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Frontier criminals on exhibit at the Rock Creek Campus
Photos and Story by James Hill
Rock Creek Campus students, faculty, staff and visitors are finding themselves time traveling as they walk the halls of Building 2. They are immersed in a time 150 years ago when colorful criminals and frontier justice held sway. “Doing Time: Then and Now,” the Washington County Historical Society’s Mobile Museum Traveling Exhibit, will be on display in the Business/Humanities Building until Oct. 31.
Exhibit viewing hours are 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays. Exhibit admission is free. The exhibit abounds with comparisons between mid-19th century and 21st century justice. For example, the most common crime in the 1850s was horse thieving; now it’s identity theft. The first county jail, which is now restored and on display at the Washington County Museum, held a maximum of two prisoners in the mid-1800s; today’s Washington County Jail has 544 beds.
Exhibit visitors will also learn about some of Washington County‘s most notorious criminals and curious crimes, such as John D. Roselair’s murder of his young wife. The May 20, 1909 Hillsboro Argus reported that the couple quarreled after he claimed she “took the cream off the milk for his mush and that angered him.” After killing her with a large knife, Roselair cleaned up the scene and made the long horse ride between his home and Hillsboro to surrender to the sheriff. He was hanged 16 months later.
Damaging other people’s livestock was a serious crime in mid-19th century Washington County. In September 1869, a warrant was issued for Wild Yankee (also known as Charles Landers and Charles Jones) and Ricketts (Henry Pearson) for “killing and wounding a hog the personal property of George Butler.” Caleb Wilkins, a fur trapper and part of one of Joe Meek’s and Robert Newell’s first Oregon Trail wagon trains, was subpoenaed as a witness. The court did not find just cause for their guilt and released the defendants.
The exhibit covers these and many other early Washington County crime stories as well as 19th and 20th century forensics; Joe Meek, Oregon’s first elected sheriff; building the first jail for $175; life in the mid-19th century and the beginnings of law enforcement in Oregon.