- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 16, 2014

MADRAS, Ore. (AP) - It’s either a beloved or reviled story, depending on who you talk to.

When Madras claimed the Jefferson County seat from Culver in 1917, there were some sore feelings, according to Jarold Ramsey, president of the Jefferson County Historical Society.

The sheriff at the time, Ira Black, was a Culverite and none too happy about the switch, which included a raid of the courthouse for county tax documents. At the time, the sheriff served as the tax-collecting agent.

“As the Madras folks were visibly carting the stuff off, he perched on a bulky safe pulled out of the Culver building and had a gun,” said Ramsey. “He said, ‘I’m the sheriff of this county . and you bandits are not going to carry off the tax payments.’”

But the “bandits” carried on, much to the sheriff’s chagrin.

Sheriffs no longer serve in the tax-collecting capacity, of course, but there are no shortage of “Wild West” stories as the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office celebrates 100 years since its founding in December 1914.

In the past century, the office has played a role in peacekeeping during Prohibition, the arrival of the guru Rajneesh, and investigating violent crime.

As it enters its second, Sheriff Jim Adkins looks ahead.

Ramsey and Adkins recounted three important moments in the county’s law enforcement history.

During Prohibition, from 1920 to 1933, Jefferson County was a hotbed of illicit liquor manufacture, thanks in part to its unique geography, according to Ramsey.

“There was literally a moonshine operation in every ravine and creek,” said Ramsey.

Jefferson County has another dubious distinction in its criminal history: It was the first Oregon county to sentence a woman to the death penalty.

Twenty-year-old Jeannace Freeman threw one of her lover’s children off the Crooked River Bridge. She was convicted of first-degree murder in 1961. Her sentence was commuted to life in prison after capital punishment was repealed from the state constitution in 1964.

Freeman died at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in 2003, although she was paroled in between her stays in prison, according to The Oregonian. Adkins’ father was a state trooper at the time.

About twenty years later, another notorious character came onto the scene. Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his followers arrived in Oregon in 1981 and established a commune about an hour north of Madras. It was fine at first, Ramsey said.

“The first year they behaved themselves,” said Ramsey. “It looked like a godsend to Madras. They were buying lumber by the truckloads.”

Relations soon deteriorated, Ramsey said. The sheriff mostly stayed out of their way, except for a standoff between the Rajneesh’s “flotilla of Rolls Royces” - according to a 2011 Oregonian story, he had 93 - and a local minister who felt the “parades” of the Rajneesh and his followers needed to cease.

“Madras decided early on that they were up to no good,” said Ramsey. “The town just decided to boycott them and decided not to serve them.”

The sheriff at the time, Ham Perkins, stepped in to defuse the tension and each party went on their way.

The Rajneesh amassed 2,000 scarlet-clad followers who congregated on the 64,000-acre property. The group went on to unleash criminal chaos on Wasco County. They contaminated drinking water, rigged elections by busing in the homeless and plotted to kill those they felt were in their way, including a federal attorney and the state attorney general. As a result, several of the Rajneesh’s right-hand people served in federal prison and Rajneesh was deported.

The past has shown that the sheriff’s office itself hasn’t been immune from unsavory behavior.

The previous two sheriffs, Jack Jones and Mike Throop, left the office after allegations of official misconduct.

In 1997, then-Sheriff Throop was ousted after he was convicted of two felonies in connection with campaign contribution fraud in the 1992 election, according to Bulletin archives.

Throop has since made amends. He’s returned to county government in a different capacity.

“He’s our HR person, which he does a fine job of,” said Jefferson County Commissioner Mike Ahern last week.

In 2010, Jones resigned after the Oregon Department of Justice warned him that he could face charges for official misconduct and coercion. In late 2009, Throop’s successor, Jones, had asked four people into his sheriff’s vehicle for questioning while out of uniform and off-duty during a family dispute, an illegal detention under Oregon law.

Jones has found other pastimes - caring for his grandchildren and volunteering, according to Bulletin archives.

“Am I bitter? I don’t like it . but it’s in the past,” he told The Bulletin in January 2013. “Sometimes it’s a blessing when we get humbled; it makes us a better person. It can take you down from having an inflated ego to a humble place.”

As for the next hundred years? Adkins quipped he couldn’t see that far ahead, but after re-election earlier this year, he has some goals for the next four.

“We’ll continue to increase our working relationship with the Warm Springs tribes,” said Adkins. The sheriff also wants to hire another detective devoted to investigating drug crimes.

“Neither Jefferson County nor the Madras Police Department have a full-time drug detective, and Madras is one of the hubs for methamphetamine,” he said.

Policing has changed since 1914. Sheriffs no longer make their rounds on horseback, and the pioneering sheriffs certainly didn’t have body cameras.

Adkins sees the cameras posing challenges for county government: If body cameras are required, as lawmakers have proposed, the sheriff’s office will need the equipment, storage and personnel to use the technology properly, he said.

“(It) is going to be very interesting because that’s a huge expense,” said Adkins.

It’s a far cry from 1923, when a local rancher disappeared under mysterious circumstances.

According to Phil Brogan’s history, “East of the Cascades,” the rancher’s horse returned home covered in blood.

Then-Deputy Sheriff Henry Dussault and his men searched high and low. Efforts proved fruitless until Dussault investigated an unusual tip from the rancher’s wife. She reported a dream about seeing her husband dead on a mountain trail. She described the location, high in Coyote Mountain county on the northeast base of the old Clarno volcano. Dussault rode off to investigate, and there the rancher was.

His murder remains unsolved.

“Wild West, I guess,” said Ramsey.


Information from: The Bulletin, https://www.bendbulletin.com

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