Prominent Pioneer meets a Tragic End

Jerome B. LaFollette

By Steve Lent, Crook County Historian

Jerome Bonaparte LaFollette was among the earliest settlers in Central Oregon. He was born in Putnam county, Indiana on August 17, 1831. He grew up near the place of his birth. In 1852 he married Sophia Howard. She was born in Tennessee in 1831. The newly married couple lived in Jamestown, Indiana until 1855 when they moved to Iowa. Four children were born while living in the east.

The lure of lush farm land and excitement led to the family crossing the plains in a wagon train in 1862. The family first settled in the Willamette Valley near Salem, but soon moved to Linn county. Three more children were born in Oregon. They farmed in the Willamette Valley for a few years then tried their luck at gold mining near Sweet Home eventually selling their claim for a hefty $2,000 profit in 1870. In 1871 the abundant bunch grass of Central Oregon lured them to the region. Jerome and his two oldest sons settled along Camp Creek southeast of Prineville.

They developed a prosperous stock ranch while living on Camp Creek. After a few years Jerome decided to move near Prineville and purchased a livery barn and worked as a blacksmith. In 1879 they filed a homestead claim on McKay Creek and also purchased a farm. The farm was seven miles north of Prineville. He raised draft horses and farmed. Jerome also became actively involved with the early school in Prineville.

On November 6, 1884 he left the farm on McKay Creek with a load of hay to deliver to a horse ranch he owned on the Deschutes River. While descending down the narrow road to the ferry near Tetherow Crossing the wagon struck a boulder and threw him off the front of the wagon and one of the wheels passed over his body lengthwise. The team did not become frightened and continued down the road leisurely to the Tetherow house where the wagon was discovered riderless. Suspecting something was wrong a search was begun and Jerome was soon found along the road. He was alive but fatally injured and within a few minutes he had died. It was a devastating tragedy for the family.

The body was returned to Prineville and services were held at the old Union Church and he was buried in the Prineville Cemetery. Sophia managed the McKay Creek farm for several years until her death on January 6, 1912. Sons Tom, John, Charles and Edgar became prominent stock raisers of the region. The hearty Central Oregon pioneer of 1871 had played an important role in the settlement of the region and had come to a tragic death on the frontier.