Umatilla County Outlaw
Like most Western states, growing up in the wild and woolly late 1800s when law and order was often measured at the end of a six-shooter, Oregon had its fair share of outlaws and gunslingers.
But perhaps none was more colorful -- or more notorious -- than the legend ary Henry E. "Hank" Vaughan, a man who defied simple description. Here was a small, unimposing figure who weighed a puny 130 pounds -- shooting iron included -- who frequently looked more like a country preacher or a gambling dandy than the quick-tempered, gun-toting hell-raiser he was.
Maybe it was his "town" clothes -the long, black frock coat, starchy-white collar and black string tie -- that made Hank Vaughan appear more sophisticated or more subdued than he actually was. But those who knew him well knew that Hank Vaughan always packed a sixshooter or two under that long coat, and that it didn't take much liquor to turn old Hank nasty.
Very little is known about Vaughan's early childhood. He was bom near the tiny community of Coburg, in the lower Willamette Valley, on April 27, 1849. His father, Alexander, a farmer from Cahill County in Virginia (now West Virginia), was 20, and his mother Elizabeth, who came across the Oregon Trial from Missouri, was 17 when Hank was born.
Alexander and Elizabeth were married in Marion County on April 5, 1848,
and they settled down on a donation land claim in Lane County.
How and why he left Lane County for Eastern Oregon has puzzled Oregon historians for years. But in 1864, the name Hank Vaughan resurfaced in a gold camp shooting at Canyon City. Vaughan had been drinking with another young man named William Headspot. An argument erupted between the pair. In a fit of drunken anger, Vaughan pulled out his gun and shot Headspot in the head, killing him instantly. At the tender age of 15, Hank Vaughan had become a killer.
Less than a year later, Hank Vaughan and a companion, Dick Bunten, stole a herd of horses in Umatilla County and were driving them to Idaho to sell them when they decided to camp for the night at the Express Ranch on Burnt River in Baker County. Umatilla County Sheriff Frank Maddock got wind of the two horse thieves location and, along with Deputy O.J. Hart, decided to pay the campers a little midnight visit.
The two lawmen quietly crept up on Vaughan and Bunten as the two were sleeping in a small tent. With guns drawn, Maddock and Hart ordered the men to come out with their hands up. But Vaughan and Bunten came up shooting. Both Bunten and Hart were killed instantly in the cross£n'e. Vaughan, who already had fatally wounded Hart, then shot Maddock through the cheek. The wounded Sheriff fired back, wounding Vaughan. Vaughan managed to muster enough strength to beat Maddock unconscious with the butt-end of his six-shooter before escaping on a saddled mount.
But the bullet wound slowed Vaughan's escape, and a few days later, a posse caught up with the horse thief and captured him without a shot being fired. Maddock survived the shooting as well.
Vaughan was taken to Auburn, the seat of Baker County, where he was indicted for the murder of O.J. Hart and theft of horses. On May 29, 1865 --just four days after he was indicted by the Baker County Grand Jury -- he was found guilty of second-degree murder. The following day, he was sentenced to life in prison at hard labor.
Vaughan barely managed to escape an angry lynch mob that marched on the Baker County Jail on May 30, seeking swift revenge on the teenage killer who many thought had gotten off too easy. Cooler heads prevailed, so they say, and the next day, Vaughan was whisked off to the state penitentiary, then located in Portland. In 1866, he moved along with the prison -- to Salem where he spent the next four years. Vaughan's good behavior earned him an early parole in 1870.
The blacksmithing skills he learned in prison helped Vaughan start a new life when he left prison. He reportedly spent the next several years working in blacksmith shops in Nevada and Utah. But he abandoned the trade and moved to Eastern Oregon to deal in horses.
Prison life may have made a man out of Hank Vaughan and changed his attitudes toward some things. But old habits and vices -- were hard for Vaughan to break. His drinking continued, and the drinking continued to turn his disposition sour and unruly. And the more he drank, the more his proverbial trigger finger itched. He unnerved many a saloonkeeper with his penchant for riding his horses into saloons, shooting out the lights and blasting beer glasses off bars.
Vaughan seemed to take pride in his bully behavior and bravado. But those who were familiar with Vaughan's lifestyle insisted it was mostly myth. They argued Vaughan was a completely different person when sober. Friendly, outgoing, willing and financially able to assist townsfolk or farmers down on their luck.
His relationship with lawmen also seemed to change as he got older. Adam Crossman, city marshal of Pendleton in 1881-82, reportedly earned Vaughan's respect and friendship by standing up to the fiery little gunslinger on more than one occasion.
David M. "Matt" Taylor, uncle of Sheriff Til Taylor, was another lawman who managed to stay on Vaughan's good side -- the sober side. Taylor's theory was simple: If you have to arrest Hank Vaughan, for anything, wait until he sobers up first. It always worked with Taylor.
But Hank Vaughan's ego and reputation as a gunfighter sometimes got the better of him, even in sober times. When he learned that another gunfighter in Prineville named Charley Long was boasting he was the fastest gun around, Vaughan took it as a personal challenge. He sought out Long in Prineville, bought him a few beers and challenged him to a game of cards at the Til Glaze Saloon.
Soon, the two gunfighters were arguing, swearing at each other. It was only a matter of time before the two challenged each other to a gunfight. Versions of what happened vary among storytellers.
But the generally accepted version was provided by James M. Blakely, who was inside the Til Glaze Saloon the day of the shooting and who later became the first elected Sheriff of Crook County. Blakely discredited the most popular myth that the two men grabbed opposite ends of Vaughan's handkerchief and began blasting each other at close range.
As Blakely remembers it, Vaughan and Long moved to the center of the saloon floor, drew their guns and began shooting each other. According to Blakely's recollection, Vaughan caught two bullets and Long was shot three times, although some historians maintain Long was shot four times.
Miraculously, both men survived. Even more surprisingly, years later, after Vaughan had been shot by another man in a saloon tiff, Long reportedly visited his bedridden, fellow gunslinger and gave him a bouquet of flowers -- plastic flowers taken from women's hats. Long was later killed in a gunfight with a young rancher in Washington state.
Hank Vaughan was married twice in his lifetime. His first wife was Lois McCarty a member of a notorious Eastern Oregon family of bank robbers and murderers. One of her brothers, Tom McCarty, rode with the infamous Butch Cassidy gang. Vaughan and wife, Lois, eventually separated. Believing she had died, Vaughan married a half-Indian widow named Robie. Some historians believe Vanghan only married her to gain access to the large acreage of good wheat land she inherited on the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
But to his chagrin, the first Mrs. Vaughan resurfaced in 1888, very much alive and very insistent on a quick and easy divorce. Hank Vaughan obliged her.
With that out of the way, Vaughan was free to concentrate on his wheat farming and quickly turned his new venture into a giant success. But neither success nor a good woman could tame Vaughan's reckless, daring nature. And drinking only fueled his recklessness.
On June 2, 1893, well oiled and ready to raise hell, Vaughan galloped up and down Main Street in Pendleton, whooping and hollering. But during this impromptu, oneman "Wild West Show," Vaughan's sorrel horse stumbled while trying to make a sudden turn. Vaughan was thrown head first into the gravel road and, according to some spectators' accounts, was pinned under the fallen steed.
Vaughan managed to survive for about two weeks. But on June 15, he died. Vaughan's physician later observed that his body contained scars from 13 different bullet wounds.
The East Oregonian newspaper on June 20, 1893, bid farewell to one of Oregon's most colorful characters:
"Oh, Hank, that was a fateful ride, the last time you mounted your sorrel in the streets of Pendleton and sped with him like a tempest. Even his sure feet could not keep pace with your impulse, and you were plunged headlong upon the rocks."
©1998 Roxann Gess Smith
All Rights Reserved
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