Oregon’s long history of grazing land and violence

The following is an excerpt from Law and Order at the end of The Oregon Trail, Copyright 2015 Ken Bilderback:

Disputes over acreage and animals continued to simmer just beneath the surface, and at the turn of the century a new wave of killing shook Prineville. The murders often involved disputes that might seem trivial now, but which were deadly serious in 1900. For example, when a Greek immigrant named Leonidas Douris introduced a huge flock of sheep to the valley, cattle ranchers were furious over the competition for grazing on federal rangeland.

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Douris was a man with big dreams who parlayed his meager earnings as a farmhand into a small fortune as a rancher. Douris also was a man of small stature, described as extremely short with a huge head and long arms. Douris parlayed his meager stature into celebrity, adopting the moniker “Shorty Davis,” the only name most people in Central Oregon knew him by. Shorty enjoyed his celebrity status, but also endured threats and vandalism from ranchers who resented his use of federal grazing land in addition to his own 800 acres. One day in 1900, Shorty disappeared off the face of the Earth, never to be seen again. His friends immediately suspected murder, but years passed with no sign of Shorty, dead or alive.

Then in 1909, a Spring flood washed bones down a creekbed into town. The bones were believed to belong to Shorty Davis, but in 1909, authorities in Prineville could not say with certainty that they even were human. Still, the authorities had a man named Charles Colby in their sights, because he had been one of the people who had threatened Shorty. They used this opportunity to arrest Colby and take their case against him to a grand jury, which refused to indict him. Although Colby was a free man in the eyes of the law, he was a marked man in the eyes of Shorty Davis’ many friends, and he high-tailed it out of Prineville and headed to California. The disappearance of the popular Shorty Davis remains, at least officially, one of the most celebrated mysteries in Oregon judicial history.