Born in Tennessee, James Blakely emigrated to Oregon in 1846, helping found the city of Brownsville. Blakely emerged as a leader in Oregon early on while forming a volunteer group during the Rogue River War, which earned him the title of captain.
Following the war, Capitan Blakely became an integral part of the Brownsville community and helped develop the economy by building the town’s first flour and woolen mills. He did not work in town, but instead chose to farm and operate a cattle ranch just outside the area.
Blakely’s first encounter with crime occurred after moving a portion of his cattle herd to an area in Central Oregon, which would later be known as Madras. In 1882, several of his neighbors were killed in a dispute over property lines by Lucius Langdon. Blakely helped capture and arrest Langdon, but a group of local men took justice into their own hands and killed Langdon.
Langdon’s death marked the rise of a gang group called the Vigilantes. The Vigilantes formed in the early 1880s as an increasing number of ranchers began to experience issues with settlers and outlaws. This group felt that the judges were too lenient and formed their own law organization. Unfortunately, when Crook County was founded in October of 1882, most of the county officers were members of the gang. Rather than arresting criminals, the Vigilantes were known for murdering their enemies or those who opposed them – often for political reasons.
Blakely organized a group known as the Moonshiners to help protect the citizens and overthrow the Vigilantes. By 1884, the Moonshiners had run the gang out of town and elected Blakely to become the first Sheriff of Crook County on June 2, 1884. Blakely would serve two terms as Sheriff in Crook County before moving to Wallowa County and serving as Sheriff there.
Blakey lived to be 100 years old and helped raise eleven children alongside his wife Sarah.