One of the most violent events in Polk County history occurred on July 7, 1887, when Oscar Kelty was lynched at Dallas.
In 1884, Oscar married Clara Glandon. Clara was raised in northern Yamhill County, but had moved to the Bethel area with her parents in 1883.
Marital problems soon developed. In June 1887, Clara left her husband and went to her parents’ home near Bethel, claiming Oscar had been mistreating her. On June 9, Oscar went to the McCoy railroad depot where he had a gun in storage. He asked the station agent, Thomas J. Groves, to get the gun for him, saying he wanted to go hunting. Groves willingly complied.
Once he had the gun, Oscar went to the Glandon home and asked Clara to return to him. When she refused, he shot her. He then tried to commit suicide, but succeeded in onlt badly wounding himself. He was quickly captured and taken to the county jail in Dallas.
Due to Kelty’s injury, county officials delayed a trial until he was stronger. Incensed at the delay, a group of men formed to expedite matters. Early on the morning of July 7, 1887, they rode to Dallas and broke into the county jail. Overpowering the guard, Harry Depew, they took Kelty from his cell and hanged him from an oak tree next to the courthouse across the street.
John Groves, the Polk County sheriff, took immediate steps to identify the culprits. He sent to Portland for the services of a professional detective, Sam Simmons. The two men followed the trail of the mob through northern Polk County and into Yamhill County. Their evidence suggested that the mob had been comprised of friends and neighbors of the Glandons. They even suspected that the leader of the mob was Abraham Blackburn, a farmer near Carlton in northern Yamhill County.
Sheriff Grove sent Harry Depew to Carlton to observe Blackburn. Depew reported that he could identify Blackburn as the leader of the mob. Groves then went to Carlton and arrested Blackburn. To prevent any attempt to rescue the suspect, Groves took him to the Marion County jail in Salem for safekeeping.
On July 26, 1887, Blackburn’s preliminary hearing was held at the courthouse in Dallas before Justice of the Peace W.W. Frink. The prosecution was handled by the district attorney, James H. Townsend. The county’s case was seriously weakened when Harry Depew admitted that he could not positively identify Blackburn as the mob leader because the light in the jail had been very dim.
The defense attorneys, McCain & Hurley, of Lafayette, then presented a number of witnesses who claimed Blackburn had been playing croquet in northern Yamhill County the evening before the lynching and had been seen at his home early the next morning.
Due to the time element and the lack of positive identification, Blackburn was acquitted and was released. Interest in the affair quickly disappeared and no further attempts were made to identify the mob members or bring them to justice.
Information in this article is from the Library of the Polk County Historical Society at the Polk County Museum, located at the Polk County Fairgrounds in Rickreall. Hours are 1 to 5 p.m. every day except Tuesdays, Sundays and holidays. Admission is $5 for adults; $4 for seniors; $1 for children aged 6 to 17. Those younger than 6 or older than 100 are free. Society members also are free.