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Opinion >  Column

100 years ago in central Washington: The little brother of the man killed in a farm rampage impressed with his cool head

 (Spokane Daily Chronicle archives)
(Spokane Daily Chronicle archives)

Mateo Bongiorni, 14, was hailed as a hero in the aftermath of the fatal shooting at his family’s farm near Wilson Creek, north of Moses Lake.

“It was the slim, dark eyed little brother of the dead boy who out-guessed the killer, outmatched his courage and spread the alarm through the countryside,” the Spokane Daily Chronicle wrote. “It takes nerve for a slip of a lad to ride out into the night with a murderer abroad, but little Mateo knew that Fate had challenged him to reach a telephone, and it was his wild night ride through the desert hills that brought the first officers to the scene of the tragedy and started posses on the trail of the guilty men.”

Earlier accounts said that Mateo and his mother rode together to a neighbor’s farm to telephone the news, but subsequent interviews apparently established that his mother stayed at the farm to care for Joe Bongiorni, who was seriously wounded. Mateo helped carry the body of August Bongiorni into the farmhouse before he departed to get help.

Reporters who interviewed Mateo at the farm said that the boy exhibited “an air of indifference that all but hid his pain.”

When asked if they were standing on the spot where the murder took place, the boy said yes, but after a pause, said, “We raise some of the best alfalfa anywhere around this country.”

The Chronicle ran a photo of the confessed murderer, Paul Staren, standing with officers outside the Grant County jail at Ephrata. He had pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, but was described as “little concerned” with his fate.

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