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As It Was: Store Owner Found Dead During Oregon Range Wars

John Creed Conn died in Southeastern Oregon in 1904 during a fight over grazing lands between cattlemen and sheep herders.  The question is whether it was suicide or murder?  Conn owned a store in Silver Lake that sold ammunition to cattlemen who had been raiding large herds of sheep in Christmas Valley.

After raiders killed 6,000 near Christmas Lake, Conn visited his brother, the Lake County district attorney in Lakeview.  When Conn returned home, a barn where he stored freight wagons burned.  Later, someone poisoned one of his best freight horses.  A few weeks later, Conn disappeared. 
His preserved body was found in late April with two shots through the heart and an old gun belonging to right-handed Conn was under his left side.  The Lake County Grand Jury, made up entirely of cattlemen, ruled Conn’s death a suicide.  The Morning Oregonian ran a long story in May disputing it. 

The story surmised that the killer believed Conn knew who the sheep-killers were and gave the information to his brother.  In May 1904, Oregon Gov. George Chamberlain offered a reward of $25,000 for information leading to Conn’s killer.  The case remains unresolved.


Sources: "Murder or Suicide?" Lake County Examiner, 16 June 1904 [Lakeview Oregon], p. 1. Historic Oregon Newspapers, https://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/sn97071141/1904-06-16/ed-1/seq-1/#date1=02%2F11%2F1904&city=&date2=12%2F31%2F2017&searchType=advanced&language=&sequence=0&lccn=sn97071141&index=17&words=kill+kille. Accessed 21 Mar. 2018; "Reign of Terror." Morning Oregonian, 10 May 1904 [Portland OR] , p. 1+. Ibid. https://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/sn83025138/1904-05-10/ed-1/seq-1/#date1=05%2F10%2F1904&city=&date2=12%2F31%2F2017&searchType=advanced&language=&sequence=0&lccn=sn83025138&index=6&words=10+1904+MAY. Accessed 21 Mar. 2018; "Governor Offers Reward." Daily Capitol Journal, 20 May 1904 [Salem Oregon], p. 4. Ibid. https://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/sn99063957/1904-05-20/ed-1/seq-4/#date1=01%2F01%2F1846&city=&date2=12%2F31%2F2017&searchType=advanced&language=&sequence=0&lccn=&index=0&words=GOVERNOR+OFFERS+REWAR. Accessed 21 Mar. 2018.

Lynda Demsher has been editor of a small-town weekly newspaper, a radio reporter, a daily newspaper reporter and columnist for the Redding Record Searchlight, Redding California. She is a former teacher and contributed to various non-profit organizations in Redding in the realm of public relations, ads, marketing, grant writing and photography.