The discovery of a river full of gold is commemorated every June in Canyon City's 62 Days celebration. This celebration actually marks two anniversaries. One is the well known discovery of rich gold deposits in Canyon Creek in 1862. The other is the first hanging in eastern Oregon in 1863. A man named Berry Way was hanged on June 4 1863 for the murder of Frank Gallagher. Berry did not get a legal trial but it was not quite a lynching either. It fell somewhere between the two and that is what makes this story interesting. The record is scanty. The earliest mention which is from a newpaper published on May 6 1863 states that "The body of Frank Gallagher of Portland was found a short distance from Cherry Creek Wednesday ... He was shot through the head with a pistol ball." On May 16th another newspaper item said Berry Way had been arrested for Gallagher's murder and that a horse and pistol belonging to Gallagher had been found in Way's possesion. On that same day another newspaper announced that Way had escaped from custody in Canyon City. Then, on June 12th the Daily Oregonian printed a lengthy letter from Canyon City describing Way's return to Canyon City on June 3rd. According to the article, after some debate, they decided to hold a trial. A judge, secretary, and prosecuting and defending attourneys were appointed. The justice who had conducted the first inquest made a statement of the facts and then "There were several witnesses examined, and the prisoner's own statement taken, which was the most damning part of the evidence." "The next day around 4pm Berry Way was hanged about a half a mile from town." And that is about it for contemporary accounts that I have been able to find. The newspaper mentions a transcript of the first interrogation being sent to the county seat but I have not been able to find any trace of it. There are a number of later articles full of colorful details but since they all disagree, none of them can be trusted. I will offer just one of these later additions, written in 1913 by a person who claimed to have been in Canyon City in 1863. According to this source, a man namved Van Titsner said that Frank McDaniel (the arresting sheriff) had been bribed to let Way escape. McDaniel said that he would shoot Titsner the next time he saw him. The next time Titsner came to Canyon City, he shot first and killed McDaniel. A brief trial then acquitted Titsner. We'll never know for sure if justice was done. Berry Way's execution certainly was not legal but the forces of law were so thinly spread and tentative that very little of what happened in those places and times was strictly legal. The citizens of Oregon at the time seemed to have no doubts about the proceedings since many of the participants were clearly identified and several of them went on to have long and distinguished careers in the stateOregon.
This Week:
Frontier Justice
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