Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Murders and the Man of Mystery at the Waldo House

Murders! Hangings! Lost burial grounds! Ruins! Wine!

You probably saw Cara Pallone's story in the Statesman about the Waldo House and Cemetery. Or maybe you heard the story on OPB a couple of weeks earlier.

Naturally, we were curious, and this past weekend the CT Expeditionary Forces with Aide-de-camp RC trekked out to the Waldo Hills in search.

The press focused on the great story of the cemetery's discovery, but in the process flattened out some of the history. As is so often the case with real history, the legacy is complicated, and it turns out the homestead may be more interesting as a crucible of 19th century race relations and religiosity here than as a pioneer land claim or a forgotten burial ground. Daniel Waldo was, the Dictionary of Oregon History says, "a man of forceful but liberal views, independent, but sometimes critical and acid in opinion," and it's a shame there isn't more published history about him and those around him. He's something of a mystery.

Top Photo: Cara Pallone, Statesman Journal

Pioneer in the Waldo Hills

The house was not difficult to find, but it is right in the middle of a new vineyard. The slender vines held grapes very small and green, the vines likely in third or fourth leaf. The road was gated and we stood outside. A few of the gentle eminences looked like candidates for the cemetery.

The house, it turns out, has been abandoned for well over 60 years. The library's photo collection dates this Ben Maxwell photo from 1947.* Even then the house looks abandoned, and there is scaffolding on entry and on the right.

42 years before that, it seemed to be in ok shape. After a visit in 1905, T.T. Geer, Governor of Oregon from 1899-1903, said the house was "still in a splendid state of preservation." Geer dated the house to 1856, but a few years later in 1911 Geer said that the house was built in 1853. In any event, it replaced a log cabin finished about a year after Waldo had first claimed his land in the fall of 1843.

Geer also said:
Dan Waldo was a member of the last Legislative Committee which met before the organization of the provisional government. It held its sessions “at the house of Mr. Hathaway,” in Oregon City, in June, and again in December, 1844. Among his seven colleagues were numbered Peter H. Burnett, M. M. McCarver, A. L. Lovejoy and Robert Newell — all men of sterling character, in whose integrity no man failed to place the fullest confidence, and fitted by nature as well as by experience to accomplish great things.

Mr. Waldo at an early day engaged in many branches of business which had for their object not only his own financial gain, but the development of the country. Chief among them was the Willamette Woolen Mills Company which, established at Salem in 1857, was the first business of its kind in the Northwest. The last few years of his life were spent in Salem, where he died about 1880, after a painful and lingering illness. He lives in the memory of Oregonians as one of the best and most enterprising of her early pioneers a splendid type of the frontiersman.
Though he was a pioneer of 1843, he furnished loans for the Cayuse War and the Willamette Woolen Mills, and Geer observed Waldo "was in affluent circumstances from the start."

Still, Waldo doesn't seem to have merited much biography - the usual places, like Gaston's Centennial History of Oregon (4 vols) are silent. Even Oregon Historical Quarterly doesn't have much. In an Oregonian obituary from September 11th, 1880, James Nesmith said
Mr. Waldo possessed a remarkable vigorous mind, and he was well read in history. The amusing and immortal satires of an older civilization, as presented by Miguel Cervantes in "Don Quixote", he knew by heart. They were adapted to a practical mind like his, which had no patience with cant, shams, pretenses, hypocrisy or hum bugs.
It seems we are dealing a complicated and independent, perhaps even eccentric and difficult, character, one whose love of satire might not always have endeared him to his neighbors and even to his friends.

* Another photo is dated from 1945, but it looks more recent, as the front entry is denuded. So the dating here is not certain.

Map detail from 1861 General Land Office Survey

Portrait of Daniel Waldo from the Oregon State Library.

The Waldo Bogle Wedding

Daniel Waldo's direct involvement in Salem's first marriage of African-Americans is unclear. But on January 1, 1863, the Reverend Obed Dickinson performed the marriage of Richard Bogle and America Waldo.

Writing in The Skanner, Abe Proctor says America "was the free daughter of Daniel Waldo...and one of his female slaves." One family descendent summarizes the argument against America being the daughter of Daniel Waldo, but suggests she was more likely a niece. Still, the contradictions and ambiguity here capture the mixed up nature of so many slave-holding households. Certainty may not be possible. (The household of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings might be the most famous example of such a complicated family, but we cannot forget that we are also dealing with slavery, with people held as property, not some bohemian notion of polygamy.)

The marriage scandalized many. On January 13th, and writing privately about the wedding to Judge Matthew Deady, Asahel Bush observed
They had a feast and Jo [Watt] presided at the table. At it were the whites named and six niggers - three bucks and three wenches. "Am I not a man and a brother?" It was negro equality sentiment mixed up with a little snob-aristocracy. The "first circle" character of the whites was expected to give eclat to the affair and bar all remarks. But it has caused a good deal of gossip and generally [is] regarded as shameful by the community.
On January 31st, a writer in the Oregonian noted
It appears that some ladies and gentlemen attended the marriage of a colored girl who had long been a servant and a great favorite in a family at Salem. This circumstance induced an anonymous blackguard to rush into print about the danger of negro equality.
With or without Daniel Waldo's patronage or support, the Bogles did not stay around Salem for very long.

Photo of America Waldo and Richard Bogle is from the Oregon Historical Society, OrHi 12649, and obviously dates from much later than 1863.

The Bush letter and Oregonian citation from "Obed Dickinson and the 'Negro Question' in Salem," Egbert S. Oliver,
Oregon Historical Quarterly, Vol. 92, No. 1 (Spring, 1991), pp. 4-40.

The Delaney Murder

Just two years later, in 1865 Daniel Delaney was murdered. Race was also at the center of it. Virginia Green and Katherine Wallig summarized the crime:
Despite being a former slaveholder, Daniel Delaney had a reputation of being friendly with blacks. In 1865, after a dispute about some cattle, some of Delaney’s neighbors took advantage of this; they blackened their faces and went to kill Delaney, hoping that the authorities would pin the crime on blacks.
George Beale and George Baker were arrested. In 1945 about the trial and execution Ben Maxwell wrote:
Marion county grand jury indicted Beale and Baker for murder in the first degree. Their trial opened March 20, 1865. Judge Ruben P. Boise presided. [Richard] Williams and [Rufus] Mallory were the prosecutors. David Logan, assisted by Caton and Curl of Salem defended. It was a battle of the giants in early Oregon pleading. Reputations were enhanced. Williams soon entered congress. Mallory later....

Beale and Baker stood upon the scaffold facing a multitude. If they were repenant they did not show It. Mrs. Josie Delany LaFore, then a child of 12 and a granddaughter of old man Delaney, recalled that one of them, just before swinging into eternity, tried to spit upon William Delaney, one of the old men's sons.

Hawker's cries interrupted the last thoughts of Beale and Baker. A few days before the execution both confessed and tried to fix the blame on one another. Frederick G. Schwatka a printer, seized upon the confession as a business opportunity and was selling his documents to the crowd as a souvenir....

In death Beale and Baker had small interest for the spectators, who silently slipped halters and drove away. A few remained to arrange disposal of the bodies. No church warden was anxious to receive them within the sacred precincts of their cemetery. Baker's relatives, some commentators relate, claimed his remains and removed them to a family plot.

Beale's body remained unclaimed. His family did not desire it. Then Daniel Waldo, for whom the Waldo Hills were named, said that he, because he did not profess to be a Christian like those present, would provide decent burial for Beale’s body.

Waldo loaded the box into his wagon and drove to his home in the Waldo Hills. There he buried Beale on a hillside and built a rail fence around the grave. Now the fence has fallen away but inquiring persons who travel southward on the highway between MaCleay and Shaw may still see the old, thorny unkempt white rose that seasonally blooms on the grave of George Beale.
It's not clear from this and other accounts whether Waldo self-identified as an atheist, an other unbeliever, or perhaps, wishing to point out religious hypocrisy, even thought of himself more authentically Christian than conventional church-goers. In any event, if his relation to slavery was complicated, it seems his relation to Christianity was also complicated.

One detail that seems to have gone unremarked upon is that David Logan, lawyer for the defendants, was married to Mary Porter Waldo, daughter of Daniel Waldo. This tie might have also suggested the burial arrangements.

Photo of David Logan from Wikipedia

The Ben Maxwell piece and several others about the 1865 hanging are transcribed here. Unfortunately, Maxwell doesn't cite his sources, and it is not possible to know how secure are the details. Some, it is possible, may be narrative embellishments.

An Innocent Executed in Salem?

In Some Small Cemeteries and Miscellaneous Burials, Bernita Jones Sharp noted that "It has also been reported that, in 1894, a colored man by the name of DRAKE, who was also hanged at Salem, was interred in the Waldo Cemetery." One immediately thinks of lynching.

Newspapers don't seem to have anything for 1894, but the Willamette Farmer of May 9th, 1884 contains a story about the murder of David Swartz.
The people of Marion county are excited over a murder trial of unusual interest, because it occurs near Salem and involves the death of an old pioneer and well-known citizen, though he has been accused of great cruelty and unkindness to his family. David Swartz has lived in Howell Prairie, some seven miles east of Salem, and was shot when returning from Bass' saw mill. The wife and son and two neighbors named Joe Drake and William Henry were implicated, and Henry seems to have turned State's evidence and told the facts before Justice Coffey, of Salem, who has held the preliminary examination. Henry's story is that Mrs. Swartz told him and Drake that her husband would kill them on sight, and a favorable chance to kill him would be as he came home from Bass' mill. They went to waylay him, and when he came by Drake fired a shot gun and revolver at him, when he fell from the wagon. They then mounted their horses and went home. Swartz lived until the next day, but made no statement, not gaining consciousness. The tragedy was deliberately planned and executed. It remains to be shown what excuse there was for the unholy deed. Swartz was a very unkind man in his family and was disliked by many. His wife complains that he abused his little boy as well as herself, and it is notorious that while he was well off he did not provide his family with comforts and clothes that were needed for decent appearance.
The story disappears for a bit, but it resurfaces in this piece from March 20th, 1885, in the Daily Astorian:
Joseph Drake, the colored man who aided in the murder of old man Schwartz last summer, is to be hanged at Salem this afternoon. A strong appeal has been made to the governor for a commutation of the death sentence to life imprisonment. The petition is signed by most of the trial jury, and by the supreme judges. The murder of Schwartz was one of the most cold-blooded and unprovoked that is in the history of crime in Oregon. The old man was ambushed at night, when he little thought of death. The aim of the assassins was unerring and the victim was killed instantly. One of the murderers, Henry, turned states evidence and is now in the pententiary [sic] for life. Drake was tried by a jury in the circuit court and condemned to death. The supreme court reviewed the case and confirmed the judgment of the circuit court.
And on the 22nd, the Astorian has a piece about the execution:
Joseph Drake, one of the murderers of David Schwartz, was hanged at Salem yesterday, at 1 p. m., by sheriff Minto. The execution was accomplished without any mishap, and Drake's neck was broken by the fall. The scaffold was erected at the northeast corner of the court house, and only a few spectators were admitted, though Drake could be seen from the outside until the trap was sprung. The body was cut down in twenty minutes and given to his friends for burial. He went to his doom with a firm step and without assistance, and on the "brink of the grave" protested his innocence to the last.
If members of the trial jury had signed a petition for commutation, it seems all-too-likely that Henry purchased his life at the cost of another's, and on the surface there is good reason to think Drake indeed might have been innocent. While Drake does not appear to have been killed by mob lynching, his trial it seems was likely not fair, and race was unquestionably a factor. There are also large questions about the role of Mrs. Schwartz in the murder. Finally, it is possible that David Schwartz was Jewish, and this could indicate other ethnic or racial tensions.

Without more documentation and evidence, we cannot be certain that Drake himself is buried on the Waldo property. But in light of the events of 1863 and 1865, it is quite plausible. Whether Waldo embraced the outcast and marginal in life we may not know, but it seems he made a place for them after their deaths.

Vineyards and the Return of Wheat

Interesting in the historical NOW is the return of wheat-growing to the hillsides. Resident farmers have remarked on the softening of the market for grass seed and a return to wheat. A source we could not verify suggested that Waldo himself was the first to grow wheat here in 1844.

Also interesting were the vineyards, planted on hillside land planted from something like 400 to 700 feet in elevation, about the same as elevations in the more celebrated west side vineyard areas, like the Eola Hills and Chehalem Mountains. Like those hills, here some of the slopes were gentle, some more steep. Even though the vineyards have clustered on the west side of the Willamette River, in Polk, Yamhill, and Washington County, east side land may be the new undervalued resource in the market.

This is the seal for the Provisional Government in the 1840s. It shows salmon and grain. It is much more attractive, we think, than the current seal of Oregon, and salmon is surely a much more powerful icon, one that remains intensely relevant today, than is the covered wagon. The land that feeds us - the suggestion of stewardship - over the land grab by ship and by wagon is an image worth dwelling on.

It will be interesting to see if the Waldo property could become as significant as the Joel Palmer House, each now part of a new regional wine-making legacy. It seems the house may be left to rot or even demolished straight-up, but if the ruins could be stabilized the house could provide a focus and icon for this nascent wine-growing region. The cemetery will also provide this in a lesser way, but its stories are more complicated and it wouldn't make for a very good - or perhaps even appropriate - icon and image. But you can imagine the house on a wine label or brand. And if that helped preserve the house...who could consider that crass commercialism?

The trip out to the Waldo House was terrific and moving. A 150 year history was visible in so many ways, the past and present intermingling in a stew rich and savory and often sad. Daniel Waldo was an interesting and complicated man, and the stories of those buried on his property are equally interesting. We hope the discovery of the cemetery will yield more research and publication.


  1. Apart from Nesmith's obit, the earliest obvious attestation for Waldo's crankiness appears to be in Hubert Howe Bancroft's history. Other sources directly cite Bancroft or cite those who cited him. Additional independent sources would be useful and it sure seems like there ought to be a graduate thesis on Waldo out there!

    In his 1886 History of Oregon, Volume 1, 1834-1848, Bancroft writes that

    "Waldo, in his cynical style, remarks that the immigrants had no trouble with the natives until they encountered the mission Indians."

    And the footnote to this reads:

    "Critiques, MS., 2. Daniel Waldo was born in Virginia in 1800. At the age of 19 he emigrated to Missouri, where he resided in St Clair County till 1843, and was a neighbor of the Applegates, and of Joseph B. Chiles. His health being poor, having heard of the salubrity of the Oregon climate, he determined to join the emigration, starting with Chiles for the rendezvous a little behind Applegate. He recovered health during the journey, which was made in an easy carriage. He was a man of peculiar and pronounced character, and a strong frame; for 20 years he suffered with cancer on the cheek, and was somewhat irritable, as well as naturally critical in his remarks, which abound in sensible and pertinent suggestions. This characteristic caused the stenographer who took his dictation to name the manuscript as above. It deals with a variety of subjects relating to the early history of the country. Mr Waldo died at Salem, September 10, 1880. His sons are William and J. B. Waldo."

    The Critiques is based on a 1878 interview with Bancroft and is at the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. It appears that the Oregon Historical Society has a typescript of it in the Thompson Coit Elliott papers.

  2. Robert Horace Down's 1926 History of the Silverton Country says "the first crop of wheat in the Waldo Hills, which has been for many years and now is excellent grain country, was planted by Daniel Waldo in the winter of 1843."

    Down also notes Waldo "was a man loved by his friends, despite his acid disposition and irritable temper; extremely critical in his remarks; of pronounced views on men and things...[and] was of a liberal turn of mind, which with his extreme independence, made him the dread of evil-doers."

    Down reproduces much of the Critiques in chapter 2, but says "certain critical remarks in the manuscript have for obvious reasons been eliminated."

    One of the remarks Down does retain is the claim that "[Marcus] Whitman lied like hell."

    Sounds like somebody ought to publish the thing in its entirety!