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Skagit River Journal

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The Sauk Prairie Massacre of March 30, 1911

By Ray Jordan from his book Yarns of the Skagit Country, transcribed by Larry Spurling
(shared from our separate Subscribers Magazine Online, Issue 12)

(Sauk Prairie)
Darius Kinsey photo of Sauk Prairie, near Darrington and a view south to Whitehorse Mountain with a large-format panoramic camera. Taken in an unknown year, this photo is courtesy of photographer Marvin Olsen. Click on the photo above for this very wide photograph.

      It was a scarlet day on Sauk Prairie, about four miles northwest of Darrington.
      We've written of this event before, but since have found and examined the probate file of Otis N. Weeden, the leading actor in this macabre drama in with four men met violent deaths, and can now present a clearer picture.
      It was one of Skagit county's more spectacular happenings, and unusual due to the fact that no one was tried for homicide, and for the best reasons — there was no one left to prosecute.
      From the legal resume of the case we glean that Weeden a bachelor of forty-five, had a ranch on Sauk Prairie. John Rinker, William Rinker, and John Smyre were his neighbors. For some time, Weeden had been having trouble with these men over the disposition of water from a small creek used in irrigation.
      This culminated on the morning of March 30, 1911, in the shooting of the three above-mentioned neighbors. Later in the day, while surrounded by a sheriff's posse, he killed himself by shooting.
      The title of his ranch was found to be vested in his father's name, Warren Weeden, a resident of Illinois. He had considerable personal property for which, at the time, no formal will was found. Later, during the probate proceedings, an Indian woman, Sally Sauk, presented a will bequeathing her a substantial part of the property.

      March 30, 1911 To Sally Sauk: This being my last request before death I hereby give or bequeath in remembrance of her many years of friendship my two grey horses, one a gelding, the other the large grey mare, with harnesses, wagon, plow, bed, the stack of hay in the field, one red calf, 10 pigs and all household goods including all provisions now in my house, also mowing machine and potatoes and meat in the cellar, also oats and other grains enough to maintain the stock donated. Signed by: Otis N. Weeden. Witnessed by: Book of Wills No. 2. P.231. Jno. E. Rinker, Chas. T. Rinker, Sally Sauk (marked as X)
      And here is the shocker — this handwritten document, now in the Weeden file, was penned and dated the day of the shooting spree, and signed by two sons of one of the elder Rinkers slain! This will is attested to as being genuine and in Weeden's own handwriting and signed by the Rinker boys on March 30, 1911, in affidavits signed by them later.
      Did Weeden write and get the will signed by the witnesses before starting out to collect vengeance, or did he, in the desperate interval between the shooting of his neighbors and his own suicide, manage to obtain the boys' signatures while they were in the state of shock? This is a question for which we have found no satisfactory answer.
      However, from the wording of the will, and since the killing took place early in the day, it would seem that the paper was signed by himself and witnesses shortly before his death later in the day.
      A reputable retired Darrington business man, W.W. Woodward, who was there that memorable day before the arrival of officers from Mount Vernon gave us his version of what he saw:

An eye-witness report
      At this time, Mr. Woodward was working for a Mr. Moore who was running a store in Darrington. In the morning a man hurriedly drove over from the Prairie and told Moore that Weeden had shot his neighbors and that he was going to get Moore too, for some reason unknown to Moore.
      Dr. B.T. Blake, the noted backcountry medical genius, was called and he and Woodward drove to the old Sauk River ferry near Bennett's Store with Moore's horse rig. After tying the horse they crossed over and walked on it. [See the photo of the old Sauk river ferry in the companion article in this issue about the Spurling ranch.]
      At the top of the hill they found William J. Rinker, a bachelor, dead in his small house, still sitting in a chair with his back to a window through which he had been shot through the head. Dr. Blake did what little he could and they went on to John D. Smyre's home farther east where they found him dead also.
      Woodward said he stayed with the Smyres most of the day doing what he could to comfort the family until the shooting was over.
      In the meantime, before the arrival of the sheriff's posse, Weeden found time to add the third victim, John R. Rinker, to his string. This was about 10 o'clock as Woodward remembers it.
      Weeden then retired to his home and upon the appearance of the officers the place was surrounded, all taking cover since the area around the house was open.
      Time dragged on until about 3 o'clock in the afternoon when a shot was heard in Weeden's cabin indicating that he had shot himself. This was found to be true when the officers cautiously entered.
      Our informant says that it was a great relief when they heard the last shot and knew it was all over at last. With order restored he viewed the rest of the grisly results.
      In retrospect, he doesn't see how it was possible for Weeden to have secured the boys' signatures to the will on the date it appears. He thinks it possible that the will could have been made and signed beforehand and dated on, or for the day of reckoning. But how could this be without arousing suspicion?
      The case dragged on in court for a long time through two administrators, M.P. Hurd of Mount Vernon, and E. N. Livermore. Judges John A. Kellogg, Geo. A Joiner, and August Brawley are mentioned in the probate papers as having acted in the proceedings.
      One administrator objected to the handwritten will presented by Sally Sauk on the grounds that it was more in the nature of a request than a will, and that Weeden was not of sound mind at the time, but it appears that the homespun document was honored, since under "Disbursements" $700 is listed to the heirs of Sally Sauk, who is said to have died in the meantime.
      Claims of $10,400 each, by John R. Rinker's widow and John D. Smyre's widow, were denied.
      A Mr. John Olson was appointed special watchman of Weeden's property until an administrator was appointed in a note signed by Rufus J. Cassel, Coroner of Skagit County, with Chas. E. Stevenson, Sheriff, signing as witness. The note was headed: Mansford, Washington, and dated March 31, 1911.
      The consequences of the tragedy on beautiful Sauk Prairie cannot be measured. We wonder if the difficulties could not have been settled by more legal means.

Rolf G. Olsen's memories of the Sauk Prairie Massacre
      Ed. note: Marvin Olsen is one of our subscribers and has been a tremendous source of information about the Sauk river area, Monte Cristo and Bennettville. When we told him that we were going to reprint Ray Jordan's story about the massacre at Sauk Prairie, he interviewed his father, who had some interesting background information. Marv was born in Oso and knows the Sauk area well. He is also a photographer, sells cameras and equipment over the internet, and has shared his own work with us as well as scanning old photos of the area. Rolf passed away in 2003.

      What Dad has to offer was told to him later by family and neighbors. Dad (Rolf G. Olsen) was born April 22, 1913, on Sauk Prairie, [two years after the incident that occurred not far from his family's home]. His uncle Tom Johnson was the first one to venture into the house after the guy killed himself.
      Dad says this is the story as he understands it. Weeden and Smyre had not been getting along. Smyre apparently changed the course of a creek upstream from Weeden, either depriving him of water or flooding his property, Dad is not sure which. One thing led to another, Weeden got a gun and caught up to Smyre in Smyre's barn in the morning and shot him.
      Dad's recollection is that Weeden draped Smyre's body over a fence, a rail, or something similar. Within a couple of minutes, Mrs. Smyre came to her front porch, saw Weeden walking out in the road and carrying a gun, and said something to him along the lines of, "Good morning, Mr. Weeden, I thought I heard some shooting." Weeden replied that he had killed a bobcat and had hung him on the fence.
      Mrs. Smyre was a sister to the two Rinker brothers, one of whom was the local ferryman. Weeden found the first Rinker brother down at the ferry shack and shot him there. A few minutes later, he found the other Rinker brother in his house and shot him in the stairwell of his house. He then went back home and basically barricaded himself in his house while the neighbors began to show up as the neighborhood became aware of what happened. There were the usual shouts for him to surrender. Whether he replied or not, Dad doesn't know. Dad is also not sure whether there were any more shots. According to our family stories, after a passage of time during which the house was silent, my dad's uncle Tom Johnson went into the house with the idea of talking Weeden into coming out. Uncle Tom and my grandfather John Olsen had helped Weeden butcher hogs in the past, and there was no animosity between them. My dad says that Uncle Tom had the type of nerve that would let him walk into a situation like that. Uncle Tom got into the house and found Weeden either dead or dying.

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Story posted on Jan. 18, 2003, last updated Oct. 1, 2007 . . . Please report any broken links so we can update them

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