Crews stop wind-driven fire near PC

Brush and hay flare up during the April 22 blaze near Prairie City.

75 years ago

Three Grant County men receive induction call for Uncle Sam’s Navy

Three Grant County men will answer their call for induction into the U.S. Navy next week. These men, Roy Kilpatrick, Canyon City attorney; George Benson, assistant postmaster of John Day, and Stanley Phillips, Grant Union High School senior, all will leave on Friday, May 5 for the naval induction station, according to information from the office of the Grant County local board, Selective Service.

50 years ago

Eagle wins ONPA award

The Grant County Blue Mountain Eagle has won an award for general excellence in the 1968 Oregon Newspaper Contest; the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association announced this week.

In accordance with past practice, the plaque and disclosure of whether the award was for first, second or third place will not be made until the 82nd annual convention of ONPA June 21 at Salishan Lodge, Gleneden Beach.

The Blue Mountain Eagle was entered in competition with other weeklies in the under 3,000-circulation category.

25 years ago

Retired Supreme Court justice left a colorful legacy

Grant County was saddened to hear of the death last month of former Circuit Court Judge Edward H. Howell, 79, a retired Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court and former John Day resident. As a tribute to Judge Howell and his family, here are some recollections of his past in Grant County and the impact this man made on so many lives.

The year was 1946. Harry Truman was president, and World War II was over. A yearly subscription to the Blue Mountain Eagle was $2.50, the Melodians were a popular local band, and attorney Ed Howell had just settled in John Day, population 962, with his new bride, Jane. A World War II veteran, he had entered into a partnership in the law offices of the late Earl B. Moore.

Many people today remember Ed Howell as their lawyer, friend, and as a good Samaritan with strong family values. In a small, rural county there was no room for specialized law, and civil cases were the mainstream for all attorneys at that time.

“He was a very nice man,” remembers Grace Williams, who was a partner of the late Roy Kilpatrick and appointed District Attorney in 1958. “In those days we had no accountants, and we had to do income taxes for our clients. It was always interesting what you would or should charge, for a divorce or otherwise.”

When he first asked his colleagues how much to charge someone for a divorce, many people say it seemed entirely like him to counsel couples and refuse to grant it on the grounds he believed there was room for reconciliation.

Joe Officer retained Ed Howell as his lawyer, and recalls only good times. “E.B. Moore only picked the best to come into his law firm,” laughs Officer. “As strong of a democrat as he was, he jokingly claimed his only mistake was picking Ed Howell, who was a republican.”

Residing in the same home today that the Howell’s once lived in, Officer, a lifetime rancher, says Ed loved the land. “He used to come to our brandings and help with the cattle. He was a man that didn’t know it all, didn’t act like he did and was the first to admit it… he never did learn how to ride a horse, though.” Officer adds that Ed never changed and he never would. “His title had nothing to do with who he really was. He came to my 50th wedding anniversary and we imbibed quite a bit. We reminisced about the old days. I used to take my checks to him in a flour sack and he’s say “For cryin’ out loud, Joe, don’t bring ‘em to me in that shape.” He and Ed ran against each other for office several times. Officer says, “By God, we used to bet who’d win, and he beat me by 30 votes one time. He was a good friend and I’ll miss him.”

Ed Howell found good in every bad situation. He incorporated this attitude into his work, which took him away in 1949 when he was appointed by then Governor McKay as the Circuit Court Judge for the 11th Judicial District, which included Grant, Gilliam, Wheeler and Sherman counties. Because of the area’s sparse population, he was called upon to help in many other counties. The vacancy was created through the death of Judge D.N. Mackay of Condon. Several attorneys acknowledged candidacy for the appointment. Orval Yokom, today a practicing attorney in the law offices of Hydes, Glass and Yokom, was at that time a favored candidate. He declined to be considered for the position stating he did not want to leave his law practice for the bench.

“He was a very likable fellow,” states Yokom. “His appointment to the Oregon Supreme Court in later years was quite an honor for any lawyer, and not surprising for the kind of man he was.”

At 34 years old, Ed Howell was the youngest attorney ever appointed to an Oregon Circuit Bench. His appointment also acknowledged the first time a Grant County man had been named to the bench, and also led to his withdrawal of law practice with Gordon Wilson, whom he partnered with following the death of Mr. E. B. Moore.

Wade and Gene Officer say that he always treated everyone the same, no matter who they were. “He was a modest man and a friend to our entire family, even my children,” says Wade. “He was a great storyteller. He told of one time when he was considered a fugitive in another state because he bore a striking resemblance to a wanted man. Here sat a judge, trying to prove his innocence,” chuckled Gene. “As far as I know he wasn’t telling a story. He found it quite amusing. So did we.”

Howell’s most notorious case in Grant County, however, brought national attention because of its western flavor. Two local ranchers settled a road dispute in a shootout; the survivor was acquitted. The case was dubbed the “High Noon Murder Case” after a Gary Cooper movie that was popular at the time.

“He was a wonderful person, a cherished friend, and a dear, sweet man,” says Arlene Oliver. “He really put in his time. He worked far beyond what most judges in the metropolitan area would ever dream of. He would travel in ice, snow, sleet and hail to get to his destination. He was very dedicated to his profession and had a lot of charisma. People noticed that.”

Dave Abarr, a retired professional firefighter, met Ed Howell ‘the Judge’ through the Grant County courtroom at age 19. “His guidance changed my life many ways, and his encouragement and respect for me and my potential as a young man opened doors for my future career,” recalls Abarr. “As a teenager I made mistakes, and I wouldn’t be the person I am today without his help… he was a large man in stature, but very big at heart.”

A member of the John Day Elks Lodge, Howell served as the fifth Exalted Ruler from 1954 to 1955. He was also the past president of the Oregon Circuit Judges Association, and was appointed in 1965 to the Oregon Tax Court, a position held until his appointment to the Supreme Court in 1970. One of his biggest accomplishments later in life was serving as mentor for law students in a program that matched them with local lawyers or judges. Last year he became the first recipient of the Edward H. Howell Award for Mentoring Excellence, which was presented by the Willamette Law School, the Marion County Bar Association and the Oregon Women lawyers.

Lori Oliver, 29, a Salem law student at Willamette University, says Judge Howell was quite an inspiration to her and many other law students.

“He was so involved and cared so deeply about others,” says Oliver. “I met him in my first year of law school. He went out of his way to answer questions and build relationships.” Oliver says it was evident with the range of ages at his funeral that he had done this throughout his whole life. “It was heartwarming to see so many people pay their last respects. I hope I can look back on my life and say I reached out to people like he did. He did this informally throughout his life, and was honored for it later in retirement. He was a very humble man.”

Cliff Olsen, a practicing lawyer in Portland, a former District Attorney in Grant County and a retired Multnomah County Judge, says he was present when Ed was sworn into the Oregon Tax Court and Oregon Supreme Court. “Ed’s career change gave the tax court a new life because of him,” says Olson. “He made them feel welcome to use the services. It’s hard to describe him efficiently. If you want to have friends, you have to be friendly,” says Olson. “I think that best describes Ed Howell.”

The most important opinion Ed Howell wrote was the 1973 case of Fasano vs. Washington County. This land use case created legal principal for the land use decisions by city and county officials. As a conservative judge from Eastern Oregon, Howell understood the laid back manner in which land transactions were treated within the county seats. His Fasano opinion put an end to that era in Oregon, even before the legislature created the Land Conservation and Development Commission that put a measure of formality and judicial review into land use decisions. Howell also participated in a case that was something of a landmark in Oregon legal circles, Saddler vs. State Bar of Oregon.

The obituaries that told about Ed Howell didn’t focus on who he was and what he conquered in his lifetime. In the face of adversity, he succeeded in leading the way for others to follow in his footsteps. No other judge had done all the things he did. With his uncommon good sense and firm hand in the courtroom, he was unique in being not lost in the law but settling disputes. Serving on the Circuit Court, the Oregon Tax Court and as a Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court, he was the only judge who held court in all 36 counties in the state. Even in the aftermath of his retirement in 1980, he often worked as an arbitrator of legal disputes.

Ed Howell graduated from Willamette Law School at Salem in 1940 then served in the army from 1942 to 1945 and was released with the rank of captain. He then entered law practice at The Dalles for a year before coming to John Day. He made a lasting impression on many people.

It may be a good thing to take stock in someone’s passing, to review and analyze your own existence. However, I’m sure Ed Howell would feel it’s never good to look back too long or too hard. Rather, it is better to remember only the best, forget the worst and look confidently ahead. To his family, friends, there was no greater personality then Ed Howell.

Judge Howell is survived by his wife, Jane of Salem; a daughter, Patricia of Seattle, Wash.; his daughters and sons-in-law, Mary and Dan Stirewalt and Margaret and Steve Riney, all of Prineville; his grandchildren, David and Margaret Stirewalt and Brain and John Riney; and two sisters, Florence of Salem and Edna of The Dalles.

Memorials may be made to the Willamette University Law Library.

10 years ago

Crews stop wind-driven fire near PC

A fast-moving brush and grass fire kept firefighters busy and stopped traffic for a time on Highway 26 last Wednesday, April 22, west of Prairie City.

In all, 22 firefighters from the Prairie City, Mt. Vernon and John Day fire departments battled the blaze, which charred about 25 acres before it was stopped.

The fire broke out about 3 p.m., apparently sparked by welding in some routine ranch maintenance work.

Prairie City Fire Chief Dean Hicks termed the fire’s start an unfortunate accident.

He said gusty winds of 25-30 mph contributed to the rapid spread of the fire, which started on the Darrell Holliday ranch, jumped the John Day River and burned onto land owned by Russell Ricco.

The flames charred grass and brush up to the south shoulder of Highway 26, prompting police to close the highway temporarily.

Officers from the John Day and Prairie City police departments and the Grant County Sheriff’s Office responded to help control the scene. The Oregon Department of Transportation provided a pilot car as one-way traffic was restored.

The fire burned through pastures, haystacks, willow thickets and cottonwood trees, but no buildings were burned.

Hicks said a Mt. Vernon fire crew protected a hay shed that was at risk, and a Prairie City engine was stationed to protect another ranch structure.

There were no injuries reported.

Hicks lauded the firefighters for their work to control the blaze, and also the police and ODOT for their assistance at the scene.

In an unrelated incident, John Day and Mt. Vernon fire crews responded to a fire buring in grass and brush about 9 a.m. Saturday, April 25. The fire was reported south of John Day, off Highway 395.

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