© 2021 | Jefferson Public Radio
Southern Oregon University
1250 Siskiyou Blvd.
Ashland, OR 97520
541.552.6301 | 800.782.6191
KSOR Header background image 1
a service of Southern Oregon University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

As It Was: Oregon Cavalryman Faces Firing Squad for Desertion

When pro-slavery Oregon Gov. John Whiteaker stalled after President Lincoln called for volunteers at the outbreak of the Civil War, the president pulled federal troops from the state.

Whiteaker reacted by creating the Oregon Cavalry, assigned to escort emigrants arriving on the Oregon Trail.  They were paid $13 a month, plus a $100 bounty and 160 acres of land for three years’ service.

About then, gold was discovered in Eastern Oregon and the cavalry was sent to guard the miners.  Some 150 cavalrymen deserted to give mining a try.

Punishment for desertion was harsh, with repeat offenders sentenced to death by firing squad, although only one was ever executed.  He was Pvt. Francis Ely of the First Oregon Cavalry in Jacksonville, Ore.  He was caught on a stolen government horse headed for the gold fields and accused of desertion and horse theft. 

A firing squad executed him on March 6, 1865, most likely the only soldier on the Pacific Coast put to death by the military during the Civil War. 

A year later, Lincoln granted amnesty to all army deserters.

Source: Fletcher, Randol B. Hidden History of Civil War in Oregon. Charleston, SC, The History Press, 2013, pp. 10-11.

Stay Connected
Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.