A Yarn About a Feud

“A Yarn About a Feud” By Grant Keltner

Through the years while living here in Oregon, I’ve heard of many tales, been told many stories, and have had many fables passed down my way through elders from one generation to the next. Many of the stories have been passed down through local families that settled in Oregon over the last 150 years, tales of pioneers that settled in Oregon, logging folklore, and legends of Native Americans that once lived here.

The following story is a yarn about a feud.

While attending school, friends and their parents passed down local stories to me, stories about families that had settled in Northwest Portland in the neighborhood that I grew up in. I became familiar with old Portland, of the power struggles between families, and how certain families acquired money and land in Portland through the generations.

One of the most famous stories handed down was a tale of a terrible feud between two families that lived in the hills near Forest Park up off of Northwest Skyline. The feud took place in the late 1930’s, back when the land off of Northwest Skyline and Northwest Cornell consisted of mostly rural farms, wide open ranches, large dairies, dense forests, old log cabins, hillbillies, and muddy country roads. It was a famous feud, one that dragged on for over twenty years, covering two generations. Rumors were spread, and locals talked about the feud.

Carl Taggert migrated to Portland from back east in 1931. Taggert and his wife Deb had a son named Zachary who was around three years old at the time. They had just enough money to buy twenty acres near Northwest Skyline. They were farmers from Indiana. Through friends, they had heard about the fertile land and bountiful fishing and hunting.  It was a nice piece of land. It had open meadows that faced to the south, perfect for planting. Fresh streams flowed through the meadows. The land had room for cows to graze and rich soil to plant orchards. They worked the land, watched their investments grow and prospered through the years to follow. They decided to buy more land near Northwest Thompson Road. In this area, it wasn’t uncommon to spot red-tailed hawks and see deer roam the land. It was 1938.

Around this time, Jack Benson and his family lived near Northwest Thompson Road. They owned a small plot of land and barely got by. Wild turkeys roamed his land. The family had very little money. They had an old small cabin and tried to forest the land and raise a few crops. The roof was worn and some of the molding around the windows was loose and dropping off the home. They were very poor.  Three old cars were parked on the land. An old broken-down barn was located next to the cabin was full of car parts. Dogs barked and cats ran wild. The wet and cold windy nights made life hard for this family. Whiskey bottles were thrown on the lawn. One of the windows to the cabin was broken and an old blanket was tacked up over the window. The shrubs near the house were overgrown.

Mr. Benson drank due to the loss of love, the loss of his wife. Jack was famous for drinking. His wife died from cancer in 1933. It was a terrible death. He was left with two small children, Dan age ten and his younger sister Linda age eight. Benson was known for yelling, swearing, cussing out, and beating his kids. Neighbors knew of the problem and kept a watchful eye. The kids weren’t given a proper education. They attended the local school, but had no supervision from their father. They helped tend to the land and roamed from time to time, learning to hunt and fish. The anger brought on by their father was passed down to the children. They learned to hate people. Taggert had a couple of wild dogs. They taught their dogs how to fight. Dog food was scattered on the front porch. The kids were missing teeth and wore dirty clothes most of the time.

As time passed, Carl Taggert came to acquire a taste for a piece of property next to Jack Benson’s property line. He made the purchase on the land, three acres to be exact, to give his livestock more room to graze. He planned to run a barbed wire fence following the property line for about three hundred yards and four feet high, posts put in every ten yards or so. Jim Benson and his children caught wind of the purchase and confronted Taggert and his son as they were walking the property line one day. “Taggert! You and your son, stay away from my land and stay away from my kids!” yelled Jack Benson while slinging down a drink from an old whisky bottle.

“Benson, I have the title to the land right here in my hands,” replied Taggert, flapping the title for him to see. “I’ll damn well do what I want with my land! I’m grazing my livestock on this land. I’m going to run a barbed wire fence following the property line.” Taggert spat on the ground, his son Zachery by his side.

“We’ll see about that,” yelled Benson. They slowly looked each other over and walked back to their homes.

Benson calls his kids into his house. “Dan! Linda! Get in here now!” screamed Benson. The kids ran into the rundown cabin. The door slammed. The dogs barked and some crows in a nearby tree squawked.

Taggert walked back through the rain, through his field that bordered Benson’s property. He headed into his cabin and Zachery followed. “Son, you stay away from his kids. Stay away from Mr. Benson. He’s trouble.”

“Yes sir,” replied Zachery.

In the next few months, Taggert put the barbed wire fence in. It was hard work, but with the help of hired hands, they would get the job done before winter set in. Carl Benson began to get low on money and started to worry. His kids started to go hungry. Late one cold winter night, Carl Benson decided he would walk through woods, wade through his streams, and walk down a small hill that took him to the new fence and the property line. He proceeded to cut some of the barbed wire fence to let some of Taggert’s livestock and chickens roam his land. Jim Benson led one or two of the chickens into his old barn and shot them with an old shot gun. His kids watched.

The next morning, Zachery Taggert and his father found the cut barbed wire fence and followed the tracks to Mr. Benson’s barn. The Bensons dogs barked and they lunged toward Zachery as they got close to the Benson cabin. Carl Benson walked out onto his worn down front porch and looked at Taggert. “Benson, what have you done with my chickens/” exclaimed Taggert.

“Taggert, those are my chickens. Those aren’t your chickens!” screamed Benson. The dogs got closer to Zachery and Mr. Taggert.

“Benson, I’m going to report this to the sheriff!”

The Benson kids screamed at Taggert and his son, “Get back on your land. You’re trespassin’!”

Carl Taggert and his son stepped back onto the other side of the fence running along the property line. The dogs barked and the rain pounded down on the group of people gathered. Old oak trees swayed in the breeze as a barn owl hooted in the night. Jim Benson clenched his fist and waved it at Taggert. “Ehhhhhh. I’ll get you Taggert!” Zachery followed his father back into the house. The rain kept falling through the night.

The scene with the chickens started a bitter feud that raged on for nearly twenty years between these two families. The Bensons and Taggerts watched each other like hawks for the next few years. Jim Benson was always yelling at his kids. You could hear him swear through the woods, over the property line, and into Taggert’s cabin.

The Benson cabin sat back about fifty yards from the property line and the fence. A large thatch of trees stood next to the cabin. Deep streams wound their way through the property. A small hill led you down to the fence line. The Bensons’ dogs would come up close to the fence and bark. Jim Benson and his kids would throw bottles and garbage over the fence on to the Taggert property for the next year. They didn’t care what the Taggerts thought of them.

The Taggert home stood about a hundred yards from the fence and the property line. They had a side yard to their home. It was fenced, containing chickens and geese. A small herd of cows roamed along the new fence and the property line.

One day, Zachery was along the fence picking up old whiskey bottles thrown by Jim Benson. It was a fall day in 1938. The Benson kids, Dan and Linda, walked up to the fence and started to talk back to Zachery.

“Hey you chicken shit bastard, are you and your parents going to do anything about those chickens of ours?” asked Dan Benson. His sister Linda stood behind Dan, sticking her tongue out at Zachery.

Zachery bent down and grabbed a dirt clod. He threw it at Dan and his sister. The piece of dirt hit Dan in the head and he fell to the ground and started to cry. Linda started to scream. The dogs started to bark. Jack Benson heard the commotion and ran up to the fence line to see his son lying on the ground holding his head. “Daddy! Daddy! Zachery hit Dan in the head with a dirt clod!” screamed Linda.

“Why you dumb kid! I’ll get you for hurtin’ my boy!” replies Benson. “I’ll get you one day!” Zachery ran home to his mother and father. The years passed and the feud continued.

Around 1948, Zachery Taggert, Daniel Benson, and Linda Benson started to approach their senior years in high school. Dan Benson became involved with hot rods, some of the first ones ever built. He fell in love with cars. Working with parts from old cars that scattered his yard, Dan built a hot rod. He had a few buddies that hung out and tinkered with his car. Dan’s car was loud and he made sure the Taggerts heard the engine. Linda was attending high school that year. She had a few friends, stayed to her chores, and around this time she began to fall in love with Zachery Taggert.

Zachery helped his father with the farm and saved money to buy an old Chevrolet 1921 roadster. He drove the car to high school and back home and made deliveries in the afternoon for his dad.

Mr. Benson had a few contracts with his timber through the years. His drinking continued and his anger over Taggert got stronger. He always encouraged his son to fight Zachery and to cause trouble for the Taggerts.

One cold Friday night around 1948, the Benson kids and Zachery Taggert were out near the parking lot of the local high school gym. Dan was driving in his old hot rod, cruising with his buddies. Zachery was parked in his old Chevrolet. A basketball game had just been played and the parking lot was full. Several kids were excited to see the local team win.

“Hey, let’s go up to Northwest Thompson Road and race our cars!” yelled a kid. Many people living in the area had heard about the racing on Northwest Thompson. Several kids had been killed through the years while driving fast on the road. The kids decided to meet around 9:30 that night.

It was cold, wet, raining and the night was dark. Leaves filled the air as the wind rushed by. A group of about thirty kids and eight cars had gathered. Beer bottles were thrown and broken. Kids started to rev their engines. Car lights shined in the air illuminating the night. Some kids smoked cigarettes. A crowd had gathered to watch. The cars lined up and raced down Thompson Road, one at a time. Some of the cars approached 80 miles per hour down the mile and a half stretch of road.

Dan Benson saw that Zachery Taggert had driven his car up to Thompson Road that night. He saw an opportunity to beat Zachery, an opportunity to get even with him. Dan had been drinking that night, hadn’t eaten, and was bitter than ever over his lot in life. He could hear his father in back of his mind.  He challenged Zachery to a race. “Zachery, we can race to the end of Thompson!” screamed Dan.

“O.K. You’re on!” replied Zachery. The kids cheered. Dan lined his car up facing west. Zachery lined his car right next to Dan and his hot rod. Kids screamed, the engines roared like thunder. A kid with a checkered scarf waved it in the air and the cars took off, back wheels burning tire rubber as they darted out onto the pavement. The cars started to reach 80 miles per hour. Dan and his hot rod were being pushed to the limits and his car started to shake from the speed. He hit a dip in the road and his car flew off the road, flying into a tree and throwing Dan through the windshield. He died instantly. The crowd raced to see the wreck. Linda fainted as Zachery ran to her side. Dan had died. The police arrived and the story was told about how the wreck occurred.

That night, Zachery took Linda back to her cabin, back to her father. She was in terrible shape, distraught over her brother’s death. Her father was drunk when they got to the house. “What do you want Zachery?” mumbled Benson.

“Mr. Benson, Dan is dead. He died in a car wreck. Some of the kids went up to Thompson road and we were racing cars. Dan’s car flew off the road!”

“What, Daniel dead? No, no, he can’t be dead!” cried Benson. Mr. Benson grew madder and madder as he realized what had happened to his son. He started to yell at Linda and slapped her. She was knocked down and hit her head on a chair and passed out.

A fight broke out between Zachery and her father. Zachery ran for the door. Mr. Benson ran over to an old desk in the living room and pulled out a revolver. He fired a shot at Zachery just missing him as he ran out the front door. The dogs chased after Zachery. Mr. Benson tried to run after him. Zachery ran, zig zagged through the woods, through the streams, and jumped over the fence line, tearing his jeans as he raced through the field up to his house. Mr. Benson tried to run after him. He ran through the woods and started to wade through one of the streams. He slipped on a rock and fell into a deep section of the stream, hitting his head on a rock. The dogs barked as Benson slowly started to drown. “Help, help I can’t swim!” yelled Benson.

Zachery reached his home and told his father what happened that night, while Benson drowned in the stream. Nobody was there to help Benson. The sheriff arrived and fished Benson out of the stream the next morning.

Next year in 1949, Zachery and Linda got married. They partitioned the Benson land with the land owned by Carl and Deb Taggert. They went on to have a boy named Luke. The years rolled on.

In 1963, a developer offered to buy some of the land that Zachery Taggert and his wife owned. The developer wanted to open up and sell land off Northwest Skyline.  A bitter land war broke out. The streams that ran through Taggerts land were valuable to the developer to help supply water to other areas with development. Since Taggert told the developer that he wasn’t interested in selling his land, the developer hired thugs to go up into the Taggerts’ land to break sewer lines, bust water pipes, and redirect streams. The family reported the problems to the local authorities without much luck. They were hassled with phone calls in the middle of the night and followed while they drove home at night. This continued for about a year or so.

Luke Taggert was around seventeen years old when he started dating a local girl by the name of Sarah Collins. Her family owned land not too far away from the Taggerts. Her father was a rancher in the area. Luke borrowed the family car one Friday night and drove to McLeay Park off Northwest Cornell Road. There was a popular spot in the park that young couples would stop, look at the harvest moons at night, and make out. They stopped their car in McLeay Park that night. It was a dark night. A few people reported seeing them there around ten o’clock.

The next day the Taggerts were alarmed by not seeing Luke at the breakfast table. They called Sarah Collins parents. They hadn’t seen any sign of them. They called the police. The police searched and searched for the Taggerts car and the young couple. A few weeks went by and the police found the Taggert car in a gully down off of Old Germantown Road. Nobody was in the car. The bodies were never found.

Several people suspected foul play, thought that one of the thugs hired by the developer had followed the couple that night and killed them. Stories about the disappearance were handed down through the years.  As a kid growing up in the area the folk lore continued. Nobody ever knew for sure what happened. It remains a mystery to this day.

 

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