The Murder of Joseph Warren Curtis


Joseph Warren Curtis was known to his family as Warren.  He was born on January 22nd, 1866 in Hazel Green, Iowa to Peter and Martha (Metcalf) Curtis, the ninth of twelve children.  By 1872, when little Warren was only six years old, he had already lost two brothers, a sister, and then his mama.  What a hard time that family was having!  In 1875 another sister died, and then another brother in 1880.  So much grief.

Warren didn’t marry until he was 29 years old.  On June 30th, 1895 he married Mary Myrtle Osburn in Council, Idaho.  The couple moved to Harney county, Oregon where, in 1897 they welcomed a baby daughter, Dora Belle.  Just a few short years later, Warren’s life was cut tragically short when he was murdered by horse thieves in his own barn.


Burns, Oregon


A letter written home about to the parents from Warren’s brother, Van S. Curtis , and reprinted in the Ryan, Iowa Reporter ~

From the Ryan, Iowa Reporter.:

April 3, Manchestor Press

Warren Curtis Murdered.

Ryan Reporter–P.P. Curtis is in receipt of the following letter which gives the particulars of the cruel murder of his son Warren:

Burns, Washington, March 27.(It says Washington in the newspaper, though this should be Oregon.)  Dear Father and Mother — It becomes my sad and painful duty to inform you of the premeditated and cold blooded murder of dear brother Warren on the night of March 22nd.  The trouble arose over a colt and on that night three men came to the barn and made a noise.  Warren thought one of the horses was down, so he went to the barn where he found three men and recognized them as James Caldwell, George Miller, and Has Hase.  He said to Caldwell “you have done me a dirty trick to have come to my house at night.”  He went back to his house after his gun and his wife prevailed upon him not to shoot anyone and he  promised that he would’t but just wanted to scare them.  He went out and ordred them off the place, when one of the men who was in hiding shot him with a double barrelled shot gun, four charges entering his body, two in the back and two in the breast and at the time was forty feet distant from his murderer.

Warren never shot at all and only lived a few minutes.  They telegraphed me but I did not get the message until 4:30 on the 23rd.  I was on the road an hour, the distance from where I live to Burns being 130 miles. The stage had been gone about six and one-half hours when I started on horeseback.  The roads were bad and it was snowing in the mountains.  I traveled all night and rode three different horses and had gone only 65 miles by daylight.  From there the road was better and after breakfast I got a fresh horse and covered 50 miles before sundown, and then waited one and one-half hours for the stage.  I was in the saddle for about 25 hours.  I got there on the night of the 24th and he was buried the next day.  He belonged to to the Odd Fellows lodge and was Noble Grand up to a few days before his death.  He leaves a wife and little daughter who are nearly crazed by grief.

I have hired a very able lawyer and have worked night and day on this and think we have a clear case.  The name of the man who did the shooting is George Miller and he is wealthy. He also has scoured two good attorneys.  The preliary hearing will be on April 1st and the district court convenes April 21st. I will send you a paper and keep you posted on the case.

Very Truly yours,  V.S. Curtis.

The unfortunate young man was a former resident of Hazel Green township and his many friends will be sorry to learn of his untimely death.  The parents have the sympathy of the community in their hour of trouble.


From the Eugene Guard – April 4, 1902

Harney County Killing 

A Grandson of Zeke Bailey, the Lane County Pioneer, an Accomplice to the Killing

The Burns Items of March 22, has an account of a killing over a colt, Warren Curtis, a settler near Narrows, being the victim.  George Miller, James Colwell and Bert Bailey are under arrest, charged with the crime.

It appears that the parties to the killing went to Curtis’ home at night and made a disturbance about the barn.  Curtis went to the barn but returned to the house and told his wife who the men were.  He then took a 22-caliber rifle and arriving at the corral ordered the parties off his premises when Miller, who was standing behind a post about fifteen paces distant, fired five shots from a shotgun into his body, the greater part of charges taking effect between the chin and hips.  The doctor who made the examination before the coroner’s inquest counted eighty-four distinct gunshot wounds.

Bert Bailey is a son of John Bailey and a grandson of Zeke Bailey, the latter a Lane county pioneer.

From The Pacific Reporter – and the murder trial 
George S. Miller and others indicted for murder. Defendants Miller and another were convicted of murder in the second degree, and appeal. Reversed.
The defendants George S. Miller and James Colwell were jointly indicted with Bert Bailey for the murder of Joseph Warren Curtis, and convicted of murder in the second degree; Bailey having been discharged from the indictment during the progress of the trial. Briefly, there was evidence tending to show that shortly prior to the homicide Curtis had driven off the range a number of horses (among them, a mare and colt claimed by defendant Miller), and at the time had the colt in a corral upon his premises; that, on being advised of the fact by his codefendant Colwell, Miller went to the Narrows, 15 to 18 miles distant from his home, and near the residence of Curtis, where he was informed that the latter forbade him from coming upon his place; that he then took counsel over the telephone with an attorney at Burns for the purpose of ascertaining his legal rights in the premises, and was advised that he coule replevy the colt or take it wherever he found it, provided he was able to do so without committing a breach of the peace; that he, Bailey, and Colwell left the residence of the latter about 8 o’clock on the evening of March 22, 1902, gathering up several gentle horses on the way and taking them along, intending to turn the colt out of the corral and drive it away with them; that, to reach to corral, they cut an outer wire inclosure of Curtis, a third of a mile or more distant, Miller going ahead; that, when they had gone about half the distance to the corral, Curtis ordered Colwell and Bailey to take the horses off of his premises, and that they drove them back; that Miller was not aware of what had been done, nor of the presence of Curtis, until he came near the corral; that Curtis was armed with a 22-caliber rifle, and the defendant with a shotgun; and that several shots were fired, resulting in the death of Curtis. The killing is admitted, but defendants seek to justify it as an act of self-defense.
At the trial, three photographs of the deceased, showing the gunshot wounds, were offered and admitted in evidence over the objection of the defendants. One of the photographs shows shot wounds on the upper part of the left breast, about the shoulder, clavicle, and neck; and the other two portray numerous wounds of the same nature upon the back and left side. The purpose of introducing them was to show thereby the number of shots discharged upon the person, and that two of them took effect from the side or rear, in order to discredit Miller’s statement that he fired all the shots while Curtis was shooting at him.


Oh my goodness.  It seems, like in so many cases, there was already some bad relations between Warren and his murderers.  Did Warren steal George’s colt?  Or is that a story that the defendants came up with in order to justify the murder?  I feel terrible for the wife and daughter who were in the house while this was taking place.

(Joseph Warren Curtis is my 3rd great-uncle.  He is the son of Peter Preston and Martha (Metcalf) Curtis and ancestors of my grandfather, Rolin Clay Simmons.)



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