1907 Bomb Murder of Sheriff Harvey Brown

Popular Sheriff Was Crime Never Solved

By Maxine Makinson

Compiled for the Internet by Gary Jaensch

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 life imprisonment.

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 railroad.

Bloodhounds Used

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 McClelland home.

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 investigated.

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 purpose.

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. Brown.

Rewards Offered

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. Hope Cemetery.

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 friends.

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 before winter.

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

Baker County


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