Our County Through Time: Judge George R. Bagley

By Traci Willey, MLIS (and WCM Volunteer)

12,910Judge George R. Bagley (1871-1939) started out as a lawyer and became circuit court judge in Hillsboro, Oregon for over two decades. Rather than tell you his life chronology, which can easily be found on the web and written sources, I thought I would talk about a couple of the interesting archival findings I have made this year, in relation to him, his family and career.

While cataloging the Bagley collection of court case and office records in the WCM archive, one of the first items I encountered was a letter from a fellow lawyer in Sumpter, Oregon. This letter to Judge Bagley from W. S. Newbury goes on for eleven pages and, from the nearly illegible scrawl of the writing and the numerous underlined passages, Mr. Newbury appears quite upset. Evidence of this distress includes the following passage, “I shall not let any set of Ground Hogs’ run over me from this hence fourth.” The nearest I can come to deciphering this phrase is that infantrymen were once called “groundhogs”.

The whole situation seems to be a scam on A. Heckmann’s part. Newbury is complaining of non-payment of services rendered, regarding numerous transactions between parties with the last names of Heckmann, McMahon and Dietze. Most of it deals with a property mortgage, but also a chattel mortgage is also mentioned. Heckmann had apparently engaged Bagley after conducting business with Newbury. To date I have found eight letters mentioning Heckmann dating from April 1900 through December of the same year.

Bagley-Knights of PythiasAnother set of entertaining letters are from one of Judge Bagley’s two brothers, one younger (Harry) and the older being William Bagley. William Henry was born on September 14, 1867 in Canton, Ohio and was certainly different from his younger brothers. He appears to be the more adventurous of the three. On January 15, 1894, he married a Mrs. Jennie Thurston in Washington County. Letters to George have him in Charleston, Coos County, Oregon in 1901. In 1902, he writes five letters to George regarding the Alamo and Linden mines located west of Sumpter and Baker City. He talks about working in the mines, small pox in the mining camps, the cold and getting a divorce from his wife. At one point he asks “Can I sue for divorce on the grounds that she run all over the neighborhood talking about me if I can prove it?” Another time he mentions that he cannot prove an adultery on her part. Although everything must have turned out alright, as William Bagley remarries in 1904 and by 1910 is settled back in Washington County as a farmer with a wife and three children. And even though he was the oldest, William survived to the ripe old age of 80 years and lived in Hillsboro until his death in 1947.

The youngest brother, Harry Bagley, did not fare as well. He also married young and poorly the first time. Sometime before 1896, possibly in Heppner or elsewhere in Morrow County, he married a girl named Lizzie Muller. The problems in this marriage caused a rift in his relationship with the family. On March 6, 1896 he wrote to George trying to explain his situation. Referring to his wife and impending divorce he told George that, “She is a perfect demon, and I have done exceedingly well to contend with her as long as I have; but my stock of patience and endurance is now about exhausted, and something must come my way.”

In addition, Harry comments “it would end my career at this place should any of the facts set forth in her affidavit be made known here.” And at another point he refers to himself as a “gone gosling.” The WCM curator, Liza Schade, and I have been debating what story his wife would have told that would ruin him. Was he doing illegal acts, like gambling or making liquor? He clearly admits to having done something to warrant the accusations, but we still don’t know what that is yet.

However, like his brother William Bagley, Harry survives all of that marital trouble and in 1899 he remarries, this time to the daughter of a Heppner banker by the name of Cora M. Rhea. He continued work as a lawyer and recorder for the City of Hillsboro. In 1910, he was elected to a four year term as mayor of Hillsboro. It is hard to tell if he and George ever settled their personal differences. In 1915, he represented Clackamas County in a lawsuit, while his middle brother represented the detective suing the county. George won. And in one of his last cases, he was working on an appeal for a woman who had been convicted in George’s court. Sadly, he died January 20, 1919 as a victim of the flu pandemic that hit Hillsboro (and the world) in 1918.

Most of the records in the Judge George Bagley Collection have dealt with the daily minutia of running a law office. Many records are regarding people who owe money, George Bagley’s own bills to be paid, and lots of mortgages. These are just a few of the gems I have discovered while working with these records and I look forward to finding more!

15,282 (1)

Want to learn more about Washington County History? Return to our History Page.