It’s hard for me to wrap my head around Pacific County being part of the old wild west. But, of course, it was — right down to the law and order part. Though none of our sheriffs have ever been the subject of a movie or a TV series, a few of them could probably have held their own with many of the badge-carrying, gun-toting, horse-riding names we know so well.
And, speaking of badges — counting Job Lamley who served as Pacific County Sheriff when we were still a part of Oregon Territory, there had been seven sheriffs in Pacific County before my great-grandfather, R.H. Espy, was appointed to that office by our county commissioners.
Espy replaced George W. Warren who had resigned in November 1862. The commissioners’ record is silent as to Warren’s reason. Espy apparently served until November 1868, when he, too, resigned. The family story is that he took umbrage with the county’s expectation that he supply his own badge of office and quit the job on principle.
That it took him six years to do so has always confused me. Besides, midway through his tenure, in August 1864, two (count ‘em two!) men, John Aird and W. Hanogan were also appointed to the position. So, does that mean that, for a time, we had three sheriffs in Pacific County? I’ve not yet found clarification in the historic record but, if our need was that great, perhaps Tombstone, Dodge City and Durango had nothing on us!
It was only a year after Espy’s resignation that Charles Green took the oath of office. On August 2, 1869 he became the ninth sheriff of Pacific County. Like all sheriffs during territorial days, Green also served as assessor and it was while he was engaged in routine tax collection in 1870, that Sheriff Green vanished.
He was said to have had as much as $2,000 in his saddlebags and foul play was suspected. Though his horse returned to Green’s last known location near Ilwaco, neither his body nor the money was ever discovered and no reason was found for his mysterious disappearance.
The last of the territorial sheriffs in Pacific County was Joseph H. Turner, elected in 1884. He continued in office for three years after Washington was granted statehood but did not run for a fourth term. Perhaps this was due to the horrendous Rose murder trial and subsequent lynching, which took place under his watch in 1890.
When the sheriff arrested John Rose, his son George, and two other men for the murder of Jens and Neilsine Frederiksen, the citizens of Pacific County loudly and impatiently demanded justice. The prominent Rose family of South Bend were friends of the Turners and, as the trial dragged on, the sheriff grew concerned for the safety of his prisoners and their families. He and his wife Martha offered sanctuary in their own home to the Rose women, and Joseph obtained a change of venue for two of the men.
However, outraged that the remaining two were to be given a new trial, an angry mob from South Bend gathered outside the Oysterville jail the night before the prisoners were to be moved. After overwhelming the jailer, they shot at the prisoners through the barred windows of the building and, though the men sought safety under their bunks, ricocheting bullets killed them both.
At the end of his term, Turner moved his family to South Bend, where he served as postmaster until his untimely death due to a heart attack in 1905. He was 59 years old. To this day, his great-grandchildren and their children, as well, blame the stress of his final years as sheriff for his premature demise.
Following Joseph Turner, Thomas Roney was elected Pacific County sheriff in 1890 — the first to serve after Washington became a state — and was again elected in 1900 after Zack Brown’s tenure in the position. It was during Roney’s second term in office that he had to do a most abhorrent and unexpected task — a task that drew attention and became famous for all the wrong reasons “The Hanging of Lum You.”
Lum You was one of the many Chinese workers in the cranberry bogs and canneries of Pacific County. He was known as a “jolly, sociable fellow” and was popular among whites as well as Chinese. However, when Lum You complained to South Bend Police Chief Marion Egbert that he was being harassed by a co-worker named Ging, Egbert told him, “Don’t come to me with your Chinaman troubles. I don’t care what you do. You can chop off his head if you want to!”
Invitation to escape
Much as the community was amused by this incident, when Lum You shot and killed Oscar Bloom for similar bullying, white employers of Chinese insisted that Lum be charged with his murder. Though the majority opinion was that the charges would never stick, Lum You was found guilty and sentenced to hang. Even the jailers of the dapper little man were sympathetic and while he awaited his execution, his cell door was often left unlocked.
Lum, however, feared deportation and possible beheading far more than the hangman’s noose. He was quoted as saying, “Cut off head, lose queue. Me no go to heaven. All my family, all my ancestors be shamed.” Since no arrangements had been made for Lum You’s burial, Deputy Brown offered a site on his own property for the grave.
Now, more than a century later, a search for Lum You’s grave is underway. (See “Search on for missing grave of Pacific County’s only executed man” in March 11, 2019 Chinook Observer.) Hopefully, that’s as close as we’ll get in this 21st century to the tribulations of law and order in the wild, wild west of Pacific County.