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'Big John' Hailey was local man's great-great-grandfather

John Hailey was a legend in the early days of the Pacific Northwest


by: BARBARA SHERMAN - FOLLOWING IN FAMOUS FOOTSTEPS - Paul Hailey, whose book on his great-great-grandfather is now on sale, relaxes in the King City Clubhouse living room.Some of us may wonder if one of our ancestors accomplished some extraordinary feat or committed an act of bravery or heroism that had an impact on history.

One person who doesn't have to wonder about that is King City resident Paul Hailey, who has written a book about his great-great-grandfather, John Hailey.

"As a boy and even as an adult, I have enjoyed Western movies with their tales of outlaws, gun fights and stagecoach holdups," Paul wrote in the book's introduction. "I have wondered how many of those portrayals were realistic…

"When my father Arthur Hailey died, I inherited a large trunk stuffed with family mementos and newspaper clippings, including a treasure of information about my great-great-grandfather John Hailey. I was fascinated by what I found.

"I learned that many of the typical scenes portrayed in Western movies were commonplace and that John himself was a famous figure in the Wild West. At times he carried a six-gun, sometimes two six-guns. He fought Indians, chased a stagecoach robber, prevented an illegal lynching and once was face-to-face with a notorious outlaw who threatened to kill him."

In fact, John was so accomplished that Hailey, Idaho, was named after him, and no wonder: In his 85 years, he accomplished a lot, as Paul learned while doing research and retracing the steps his great-great-grandfather walked.

"My grandparents never said much about him," Paul said. "But they left lots of photos and clippings, and I did research on the Internet. I was just so impressed with him, I decided to write a little history about him mainly for my sons. My wife Diane and I traveled to Hailey, and I also found information at the Idaho State Historical Society, which he (John) started.

"The book took two or three years to write because it took time to travel to the places where John lived and worked. My wife called it a labor of love."

Paul wrote at the beginning of the book about John, "(He was a) pioneer at age 17, lumberjack, Indian fighter, gold prospector, farmer, family man who with his wife raised six children to adulthood, ferry operator, horse and sheep rancher, hay farmer, barge operator and shipper, horse packer, pioneer mailman, stagecoach driver and owner, road builder, businessman, town developer, gold miner, U.S. congressman, military captain, penitentiary warden, historian, book writer and widely acknowledged as 'the man who did more to develop the Inland Empire than any other man.'"

An excerpt from the book illustrates John's courage and innovation in doing what no one else had done before him:

"John personally took the first pack train from Umatilla to the Boise basin during the winter of 1862-63, becoming the first man to bring a pack train across the Blue Mountains in winter. The Blues stretch north and south between Pendleton and LaGrande in eastern Oregon. Typically they are snowbound from November through April, with 10 feet or more in spots in mid-winter.

"The book 'The Illustrated History of the State of Idaho' had this comment: ' . . . (John) took the first pack train to the Boise basin in winter and the first over the Blue Mountains in winter. He had 30 mules and as many packhorses, using large, strong horse without packs to go ahead and break the trail.

"'It was a great and hazardous undertaking but with his energy and courage, he successfully accomplished it. He received 26 or 27 cents a pound for freight, making in one trip $2,100. No other packer would take the job.'"

In another incident, John saved a man's life. The book "Hank Vaughan" by Jon N. and Donna McDaniel Skovlin, describes Hank as "a murderer, horse thief, gambler, jokester and drunk" among other colorful terminology.

When Hank was only 16 or 17, he stole a horse and shot and killed a man, and was then captured by the Burnt River Posse. Arrested and jailed in Auburn, a now-deserted town in northeast Oregon, a mob formed outside the jail and threatened to lynch Hank.

The Skovlins wrote, "Fortunately for Hank, John Hailey Sr. was in Auburn at that time. Striding to the jail and standing at its door, he drew two revolvers. Calmly facing the mob, he announced that the prisoner would be tried by a regular court, and anyone attempting to rush the jail would be shot.

"Hailey, a very imposing and respected man, was courageous enough to stand in front of this vigilante group bent on dealing out quick justice. The crowd, knowing his reputation as a dead shot, milled around muttering threats and then dispersed into the night."

Paul also quotes from another book in describing how Hailey, Idaho, came to be named after his great-great-grandfather.

"Carrie Adell Strahorn, in her popular book, 'Fifteen Thousand Miles by Stage, Volume 2, 1880-1898,' wrote the following:

"'Hailey was named for the Hon. John Hailey, who first filed a desert land claim on the section used for the town site, and he was the most conspicuous figure in Idaho history. His word was as good as his bond, and he was never known to do a dishonorable act. He owned and operated many of the earliest stage lines in Idaho and had occupied positions of trust from the humblest to that of member of Congress.'"

John himself wrote a book called "The History of Idaho" in which he expressed concerns that are still applicable today.

Paul, who is a regular contributor to a Christian magazine based in Malaysia, wrote, "(John) warned of the creation of monopolies, war with other nations, unnecessary extravagance and high taxation. He also sensed a moral decline in America."

While Paul wrote the book for his family, others have expressed an interest in it.

"Businesses in Silver City, which is a ghost town except in the summer, and Hailey wanted copies of the book to sell, and maybe next summer I'll do some signings," John said. "Maybe we'll go up for Hailey's Fourth of July parade - I could march in it as a relative of the town founder. Practically everywhere we went, people knew his name.

“He was a man of great energy, ambition and character - I wish I had more of his DNA."

Paul earned a degree in forestry from Oregon State College and worked for the Oregon Department of Transportation from 1966 to 1997, where he was manager of the design office, and his biggest project was working on a portion of I-205.

by: COURTESY OF PAUL HAILEY - THE SKY'S THE LIMIT - Paul Hailey, an avid hiker, stand on Mount Elbert, the tallest mountain in Colorado at 14,433 feet, on Aug. 17, 2010.Paul is an avid hiker, climbing Mount Hood 42 times over six different routes and counting, and three years ago, he climbed Mount Ebert, the highest in Colorado; Paul also is an avid weight-lifter, starting at the age of 12 or 13 and entering competitions.

Since 2004, Paul has been an elder in Living Faith Christian Fellowship, which is hosting a Christmas celebration in the King City Clubhouse on Dec. 22.

The father of two sons, Paul and his wife Diane moved to King City in 2007, where Paul is a member of the King City Lions Club.

Paul wasn't named after his illustrious great-great-grandfather, but his son who lives in LaPine carries the name, and Paul tells a story about the time his son John was in Hailey, and when he announced his name, "they didn't believe him."