Compiled for the Internet by Gary
One of the most hideous
murders ever to occur in Baker County was the bomb
slaying of Harvey Kimble Brown, an ex-sheriff of the
county and one of the most famous and loved lawmen ever
known to serve as protector of the people in this area.
Sheriff Harvey K. Brown
Howard and Sandy Payton Photo
At about 10:30 p.m. September 30, 1907, a huge explosion
rocked the city, citizens were horrified at the
brutality of the method used to wipe out one of whose
reputation marked him as one of the most fearless
proficient officers ever elected to the office and who
after two terms ran for governor of the state.
Brown's slayer was never brought to justice even though
the murder attracted prominent detectives and news
reporters from all parts of the country, among them the
noted Captain Swain, chief of Thiel's Detective Agency,
and Henry Draper with his famous trained blood hounds
from Spokane, reporters from the Portland Telegram,
Frank L. Perkins; from the Oregonian, Leslie Scott; then
with the Journal, and news reporters from Boise.
Reward notices for the capture of Brown were posted
offering $5000 for information leading to the arrest and
conviction of the person or persons responsible for the
horrible death of the 36-year old victim who died at
3:15 p.m. the next day in agony as a result of the
explosion at the yard entrance of his home at 1223
Fourth St. He left behind a grieving wife and daughter.
Brown, who had since his office term expired and while
still sheriff has been probing into the Federation
trouble at Caldwell, Idaho, before a similar event
occurred the next to the last day of 1905 when
ex-governor of Idaho, Steunenberg, was blown to pieces
as he entered his yard in Caldwell. Brown was present at
the time of the tragic death of the ex-Idaho governor,
on other business and identified Harry Orchard, the man
who was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging, a
sentence later reduced by the Idaho Board of Pardons, to
Orchard was reputed to be a hired assassin for the
Western Federation of Miners. He had left a trail of
violence behind him with the death of 20 men to his
credit, acts of arson, bigamy, larceny, burglary and the
final association with "Big Bill" Haywood, one-time idol
of American labor and organizer of the Industrial
Workers of the World at the time labor conditions in the
hardrock mining districts in Northern Idaho were
disturbed, which was his downfall and led to his only
arrest and conviction after nearly 40 years of crime.
Orchard's association with the Western Federation
sparked new violence in Idaho as he strove to win the
approval of Haywood but instead spelled doom for the
organization as governor Steunenberg called military law
to put a stop to the labor troubles. Orchard's last
assignment was to exterminate the federation's enemy.
In previous crimes Orchard has as an accomplice a man
named Jack Simpkins who Brown had been hired by the
state of Idaho after the ex-governor's death, to track
down, and a man named Steve Adams whom Sheriff Brown
while in office had arrested in Baker and persuaded to
go to Boise and testify to corroborate Orchard's
confession with promise that Adams would not be
prosecuted if he would do so.
Plans Idaho Trouble
The former sheriff, in his dying statement's was careful
to lay the blame on no man, but did indicate that his
detective work for the State of Idaho and the upcoming
testimony he was to give in the Idaho trials must have
been the reason for his injuries which led to his death.
Newspaper accounts of the fateful night stated that
Brown had returned from Stice's Gulch on the 4 p.m.
train, where he had been on a visit to his placer mine.
He had his supper at home with his wife and daughter and
left to go to pay his lodge dues at the home of A. C.
McClelland. He had walked over to the McClelland
residence with the intention of on up town for a while.
His wife had asked him not to be gone long and had
retired but was restless and arose once. She observed a
very tall person walking slowly down the street in front
of their home but thought nothing of it and went back to
bed until she was awakened by an explosion.
Mrs. Brown later testified that she had felt that her
husband was worried about something and knew he had
increased his life insurance recently.
Bloodhounds Join 1907 Search; Few Clues Left
By Murders of Sheriff Brown
The brutal murder of Sheriff Harvey Brown in 1907 was a
shock to the community as even though Brown was known as
a successful finder of criminals and had made enemies,
none were of a personal nature, and he had always had
the respect and handshake of those he delivered to
prison, for the kind treatment received by the criminals
while in his custody. He was the first officer in Oregon
to administer a whipping after that law passed when he
delivered the punishment to a man named Cecil who was
sentenced to a public whipping for wife beating. Cecil
still claimed Brown as his friend after the punishment.
During his two terms in office Brown worked to close
Baker's saloons and gambling houses after his election
in 1902 but later when he ran for the office of governor
on the Republican ticket, popular home vote showed no
hard feelings were harbored by Baker citizens, at least
not to the extent of providing a motive for murder.
Arrives at bomb Scene
J. S. Kenyon, a neighbor and Brown's partner in mining,
was the first to arrive at the murder scene. He told
reporters that he heard the explosion at 10:30 p.m. and
recognized it as dynamite. He looked toward the Brown
home from his residence at Third and Carter streets and
toward the railroad thinking perhaps a freight car or
engine had blown up. He felt apprehension so tried to
call Brown's house and in response heard Dorcus Brown,
wife of the victim, crying, "For God's sake come quick!
I believe Harvey is dying. Glass is falling from the
windows and I can't get out of the front door. I believe
we have been dynamited."
The Kenyon's hurried to the scene and found Mr. Brown
lying just inside of the gate entrance and the front
porch unlighted. Kenyon placed his hand under Brown's
head and noticed his left leg was badly shattered. He
asked Brown if he could help him to which the injured
man moaned and threw his hands in the air. At this time
Kenyon noticed his left leg was damaged apparently
beyond saving. Mrs. Brown had come out of the house and
held his head as Kenyon could get some blankets and
pillows to make him as comfortable as possible and
during these moments Brown told his wife, "They've got
me, they've got me at last." She asked him if he knew
who did it but Brown was unconscious.
The ambulance arrived and Dr. Parker and McDaniel's took
him to the hospital where his wounds were dressed and
his pain eased.
The next morning Kenyon visited him and Brown held out
his right hand and squeezed Kenyon's, then put his hand
to his ear and shook his hand then passed his hand over
the injured section of his body, indicating great
suffering and deafness.
J. F. Donnelly, county sheriff, and Herbert Lee, city
policeman at the time started the investigation which
revealed that a heavy charge of dynamite in the form of
a bomb fastened to the gate post on the south side yard
entrance, which was gateless, had been planted with the
murderer apparently concealed a short distance away who
pressed a button or possible wire trigger. The effect
seemed to bear to the right, striking Brown's lower
limbs, shattering one foot badly, amputation except for
flesh. About 5 inches of bone were gone and the inside
of his right leg was badly shattered, taking most of the
flesh but not breaking any bone. Large holes in the
flesh of the left hip indicated terrific force. Marks on
the fence post showed where the explosive had been
attached that blew the post off a few inches above the
ground and wrecked the fence for some distance.
So earth-shaking was the explosion that glass was broken
in residence windows for blocks around. All windows in
the Brown home were shattered, the cornice damaged and
doors blown out. Later a neighbor, A. B. Flynn, and one
of the most important witnesses at the coroner's inquest
by jury, who remained with Mrs. Brown and their daughter
until daylight found 109 pieces of tin blown into the
front of the Brown home. Even the house numbers were
shaken loose. The next morning Flynn found fresh
footprints in the scant snow across Grace St. toward the
The next day following the explosion, train number 6
arrived in Baker with Harry Draper's trained bloodhounds
from Spokane with several thousand people at the depot
when the dogs were unloaded and taken to the sheriff's
office. Later Draper took them to Brown's residence,
which had been kept under guard, where the bloodhounds
picked up a scent and headed straight west on Grace
street, turned north and then east from the tracks,
continuing up Auburn about a block then north, turning
back toward the railroad where they paused in Stoddard
Brothers sawmill yards.
Information offered by Baker citizens include a report
from A. L. Goodown who said on his way home to Sixth and
Court street from town that night, he saw a tall man
wearing a brown coat walking slowly behind him, and as
he had money on his person he watched the stranger.
Mr. Brown, before his death, told officers he knew he
had been followed by a tall man when he left for the
A Mrs. Sam White, standing on her porch just after the
explosion, told police she saw a man walking slowly down
the street in front of her house who stopped on the
corner and gave two shrill whistles and then walked on
slowly. Lack of excitement in the movements of the man
seemed to make this report suspicious as the whole town
was in an uproar over the explosion at the time. Reports
of a big dark Negro seen several times on Fourth St.
Near Brown's home and on the corner of Fourth and Carter
St. while Brown was being shaved in a barber shop late
in the evening, was another lead detectives and police
Other troubles of ex-Baker County
Sheriff Harvey K. Brown during his turn in office were
discovered by the writer while browsing through copies
of 1903 editions of the Baker City Herald, edited by
Charles W. Hill.
Some hard feelings toward Brown were recorded in old
newspaper stories centered around the collection of
delinquent taxes and involvement in charges of county
officials buncoing taxpayers out of money but when the
charges came to focus Brown was not involved as one
story indicates he was only carrying out his duties
though he was sued by his old friend A.A. McClelland for
recovery of taxes paid, on a technicality.
Ex-Sheriff Brown played a big part in the first, last
and only execution carried out by Baker county
officials, just before a law passed at Salem went into
effect May 21, 1903, revoking Oregon counties right's to
dispose of their own criminals.
Pleasant Armstrong, arrested Christmas day 1902 for the
murder of Miss Minnie Ensminger of Haines, was convicted
of murder in the first degree and sentenced on March 31,
1903 to be hung by the neck until dead on May 8 at a
gallows erected in the Baker County courtyards for the
Phil Schnabel Photo
Sheriff Brown was called upon to outfox irate Haines
residents who were plotting a lynching, and who did on
March 3, 1903, march on the county jail in force, masked
and heavily armed, and demand the person of the slayer
of Miss Ensminger.
Anticipating trouble Brown had unknowingly removed the
prisoner to Huntington where he was held over night and
then taken on to Portland by Brown the next day and held
in the Multnomah County jail for his own safety until
the trial date.
Brown was again called upon and prepared to defend the
accused during the trial in Baker on March 2 when
threats were made that if the jury came up with a
verdict any less than murder in the first degree
Armstrong would never leave the courthouse alive.
But that is another story, the details of which will
follow this story of the bomb slaying of Harvey K.
Chief Swain arrived October 2 and proceeded with his
part of the investigation. Sheriff Tom Word from
Portland wired $100 reward from his town and friends
made up an addition bringing the reward to $5000 for
information leading to the arrest and conviction of the
responsible party. Harvey O' Brian, Portland, wired
another $1,000 to be added.
Another witness Fred Cole, awakened by the explosion
said he heard a child calling from the street, "Mr.
Cole, someone has blown up our house and killed papa," a
voice he recognized as Ethel Brown, the 13 year old
daughter of Harvey Brown. He found many pieces of wire
and many articles of tin around the premises after the
victim had been removed to the hospital for care.
Services for Mr. Brown were held on October 3 at the
Methodist church with all the Baker business houses
closed by Mayor Charles A. Johns, in respect for Brown.
Father Williams officiated and internment was in Mt.
Harvey Brown was born August 18, 1871 on a farm in
Pocahontas and attended school in District No.2, the
second school organized in Baker county. He was well
known all over the West and a prominent man with many
During the years prior to his time as Baker County
Sheriff he worked when 16 year-old on a stage line
between Baker and Elkhorn mine and was later
superintendent of Nelson placer mine as well as in
mining business for himself. In the boom days of Sumpter,
he started a livery barn and business there and in 1902
was elected to the office of sheriff. He married Miss
Dorcus Montgomery from Nevada when he was 21-years old
on August 17, 1892 and the couple had only one daughter
Ethel who now lives in Portland.
No break ever came in the investigation of Brown's
murder, for Orchard and Adams both been in jail for a
year at the time of the explosion but the investigation
revealed that a plagiarist had copied Harry Orchard's
methods and had placed the bomb on the fence on the
fence running a wire along a fence board for about 25
feet to the street corner where it dropped to the ground
and run along the gutter another 40 feet to a telegraph
pole around which it was wrapped twice with brass
knuckles attached to the end of the detonator wire, very
similar to the method used by Orchard to activate the
bomb that killed the Idaho ex-governor.
Friends of brown said he had received anonymous threats
in the past for his efforts to put a stop to booze and
gambling in Baker and a fanatical temperance man in the
city insisted he had done in by "murderous rum sellers".
This opinion was not considered as Brown was not in
office at the time of his death nor had he been, for
quite some time.
Grief stricken Mrs. Brown said he had been uneasy for
the past month and had made plans to move to California
Orchard's Adam's defense attorney Clarnece Darrow of
Idaho said brown was a vital witness for the defense of
Steve Adams and they paid him to go to Wallace, Idaho,
to testify that he had told Adams he would be properly
cared for if he's corroborate Harry Orchard's confession
which Adams did in addition to confessing to his part in
several other murders, which he later denied when he was
charged in connection with the other cases.
Hounds Fail in Attempt
There was no suspect nor clues for the hounds to work
from, news reports said, though at one time the hounds
moved toward the home of the woman known to be friendly
with the Federation people. A search warrant was
obtained but nothing was found in her home to tie her
with the brutal murder.
On October 7, 1907 a man named Frank Tucker became drunk
in the Fawn Saloon at Granite and claimed he knew who
killed Brown and that the bomb had been made of
nitroglycerine and white pine saw dust. He bragged that
he had been offered $100 to participate. He was arrested
by Granite Marshal Thornburg and taken to Sumpter
metropolis of the mining district and questioned but was
turned out as a harmless logger, boozed to a point of
complete loss of his faculties.
Another man, Frank Page, was arrested for bragging of
knowledge of the murder, then released.
An unnamed friend of Brown's in Pocatello claimed Brown
had been trying to run down Jack Simpkins, which was
accepted by investigators as a possible motive, which
might implicate Simpkins, but this suspect was already
evading capture. He was a Coeur D'Alene mine member of
the Western Federation board of directors according to
Orchard's testimony who hired Steve Adams to help him
murder two claim jumpers and to assist in the
Steunenberg murder. Simpkins had disappeared after
Orchard's arrest. Corroboration of the Pocatello man's
offering came from T. S. Hammersley, chief of police at
the Oaks Amusement Park in Portland, a former Baker City
police officer who had worked for Brown. He said Brown
had been in Portland shortly before his death looking
for Simpkins and told him he had an undercover man in
the Miners Union at Bourne, Oregon, who was getting
information for Brown on Simpkins. The agent of Brown's
had learned that Simpkins had visited in Walla Walla
with a girl friend three times and had purchased a
violin at the WW Music store there.
The only thing investigators really had to work on was
to decide which side of the groups waging war over labor
problems would benefit the most by the death of Brown
the defense or the prosecution- as both sides had paid
Brown for work and the thought was considered that he
might have been killed for his duplicity, but this was
theory only. He had been hired by the prosecution to
track down Simplins and by representatives of the
Western Federation to testify in Adams defense.
The only conclusion ever drawn concerning the case was
that it was a lone wolf operation as in 59 years there
was never a leak by an accomplice and no clues of usable
nature was left behind.
It was finally left to lie, a perfect crime and
disappearance, and investigations dropped.
Harry Orchard after his conviction in the Steuenberg
case served out his life term in the Idaho State
Penitentiary, turning to religion in later years. He
tried for a parole in 1921 but the request was denied.
He was buried at the prison in 1954 ending his sentence,
under his true name Albert Horsley.
Elsie Adams of 1835 Fourth St., Baker, was a neighbor
directly across the street from the Steunenbergs in
Caldwell at the time of the ex-governor's slaying.
Her father Clarence Wayne, in the act of performing a
neighborly kindness for the Steunenberg', was caught up
in the investigation of the case and arrested by Theils
detectives shortly after the ex-governor died, though
was released the next morning.
The Wayne family had recently moved to Caldwell from
Cripple Creek, Colorado where the labor was raging also
and much trouble had ensued. Mr. Wayne had gone to the
Steunenberg house to milk their cow in Mr. Steunenberg's
absence and left through the front gate about five
minutes before the ex-governor had arrived home.
When the explosion occurred Mr. Wayne rushed across the
street and found the ex-governor badly injured and
carried him into the house.
Mrs. Adams remembers her father returning with blood
covering his clothing and remarking that he felt he
would be arrested due to the circumstances and because
they had just moved from Cripple Creek in short time,
that was exactly what took place.
Mrs. Wayne kept a piece of the bomb with some
Steunenberg 's clothing adhering to it that they pried
out of the front of their own house for many years.
(Chet Smith, local historian corrected the address of
223 Fourth St. to 1223)
Source: The Record Courier, Baker, Oregon, Thursday,
February 24, 1966.
Source: The Record Courier, Baker, Oregon, Thursday,
March 3, 1966
Source: The Record Courier, Baker, Oregon, Thursday,
March 10, 1966
For further information read: Big Trouble
by J. Anthony Lukas
Howard and Sandy Payton Photo
Brown Family Photos