibi for his whereabouts the time and night of the shooting.

After exhausting all their leads, Frazier and his men decided to retrace their investigative steps to see where they could have slipped up -- and literally uncovered the foot steps of the murderer in the process.

They recontacted the witness who had seen the mysterious man running down the street and learned he had cut across a vacant lot. Deputies were lucky enough to find two distinct boot tracks in the rain softened soil. They made casts of the boot tracks and discovered one of the boots was a size larger than the other one.

With that information, they began checking local shoe stores. One store owner recalled selling a pair of mismatched boots to Tobe Skeins, a longtime Harney County cowboy, sheep herder, hunting guide, horse trader and jack-of-all-trades. The store owner said Skeins wasn't particular about how the boots fit, as long as they were good boots.

The mismatched boots, along with the fact Ed McDonald had been gunned down in front of the house owned by Skeins' mother, was enough to convince Frazier that Tobe Skeins was their man.

After several fruitless efforts to track down the elusive Skeins, Frazier and his men got the break they needed. On Oct. 27, 1935 -- about seven weeks after Ed McDonald was fatally wounded -- C.L. Jamison, secretary of the Oregon Cattlemen' s Association, and Eldon Madden, a livestock inspector, were having dinner with a rancher in neighboring Malheur County when they heard a horse riding up. Tobe Skeins was in the saddle.

Jamison and Madden hid out of sight and waited for Skeins to dismount before taking the elderly cowboy by surprise. They notified Frazier and held Skeins at gunpoint until the Harney County Sheriff and his men arrived from Burns.

Skeins admitted killing McDonald, his long-time friend, because the livestock buyer tried to steal Skeins' girlfriend - the young blonde from the tavern. McDonald gloated about it, Skeins told investigators, so he shot him.

Skeins was indicted for first-degree murder, but pleaded innocent to the charge. A Harney County jury found him guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter. On April 6, 1936, Harney County Circuit Judge Charles W. Ellis sentenced Skeins to 15 years in prison.

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