Henry Clay Vaughan was born on April 27, 1849, to Alexander H. and Elizabeth Fields Vaughan. The family farm was located in the Willamette River Valley south of Portland, Oregon. They moved to The Dalles, Oregon, on the Columbia River in 1861, where they lived for five years. The family moved southeast to Canyon City, which was in the midst of a gold rush. The Vaughans started a ranch to supply beef and horses to the miners.
Vaughan got into his first scrape at 15, when a customer refused to pay for his horse. He shot the man in the dispute. While out on bail, he shot the man who filed the original complaint against him. He was taken to The Dalles to stand trial. His family convinced the judge to allow Vaughan to enlist in the army rather than be punished. Vaughan didn’t take to army life and was dishonorably discharged after a month and a half.
He hooked up with Dick Bunton, a horse trader and rustler. In April 1865, they went to Idaho to make money off the miners. They stole horses along the way, which came to the attention of the Umatilla County sheriff. A shoot-out near the Burnt River resulted in the death of Bunton and a deputy. Vaughan was arrested and tried at Auburn, the Baker County seat.
Vaughan received a life sentence at the new prison at Salem. Vaughan learned black smithing, carpentry, and bricklaying. He also learned to read and write in the prison school. After lobbying by his family and friends, he was granted a pardon by the governor of Oregon on February 22, 1870.
Upon his release, Vaughan returned to working with cattle and horses. He set up a front at Toano, Nevada. He was gentlemanly and well-liked around town. In May 1875, he married Lois McCarthy, sister of the notorious McCarty brothers. They had two children. Shortly afterward, Lois left him, taking the boys with her.
Vaughan moved to Pendleton, Oregon. Shortly afterward he remarried, despite the fact that he had never legally divorced. He married Louisa Jane Ditty on August 31, 1878, she being newly arrived from the Midwest and not knowing his reputation.
He set up his operation on the Umatilla Reservation. He had some Indian friends, who helped him round up stray cattle. He sold them in nearby Idaho territory. He ran another operation from Spokane Falls in Washington Territory, which was on the route to the cattle drives to Montana. After awhile he moved to Union, in Union County, Oregon. Shortly afterward Louisa left him due to his philandering. He gave her money only for the stage.
On December 21, 1881, showed up at Graham’s saloon in Prineville, Oregon. He had heard vigilante committees were making things tough on rustlers. He talked to Charlie Long, who was rumored to work for Colonel Thompson, leader of the committee. They played cards for awhile before the game began to get rough. Graham broke it up before it got out of hand. Long and Vaughan met again at Til Glaze’s saloon. Vaughan was insulted when Long refused to drink when he bought a round. Words escalated into gunplay. Long shot first but just grazed his head. Vaughan hit Long four times. Before he collapsed, Long hit Vaughan in the chest. Both men survived. After his recovery, Vaughn was tried at The Dalles and was acquitted since he proved Long fired first.
Afterward, he moved to Wood River, near Hailey, Idaho. There he met up with Martha Robie, a widow. She had finances inherited from her husband. She was also eligible for reservation land at Umatilla because her mother was a Nez Perce. He set up a farm on Martha’s property on the Umatilla Reservation, on Wildhorse Creek about halfway between Walla Walla and Pendleton.
Vaughan soon got a reputation for foiling train robbers. One time three men got on the train and started collecting valuables from the passengers. What they got from Hank was lead. They changed their plans and ran off the train. The railroad awarded him for his deeds with a lifetime pass. He was also known for his skill and daring in driving a horse and buggy. But he did have some mishaps, which wrecked his buggy and amused the townspeople.
He still rustled from time to time. He branded new cattle not yet branded with the owner’s own mark. He also started driving the herds at night. He used his family members and those of his ex-wife Lois McCarty to keep an eye out for the law and to provide way stations along his route. In 1886, Bill Falwell shot Vaughan and seriously injured his right arm, because Vaughan had earlier humiliated him at a saloon. He also got into trouble when he beat up a man he caught cheating at cards. Before the case came to trial, he bribed the principal witness to stay away from court.
Later that year Vaughan sold his ranch on the reservation for a tidy profit. They lived in Centerville, where he continued to shoot up the town. He took a trip back east and another to California to soak in the hot springs. This helped sooth his aches and pains, of which there were starting to be plenty.
In May of 1893, Vaughan went to Pendleton to get his horse shod. While waiting he went to a few saloons. Later he was riding away when the horse slipped and fell, crushing Hank. He was taken to the Transfer House to recover. He lay there for two weeks in a semi-coma, incoherent from the concussion. He died June 15, 1893. He was buried at the Olney Cemetery in Pendleton in an unmarked grave. A long line of mourners were there to see him off.