Ashland author John Riha has written and published “The Bounty Huntress,” a historical novel that takes the real-life slaying of Jackson County’s first game warden as a starting point.
A December 2014 Mail Tribune article on the reaction of family members to the 100th anniversary of the killing of the grandfather they never knew, Arthur Hubbard, sparked Riha to undertake the book at a time he’d been considering several large writing projects.
“I saw the article and I said, ‘I’m going to do something on that,’ ” Riha recalls.
Riha has written for Esquire, GQ, This Old House, Men’s Journal and other magazines. He’s had fiction published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Summerset Review and other publications. He’s been an editor at Better Homes and Gardens and Country Homes. His first book, “Rookies in the Wild," is a guide to backpacking based on hikes he took with his son, two novices who had lots of new gear and no experience.
In this latest effort, Riha combines adventure with a moral that weighs law against injustice and explores forgiveness, the author said. Hubbard, the county’s first game warden, was fatally shot near Elk Creek when he went with a constable to arrest Loris Martin for game law violations. A trial held three months later resulted in the acquittal of Martin. The Mail Tribune at the time wrote an editorial titled, “A Travesty of Justice.”
Hubbard’s widow, Dora, had two children, Delman, 2, and Iris, 4, at the time of the killing. The heroine of Riha’s book is Iris Greenlee.
“Sixteen years later, one of these kids grows up and decides to take revenge for the murder of her father,” Riha says. “Those characters come face to face at the end.”
Riha’s book begins with the shooting, but after the trial concludes in Chapter 5, the rest is fiction. All the names have been changed. Newspaper accounts, which are set in a narrowed format in the book reflecting newspaper columns, are from the fictitious Medford Meteor.
“You get this basis through the trial of smoldering injustice that affects the family,” Riha says. The son has autism, a disease not well understood at the time. A second marriage by the game warden’s wife ends when her new husband is killed in a lumber mill accident.
“Iris becomes a bounty hunter to help support the family. She was after moonshiners,” Riha says. Iris had learned to handle a rifle and track game while deer hunting with her stepfather. There were moonshiners in the hills of Jackson County in the 1920s after the 18th Amendment prohibited alcohol production, and bounty hunters were still active locally.
“She encounters so many misfortunes along the way that it triggers humiliation,” Riha says. There’s misogyny that affects the family. The newly planted orchard in the Applegate is destroyed by a flood and she's molested by a neighbor.
“There are things that resonate today. At the time there was a lot of misogyny against women, especially women of courage,” Riha says. There were also land-use conflicts over the rights of citizens to cut timber, mine and drill. Game regulations had replaced the ability to hunt or fish at anytime to feed a family.
Riha spent time to ensure accuracy of the period portrayed.
“It took about three years. It’s invariably a lot of research,” Riha says. He needed to know about weapons of the era, cars and trucks, county jails and criminal justice in Southern Oregon, and language that captures phrases in use during the era.
Most of the research was done online, but he also had help from Chet Orloff, director emeritus of the Oregon Historical Society, and the Southern Oregon Historical Society, the Applegate Partnership & Watershed Council, Collectors Firearms and others.
The book is available locally at Bloomsbury Books in Ashland, Rebel Heart Books in Jacksonville, and through Amazon and Barnes and Noble online.
— Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at email@example.com.