Lynchings Lead to Opposition of the Vigilantes

Violence reigned supreme in Prineville just before Christmas in 1882. Al Swartz was killed by a shotgun blast in a local saloon on the evening of December 22 and early the next morning the bodies of two men staying at his ranch were found hanging from a juniper tree near Prineville. The vigilantes were beginning to “flex their muscle” in justice of the rope.

The same night that Swartz was murdered the vigilantes arranged to lure Sid Huston and Charles Luster from the Swartz Ranch to the house of W.C. Barnes. The vigilantes had spread rumors that Huston and Luster were associated with Swartz in a stock rustling operation. Some prominent citizens claimed that Luster was wanted by some of the vigilante group for winning a horse race that he had been paid by them to lose. Huston was never indicated in any crime.

The young men were dragged from the Barnes house and lynched from a juniper tree on the outer limits of Prineville. Their bodies were found the next morning by C. Sam Smith and James Blakely. They reported that the men had been shot in the back of the head after they had been hanged.

The vigilante group quickly claimed that they had ridded the community of a lawless element. Interestingly one of the alleged vigilante members had been shot by young Huston during the lynching. W.C. Foren was a blacksmith who had been a deputy marshal who was supposed to be guarding Lucius Langdon the night he was killed by the vigilantes earlier in the year. The vigilante group claimed that Foren had been kicked by a horse he was shoeing during the night of the Huston and Luster lynching. No one was allowed to see Foren and he died a few days later.

An inquest was held into the lynching deaths and it was determined that “Sid Huston and Charles Luster came to their death by hanging by the neck and by gun shot wounds inflicted in the head by parties to us unknown December 23, 1882” Not surprisingly the foreman of the inquest was the same acknowledged leader of the vigilantes that had been on the Swartz inquest. No one was ever brought to justice for the lynchings, but grumblings began among local citizens even though many were afraid to talk out loud about the violence. The seeds of opposition to the vigilantes had begun.