Cottage Grove sentinel. (Cottage Grove, Or.) 1909-current, May 16, 2018, Page 7A, Image 7

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Offbeat Oregon History: Baker County’s Romeo & Juliet
She wrote him a letter very
fi rmly breaking things off ,
probably with her parents’
help, and posted it to him at
the mine. Meanwhile, the par-
ents got the local postmaster
to intercept all Minnie’s mail
so that they could inspect it,
to make sure things didn’t get
started again.
Th at last bit of interference
— technically illegal, although
well within the purview of
what turn-of-the-century soci-
ety considered a parent’s rights
— was destined to have deadly
Upon receiving the letter,
Pleasant replied immediately
by return mail, begging her
to reconsider and in any case
asking her to meet with him
one last time before Christmas.
He knew he would be play-
ing the fi ddle at the Redding
Ranch Christmas Eve dance in
Haines, and she would of course
be there, and it would be terribly
awkward to see her there “ghost-
ing” him all evening. “I must see
you before Dec. 24,” he wrote.
Th ere was, of course, no reply.
By Finn JD John
For The Sentinel
Minnie Ensminger, the school-
mistress at Muddy Creek School,
was young, smart, and pretty,
and nearly everyone in the
North Powder area loved her.
Pleasant Armstrong loved
her more than most. He was a
strong, handsome miner and a
gift ed fi ddle player. He had met
Minnie in February of 1900,
and the two of them had hit
it off very well, and soon were
engaged to be married.
But Minnie’s parents were not
happy about the match at all.
Pleasant, though he seemed a
very nice man and was popular
at all the dances, was not known
for his intellect, and was barely
literate; and, to make matters
worse, he was half Spanish. So
when, in the fall of 1902, Pleas-
ant went away for a few months
to work at the Maxwell Mine,
they started working on Minnie,
and persuaded her to break off
the engagement.
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So Pleasant quit his job at the
Maxwell Mine and returned
to North Powder. And on Dec.
16, he asked a friend to buy a
Colt revolver for him. What he
planned to do with the revolver
is still not known. He main-
tained, through the date of his
execution for Minnie’s murder,
that he intended to use it on
himself, goodbye-cruel-world
style, aft er saying goodbye to his
erstwhile sweetheart.
Just before the Christmas dance,
Minnie got Pleasant’s letter; it
had, of course, been delayed
for her parents’ inspection
at the post offi ce. She replied
right away: “Dear Friend,” she
wrote. “I did not get your letter
until last night, so will reply
this morning. I will be at Joe
Henner’s tonight, and may see
you there.”
But at the post offi ce, this
letter also was set aside for the
Ensmingers’ inspection, and
although Pleasant dropped in
several times that day to ask if
there was anything for him, the
answer he got was “no.”
So he loaded the Colt and made
ready for the evening.
It was very early on Christmas
morning when the dance ended.
Minnie had been there, keeping
company with another local
swain. Pleasant had been sawing
away on his fi ddle, keeping the
couples whirling. Th e newspaper
reports don’t say anything about
what happened at the dance; but
most likely Minnie was waiting
for Pleasant to approach her and
ask to talk, as she’d invited him
to do in her letter, and she must
have been a bit puzzled when he
did not do so.
As everyone left , Pleasant
paused to chat a bit with Min-
nie’s sister Blanche, and then
took his leave ... and stationed
himself in the bushes near where
he intended to stage his Ro-
meo-and-Juliet tableau.
But when Minnie emerged
from the building, for some
reason instead of presenting
himself, speaking his piece, and
shooting himself (as he claimed
he’d planned to do), he raised
the Colt and, without a word to
anyone, shot Minnie twice with
it. Th en he turned the revolver
on himself, but the length of its
barrel made it hard to commit
suicide with; his shot from the
long-barreled Colt ricocheted off
his skull, gouging a groove in his
scalp and stunning him. He was
arrested without incident.
Minnie died two days later.
All of Baker County was out-
raged by Pleasant Armstrong’s
Lorane News
Church followed by a potluck
at Lorane Grange. Doors at
the grange will be open at
11:30 a.m. to receive food. Jeri
requests wearing of western
deed. Sheriff Harvey Brown
had his hands full keeping
Armstrong from the more
vengeful members of the
local populace long enough
to deliver him for trial. On
one occasion, he had to
lock the murderer in the
county-courthouse vault
while a very large lynch
mob — 150 angry citizens —
trooped through the offi ce
and jailhouse looking for
Armstrong. Baker County,
in 1903, was still a frontier
community without a strong
law-enforcement presence;
residents were accustomed
to taking care of themselves,
and vigilante action had long
been a part of that.
Th e lynch mob was frustrat-
ed that night, but they didn’t
intend to give up. Brown
ended up having to essen-
tially smuggle his prisoner to
Portland for safekeeping. He was
kept there until the day of his
trial, when he was brought back
to Baker City, with a substantial
and well-armed force of sheriff ’s
deputies on guard, to stand trial.
In court, Pleasant told his story
between heavy sobs. Th ere was
barely a dry eye in the court aft er
he was done. But, not a single
person in the court had any
doubt of his guilt, either. He had
done it, he told them — he freely
admitted he had done it — and
he seemed to almost welcome
a death sentence, to expiate his
crime. He couldn’t explain his
shooting of Minnie, he said; that
had not been what he’d intended
to do.
A woman named Cora Rock-
well, though, thought she could
explain it. Shortly aft er the trial
— which, of course, resulted in
a guilty verdict and sentence to
hang — she started visiting the
sheriff with a startling story. She
claimed to be a former agent
with the United States Secret
Service, and said she was work-
ing on a case involving a local
gang of murdering hypnotists
called the “Blue Beard Family.”
Th e idea was, the mysteri-
ous hypnotist either impelled
Pleasant to shoot Minnie or shot
her himself and hypnotically
convinced the somewhat-thick-
ish young man that he had.
Rockwell added that this gang
of hypno-Crips was responsible
for three other murders in Baker
City, and said she would lead of-
fi cers to the bodies if they would
follow her.
Th e newspapers don’t say if they
did so or not; if they did, no
bodies were found, but being as
there had not been three match-
ing disappearances in Baker City
during the time she specifi ed,
they may not have bothered.
Ms. Rockwell was referred to
the Oregon State Hospital in
Salem. As for Pleasant, he had
no use for her excuses. “Keep
that woman out of here with her
dope dreams,” he said to Deputy
Bill Lachner.
Pleasant Armstrong was ready
to go, as ready as any convicted
murderer has ever been. Th e
last 24 hours of his life almost
seemed like a celebration of his
coming departure as he dined
with relish on a sumptuous tur-
key dinner, enjoyed a good cigar,
and played for his visitors on his
violin. Ministers and reporters
came to see him and he met
them all with forthright good
cheer. He had been baptized
into the Catholic faith a day or
two before, and he spent a lot of
time with the local priest, being
shrived and preparing himself.
Th e morning of his execution,
Pleasant ate a hearty breakfast of
ham and eggs before stepping up
onto the gallows platform.
“I had a sweet girl once whom I
dearly loved — Minnie Ens-
minger,” he told the watching
crowd, standing on the platform
with the noose about his neck.
“I killed her and I stand ready to
die for that crime.”
And, a few minutes later, so he
As a side note, I have been
unable to learn anything further
about Cora Rockwell or her gang
of hypnotist-gangsters. If any
reader happens to have more
details on her, I would love to
know more.
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Notice is hereby given that property owners or persons in control of property
are required in the City of Cottage Grove to cut or remove tall grass, hazardous
vegetation and combustible materials during the fi re season from June 15th to
November 1st (CGMC 8.12 Nuisances).
Tall grass and hazardous vegetation includes wild blackberry bushes; weeds &
grass more than 12 inches tall anywhere on your property including public lands
out to the street. Vegetation that is likely to endanger buildings or other property
should it catch on fi re must also be cut or removed.
During the fi re season inspections will be made and property owners notifi ed that
they must cut or remove the hazardous vegetation. Failure to cut or remove the
grass or vegetation will result in the City having to abate the problem. The cost
of abatement will be charged to the property and if unpaid will become a
lien against the property.
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C ottage G rove
Property owners are reminded that they must keep hazardous vegetation
and tall grass cut less than 12 inches until November 1st. Questions can
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