Wallowa County's most famous elk

This record rack of antlers, on display at Wallowa Lake Lodge, belonged to Bill Taft, Wallowa County's most famous elk. Photo by Elane Dickenson

Probably Wallowa County's most famous elk of all time was a big bull named Bill Taft.

Bill Taft came from the Jackson Hole area of Wyoming in 1912, part of a shipment of 15 elk that came by train in an effort to re-establish the species in the county.

Elk had almost disappeared in this section of the country by the early part of the century, and between 1909 and 1933 elk hunting was illegal in Oregon.

The elk from Jackson Hole, brought by train and sled to Billy Meadows in the Chesnimnus area, were welcomed to Wallowa County by enthusiastic residents and lots of press coverage.

Bill Taft was the lone surviving bull after reportedly mortally wounding a rival bull, Roosevelt, en route.

Taft was known by name and reputation by all county residents through the pages of the Wallowa County Chieftain, which reported on the elk situation regularly.

In 1923 the game department decreed that Bill Taft should be executed "as he is old and troublesome" and an expedition of local hunters went on an expedition to Billy Meadows to carry out the decree.

The hunters, struggling in four feet of snow, could find no trace of him.

The Feb. 15, 1923, issue of the Chieftain reported a reprieve: poor Bill had been "the victim of mistaken identity" and it was actually another bull living at Wallowa Lake who was dangerous and had to be destroyed.

Somewhere along the line Bill Taft himself was moved to Wallowa Lake to live and the old bull eventually met his fate there after a fight with a younger bull (reportedly his own son) named Tarzan in September 1930. Tarzan was killed in the battle and then Taft had to be destroyed because of the injuries he received.

Bill Taft had reigned supreme in the public's mind for over 18 years after he arrived in Wallowa County.

The rest of the story is that from measurements taken of his antlers and head mount in the mid-1990s, Taft was recognized in the Oregon Record Book for Big Game, first published by David Morris in 1996, as the state's record Rocky Mountain elk.

He measured 411 by Boon and Crockett standards.

One set of Taft's antlers is on display at the Wallowa Lake Lodge and visitors are welcome to stop by and see for themselves the rack of Oregon's record elk.

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