Hermit gun.

Hermit Feud Murder Weapon

Field review by the editors.

Gold Beach, Oregon

Small historical museums sometimes harbor the unexpected. At Jerry's Rogue River Museum, it's a rusty barrel of the gun purportedly used by a 1930s hermit to ambush, shoot, and kill a neighbor.

Rogue River: a region rich with feuds.
Rogue River: a region rich with feuds.

Hugo Mayer (1884-1961) was the unhinged "Hermit of the Craggies," described in 1930s newspaper accounts as an elderly eccentric: wild-eyed, bearded, with shaggy hair.

Hugo and neighbor Robert Fantz had a fatal encounter near Agness, along the Illinois River, in the autumn of 1934. A museum sign (which spells the name "Meyer" and puts the incident in 1933) claims that the two couldn't settle their differences about grazing rights for cattle.

Fantz and his wife had a ranch across the river from Mayer. Hugo believed that Fantz was up to something, and had his .22 Winchester Rimfire rifle rigged as a booby trap on his hermit cabin door. Apparently tired of waiting for Fantz to drop in uninvited, Meyer laid in ambush along the Illinois River Trail and shot him in the head as he rode by on his horse. When he left Fantz on the trail, Mayer said that Fantz was "squealing like a stuck pig," according to signage in the museum.

Stuffed woodland animals -- the kind that might have witnessed the ambush.
Stuffed woodland animals -- the kind that might have witnessed the ambush.

Frantz died, probably quickly (he had a preexisting terminal lung ailment), while Mayer headed off into the wilderness for several weeks to check his animal traps. The police connected Mayer to the murder with a single brass button found on the scene, which had fallen off an army jacket that the hermit bought on one of his annual treks into Gold Beach.

Everyone in the region was said to be on edge until the killer hermit returned to his cabin, where police caught up with him. "Crazy Hugo" pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity; he was convicted of first degree murder and died in the state penitentiary in Salem in 1961.

In 1947 another river hermit shot a newcomer in the back through a knothole in the newcomer's woodshed. After that, local hermits apparently stopped shooting their neighbors, as there are no more Mad Hermit attacks mentioned in Jerry's Rogue River Museum.

Hermit Feud Murder Weapon

Jerry's Rogue River Museum

Address:
29985 Harbor Way, Gold Beach, OR
Phone:
800-451-3645
Admission:
Free.
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

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In the region:
Ocean World Aquarium, Crescent City, CA - 48 mi.

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September 26, 2017

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