Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Victimology: Ruth Cowing Hill

Thomas F. Cowing, Sr.
Thomas (Tom) F. Cowing emigrated from England as a child with his family and grew up in Wisconsin on his parent's farm. He enlisted in the 2nd Infantry of Wisconsin in 1861 and was wounded  and captured at the 2nd Battle of Bull Run on August 28th, 1862. His wound was considered fatal and the Confederates released him. However he recovered and was transferred to the Veterans Reserve Corp in December of 1863 until his term of service ended in June of 1864. He returned to Wisconsin and married Abby Bennett a month later. Eventually he moved to the fledgling town of Alexandria, MN and, with a partner, opened a hardware and implement store. Selling hardware and farming implements paid well and Thomas built a new house for his family. This is the house in which Ruth would spend the first 11 years of her life and it still stands today. Thomas Cowing was a well respected and prosperous member of the town, and Douglas county, when he passed the Minnesota Bar exam in October of 1889, but he promptly moved the entire family to Oregon City. He was named Notary Public of Clackamas county and passed the Oregon Bar in December of the same year. By February of 1890 he had opened a partnership with his oldest son Eugene, arguing land grant cases. It seems this early business venture may not have worked out because he was soon working for J.B. Brockenbrough's land agency. I don't know why Mr. Cowing decided to leave a prosperous life behind and move his whole family to Oregon but it worked out for him financially. Mr. Cowing, and his family, would prosper in the West.

Ruth Cowing was born March 26, 1878 in Alexandria, Minnesota and was 11 years old when her family moved to Oregon City in Clackamas County. She appears to have lead a rather normal childhood. According to the newspapers, Ruth was considered a very popular and pretty young lady in Oregon City. She, like most who lived in the area, was a frequent visitor to the coast during the Oregon summers. In 1899 Ruth decided to become a nurse and went to live in Portland at the Good Samaritan Hospital. On December 5, 1900 Ruth married James P. Rintoul, a recently returned veteran of the Spanish-American War and the Philippine-American War. The young Sargent Major was also a member of Portland's Rowing crew. At the time they were married, James was in real estate. In 1901 James and his new bride would relocate to Seattle in order for James to take his new position as secretary of the North American Fisheries Company. In October of 1902 their first child, Phillip, was born in Seattle, WA. The small family moved back to Portland in early 1904 as James took a job as a reporter for the Oregonian. Their second child, Dorothy, was born June of 1905 in Portland. But evidently not all was happy in the family as the couple divorced in May of 1908, Ruth citing James' drinking. James Rintoul would move to Wendover, Utah, taking a job with the Southern Pacific as a telegraph operator and Ruth would move to Marysville, WA. Judging by what I have researched about James Rintoul beyond 1908, he likely never saw his children again. Ruth remarried on April 1, 1910 to William Hill in Snohomish county, Washington. It was the second marriage for Hill as well. In April of 1911 William hill began constructing a cabin west of Oregon City just on the outskirts of the community of Ardenwald. The actual location of the cabin is unknown but I do know that the front yard faced the street now known as 32nd Avenue which runs south from Johnson Creek Blvd. This was known as the Milwaukee-Willisburg Road. The road terminated in Milwaukee, OR and on the east side of this terminus was the small community of Willisburg. The Ardenwald station of the Interurban Rail was north of the house and was right below the 32nd Avenue Bridge. Today a biking and walking path runs on top of the old railroad bed for this line which continued on through the Johnson Creek Canyon to Oregon City. The canyon hasn't changed much in 100 years, with thick bushes and trees growing on either side of the creek bed. This was a favorite location for hobos and other transient (called vagrants) people. The west side of the Milwaukee-Willisburg road was mostly undeveloped with a wooded area running south from the canyon. The Southern Pacific railroad tracks ran along the west edge of these woods and farther west was the flood plain of the Willamette River. These woods were also popular with transients. The Hill's cabin was the last of four built along this road. If you left the Ardenwald station and walked south you would first walk past the cabin of Joe Delk and next the Hills' cabin. The Hills had moved into the unfinished cabin in May of 1911. South of the Hills were the Matthews family and beyond that, at the south edge of the woods, was the home and business of Nathan Harvey. Mrs. Matthews was a frequent visitor to the Hills and had become a friend of Ruth's. The Matthews' son owned two dogs that stayed in the cabin with the family. A few days prior to the murders, Nathan Harvey was driving his wagon south along the road toward his house. It happened that Ruth Hill was walking in the same direction. She introduced herself and asked Mr. Harvey if he knew where she could buy a cow and when he said "No," she walked along side the wagon until they passed her front yard where she said goodbye and went to her house. The day of the murders Ruth took the Interurban north to her father and brother's office in the old (and gone) Worcester Building, presently the location of a hole, I think. Both her brother and father stated that Ruth was agitated but due to the business of the day they were unable to find out why. She returned home and, as far as I know, that was the last time anyone other than the killer saw the family alive. Living on the main road between two important towns in the Portland metro area would bring quite diverse foot traffic by the Hill cabin. Taking into account the number of transients in the area it's possible the Hills saw or were seen by the killer before. I have not come across any enemies Ruth may have had, nor any of her family. The law firm of Cowing & Cowing (partnered with his youngest son, Tommy) specialized in the Homestead Act and primarily represented settlers fighting the railroads. There was talk of a land dispute behind the murders and I've discussed two suspects here and here. However there doesn't really seem to be any motive behind this murder other than what has been discussed in other articles. Upcoming: Victimolgy: William Hill; The Crime Scene: Details That Cannot Be Ignored.

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