Vancouver’s Hanging Holiday

In 1901, Washington State took over the responsibility for the execution of criminals sentenced to death in the state.  Before that, local county and city governments were responsible for the execution of criminals.  Edward Gallagher has the unpleasant distinction of being the first and only person to be legally hanged in Vancouver, Washington.

Edward Gallagher's headstone
Edward Gallagher’s headstone at Vancouver’s Old City Cemetery

The date was July 11th, 1890.  Vancouver’s first and only “Hanging Holiday”.   A gallows was erected in front of the court house, and around that a gallery was built.  Probably not so much to hide the hanging from curious eyes, but more likely to charge admission to view the macabre event.  Seizing the opportunity, supposedly to recoup expenses, Sheriff M.J. Flemming sold 200 tickets to the hanging.  A crowd of 500 more people gathered in the dirt street outside the gallery.  With a morbid curiosity, men, women and even children pushed and scrambled into position outside the gallery just for a glance of the doomed man and his demise.  Inside the gallery, less than 25 feet from the gallows, an enterprising Portland woman sold peanuts to the hungry crowd.

Lewis Marr was a farmer who lived near present-day North Bonneville in Skamania County.  There were rumors going around that Marr had a large sum of money hidden in his cabin.  On November 7th, 1889, Marr was brutally murdered.  The coroner had discovered that Marr had died from two gunshot wounds to the body and wounds to his head and face.  Did the wounds to his head and face suggest Lewis was first unsuccessfully tortured to reveal the location of his money?  Could the murderer then have shot Lewis out of frustration?  It’s possible but we will never know for certain.  All we know for sure is that Lewis Marr died from wounds that were, according to the coroner, “inflicted with murderous intent”.

Read Vancouver’s Great Flood of 1893

On the day of the murder, witnesses saw Edward Gallagher and another man near Marr’s cabin.  When Gallagher was questioned by the Skamania County sheriff, he told the sheriff he and his friend, Snowflake, had been camping along the Columbia River for several days.  When the sheriff searched Gallagher, he found a page torn from a newspaper.  Unfortunately for Gallagher, the torn page matched a missing page torn from a copy of the Christian Messenger newspaper found in Marr’s cabin.  Edward Gallagher was arrested and charged with the murder of Lewis Marr.

Skamania County didn’t have the resources to jail Gallagher until his trial, so Clark County officials reluctantly agreed to jail and try Gallagher in Vancouver, Washington.  Gallagher spent several months in the courthouse jail in Vancouver waiting for his murder trial.  He almost didn’t make it to the trial when the court house and jail caught on fire the night of February 25th, 1890.  The jail staff evacuated the jail leaving behind Gallagher and 4 other prisoners.  That would have been the demise of Gallagher and the other prisoners if it wasn’t for Sheriff Flemming’s son the jailer.  He rushed back into the burning jail and saved the prisoners from the fire.  Unfortunately for Gallagher, although he was singed by the fire, he would still stand trial for the murder of Lewis Marr.

Gallagher’s murder trial began in early May of 1890.  Although he had a lawyer that wanted Gallagher to plead insanity, Gallagher opted to represent himself at the trial.  In a strange twist, Gallagher admitted to being at the scene of the murder, but he insisted that his friend, Snowflake, was the one who pulled the trigger.  Gallagher never identified Snowflake, though he said that the man found $2000 in Marr’s cabin and left with the money.  On May 9th, 1890, after only four hours of deliberation, the jury found Gallagher guilty of first-degree murder.  On June 10th, Judge Bloomfield signed Gallagher’s death warrant.  Edward Gallagher was to be executed by hanging at 10:00AM on July 11th, 1890.

On execution day, also known as Vancouver’s Hanging Holiday, a defiant Gallagher was brought into the gallery by the sheriff and one of his deputies.  He refused the prayers of Father Schramm and told the crowd that he would do better next time and that he would soon be freed by soldiers from the nearby Vancouver Barracks.  When the soldiers didn’t come to his rescue and the sheriff bound Gallagher’s hands, he panicked and tried to escape.  A newspaper article said he fought “like a demon” to get away and it took the sheriff and 6 men to finally subdue Gallagher.  They stood Gallagher up on the trap door and the sheriff placed a black hood over Gallagher’s head.

One last time Sheriff Flemming asked Gallagher, “Did you kill that man, or did you not?”  There was silence as Gallagher said nothing in reply.  The sheriff then said, “No answer?”  After a minute of silence, Gallagher replied, “None of your damned business!” 

Those were to be Edward Gallagher’s last words.  The sheriff pulled the lever releasing the trapdoor underneath Gallagher’s feet.  He fell through the trap door of the gallows and snapped his neck. Gallagher’s body swung from the gallows in front of the crowd of spectators for 11 minutes to ensure he was dead.  Then Sheriff Flemming and his deputies lowered his body and wrapped it in cloth.  Spectators eager for a souvenir took strands of the hanging rope.  Edward Gallagher was buried in the potter’s field of the Old City Cemetery.

If you’d like to visit the gravesite of Edward Gallagher, it is located in the potter’s field section of Vancouver’s Old City Cemetery at East Mill Plain and Grand Boulevard. There’s nothing that marks the potter’s field, but you’ll find it in the back of the Northeast Section. Right before the last row of headstones you’ll see an open area with not many headstones. That is the potter’s field where you will find the headstone of Edward Gallagher.

One comment

  1. Hi Steve… such a great story! Thanks so much for posting on NextDoor so that I could catch all the cool articles on your site. 🙂

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