Unfortunately, Oregon has not historically been a friendly place to African Americans. The State very nearly came in on the side of the Confederate cause during the Civil War. It’s very creation was delayed as the US Congress debated the rights of blacks before succession fever set in.
One of the earliest recorded lynchings was of W. S. Thompson on August 2, 1894 in Lakeview Oregon. More ironic considering the large numbers of Irish sheepherders in Lakeview during that time who had to contend with religious prosecution. The town population was 761 people in 1900, and the town had only been incorporated in 1889.
My research into this subject started with the statement “a desperado who lived in Warner Valley.” My question was, what made W. S. Thompson a desperado? Visions of stage coach robbing or burning down homesteads. With a simple Google Search, I found his name listed in 100 Years of Lynchings by Ralph Ginzburg. It may be the fact that he was simply black was enough to cause him to be labeled such.
Reportedly he had beaten his wife, broke her nose and three ribs. He then proceeded to slash her saddle horse to death, and ripped open the abdomen of several other horses. Such things seemed to have been more common in that day.
Unfortunately for W. S. Thompson the Lake County Sheriff, Frank Lane, was out of town. Joe Morrow led a group of citizens to the jail, took the keys away from Al Heminger who was Deputy Sheriff at the time. The lynch mob dragged Thompson out of the jail and promptly hug him from the porch of the Court House.
Court House as it appeared in 1915. It was replaced in 1954.
The coroner’s jury found that Thompsan died of strangulation by unknown parties. But this verdict must have caused some anger among the citizens even in the day. It’s reported that a local from Warner Valley asked one of the jurors, Mr. M. Barry what the verdict was. When he found out he replied “Then I guess I’ll go and get my rope.”
Al Heminger, the Deputy Sheriff, later committed suicide due to his guilt in not being able to stop the lynching.