Historically speaking… Garfield Mob 1892

January 18th, 2016 by —
garfield RR depot 1915

This is the Garfield railroad depot in 1915 – a few years after the “mob” incident.

A.H. Harris, before he helped raise up the Palouse Republic newspaper, was working in Spokane Falls in the year 1892. The city was not the thriving city one now sees, but surely, according to writings of Harris, everyone “knew” it would be a metropolis. Harris was working for the Spokane Spokesman newspaper at the time of this particular incident. He describes the paper as an afternoon daily, handset type and printed on a flatbed press.

“J. Howard Watson was the editor and J. French Johnson was the business manager, or publisher,” Harris writes. “Both men became part of the newspaper history of the Northwest as the years passed and the country changed from adolescence to maturity. Watson’s career ended in Seattle, while Johnson entered the schools of journalism at St. Louis.”

As this story goes, Harris stopped in to visit with the folks at another Spokane newspaper and the editor was pleased to see him. Harris had an application for work at that paper and actually stopped to see if his “eggs were hatching.”  Much to Harris surprise, the editor told him he’d hoped to see him as he wanted to “send a man to Garfield to cover a mob story – right in the heart of the Palouse wheat belt.” He didn’t have much information – just a couple of facts but if Harris was willing to go, he would need to hop a train leaving in an hour.

Harris took the job most likely hoping it would get his foot firmly in the door for a job. He didn’t know it then, but this was the first birthing pangs of a newspaper that would become the information giant on the Palouse – The Palouse Republic – which served the area for nearly 100 years or more (with a few name changes).

Trains at that time were not the streamlined, fast trains seen today but a local operation went as far into the Great Palouse as Moscow, Idaho. Extensions of this line to Lewiston and Camas Prairie came later.

When Harris arrived in Garfield it was dark and there were only a few lanterns lighting the way down the unsteady plank sidewalks.

“Garfield was a ‘busy’ center that night,” Harris says, “and a huge livery stable was the center of everything that I was able to discover during my very brief visit.”

Harris’ story destination was with a middle-aged farmer named Darrow who lived a few miles outside Garfield. He had a small wheat farm (all farms at that time were small) which he was working to support his children as his wife had died a few months before.

When Harris first saw Darrow, he was huddled in a far corner of the livery stable being held there by two deputies. The sheriff and Harris stayed in front of the stable and worked to calm the agitated mob of farmers forming there. The goal would be to convince the farmers to return home without the “satisfaction of a neck-tie party.”

It seems Darrow had a young daughter, age 16 or 17, and this young girl had made some complaints about her father to a few neighbor women and those women, of course, told their husbands and the husbands told their friends, a group complained to the authorities . . . most likely the story grew some as it passed from mouth to ear. Darrow was in the stable now under arrest for the “maddening” charge of incest.

On the fateful night, Harris said, “Every respectable farmer in the Palouse Country had or seemed to have a Winchester rifle, and they were out in front of the livery stable… a whole arsenal of Winchesters were stacked in regular style one by each until I think I counted some 30.”

farming near garfield

Early day farming photo near Garfield.

As the mob got larger and worked themselves into a frenzy, Harris found the sheriff. He told the sheriff who he was and why the Spokesman had sent him there – on a rumor of a lynching. Upon hearing this, the sheriff quickly grabbed Harris by the shoulders and led him back into the livery stable to the crouching Darrow and the two guards.

The sheriff asked Harris if he was able to drive a team of horses and wagon and ride like “hell.” It was as if the sheriff had no knowledge of the dark of night and lack of roads between Garfield and Colfax. Harris, however, was not one to fall fainthearted at a challenge. He, without a quibble, took the challenge of the 15 or 18 mile mad drive.

Harris and his passengers (assuming those passengers were the sheriff and Darrow and perhaps a deputy) arrived in Colfax at about 2 a.m. after driving the horses and wagon over a rambling 20 mile terrain. The sheriff’s plan to outwit the hooligans appeared to have worked.

After securing their prisoner in a cell in the Colfax courthouse the noise of pounding hooves could be heard and upon investigating the commotion, about 50 horsemen could be seen riding like the wind, all of the men apparently armed with their Winchesters. Upon a closer look, it was obvious this group was the same fellows Harris and the sheriff had left pacing in front of the livery stable as they stole out the back door. The group apparently assumed the prison doors would just open at their command – after all, they did have their guns ready to aim.

The sheriff grouped together several men from the courthouse and they stood at the top of the courthouse stairs. The sheriff stood firmly facing the amassing crowd, stating without hesitation “go home – or else.

Harris notes that the sheriff was “cool as an oyster” when he announced he would kill the first man who advanced toward the door of the courthouse. The mob melted and it wasn’t long before the sound of horses and riders, in retreat, rang out in the otherwise dark, still night. The lawmen then stood vigil until daylight.

During the long hours, waiting for daylight, the men discussed the Darrow case. Harris said the man appeared to him to be an average, hard working farmer who was much too busy making a bare living for himself and his family to be guilty of the charge placed upon him. Upon daylight, the sheriff and Harris drove out to the Darrow farm and on the drive Harris gave an opinion to the sheriff that “the charge of incest, like the charge of rape, was so easily made and so brutally proved in many cases that I could not believe Darrow guilty.”

When the two arrived at the farm they found the two neighbor women and the daughter in the Darrow home. Harris saw a photo of a young man sitting on a stand in the front room. He asked the “injured girl” who it was and where he lived. While they talked the young man happened to show at the door. Almost immediately the girl admitted she and this young man had planned to get married but her father objected and told the young man to leave his daughter alone. The youthful couple did not take the “no” to heart and ultimately plotted a plan to get her father put in jail until he agreed to let his daughter marry… then all would be well again.

Neither of the young people had any idea of the drama they would put in motion or any comprehension of the law or of the despicable nature of the charge made. They did not understand the penalty that her father would be given that was fixed for the crime of incest.

Let it be known, Darrow was released and he did not suffer terribly for a crime he didn’t commit.

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As a side note, Harris took a “tour” with the sheriff of Garfield and the Palouse area and visited with members of the newly formed Knights of Pythias lodge in Palouse City – March, 1892. Those lodge members told Harris the city was in need of a republican newspaper and asked him to look over the town in the morning before leaving for Spokane and see what could be done. Needless to say and as the record shows, the first issue of the Palouse Republican rolled out April 27, 1892. It was four pages, seven columns, all hand-set (of course), and deposited at he Palouse post office with Postmaster William Kenedy. Harris was 23 years old.

(Taken from the writings of A.H. Harris, Pioneer Newspaperman and Founder of The Palouse Republic. Harris published much of these writings in his newspaper during the years 1934 and 1947.)