John Lamerick was one of “those people”. Either you loved him or you just couldn’t stand being in the same room with him.
Upon arriving in Jackson County in 1851-1852, Lamerick was popular enough to be elected Captain of the Volunteers when settlers had trouble with the local Rogue River Indians. What these difficulties were is not entirely clear; However, most accounts agree that it was either a conflict between Tyee Sam, the tribe’s warchief, and Dr. Ambrose, a settler and future Indian agent, or a simple dispute over a piece of beef or perhaps cattle.
In July 1852, Lamerick led the Table Rock Volunteers, a detachment of 100 to 200 combatants, into combat against the Indians. After up to 30 Rogue River Indians were killed and the rest surrounded by settlers, the Rogue Rivers surrendered.
Settlers organized a public thank-you dinner in Jacksonville in honor of Lamerick and his men.
Lamerick thanked residents for “the very flattering manner” in which they expressed appreciation for “our humble efforts.” He commended his men for their “coolness in action” and promised the community that “should the opportunity demand it and the war should once again show its enemy front… the Table Rock Volunteers will not be absent”.
In the years that followed, Lamerick was one of the first to be called upon when anyone wanted to fight Native Americans. In 1856 the Oregon Territorial Legislature appointed him Brigadier General of Volunteers and sent him into another conflict in southern Oregon. By 1857 he was asked how he felt about further Indian wars.
“I’m damn sure I’m sick of her,” he said.
Lamerick’s opponents called him “slobbery” and jokingly questioned “if he can pay his whiskey bill”.
“The immortal Lamerick is inflated by newspaper editors,” said one writer. Others complained that he was a gambler: “His profession is the practice of faro, monte, chuck-a-luck, roulette and horse racing.”
February 1860 brought news that John Lamerick had been shot and was dead. Lamerick was sitting on the sofa in William Berry’s house. Mrs. Berry was somewhere nearby. William Berry suddenly entered the room with a Colt revolver and fired, the bullet hitting near the inside of Lamerick’s left eye and exiting under his right ear.
Readers could choose from at least three different versions of why the shooting happened. Version one said it was “an old dispute between the parties”. Version two said Lamerick had offended Mrs. Berry and she sent for her husband. Version three states that Berry fired because of Lamerick’s “intimacy with his (Berry’s) wife.”
Miraculously, Lamerick recovered and was well enough to leave for Charleston, South Carolina, the next month to attend the Democratic Party’s National Convention. He was an alternate delegate and pledged to vote for Oregon’s Democratic Presidential Election, Joseph Lane. Congress failed to reach consensus, and Lamerick never returned to Oregon.
John K. Lamerick was born in Ireland about 1821-1822 and came to New York City in 1838. His family name was actually Limerick, but he decided to change it. Most of these early years have so far eluded further discovery.
A carpenter by trade, he is said to have spent some time in Kentucky and perhaps Tennessee before settling in Louisiana. There, with the Civil War already underway, he enlisted in the Confederate Army in April 1862 and served for the duration of the war as a private in the 6th Louisiana Cavalry.
After the war he returned to carpentry and built a number of buildings in the Shreveport, Louisiana area while being elected to various positions in the Shreveport Democratic Club.
As the 1870s approached, his life changed—and not for the better. He lived in a poor part of town and maybe his business problems or an illness were just too much.
In a note to a friend, he wrote, “I am suicidal and want to end life.” On March 31, 1873, the 53-year-old grabbed a knife and cut his right carotid artery, slashing the side of his neck. They found him the next morning and buried him two days later.
CORRECTION: Last week’s story reported that Artinecia Merriman’s railcar was attacked in Humboldt County, California. The Applegate Trail obviously never made it as far west as Humboldt County. The attack took place along the Humboldt River in Nevada. Excuse me.
Writer Bill Miller is the author of six books including History Snoopin’ – a collection of his previous columns. You can reach him at [email protected]