This series is a fictionalized account of historic events from Oregon that may have ties to the local Molalla area. The stories are told through the eyes and words of journalist, human rights advocate, and suffragette Abigail Scott Duniway for her newspaper, the “New Northwest”, which was in print from 1871 until 1887.
Episode Five: The name of the Road Agent is revealed
By the time I returned from the southern reaches of our state to the New Northwest offices in Portland much had transpired concerning the arrest of the road agent. He had been lodged in the county jail after being transported to Portland by Sheriff Hogan and delivered into the hands of U.S. Marshall Kearney. I eagerly read the daily reports of the investigation in my brother Harvey Scott’s newspaper, the Oregonian. The events of that July night were still intensely vivid to me. Until one has been the victim of such a shocking situation it is not possible to understand the way fear lingers and resurfaces when least anticipated.
An examination of the man’s possessions produced a large sum of money matching the amount of the Chinese payroll taken in the robbery, less $35.00. It was found that shortly before arriving at Watson Miner’s farm in Riddle, where the arrest occurred, the man had purchased a horse and saddle for that exact amount. Included in the money was a $20.00 piece that had been exposed to mercury and discolored. Representatives from the Chinese labor company were able to identify it as they had believed it to have been a forgery and had taken it to be examined before shipping it to their paymasters. In addition to the money tied to the stage robbery, there were several men from Eugene and Roseburg on their way to Portland to testify that they were acquainted with the road agent before the robbery and he had enticed them to join him in the planned robbery.
A reporter from the Oregonian had visited the prisoner in his jail cell. In his interview the man said he had been a drifter since the Civil War and had worked for a time in Arizona and Nevada. He had been at Weeksville Montana working at the ferry crossing of the Clark Fork river. He had been there when robberies by Road Agents had been so frequent that a vigilante committee had been established, and the robbers were caught and hung promptly on the side of the road. He claimed to have left Montana during that time and come to Oregon where he had been working on a ranch just east of Eugene belonging to Doc Sharpwell. He said that anyone he had worked with at the ranch could testify that he carried a large amount of cash, and that he had left there to travel down the to Roseburg looking for a stable, grocery or restaurant in which to invest his savings. He had not found any business in Roseburg to be purchased so he headed for the Southern Oregon goldfields. That is how he happened to be lodging for the night at Watson Miner’s farm where he had been arrested. The reporter commented that the man gave his story in a straightforward but not overwhelmingly convincing fashion that could establish his innocence. The man had also accused Sheriff Hogan of cowardice, claiming that the Sheriff’s hand was “quaking like a willow “while holding the revolver on the morning of the arrest. The reporter continued that the courage of Sheriff Hogan in capturing desperate men was well known to all along the Oregon-California stage routes. This brought doubt in his mind that anything the man had said was true.
The name of the man who was lodged in the County jail and accused of the stage robbery was reported to be Carl Olson. I was quite shocked. Could this be the Carl Olson I had known 30 years earlier?
In 1853 I was 19 and newly married. I had moved from my home in Eola and left my teaching job to join my husband Ben on our donation land claim a few miles west of the crossroads of Molalla. Our Cabin and farm were in the area known as Needy but I called it “Hardscrabble” in those difficult days. Near our cabin was another farm. Johan and Anna Olson arrived and took possession of their claim in Needy around the same time as I came to live in the area. They were Norwegian immigrants who had first settled in Tennessee and then moved on to the Oregon Territory. Their eldest child, a daughter, Greta had been born in Norway, Carl and his brother Oliver were born in Tennessee and the youngest, John was born in Oregon. Carl was a small child the last time I saw him, not too much older than my two children.
When our cabin burned to the ground, we relocated to Lafayette and then Albany before finally settling in Portland. I did however have occasion to journey back to Molalla from time to time to visit family. My husband Ben had left Illinois and come out on the Oregon Trail with his family. They had all settled alongside our farm and one of his sisters, Nancy had married into a local family, and she and her husband continued to live on the family donation land claim. An odd coincidence was that Ben’s mother had died, and before leaving for Oregon his father remarried a widow woman whose name was Maria Olson. Her first husband’s name had also been Carl Olson just like the young son of Johan and Anna. Maria and Carl had a son by the name of Sebastian. Maria died on the plains on the way to Oregon and Sebastian continued to Oregon with Ben’s family. He had been too young when his father died to have known him and knew nothing of his Father or Mother’s families.
During all our family visits to Molalla over the years I never again saw Carl Olson, who would now be a man of the same age and same name as the road agent sitting in the County jail. Through letters we received from Ben’s sister we learned that he had married and settled on his wife’s family farm. But she saw little of him. I wondered could this Road Agent be the boy I had known so long ago. The son of fellow pioneers Johan and Anna Olson? Could he be the Carl Olson who was supposed to be the dead husband of my Father in Law’s wife Maria? Could he be the son Carl and Maria using his father’s name?
Episode 6: The Trial
Episode Four: The Arrest
By Suzanne Pearce
The stage rumbled off toward Grants Pass where we arrived that evening without incident. I spent several days meeting with the women of the Methodist Church who had summoned me. The ladies had organized several meetings where I lectured to enthusiastic audiences on progress we were making to secure female voting rights in Oregon.
We also visited the Chinese labor camp that was a focus of concern for the church women. This camp was at the head of the track for the Oregon & California Rail line which was currently just outside of their town. The much-anticipated construction of the line had commenced in Portland in the spring of 1868 under the leadership of Ben Holladay. Mr. Holladay was considered something of a transportation tycoon and had made most of his money with his stage lines and Overland Mail Express. He had sold his stage business to Wells Fargo and moved to Portland where his interest turned to railroads. His Oregon & California Rail line had made steady and rapid progress, reaching Roseburg by 1872 but it was in that location that the money for the project had run out. For nearly 10 years the advancement of the rail had languished, only recently to have resumed under the ownership of Southern Pacific Railway, and with deplorable working conditions for the laborers. I was informed that the workers had gone out on strike on the 5th of July, just weeks before my arrival in this area. They had however come to a compromise and returned to work within days of the strike. The strongbox on the stage that was robbed on the night of the 23rd held a shipment of gold from Portland to their paymaster. Their wages had been stolen, adding to their misery.
While I was in Grants Pass, F.P. Hogan and his men were tracking down the road agent who had committed the stage robbery on the night of July 23rd. Wells Fargo Agent Shelby had located the passengers’ belongings and returned them to us the morning after the robbery, but much of the mail remained missing. Hogan and his posse, accompanied by Agent Shelby, made a rapid return to the scene of the robbery and from there followed horse hoof prints heading north. They found mailbags and a shotgun hidden under a log about a half-mile away. It was apparent that the mail was opened hastily and when the envelopes contained nothing of value to the road agent, he tore and crumbled the contents. After securing this evidence, Agent Shelby left the group to deliver it back to the Glendale Wells Fargo station where it would be transferred into the possession of the federal marshal in Portland. The posse continued its search along the banks of Cow Creek, following the meandering tracks of the robber.
Early on the morning of Wednesday July 26th they tracked the hoof prints to a farm just outside of Riddle, belonging to Watson Miner. They found the horse they had been tracking stabled in the barn and the lamps inside the house lit. One of the posse members found a pistol under the seat of a buckboard alongside the barn. As the sun peaked over the horizon, a man walked out on the porch to the wash basin. One of the posse members who was acquainted with the farmer whispered, “That ain’t Watson”.
The door opened and out came the farmer towards the barn. He was startled when inside he found the men of the posse. After they informed him of their reason for being there, he told them, “This fellow showed up here last night about sunset. He said he had just arrived in the area and was looking for a ranch to purchase. He was not sure where he was and needed a place to stay the night. We sat up late last night talking and I told him of all the places I knew of that were for sale. He seemed like a nice fellow. I had no concerns with him staying right there in the house with us last night. It sure seems you darn well can’t trust anyone!”
Hogan slipped through the early morning shadows to the porch were the man was still bent over the basin, washing. Walking up behind him, pistol drawn, he said, while placing the barrel against the man’s back, “Stand up and raise your hands above your head”. The man slowly stood up, raising his hands as instructed. “Get ‘um higher,” barked Hogan as he backed away a few steps. Farmer Miner came from behind Hogan and checked the man’s shirt and trousers for weapons. He found no knives or guns but in the man’s saddle bags, that were slung over the porch railing, he did find money that matched the amount taken in the robbery.
Within the hour a buggy arrived from the freight station in Riddle to pick up Hogan and his prisoner. The money, the man’s horse, saddle, and pistol were taken for evidence. The bound man was placed in the buggy alongside Hogan and as they departed, Watson Miner could be heard saying, “You sure had me fooled. I never in my life harbored a criminal in my house before!”
In the next Bulletin: Episode Five: The name of the Road Agent is revealed
Episode Three: F.P. Hogan and the Posse
By Suzanne Pearce
I quickly dressed and left my room. Walking out into the bright morning sun I saw there were six riders that had returned to the station with Wells Fargo Agent Shelby. He had ridden back to the scene of the robbery the night before and finding the road agent gone he went on to Roseburg where he engaged ex-sheriff F.P. Hogan to investigate the situation, and several other men came along including the current . They were standing in a circle around a pile of what appeared to be the luggage that had been taken the night before. I saw the case that had contained my papers. It had been broken open and there was a large ink stain across the top. I was anxious to see if my correspondence would still be inside along with my paper and pen so that I could record the events as they were unfolding. The old Frenchman came running out and grabbed the small valise containing his life’s positions. Inside he pulled out a woman’s looking glass and comb. The mirror had been broken but he clutched the items to his chest and fell to his knees crying, “Ma Cherie”. These items were all that remained of his late wife’s possessions. Agent Shelby helped him to his feet as the old man repeated over and over “Merci beaucoup, Merci beaucoup!”
“Well Gentleman, we have some work to do here and let us be quick about it,” a young man in his mid-thirties spoke up. His Irish brogue immediately made it clear to me that this was Franklin Pierce Hogan. He had been, up until the year before, Sheriff of Douglas County. He had left that profession and was now a shopkeeper in Roseburg but when there was a stage robbery his detective skills were nearly always requested by Wells Fargo. He had recently tracked down a road agent who had robbed the stage out of Yreka. The man had repaired his boots with tacks, which left a unique impression in the dust on the road. Hogan had noticed this and tracked the man down to a saloon where he was sitting with his feet crossed up on a table. Hogan recognized his boots as matching the tracks. The man was arrested, and his boots were found to match the imprints in the road. He was quickly tried and convicted. This and other similar cases had spread Hogan’s fame through headlines in Oregon and Northern Californian Newspapers.
I was about to introduce myself to Hogan as reporter and editor for the New Northwest Newspaper when the Station Master came out and said a replacement stage was being readied for the rest of our trip to Grants Pass and we needed to meet Agent Shelby inside the station to claim our belongings. As I followed the others into the station, I could hear Hogan talking with the other men about the tracks they had seen at the robbery scene, earlier that morning. They had also found some mail and correspondence hidden inside a hollow log along the road, north of where the robbery had occurred, and figured that man was heading back towards Roseburg.
Inside the station house, Agent Shelby had lined all the recovered items up against the wall and I was able to recover most of my correspondence, which the robber had gone through and discarded, along with the crumbled mail that contained nothing of value to him. The busted remains of the Wells Fargo strongbox lay in the corner. It was to be used as evidence once the road agent was captured. In it had been $1571.50 in gold and silver coins being sent from Portland to Grants Pass by a Chinese company.
As I gathered my things, the replacement stage pulled up to the station front and, again, I heard horse hooves pounding the road to the North. Hogan and his men were on their way to track down the thief.
Next Time in the Bulletin – Episode Four: The Arrest
Episode Two: Help arrives at Grave Creek Station
By Suzanne Gross Pierce
The horses ran into the night hastened by the driver’s shouts and the cracking of a whip. My fellow passengers were indistinguishable shadows across from me in the dark as we were thrown about the coach. We had no opportunity to speak to each other about the events of the evening as it took all our concentration and strength to remain in our seats. A half-moon high in the midnight sky gave little light to the driver for our perilous speed. I calmed my nerves by telling myself that the driver and horses had traveled this route innumerable times.
It seemed like an eternity, but the coach finally slowed as we approached the next stage stop. The horses lathered and laboring for breath and were still pulling at the reins and although the driver held his foot on the brake the coach continued to rock and slide so precariously that we dared not attempt to exit. Some men ran from the tavern attached to the stage stop and pulled on the leads of the raring horses and at last we came, officially to a stop. The driver was shouting, “Robbery! Robbery! We were held up by a Road Agent about 14 miles back. Send a telegraph to get the Sheriff down here!”
“We can’t send no telegraphs,” offered one of the men who had gathered around. “The operators are all on strike. Even if we could get Carter to send the message there would be no one to get it on the other end”.
Out of the bunkhouse came a man who had obviously been asleep. His hair was uncombed and one of his pant legs was caught in the top of his boot. “What’s going on?”
“A Road Agent robbed us tonight,” explained the driver as he climbed down the side of the coach. “I am Eugene Shelby,” said the man, straightening the leg of his trousers.
“You’re the Wells Fargo Agent, aren’t you?”.
“That’s right. Why don’t you come on into the office so I can get some information from you?” Then he turned and barked and order to the stable boy, “Casey, get my horse saddled.” He then reached up and opened the door to the stage. “Ma’am, can I help you down?” I stepped down to the ground on rather shaky legs and thanked him for his help. Next the elderly French gentleman climbed down, looking around a little bewildered, followed by the miner, and finally the young passenger, who had wanted the excitement of riding up top, slid down to the ground to join us. His face was pale in the faint light of the lamps. The driver tapped his shoulder and he followed the man into the stage office.
“Did any of you see the road agent?” asked Mr. Shelby. The miner had slept through most of the robbery and the Frenchman was not able to provide any information. I told the Wells Fargo Agent that all I could see of the man through the window was his dark hat and coat and the white scarf around his face. I had only heard one voice, but I believed that I had seen other shadows moving in the darkness.
Mr. Shelby thanked us and went into the office to speak with the driver and young passenger. The Station Master’s wife came and lead us to the tavern where she served us some biscuits and gravy with strong coffee and then left us to prepare rooms for us.
It was close to daylight when I finally found my bed and, as I was drifting off to sleep, I could hear the sound of pounding hooves on the road back north, in the direction of the robbery. I slept well into the afternoon and was awakened, again by the sound of horses’ hooves. This time, many hooves, and many voices.
Episode Three: F.P. Hogan and the Posse
Episode One: A Stage Robbery Along the Applegate Trail
This mystery unfolds over several decades and begins with a lonely stage road robbery in Southern Oregon and culminates years later in the mysterious wealth of a Willamette Valley doctor. I will share my memories and investigations, but it will be up to each reader to come to his or her own conclusions.
I had left Portland on the morning of Friday, 20 July 1883 by train to Eugene. As editor of my newspaper “The New Northwest”, I had been contacted by a group of women from the newly formed Methodist Church in Grants Pass. They had pleaded with me to inspect Chinese labor camps that had been established outside of town for immigrant workers toiling in the gold mines and laying railroad track. In addition, they were especially concerned with the mistreatment and apparent enslavement of young Chinese women by labor contractors and railroad men. I arrived in Eugene Friday evening and met briefly with women of the area who were working diligently to establish female voting rights in Oregon. I then left early the next morning for Grants Pass.
The railroads were rapidly expanding and had my trip been conducted only a year later the entire journey would have been by rail. Instead, this part of my trip was to be made by stage. I found myself seated in a Wells Fargo Concord coach with two fellow passengers across from me. One was a gentleman returning to the southern gold fields who had clearly lightened himself of some of his fortune. His appearance was disheveled, and he had the odor of the saloons about him. Upon taking his seat he immediately fell into a troubled and snore-interrupted sleep. Even after the first day, when his hangover seemed to have subsided, he continued to fall instantly asleep with the rocking of the coach. The other was an older Frenchman who spoke little English. I was able to gather that he had traveled to the Oregon Territory with his family several years earlier by an overland route. His wife had died on the way and his daughter had married soon after they arrived in the Willamette Valley and moved with her husband south to take possession of their Donation Land Claim. He had been working as a cook in a logging camp since that time, but as he grew older his health was failing and he was going to live with his daughter and her family in his final years. There was another passenger, a young man in his late teens or early twenties who had left Portland to seek his fortune in the southern gold fields.
Riding inside the coach was much too confining for him so he chose to sit up top with the driver where the view was expansive and the conversation was not hampered by the presence of a woman. I was glad for the lack of fellow travelers who would want to engage in conversation as I had brought with me a considerable amount of correspondence that I had not been able to get through in my Portland Newspaper office.
The 140-mile trip from Eugene to Grants Pass was to take two days. However, a problem with the coach developed, causing an unexpected and uncomfortable overnight layover at Leven’s Station, just outside of Glendale. This station was a boarding house along the Applegate trail for stage drivers and it was noisy and unkept, with constant comings and goings. I understood a new hotel was being built at nearby Wolf Creek that would soon be available and much more comfortable.
The coach was finally repaired, and we resumed our journey around 11 pm on the night of the 23rd. The passengers all assumed our normal seats, but we had taken on a new driver. The young man riding up top was thrilled to have new stories to listen to. The stage lumbered along at a good pace. The swaying motion and the sound of the horse hooves and the clicking of the harness rings along with the creaking of the wooden coach lulled one into a trance. Suddenly, the trance was broken by the violent breaking of the coach and the driver’s loud “Whoa!”.
A muffled voice in the darkness said, “Hold up, there!” I pulled up the sash and was able to see movement of a figure in the darkness. A white scarf was wrapped around his face and seemed to glow in the darkness.
“Are you a messenger?” he asked the young man seated next to the driver. He pointed a shotgun at him. “No sir. I am not! I don’t even own a firearm!” said the young man, his voice quaking. I wondered to myself why there was not a Wells Fargo Messenger aboard. Was it a mistake that one of these guards was not accompanying us, or was it simply that there was not enough of value in that green, pine-and-iron treasure box to warrant a Messenger?
“Throw down the treasure box, the mail and the passengers’ bags,” barked the voice of the road agent out of the darkness.
As the driver obeyed the command and our bags began hitting the ground, the Frenchman stuck his head out the window of the coach and cried “Those are my things!” in his broken English. I could feel the distress of a man who has acquired few possessions in his lifetime and what he had was dear to him. “Get your head back inside that coach or I’ll scalp it!” yelled the robber. The old man complied and sat back down with his head in his hands.
When the cargo was all thrown down to the ground, the road agent said, “Be on your way!”
The driver called to the horses and slapped the reins across their backs. The stage lurched into motion and off into the darkness, leaving our possessions along the roadside. Above the noise of the galloping hooves and the cries of the driver a shotgun blast hastened us into the darkness.