Fern Hobbs at about age 18.

Fern Hobbs around 1903

A documentary featuring a notable episode in Baker County, and Oregon, history will premiere Monday on Oregon Public Broadcasting.

“Fern Hobbs and the Snake River Showdown” chronicles the confrontation between Hobbs, an Oregon attorney sent to Baker County by Gov. Oswald West in 1914, and residents in Copperfield, a small mining town along the Snake River known for illegal gambling and other debauchery.


Gary Dielman, a Baker City historian, was interviewed for a documentary that premieres Monday, Oct. 21 on Oregon Public Broadcasting.

The half-hour show airs at 9 p.m. Monday.

Among those interviewed for the documentary is Baker County historian Gary Dielman.

Dielman said OPB producer Nadine Jelsing and her crew recorded an interview in the living room of Dielman’s Baker City home in late May. The next day Dielman accompanied the documentarians to the former site of Copperfield, about 70 miles east of Baker City.

The episode, part of the “Oregon Experience” series, is also available to watch online now at opb.org/fernhobbs

According to a press release from OPB, Copperfield came under scrutiny of Gov. Oswald West in December 1913.

The town, which boomed as a result of copper mining nearby, had a population of about 1,000 by 1907.

But six years later it had dropped to fewer than 100, and increasing competition among Copperfield’s saloons led to problems.

According to a contemporary newspaper, Copperfield was “the quintessence of all that is foul and immoral.”

Copperfield’s mayor and some city councilors were in the saloon business, and they passed laws granting liquor licenses to themselves but denying them to competitors. Arson was blamed for one blaze that destroyed a saloon.

West, who was a fervent prohibitionist (the Volstead Act, outlawing the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages, took effect nationwide six years later), learned about the situation in Copperfield after local residents complained about the mayhem. A petition signed by half the town’s residents was sent to Salem seeking help.

West decided to send Hobbs, whom he hired as his chief clerk in 1911 and promoted to private secretary, across Oregon in January 1914 to demand the mayor and some councilors resign, close the saloons and, if necessary, to enforce martial law, which West had declared.

Hobbs was 30 years old at the time. She was accompanied by several National Guardsmen.

The episode, also known as the “Copperfield Affair,” made headlines across the U.S.

“Fern Hobbs and the Snake River Showdown” written and produced by Jelsing and edited by Lisa Suinn Kallem, features archival film and photographs, and an interview with John DeFerrari, Hobbs’ great-nephew, who lives in Washington, D.C.

Dielman said he collaborated with De Ferrari several years ago for an article about Fern Hobbs published in the online Oregon Encyclopedia.

Dielman also wrote two other articles about Copperfield for the online encyclopedia. All are available at oregonencyclopedia.org

Other people featured in the documentary are Finn J.D. John, instructor at Oregon State University, and Heather Mayer, historian at Portland Community College.

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