CANYON CITY – Wild west living in early Grant County at times resulted in violence, murder and, at least six times, legal hangings.

The first two recorded hangings included Berry Way (1863) and William Kane (1865) whose skulls are on display at the Grant County Historical Museum in Canyon City.

Four other men who died by hanging were Patrick McGinnis (1888), Peter Sullivan (1889), Ming How (1892) and Wilhelm Gallin (1893).

The death penalty was first adopted by statute into the Oregon Constitution in 1864; Grant County was established on Oct. 14, 1864.

Berry Way, the first to be hung in Canyon City, was convicted of murdering Frank Gallagher, a pack train operator who was traveling between The Dalles and Canyon City, carrying merchandise and $80,000 in gold.

One account of the story cites that while traveling together and camped out Way killed Gallagher, placing his body in juniper trees. Upon arriving in Canyon City he told townsfolk that he’d purchased the mules from Gallagher; however, later, travelers discovered Gallagher’s body and Way was arrested.

While held in a log house guarded by Deputy Sheriff Frank McDaniels and John Kingsbury, Way escaped and made his way to Idaho.

A manhunt resulted in his recapture, and he was returned to Canyon City where he was greeted by an angry crowd of miners numbering about 2,000.

Citizens got past McDaniels who was guarding Way, shattered Way’s Oregon Boot shackles and brought him to trial.

The next day a twelve-man jury convicted Way of murder and he was hung on Cemetery Hill June 4, 1863.

In Kane’s case, four lawyers, including Joaquin Miller couldn’t keep him from the gallows.

Said to be an old Irish sailor, Kane was convicted for murdering Andy Watson whom he’d worked for on a gold claim near Canyon City. Kane later quit and went to work on his own claim. Watson who said he was unable to pay Kane, promised the wages at a later date. Watson offered to take out a loan and pay in “greenbacks,” but the paper money was only worth 40 cents on the dollar, and local stores and saloons rejected them, and they couldn’t be traded for gold.

Kane shot Watson dead over the matter, Watson’s body falling down a flume and into the creek.

He surrendered himself to Sheriff M.P. Berry.

In cuffs and shackles he was said to have played solataire on the buckboard ride to his hanging Aug. 3. 1865.

He said to youngsters running alongside, “Don’t be in a hurry – there won’t be anything doing until I get up there.”

There is a row of unmarked depressions, six feet long and two feet wide on the hill just east of Canyon City and just outside of the fence that encloses the Canyon City Cemetery. It’s reported that these mark the last resting place of those who died by means of the hemp rope.

Information on Grant County hangings provided by Jayne Primrose, curator of the Grant County Historical Museum who compiled the booklet “Justice at the End of a Hemp Rope, Legal Hangings in Grant County, Oregon.”


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