H.C. Vaughn, better known as Hank Vaughn, is the most picturesque character in the history of Umatilla County. His ancestry is uncertain. It is claimed that he was born in the Willamette Valley, but he was probably a native of Missouri. He was not inclined to give his historical antecedents. The first that is known of him is that he lived in the state of Nevada, and was a blacksmith by trade. Afterwards he had a blacksmith shop at Kelton, Utah. His first shooting scrape occurred in 1867. He was accused of stealing a horse. Frank Maddock was sheriff of Umatilla County at that time, and he started in pursuit of Hank and found him on Burnt River, near the Express Ranch. Hank and a companion were camped in a little tent when the sheriff and deputies found them. Sheriff Maddock made the mistake of attempting to arrest him in the middle of the night. He approached the camp and called upon Hank to throw up his hands. He and his deputies were armed and they leveled their guns on Hank and the man with him, but instead of throwing up his hands the desperado seized his pistol and shot the sheriff in the face breaking his jaw. He also wounded one of the deputies, whereupon the sheriff’s posse gave up the attempt to arrest him. Shortly afterward Vaughn surrendered voluntarily, was tried in the circuit court of Umatilla County and was sentenced to a term in the penitentiary. It was the general opinion at that time that he was justified in shooting the sheriff. He was a mere boy at the time and the sheriff took it for granted that when called upon to throw up his hands he would do so without objection, but in this he was greatly mistaken. Hank was a boy, but he had a large amount of nerve. When he came out of the penitentiary he was a hardened criminal with no respect for the laws of God or man. Several years later he had a difficulty in a saloon at Long Creek, in Grant County, with a man named Long, who was a stock grower and mining man. They agreed to fight to a finish. Each took hold of one end of a handkerchief and turned his six-shooter loose on the other. Both were excellent shots and every shot took effect. After they had emptied their guns into each other they pounded each other over the head, on the floor of the saloon with their empty weapons until both fainted from loss of blood. Hank received a ball through his wrist, breast, arm and leg. But strange to say both the belligerents recovered from their wounds.
Two or three years later Hank broke his leg, through having a horse fall on him. He was taken to the old Villard House in Pendleton for medical treatment, and while there his old antagonist, Long, heard of his misfortune and came from Long Creek to Pendleton to pay him a visit. All the old animosity had been forgotten and Long looked upon Hank as a hero. At that time Pendleton was short of greenhouses. Long wanted to present Hank with flowers, but being unable to find any florist he entered a milliner’s shop and bought ten dollars’ worth of artificial flowers, which he placed in a basin with water and sent up to Hank’s room, saying that while Hank had shot him several times in their difficulty at Long Creek he retained no grudge against him and desired to do him honor.
When the Northern Pacific Railroad was being constructed Vaughn was on a train near Pasco when it was held up by two highwaymen, who entered the car in which Hank was taking a nap. The passengers were told to throw up their hands. In the confusion Hank awoke and asked what the trouble was. A passenger sitting near him told him to hush up or he would be shot. To this Hank replied, "Here is a whole car full of men who propose to let two robbers get away with them. That sort of a proposition does not go with me," whereupon he pulled his gun and turned loose on the robbers, wounding one of them. At this unexpected resistance the robbers jumped off the train, glad to escape with their lives.
At a later period Hank had a difficulty in Athena which occurred in the following way. He met a man named Caldwell in a saloon, and as was the custom with bad men in those days when the encountered strangers, he requested Mr. Caldwell to dance. Caldwell, who was something of a tough himself, having been a member of the Younger Brothers’ notorious gang of desperadoes, declined the invitation, whereupon Vaughn opened fire with his six-shooter around the feet of Caldwell. The latter immediately proceeded to dance with a great deal of alacrity. After Hank and his friends had enjoyed themselves to the full, he ordered up the drinks for the crowd, and everyone supposed the incident was over. It turned out otherwise. His victim procured a pistol, hunted up Hank and finally found him in the general merchandise store of Hollis and Cleve. Without prefatory remarks Caldwell opened fire. His first shot struck Hank in the breast, the second shattered his right arm, whereupon Hank sprang behind a stand containing spools of cotton. Caldwell fired through the stand at Hank until his revolver was empty, then left the store and went down street. For this assault he was sentenced to a term in the penitentiary.
A few weeks afterward the writer had some business of a legal character with Mr. Vaughn and called at his house in Athena. He was met at the door by a stepdaughter, who advised the visitor to be careful about entering Hank’s room, as he was practicing at target firing. In entering the room Vaughn was found propped up by pillows with a pistol in his left hand and several boxes of cartridges upon his bed, engaged in target practice, the target being an ace of clubs pinned to the wall near the foot of his bed. He explained to his visitor that as his right arm had been crippled in his last encounter he had decided to learn to shoot with his left hand, and was now practicing with that end in view.
Many other incidents are reported of a similar nature, but further narration of them is unnecessary. It is sufficient to say that Hank Vaughn was the most reckless desperado that ever lived in Umatilla County. In 1888 he approached the writer, who was practicing law in Pendleton at the time, and told him that he was in a little trouble which required the services of an attorney. He said that when he was in the state of Nevada he had married a woman; they had separated and he supposed her to be dead. Under that supposition he had married a widow by the name of Robie, who had rights as an Indian on the Umatilla reservation; that afterward he had found out that his Nevada wife was not dead, but had married a man in California.. She had appeared in Pendleton and desired a divorce. Hank wished one just as badly, and he employed the writer to act as attorney for his wife, and to secure an amicable divorce. He was informed that an attorney could only act for one person and that if he was retained for the wife he must act solely in her interest. Hank assented, and the case was submitted to a referee. At the hearing a dispute arose over the custody of a nine-year old boy, the issue of the Nevada marriage. Both parties wished the custody of the child, and it was finally settled that as Hank was not a moral character the woman should have the boy.
In the meantime Hank had forced upon his wife’s attorney the present of a seal ring as a token of respect. Wherein the report of the referee came before the circuit court Hank was called upon to pay fifty dollars as an attorney fee to his wife’s lawyer. He declined to pay the fee and filed an affidavit in which he declared that the seal ring which he had given was an agreed fee for the lawyer’s services. Thereupon the attorney filed a counter affidavit, supported by other testimony, accusing Vaughn of perjury. When the matter came up before the court Vaughn occupied a front seat in the old court house within easy range of his wife’s lawyer, apparently thinking that the latter would not have courage enough to dispute Hank’s version of the case. In this he was mistaken. His wife’s lawyer was fresh from the east, but he was not exactly a tenderfoot. He openly denounced Hank as a liar and a perjurer and asked the court to order him to pay the fifty dollars attorney fee or be committed for contempt of court. The court made the order without any hesitancy and Hank, with shamefacedness, marched up to the clerk’s desk and paid the money, whereupon the attorney stepped across the street, resold the ring to the jeweler for a nominal price and reimbursed Hank in part. From that time forward Hank displayed the greatest admiration for the lawyer, showing that he appreciated those who could fearlessly meet him on his own ground.
In appearance Vaughn resembled a clergyman. He always wore black clothes of a clergical cut, a soft hat and a white necktie. He was very fond of jewelry, wearing numerous seal rings and most conspicuous of all a splendid gold chain, which he wore around his neck, the ends being fastened to his watch. He used to keep a private safe in the old Transfer House near the O.R. & N. Depot, in which he had a miscellaneous collection of curios and bric-a-brac. Among these were six hundred dollars in ten cent pieces. About a score of seal finger rings, some of them very beautiful, diamond pins, gold studs, a nugget of gold of the value of six hundred dollars from the mines of southern Oregon, and a dozen or more elegantly mounted revolvers. He was killed about six years ago in the city of Pendleton by being thrown from an unruly horse against a telegraph pole in front of the East Oregonian office. His demise was not specially lamented, as he had terrorized the people of Umatilla County for more that twenty years.
Pages 257 - 259
An Illustrated History of Umatilla and Morrow Counties, By Col. Wm Parson, Umatilla and W.S. Shilach, Morrow.
W.H. Lever, Publisher