Off Beat: Land dispute blamed for ghostly Slocum House events

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A fatal land dispute more than 160 years ago continues to echo in a downtown Vancouver landmark.

That was the conclusion of investigators from "The Dead Files," who recently checked out ghostly happenings in the Slocum House.

A community theater group contacted the Travel Channel show after experiencing some mysterious sights and sounds in the vintage building.

The episode aired May 18. In a "reveal" that was filmed at the Clark County Historical Museum, the "Dead Files" team tabbed David Gardner as the likely ghost.

This much has been documented: Gardner and a companion were killed in 1850 by Amos Short — Esther's husband — in a four- or five-way property fight.

The dispute involved land claimed by the U.S. Army, the Hudson's Bay Company and St. James Mission. It got even more contentious when Amos and Esther Short settled there, and the Hudson's Bay Company tried to drive them off.

And just to muddy things even more, Gardner also had a claim to the property.

"Originally, the town was platted by Henry Williamson," said Susan Tissot, museum director. "Williamson left in 1849 to go to the Gold Rush and sold his claim to Gardner.

"Gardner and his Hawaiian assistant — I'm not sure anybody knows his name — were shot by Amos Short on that property," said Tissot, whose museum also helped with research. "Amos had a gun, he warned them, and they didn't listen. He killed them both."

Amos Short pleaded self-defense and was acquitted.

Tissot said other television shows have asked about filming in the museum, but she's been leery.

In this case, museum staff members Kris Wells and Robert Schimelpfenig could vouch for the show.

"Robert and I are fans," said Wells, the museum's collections manager. "We felt it was a little less wild than some of the other ghost shows."

The show wound up generating some walk-in traffic for the museum.

"One family came from Hillsboro, Ore., because of the show," Wells said.

And a young man who thinks his home is haunted wanted some information about the house.

— Tom Vogt

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.