Posts Tagged ‘Oregon’


Louis O’Neal on the gallows with the priest (Father Blanchet) and the sheriff.

This is a murder mystery, one that has fascinated me for years now. I keep threatening to write about it and now, in the time and space left by my leave of absence from teaching and summer vacation, I’ve gotten serious about my research. The basic facts are these:

In November of 1885, Lewis McDaniel, a prominent shopkeeper in Ashland, Oregon, was found dying just down the street from his house. Someone had shot him in the head. He died before naming his assailant.

And from there on, rumor and gossip took over.

People said that McDaniel’s wife, Amanda, was too fond of  failed-prospector-turned-odd jobs man Louis O’Neal (his name is spelled a number of ways; I’ve settled on this because it seems to be most common in the historical records), and that McDaniel had taken issue with the closeness.

And that seems to have been enough. Within an indecently short period of time O’Neal had been arrested (the sheriff said it was to save him from a lynch mob). He never saw the outside of the jailhouse walls again except for brief trips to court, and then to the gallows.

Here’s something else:

Everyone agrees that the evidence against O’Neal was circumstantial–and yet each writer goes on to essentially convict O’Neal in print.

O’Neal maintained that there were serious flaws in the case against him.

O’Neal’s request for a change of venue (see “lynch mob” above) was denied, as was his request for a continuance until he could contact the man he had been seeing off at the train station at the time of the murder.

Public opinion was rabidly against him–newspaper coverage of the event is incredible; his guilt is assumed from the earliest coverage.

In an era when “the SOB had it coming to him” was considered a valid defense (see “newspaper coverage”) public sentiment was for hanging from the very beginning.

The woman at the center of the case, Sarah Amanda McDaniel, did not have public opinion on her side. Before she married McDaniel she had had a previous marriage to a man named Lewis Henry. And no, I  have not made a mistake; all three of the men in this story were named “Lewis/Louis.” Sarah Amanda divorced him, claiming abuse and abandonment (the records I found indicated that he had taken a horsewhip to her at one point), and returned to her home in Eagle Point, Oregon.

So there she was, a single mother and a divorcee. Still, she managed to catch Lewis McDaniel’s eye. They married. And then they virtually disappear from newspaper coverage. This is strange, because the McDaniel family was quite wealthy; Lewis McDaniel is listed as one of the men who paid the most taxes in the area. Ashland, where the McDaniels lived, was a small town, and people liked to see their names in the papers. Accounts of social events like weddings frequently included extensive guest and gift lists. People liked to know who had given what.

Here’s the thing: Lewis McDaniel was from a prominent, wealthy family. He was wealthy himself. You’d think that the radiant brides would have sucked it up and invited Sarah Amanda if only for the present. But her name never appears in those society wedding guest lists. Maybe the divorce taint was just to strong.

So we’ve got a rich man married to a social outcast who seems to have been ostracized. Enter Louis O’Neal, failed prospector, failed farmer, and currently odd-job man. More important, he’ll talk to her. Maybe talk leads to other things; maybe not. Certainly people in town felt because divorcee Sarah Amanda had been seen “laughing” with O’Neal she must of course be up to no good. And then her husband winds up dead, and the people of Jackson County put two and two together and come up with considerably more than five. And it’s all in the papers.

Did Louis O’Neal and Sarah Amanda McDaniel conspire to kill Sarah Amanda’s husband? Good question. Certainly they were convicted in the papers. Certainly the Government in Washington, D.C. was pressuring the new state of Oregon to treat murder more seriously–that’s in the papers, too. Certainly the McDaniel family had considerable financial and social resources, and Louis O’Neal had none. Certainly Sarah Amanda’s reputation told against him. It was just so easy to believe that Louis O’Neal must be guilty.

And maybe he was. but maybe not. Research is moving slowly; I’m tracking the characters in this melodrama, as well as the events shaping their world. Will I ever know for sure if Louis O’Neal pulled the trigger? I don’t know. But that’s not the only story here. The bigger, more relevant story is that people seem to have given up on finding the truth and settled for a scapegoat. Louis O’Neal seems to have become a symbol of Oregon’s rectitude: “See, we’re tough on murder around here,” Louis O’Neal’s hanging says.

And of course, it was all so very lurid. And maybe it was true. But maybe not. I’ll keep you posted.



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Actually, I feel a little bad about that title. The Boy plays the tuba, and though he can “oompa” with the best of them, he can also produce lovely, melting sounds that you feel in your bones. And in another week or so he’ll be making those sounds up at Brass Camp.

Last year we sort of stumbled through Brass Camp. This year, though, we’re old pro’s. It’s going to go a lot better (though it went great last year). I thought that, me being an old experienced Brass Camp mom this year, I’d write the post that I wish I’d seen last year for all the Brass Camp newbies who are where were just twelve short months ago.

1. Camp is held at Wallowa Lake. That’s high in the mountains–in an alpine climate. Nights and mornings are cold. Days can get warm enough for shorts. Pack for your child with that in mind. Layers work well–they can bundle up in the mornings, and shed clothing as the day warms. Be sure to include a waterproof (or resistant) jacket and plenty of warm socks.

2. The camp is well-run. Kids are kept busy, but there are activities and free time each afternoon. The Wallowa Lake Resort is an old one, with a number of the traditional “resort” amusements–horses and bikes to rent and ride, miniature golf, go-carts, and a little store that sells snacks (at grossly inflated prices). The camp also offers a selection of souvenir items that campers can buy. Last year I sent my camper with about $75 (the amusements are fun, but not cheap).

3. If you’re sending a gamer, consider letting them take along their favorite hand-held gaming device. There’s free time, and many of the games can be played by two or more people–it can be a way of making friends. Also, some of those little suckers take pretty good pictures. My son wished he’d had his, if only for that reason.

4. If your camper (or you) is going to need direct communication during the week, consider buying and sending along a pre-paid cell phone (or a regular one). While the camp does have a telephone and can receive emergency calls, that doesn’t cut it when homesickness strikes.

5. Speaking of which: If you’re concerned about how your camper might do that critical first night, consider getting a room at the resort, or in Joseph (which is just down the road). It’s a bit spendy, but it’s a lovely area, and it might help to bridge the gap.

6. Consider taking a few days to explore the area. There’s a fair amount of historic stuff there–Chief Joseph is buried in a small cemetery just beside the highway, for one thing. The lake is lovely and peaceful, too. And the fishing’s not bad, I’m told.

7. The last day there’s a barbecue, for which parents can pay. I suggest you do so–it’s fun, and it gives your kid a chance to sort of transition from camp. There’s also a concert. It’s about 45 minutes from camp to the concert hall, but it’s headed back toward civilization, so it’s all good. The concert is amazing–be sure you bring along some sort of recording device. I wish I had last year, and I’m definitely planning to this year.

That’s it for the moment–if I think of anything else I’ll add it in. Oh, one last thing: Brass Camp is an amazing opportunity. It not only will improve your kid’s music skills, it’ll open his or her eyes to a world of music that it’s difficult to find otherwise.

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I know, I know, planning a road trip in January is just nuts. At least, it would be most years. This year, though, the weather is balmy. The honeysuckly on my porch hasn’t even frozen yet. The bugs are still happy. The sun is shining. And I find myself thinking wistfully of a particular stretch of road. It’s the bit of road just to the west of Pendleton, at the intersection where you can either go up the hill to the swimming pool (fun), or down the road a stretch to the house were my mom’s best friend lived at the time (a marvelous place with sheds, dogs, a creek, a huge yard, a swingset, and a big boy who could sometimes be inveigled into playing with us), or straight out of town and down the road to the river, and ultimately to the Emerald City–Portland.

The whole world began at that little intersection where three roads met, and at the heart of the intersection, defined by the three roads, lay a miniature valley. Willow trees shaded it, and under the trees grasses grew tall and green in the spring, and then turned to deep gold just about the time swimming lessons were over. I used to beg my mother to stop the car, just for a minute, and let me go sit in the grass under the trees. She refused–too much traffic, she said.

And she was probably right, but that didn’t stop me from dreaming of that valley. Sometimes I thought I might build a tiny house under the willows and live there, moated safely in by blacktop patrolled by speeding cars. Sometimes I thought I might fill it with water and swim under the trees. Sometimes I just looked at the tiny pocket of unspoiled country, trapped in the intersection, and dreamed of the wagons that had passed that spot, of my my grandfather, driving truck past it, of how it held magic in its heart precisely because it was at once so very public and so very private.

That little valley has always meant the eternity of summer for me, largely because the only times we really saw it were on summer trips–on the way to mom’s friend’s house to can corn, on the way to the swimming pool, on the way to Portland, on the way… on the way…

And that’s the magic of the well-planned road trip–it’s the “on the way-ness” of it. It’s the magic of the fleeting moment, of the dreams that flash past at sixty miles an hour. It’s the freedom of the wind blowing through the car while the radio plays too loudly and we sing off key. It’s putting our bare feet out the window and wiggling our toes. It’s stuffy rest area bathrooms with scratched metal for mirrors, no paper towels, and no soap. It’s the gritty feel of dusty, sunbaked skin, and wonderful coolness of hotel pools as the sun goes down. It’s watching cartoons in the hotel while we wait for the pizza to arrive. It’s going to the movies in a an old theater where there are water stains on the ceiling, a popcorn cart in the lobby, and a movie that’s been around for years, simply because that’s all there is to do in town.

On road trips we step out of time and into a single moment that stretches as long as the car is rolling, as long as the wind is blowing our hair, as long as we can’t see home, and the money holds out, and there is still another road to take. That intersection, where the world started for me is like that–when I drive by it I still dream of the house I might build there, or the pond I might make, or the picnic I might eat under its willows. When I drive that stretch of road I am, for a few seconds, a child again, looking at that little valley that has, against all odds, survived, a trapped moment, a bubble of eternity, a place where time has stopped and held, for a second, forever, summer.

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