MANHATTAN, CLATSOP COUNTY; 1887:

Teen girl ended brewing family feud with shotgun

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By Finn J.D. John
July 29, 2018

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article contains some foul language.

FROM AROUND 1875 to about 1915, the riverfront part of Clatsop County (outside Astoria) was more populated than it is today. The gillnet fishing fleet plied the big waters of the river, hauling in tons of salmon, and the blue-water sailing ships of the grain fleet daily poured in and out of Astoria’s ports. Many of the locals who worked as fishermen and net menders preferred to live away from Astoria proper — at the time the town had a reputation, which it sometimes well deserved, as a nest of shanghaiers.

So the net menders and fishermen and sailmakers and chandlers who didn’t absolutely have to be in Astoria to ply their trades would row or sail up the great lake-like expanse of the Columbia a few miles, and make their homes in one of the little villages on the riverbank — villages with no roads, whose only connection with the outside world was the river.

Most of these villages are long gone now, all traces having decayed in the relentless dampness. Many of them exist today only as names mentioned in the Daily Astorian; you won’t even find some of them in Oregon Geographic Names, the three-inch-thick reference tome published by the Oregon Historical Society. We don’t even know, today, exactly where they were.

One such village was called Manhattan, and it was probably a mile or two downstream from Clifton. And it was, in 1887, the site of a shooting that was unusual in that it was done by a 14-year-old girl.

Here’s the story — as much of it as we know:

 

THE HENRY AND Bertha Frishkorn family had rented a large house in Manhattan. With them lived their two daughters, 14-year-old Emma and 22-year-old Minnie; and two boarders, Norwegian net menders Peter Gunderson, 32, and Julius Udbye, 43.

According to the Daily Astorian, the five of them seemed to have worked out an arrangement by which Gunderson and Udbye paid the rent, and the Frishkorn family supplied all the meals. This apparently worked OK, until Gunderson and Udbye started courting Emma and Minnie. Both of them — but Gunderson most especially — seemed to have gotten the idea that the girls’ hands in marriage were part of the deal: We pay the rent, and you supply meals — oh yeah, and wives.

Matters came to a head on Jan. 11, when Gunderson got Minnie alone and asked her to marry him. She turned him down flat.

“He asked her why,” the Daily Astorian recounted, several days later. “She said she had been told he was cruel, and that he already had a wife and children. He denied it, and asked her who said so; was it her father? She finally told him it was her mother that had warned her.”

Gunderson went to bed angry, and the next morning, “he was very abusive to the old folks.”

Two days later, the girls were invited to a dance at a neighbor’s house — the neighbors, a family called Thompson, lived on one of the islands in the river — and both of them left the house and paddled off to the Thompsons’ house.

As soon as they were gone, Gunderson and Udbye turned on the Frishkorns and basically drove them from the house. They fled to the river, climbed into their boat, and rowed to the Thompsons’ house for help.

The next evening, with a group of neighbors to protect them, the elder Frishkorns returned to the house to retrieve their things. One of the neighbors rowed ahead to try to smooth the way, telling Gunderson that the “old folks” would be there soon, and just wanted to collect their clothes and personal belongings and leave. Gunderson said that would be fine, and that there would be no trouble.

When the party arrived, Udbye was sitting in a corner playing an accordion and Gunderson was standing by the windows watching them approach. When they entered the house, he shouted, “Who brought all these sons of bitches* here?”

“These men will stay here until I get my clothes,” Bertha Frishkorn told him.

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The newspaper coverage in the Jan. 16, 1887, edition of the Daily Astorian after the shooting in Manhattan several days earlier. (Image: Daily Astorian)

 

“Where is my whore*?” Gunderson shouted back — meaning, presumably, Minnie. “I am the boss here and will show you. Get out from here!”

He then picked up a big knife off the table and raised it, yelling for everyone to get out. Udbye put his accordion down and slipped upstairs, returning with a heavy coat draped over his arm.

Meanwhile, Minnie, the 22-year-old whom Gunderson had proposed to two days earlier, went to the table to try to calm him down. But instead, once Udbye had reappeared, he gave him what appeared to be a prearranged signal. The arm with the overcoat came up, spat fire. The bullet, intended for Henry Frishkorn, missed. Meanwhile Gunderson was charging straight at Minnie with the knife.

Then a shotgun roared, deafening everyone. Pellets spattered the wall near Udbye’s head, and the concussion blew out all the lights in the house except for one bulls-eye lantern.

The shotgun roared a second time, and the top of Gunderson’s head flew off and he collapsed, literally dead before he hit the floor. The bulls-eye lantern went out, plunging the house into darkness.

It turned out that while all the adults had been shouting and threatening each other, 14-year-old Emma had slipped into the closet where the shotgun was kept, and quietly loaded it. When Udbye fired at her father, she shot at him, but missed because her mother was standing nearby and she didn’t want to pepper the old woman with stray pellets. Then, Gunderson having gotten dangerously close to Minnie with that knife and clearly intending to use it when he got to her, she let him have the other barrel.

 

THE SHOTGUNNING, AND the subsequent darkness, put an immediate damper on the growing riot. All parties to the conflict separated for the night. Emma, pale and shaking, had already fled to the boat, and she and the rest of her family retreated to the Thompsons’ house.

The next day, everyone came to Astoria on the sternwheeler Favorite, and the sheriff’s investigation was held. Emma, not surprisingly, was held to have acted in self-defense; but Udbye drew a one-year prison sentence for assault with a dangerous weapon.

 

AS WITH SO MANY stories of this kind, there are some unanswered questions here. Chief among those is, why did the Frishkorns come to retrieve their personal effects in the dark of night rather than waiting for morning? And the text of Henry Frishkorn’s initial telegram to the sheriff in Astoria has a distinctly disingenuous sound to it. “Two men laid in wait for us in our house,” he telegraphed from the nearby town of Clifton. “We shot one, and the other got away.”

“Laid in wait” ... playing an accordion?

The real story is probably that this was an old-fashioned group fistfight that got out of hand — that the Frishkorns, reinforced with a large posse of supportive neighbors and perhaps braced with a drink or two, came that night to avenge the insults of Gunderson and Udbye with an old-fashioned thrashing. But regardless of that, no one — especially after Gunderson pulled the knife and Udbye started shooting — could blame the frightened 14-year-old girl hiding in the closet for putting an end to it the way she did.

* In the original newspaper article, the word “bitches” was redacted and replaced with a long dash. The word “whore,” however, was printed intact.

(Sources: Goeres-Gardner, Diane L. Murder, Morality and Madness: Women Criminals in Early Oregon. Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton, 2009; The Morning Astorian: 16 Jan 1887, 20 Jan 1887, 23 Jan 1887)

TAGS: #Manhattan #Astoria #Gillnetters #Clifton #Frishkorn #Gunderson #Udbye #Jilted #Shooting #Mobs #Gunfight #LowerColumbia #BadLove

SUMMARY: The Frishkorn family lived with two boarders, who paid the rent in exchange for board. Then they found out the boarders expected something else, too ... a fight broke out — and was ended by the roar of a double-barreled shotgun.

 

Background photo of the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse was made by LittleMountain5 in 2009. (Via WikiMedia Commons, cc/by/SA)
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