Murder at Nicholson & Burmester’s Saloon in 1882

It was a cold night in Prineville on December 22, 1882 when a single gunshot fired through the window of Nicholson & Burmester’s Saloon ended the life of Al Swartz. It was a tumultuous time in the local community as the vigilantes had arisen as self proclaimed arbiters of justice. Earlier in the year the group had shot and killed murder suspect Lucius Langdon and hanged his hired man Harrison from the Crooked River Bridge.

Al Swartz had arrived in Prineville from the Salem vicinity about 1880 and established a ranch on Crooked River. He was vocal in his denouncement of the vigilantes for the hanging of Harrison. It was rumored by members of the vigilantes that Swartz was involved in stock rustling. Swartz was in town that fateful evening socializing and drinking at the Nicholson & Burmester Saloon which was located on northwest Main Street. A game of cards was initiated around a table in the saloon and included Swartz, who had his back to a window in the building. The group had been playing cards for a while when the sound of a gunshot echoed through the building about 11 p.m.

The shot had been fired through an open window from outside the building and struck Mr. Swartz on the left side of his neck from the back. He was unable to move and was placed on the floor. He requested that his boots be pulled off and asked for a drink of water. He proclaimed that some “son of a b—–” had shot him. He passed away before a doctor arrived at the scene.

It was determined that the fatal shot had come from a shotgun blast that contained large shot. No one had seen the assailant. A coroner’s inquest was held and it was determined that “he came to his death by a wound inflicted with a shotgun on the left side of the neck by a party or parties to us unknown.” Interestingly the foreman of the inquest was an acknowledged leader of the vigilantes. No one was ever brought to justice for the murder.

Early the next morning two young men associated with Swartz were found dead hanging from a juniper tree on the outskirts of Prineville.