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King County Sheriff's Deputy George W. Poor is mistakenly killed by a U.S. Customs officer in Skagit County on July 26, 1891.
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On July 26, 1891, King County Sheriff's Deputy George W. Poor is mistakenly killed by U.S. Customs Inspector James C. Baird north of Woolley in Skagit County. The deputy had been assisting another Customs Inspector, Z. Taylor Holden, in an attempt to intercept Chinese immigrants who were illegally entering the U.S. from Canada. Holden may have been in league with the smugglers.
In the 1890s, Collectors of Customs were presidential appointees who awarded inspector jobs at will. In addition to collecting tariffs on imported goods, Customs sought to stem the flow of Chinese immigrants who were prohibited from entering the U.S.
On July 25, 1891, U.S. Customs Inspector Z. Taylor Holden recruited King County Deputy Poor to go with him to Skagit County to locate some Chinese illegal immigrants. The next day, they traveled by trolley to Fremont and by train to Sedro. In Sedro the officers encountered J. C. Baird, a former Blaine police officer who was serving as a Customs Inspector for less than two months without pay. Baird had been investigating Jake E. "Cowboy" Terry, whom he suspected of smuggling Chinese and opium.
Baird instructed Inspector Holden and Deputy Poor to watch the road east of Sedro. Two Deputy U.S. Marshals were stationed north of Woolley (1.5 miles northwest of Sedro) to watch a rail line there. Holden accompanied Baird to obtain a horse. Holden returned to Sedro to get Deputy Poor.
In Sedro, according to Holden, Poor had met with Jake Terry who offered to help them find the smugglers. The three planned that Poor and Terry would go north to capture the Chinese. Holden later stated that he waited at Woolley in the Palace Saloon.
Baird suspected Holden of corruption and of being involved with smuggling. Baird and New Whatcom Customs Inspector James Buchanan went north instead of south.
At about 10:00 p.m. on July 26, the two inspectors said they observed three white men followed by a number of Chinese men walking north on the railroad. Baird believed the men included Holden and Terry and ordered them to stop. Jake Terry, the smuggler/informant fired a shot and Baird and Buchanan fired back. Poor was hit and cried out, "I'm shot. I'm a deputy" ( Seattle P-I). Terry and the third man fled. Baird received a slight wound to the head from Poor's gun. Terry was hit four times, but fled the scene. Baird and Buchanan said that they found Poor wearing a false goatee, but they did not keep it for evidence.
Inspector Baird encountered Holden at the hotel in Woolley and arrested him. The Skagit County Sheriff arrested Baird and Buchanan. Nine Chinese immigrants were also detained. On July 28, a coroner's jury ruled Poor's death a homicide and Baird and Buchanan were bound over for trial. The next day, a judge dismissed the case for lack of evidence.
Terry admitted to leading Poor to the Chinese and to arresting them. He did not mention a third man and the Chinese said that there were just two white men with them. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that Baird and Holden were both asked to resign. Both Holden and Baird were allegedly seen in British Columbia meeting with Terry weeks before the shooting. One second-hand account implicated Poor in the scheme with Terry. Terry pleaded guilty to smuggling.
Deputy Poor's funeral procession to Lakeview Cemetery was led by King County Sheriff James H. Wollery (1851-1925) and members of various fraternal orders.
"Slain From Ambush," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 28, 1891, p. 1 (transcribed by Tom Smith); "Officer Baird Free," Ibid., July 29, 1891, p. 1 (transcribed by Tom Smith); "Who Is The Smuggler," Ibid., August 1, 1891, p. 1. Special thanks to Sgt. Tom Smith, King County Sheriff's Office, for calling this incident to our attention and for sharing research material.
Note: The name of King County Sheriff Wollery was corrected on July 26, 2009.
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