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Document discoveries offer insights into history

High school history classes teach us about the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, which drove poor families from the Midwest to California and other western states in search of jobs.

But we seldom think about the daily lives of people who were already in places like Linn County, where life was difficult and money was hard to come by.

But staff in Linn County Sheriff’s Office’s civil division found official documents offering a peek into these hard times: court warrants.

Capt. Jeff Schrader said the documents were found in a file cabinet by his predecessor, Tammy Woods.

“They were in packets and envelopes,” he said. “They were found a couple years ago, but we didn’t know what to do with them. We finally figured out they should be framed.”

Al Severson of The Frame House in Albany recently finished that job, and now Schrader and Sheriff Michelle Duncan are figuring out where to display the documents, which feature ornate artwork and official seals.

This document from the 1930s offer a view of life at that time as revealed by court actions.

For example, G.H. McElroy received a county jail conditional pardon after being convicted of possession of intoxicating liquor on July 11, 1931 (remember: this was the Prohibition era). He also was ordered to pay a $300 fine, a considerable amount of money, the equivalent of about $6,000 today.

His pardon came Aug. 19, 1931 after District Attorney L.G. Lewelling “recommended that said G.H. McElroy be released from custody in order that the county may be saved the expense of his maintenance.” Then-Oregon Gov. Julius Meier signed the document.

G.E. Raymond received a pardon on March 26, 1930, from Meier’s predecessor, A.W. Norblad. Raymond also had an issue with illegal alcohol and had been fined $400, with $2 slated for deduction for each day he spent in jail.

He was released after agreeing to pay $25 per month toward his total. If he failed to make payments, Sheriff Herbert Shelton, who was also the county tax collector, was authorized to arrest and jail him.

Well, it appeared that Mr. Raymond did not learn his lesson. On July 10, 1930, Sheriff Shelton sent a letter to the Medford police chief advising him that Raymond made his $25 payment for April, but failed to pay in May and June.

“The last we heard from him he was working as a bellboy in the Chandler Hotel. He may be engaged in the selling of liquor,” Shelton wrote.

“I understand he associates with the son of your local Dodge Dealer and you may be able to ascertain his whereabouts through that source.”

In May 1933, Merle Cochell was convicted of “larceny of livestock” and sentenced to one-year in the county jail, but on September 5, 1933, District Attorney M.D. Shanks recommended that Cochell be “granted a conditional pardon …”

He was placed under the “supervision of his uncle A.D. Wheeler, that he shall go to work and shall make restitution for his depradations [sic].”

On February 10, 1937, Sheriff Shelton was authorized by Gov. Norblad to extradite Edgar Graham from Washington state. He had been charged with “seduction” in Linn County and fled north.

In October 1937, Maynard Werner was convicted of “larceny of a watch” and was sentenced to 90 days in the Linn County Jail, plus a fine of $25 plus $4.80 in fees.

This document from the 1930s offer a view of life at that time as revealed by court actions.

On December 14, 1937, Mrs. Lettie V. Good, secretary of the Oregon Prison Association, notified Gov. Charles Martin that this was Werner’s first arrest and that clemency was recommended, “whereas, said Maynard Werner has paid the fine of $25 and costs of $4.80 and has served 44 days of the jail sentence imposed.”

“I always find it fascinating to find out more about local history; how people lived on the same ground I stand on; or what their problems were back then,” current Linn County Sheriff Michelle Duncan said.

“It honestly seemed so simple compared to today. These documents are a history of our local justice system, displaying how the district attorney, sheriff and even the governor’s office all worked together whether it was to serve justice in finding a fugitive or issuing pardons on what in our world today, would seem harsh sentences for minor offenses. I am glad we were able to preserve these important documents of Linn County history.”

– Alex Paul, Linn County Communications Officer