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Ernest D. Mosier followed Harold Sexton and was Sheriff of Wasco County two different times. He first served from 1953 to September, 1963, when he resigned. He came back to spend six more years as Sheriff from July 1971 to 1977 when he was appointed to replace the resigning William L. Bell.

A native of The Dalles, Mosier graduated from The Dalles High School and later attended Willamette University. Before joining the Sheriffs' Office, Mosier was an office manager at a number of companies in The Dalles area.

Sterling Arthur Trent was appointed to take Mosier's place when he resigned. A native of Gorin, Missouri, Trent served as Sheriff of Wasco County until June 1968, when he died in office. He moved to Oregon in 1913 and was a Deputy Sheriff from July 1954 until he was appointed Sheriff in September 1963.

A graduate of The Dalles High School, Trent worked in the construction business for a time and also managed a tire shop and was a stock rancher for a while. When Trent died, Grant Cyphers was appointed to take his place, but Cyphers served only a month before it was dis- covered he was of the wrong political party.

William L. Bell was appointed to take Cyphers' place and remained Sheriff of Wasco County until July 1971, when he resigned to take a job with the Board on Police Standards and Training. A native of Long Beach, California, Bell moved to Oregon in 1947.

Bell graduated from Wheeler County High School in Fossil and attended five terms at the University of Oregon and two terms at Oregon College of Education. He signed on with The Dalles Police Department in 1957 as an officer but left for two years to serve in the United States Army from 1958 to 1960. He remained with The Dalles Police Department until 1968, when he was appointed to take the place of Cyphers.

Ernest Mosier came back to serve as Sheriff when he was appointed to take Bell's place, remaining this time until 1977, when John B. Magill was elected. Magill-- whose family was an old ranching family in Wasco County -- served a four-year term before Robert G. "Bob" Brown was elected in 1981.

Born in Council Bluff, Iowa, Brown moved to Oregon in 1963 from South Dakota. He graduated from the University of Nebraska in Omaha in 1962 with degrees in business administration and engineering. He worked for seven years as a superintendent and engineer for Peter Kiewet & Sons in Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Washington and Oregon. From 1967 until 1980, Brown worked for Tenneson Engineering in The Dalles.

Art Labrousse won the 1984 election and was re-elected in 1988 to become the first two-term Sheriff in Wasco County since 1968.

Big Muddy-ed Affair

In 1981, Wasco County school children learned a new word: Rajneeshees. Even before the start of the school year, a few lessons on this strange East Indian word and what it meant. Followers of the nomadic Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh purchased the rambling, 64,229 acre Big Muddy Ranch in Wasco and Jefferson counties in July of 1981 as the central commune for the Bhagwan and his devoted followers.

At first, the residents of nearby Antelope viewed the sudden appearance of the red-clad Rajneesh disciples, known as Sannyasins but more commonly referred to as Rashneeshees, as nothing more than a curiosity. It wasn't long, however, before they realized the seriousness and full intentions of the Rajneesh movement, or "invasion,'' as some locals preferred to call it.

While the Bhagwan's chief aide Ma Anand Sheela was declaring the movement's plan to operate a simple farming commune in the desert, his other disciples were busy in the background developing grand plans for a huge resort city for up to 100,000 Rajneeshees.

Within a matter of weeks, construction began on a number of buildings within the newly-christened Rancho Rajneesh, including a shoppng mall, restaurant, a resort-like motel and commune service offices. In many cases, Bhagwan followers moved ahead without securing proper county building permits.

In the meantime, new recruits continued pouring into the desert commune -many of them wealthy European and American followers who were more than willing and able to finance the Bhagwan's movement.

But the Rajneesh movement began to falter in October 1981 when two months after arriving at Rancho Rajneesh, the Bhagwan applied to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service for an extension of his visa. Immigration officials began a full-scale investigation into the activities of the religious sect, focusing on the guru's intent in coming to the United States and a pattern of suspect marriages between the U.S. citizen and foreign followers.

The investigation turned up information that the Bhagwan and his followers left India in the spring of 1981 owing the Indian government more than $6 million in unpaid taxes. An Indian tax court voided the Rajneesh organization's tax-exempt status and assessed millions of rupees (Indian currency) in back taxes.

But the movement forged ahead in the Oregon desert. In April 1982, Rajneeshees, voting as a bloc, managed to secure enough votes to take over the town of Antelope, which was renamed Rajneesh. They also voted to incorporate Rancho Rajneesh -- the former Big Muddy Ranch as the town of Rajneeshpuram.

With this newly-acquired power, Rajneesh leaders began making more demands on county and state leaders. They demanded access to records and reports by Wasco County officials pertaining to the commune and its activities. They also demanded state basic school support for the Rajneeshees' school, even though the state rejected the demand, saying public tax dollars go to support public schools, not private ones like the Rajneesh school.

But problems were just beginning for the movement. Over the next three years, Rajneeshee leaders were accused of the salmonella poisonings of hundreds of residents of The Dalles and some 500 persons filed suit against the sect. Sheela, along with two other disciples, were accused in a 1985 federal grand jury indictment of plotting the unsuccessful murder of the Bhagwan's private physician.

And the Bhagwan himself broke his own vow of public silence in September 1985 with a scathing attack on Sheela and a half dozen of her allies, claiming they had betrayed him and his followers and that they had stolen $55 million from the commune. An article in The Oregonian on Sept. 17, 1985, quoted the Bhagwan as saying Sheela "and her gang had turned my commune into a fascist concentration camp."

The Bhagwan's claims that militant Rajneeshees had been stockpiling assault weapons and had been engaged in illegal wire-tapping at the ranch touched off a multi-agency investigation into the alleged criminal activity which proved to be the beginning of the end for Rajneeshpuram.

On Oct. 23, 1985, a federal grand jury in Portland secretly indicted the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, Sheela and six other Sannyasins for immigration crimes. Two days later, a Wasco County grand jury returned indictments against Sheela and two others, charging them with the attempted murder of Swami Devaraj, the Bhagwan's personal doctor.

By that time, Sheela and about 25 of her followers had already fled the ranch to Germany.

But Rajneeshpuram was thrown into turmoil on Oct. 28, 1985 when the Bhagwan' s loyal followers leared he had been arrested in Charlotte, N.C., trying to flee immigration authorities on a privately-chartered jet bound for Bermuda.

At about the same time, word arrived from Germany that Sheela and two Rajneesh women had been arrested by West German police.

The Bhagwan was returned to Oregon to face a 35-count federal indictment for immigration-related crimes, although he initially pled innocent to all 35 counts. But as part of the plea-bargaining agreement with federal prosecutors, the Bhagwan on Nov. 14, 1985, agreed to plead guilty to two of the felony counts, to pay the court costs and to leave the United States.

The Bhagwan returned to India and promptly told reporters gathered at a New Delhi airport that the United States -the place he called a land of religious freedom and opportunity four years earlier -- was "just a wretched country."

Within a week of his departure, thousands of former followers were leaving Rajneeshpuram in busloads. Within a month of their departure, residents of the former Antelope reclaimed their town -and its original name. But legal action against the Rajneeshees would continue for many years.

Sheela and 20 other disciples later were indicted on federal wire-tapping charges. Numerous civil suits were filed against the bankrupt religious sect, some of which still have not been resolved.

On July 22, 1986, Sheela was sentenced to up to 20 years in prison and ordered to pay a $400,000 fine after pleading guilty to state and federal charges which included masterminding a massive electronic eavesdropping system at Rancho Rajneesh, plotting the attempted murder of the Bhagwan's physician and plotting the salmonella poisoning of about 750 people in The Dalles.

For many Rajneeshees, the dream of carving a utopian Shangri-la out of the barren, Central Oregon desert ended long before Jan. 18, 1990-- the day Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh died in Ashram in Pune, India, at the age of 58.

For Wasco County Sheriff Art Labrousse, it was a rare learning experience -- one he says he will never forget.

"They were well organized," Labrousse recalls. Or at least, better prepared to take control of the tiny town of Antelope than local officials were prepared to stop them. Labrousse and his 13-Deputy force had their hands full trying to maintain law and order with the sudden invasion of thousands of red-clad Rajneeshees into Wasco County.

What made it so difficult, says Labreusse, was the cloak of secrecy which seemed to engulf Rancho Rajneesh.

"Few people actually knew what was going on out there," he said. Labrousse recalled the telephone call to his office on July 3, 1985, from someone at the ranch reporting a possible drowning in a lake on the ranch. Before he could summon the Wasco County medical examiner to the scene, LaBrousse received another call, this time reporting that a young man had been pulled from the lake and briefly revived. The man was taken to the medical center in Jefferson County, but died, Labrousse was told.

Since the attending physician, who was a Rajneeshee doctor, also was the assistant medical examiner for Sherman County, Labrousse was told by the state there was no need to call in the state medical examiner. No body fluid or any other evidence was obtained by the assistant medical examiner.

"They had a doctor who was an assistant medical examiner for Jefferson County -- he ruled the man's death was accidental drowning," Labrousse said.

Two days later, Labrousse was drinking coffee with an Oregon State Police officer in Antelope. "We were talking about the Fourth of July fire in The Dalles, caused by fireworks, when one of the Rajneesh peace officers from Antelope said, 'Well, we had a great fireworks show ourselves -- we cremated a boy who just died."

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1998 Roxann Gess Smith
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