The Kelsay Porter Case, Union County, Oregon

     It was while the county seat was located at Union that Union County had its first and only legal execution of a condemned man. On Friday, 19 November 1897 at Union. Sheriff J. F. Phy officiated at the hanging of Kelsay Porter. The crime for which Porter was hanged was committed on 1 January 18966 in Pine Valley a recital southeast of Union and now a part of Baker County. For some time Porter a young homesteader had trouble with Ben Maches Sr. his wife and Ben Mache Jr. This family had made a practice of taking down Porter's fences and letting his stock run loose, and no amount of remonstrance on his part could make them desist from this practice.

     The Maches family endeavored to terrorize Porter at every opportunity being generally an ugly-natured crew, and threatened his life many limes. Finally goaded into desperation Porter threatened retaliation if his gates were left open again and when on the fatal New Year's day the Mathes family again repeated the offense and taunted him about it. He murdered the three of them as they sat in a sleigh in front of his home. However, it was proved at the trial that the younger Mathes had fired three shots at Porter before Porter opened fare on the trio.

    Porter was very well liked by all who knew him, much in contrast to the repute in which the Mathes family were held, and from contemporary accounts the inference is that Porter had done a much needed service for the community rather than murder. A purse was raised in Pine Valley among his friends for his defense. However, he was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to hang on 10 April, 1896. A stay of execution was obtained for an appeal to the Supreme Court, but this body refused to set aside the decision of the lower court. Likewise futile was an appeal to the governor in the form of a petition signed by most of the residents of Pine Valley.

     To one reviewing the case today it would seem almost impossible that Porter could have could have found guilty the circumstances being as they were. Certainly if injustice was ever done to any man on trial for his life it was in the ease of Kelsay Porter.

Contributed by: Jim Reavis  

Union County



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