A group of Umatilla County men on an elk hunting trip near Starkey in the Blue Mountains ended up in the courtroom in January 1935 when one of the party was shot following a photo fracas the previous November.
Dan Bowman, a merchant from Mission on the Umatilla Indian Reservation near Pendleton, joined a hunting party Nov. 10, 1934, on the Tony Vey ranch near the border between Umatilla and Union counties near Starkey. Two groups of Umatilla County men, Vey’s friends and a group including Finis and Chester Kirkpatrick, had been hunting on the property since Nov. 5, the beginning of elk season, and on the day in question the only person present at Vey’s cabin when Bowman arrived was Joe Cunha, who invited Bowman into the cabin for drinks. The hunting parties returned to the camp at around 11:30 a.m.
Bowman called to Fred Lampkin, business manager and co-owner of the East Oregonian and a longtime friend, to join him at the cabin. A few minutes later Bowman and Cunha went to the Kirkpatrick camp and were offered more alcohol, which they accepted. When Bowman and Cunha went to return to Vey’s cabin, Cunha vaulted a fence between the two camps. Bowman attempted to repeat the feat but fell, injuring his leg.
Finis Kirkpatrick went over to help, but also wanted to have some fun at Bowman’s expense. He motioned to his brother to get his camera and take photos of Bowman being helped up; Chester then followed the men to Vey’s porch and took another picture of Cunha rubbing Bowman’s injured leg. Bowman was not pleased with the joke. Planning on leaving Vey’s property anyway, Bowman angrily returned to his car, parked just outside the fence.
The group of men inside the cabin were making lunch, and Lampkin took a sandwich to Bowman at his car. Bowman complained about the photos to Lampkin, who tried to soothe his friend’s ruffled feathers, but an argument ensued. Charles Goodyear, who was planning to ride with Bowman upon his departure from the camp, joined the pair at the car but was getting nervous about the argument. He attempted to intervene but was sent away by Bowman, who then grabbed his rifle from the passenger seat of his car and tried to either load or unload it (witness statements varied). Lampkin came around the car and grabbed the gun, which was pointed upward through the open car door, to help the injured Bowman get out. The rifle discharged, and Lampkin fell to the ground dead.
Several of the hunters rushed to the car at the sound of the shot, and though Bowman pleaded with them to leave the scene untouched, Lampkin’s body was moved and then covered with a blanket. The rifle was picked up and set against the fence. Bowman then grabbed his camera and took many photos of the scene in an attempt to capture as much evidence as possible for law enforcement, as it was getting dark.
State police officers William Roach and Frank Perry happened by around 4 p.m. and were waved down by the hunting party. The officers interviewed Bowman and the witnesses, turning the scene over to Deputy Sheriff Hugo Clinghammer and the Union County coroner when they arrived. Roach transported Bowman to the hospital in La Grande, where he was treated for his injured leg.
The prosecutors in the case attempted to show that Bowman shot Lampkin deliberately, citing witnesses who heard the pair arguing. The defense contended that Bowman and Lampkin were the best of friends, and the shooting was unintentional. It was shown during the trial that Bowman had sprained his right ankle in the failed attempt at vaulting the fence, but also had broken his shin bone, which no one at the camp realized. On the stand, still hobbling on crutches, Bowman said his broken leg collapsed when he tried to exit his car, and the gun fired accidentally.
Bowman also testified that someone had once taken a photo of his brother in a state of undress and then shown it to a crowd of people, causing great embarrassment, and he thought the Kirkpatricks might be planning something similar. Usually a light drinker, Bowman was concerned the Kirkpatrick brothers intended to use the photos to spread tales of drunken behavior to discredit him.
After seven days of hearing testimony, the jury took less than three hours to deliver a not guilty verdict, with 10 of 12 jurors voting for acquittal.
Renee Struthers is the Community Records Editor for the East Oregonian. See the complete collection of Out of the Vault columns at eovault.blogspot.com