1 minute read

Charity Lamb Trial: 1854

Settlers Shocked By Murder

Settlers throughout the Willamette Valley reacted with horror. Newspapers called it "revolting … cold-blooded … inhuman" and named the culprit a "monster." When her first trial date was postponed, those anxious for speedy justice labeled the delay a "farce." The Oregon Spectator said:

Think of it ladies! If any of you feel disposed to walk up behind your husbands or fathers and chop their heads open, why, just pitch in—you are safe in doing so!

On September 11, her trial began in Oregon City in the U.S. District Court for the Oregon Territory. The prisoner stood before the presiding judge, Cyrus Olney. Carrying an infant in her arms, according to the Oregon Spectator she was:

pale and sallow … emaciated as a skeleton, apparently fifty years of age … Her clothing was thin and scanty, and much worn and torn, and far from clean … She had a sad, abstracted and downcast look.

Lamb's court-appointed lawyers pled her "not guilty." In selecting the jury, the prosecutor sought to know whether the panelists had any hesitation about hanging a woman. A woman had never before been sentenced to die on the frontier or anywhere in the federal judicial system. The 12 jurors eventually selected were all men. The law did not allow women to serve on juries—not even in the trial of one of their peers.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1833 to 1882Charity Lamb Trial: 1854 - Settlers Shocked By Murder, Defendant's Children Testify, The Defense: Insanity, The Verdict