Oregon State Police Lt. Stephanie Bigman is on a quest in southern Oregon: Exactly where on the side of Sexton Mountain in southern Oregon was a state trooper killed while on lone patrol in Josephine County?
On July 1 – 89 years ago – Trooper Burrell Milo Baucom stopped by the Grants Pass office on the trail of a suspected stolen car from southern California. He soon came across the vehicle without a then-required entry sticker that Oregon placed on vehicles coming from California.
Trooper Baucom pulled the suspect vehicle over at a wide spot on the side of Sexton Mountain, about 10 miles north of Grants Pass.
After searching the two young men, he planned to bring them back to Grants Pass. But he missed a hidden handgun in his search.
“The 17-year-old panicked and shot Trooper Baucom once in the abdomen. Trooper Baucom, the fighter that he was, tackled the 20-year-old, was fighting him through the gunshot wound and was winning,” said Lt. Bigman.
The 17-year-old began to leave but saw that his partner was losing the struggle, she said. He then came back and shot Trooper Baucom three more times, killing him and leaving him on the side of the road.
The two assailants drove off to the north but ditched the car a short distance up the mountain. They then fled on foot but were captured by a quickly-established posse’.
Still, Trooper Baucom was dead, only the second to die in the line of duty for the young state police agency.
Questions about the shooting
According to Lt. Bigman, the exact location of the killing on then U.S. 99 and the subsequent original location of a monument became a discussion topic at the Grants Pass field office. Troopers frequently visited the Baucom monument, located off northbound Interstate 5 at the nearby Manzanita Rest Area.
“The questions started: where was the monument originally located, and where was he murdered?” said Lt. Bigman. So they began a quest to find the actual location of the murder of Trooper Baucom and where the monument originally dedicated was – and to find out if they are one in the same.
Out of that the idea blossomed a “fallen officer” highway sign which would be placed, if not at the actual site, then nearby on I-5.
Lt. Bigman asked ODOT if the agency had any information on the location. Right-of-way maps from the time and other information from 1933 placed a possible site of the incident 10 miles north of Grants Pass on then U.S. 99. The old highway is today’s Monument Drive – named after the Baucom Monument – and current Oxyoke Road before it disappears at about the 10 mile mark into the embankment of I-5.
ODOT assisted Lt. Bigman searching the old highway on the side of Sexton Mountain. Some of the roadway is used as an access to hillside homes. Another section, next to the interstate, is hidden and forgotten. It’s that area east of I-5 that’s most intriguing based on old clippings and research.
“The best description we have is from the sheriff at the time. It was on the first long grade up the mountain. This area where we are standing is as close to the location as we can find,” said Lt. Bigman.
A monument is a reminder
Trooper Baucom’s funeral in Medford included a solemn procession through downtown. A year later, a monument to his sacrifice was dedicated at a well-attended ceremony that included law enforcement officers from throughout the region and his fellow national guardsman and family.
Today that monument sits at the nearby northbound Manzanita Rest Area, north of Grants Pass. The monument’s original location is unknown at this point because many of the described roadside features have changed over the decades.
However, the monument still plays an important role for today’s new state trooper recruits. Lt. Bigman said the recruits are paired with a coach who takes them to the rest area and to the monument. Only they don’t know what they are walking up to since the monument from the parking area appears to be just a stone.
“For them it’s a learning moment,” said Lt. Bigman. “Just as they are surprised at what they find on the other side of the monument, they learn how quickly things can change. Just like for Trooper Baucom: out on lone patrol and in a blink of an eye he was killed.”
ODOT is currently working with OSP to bring a fallen officer sign to the side of I-5 on the southern slope of Sexton Summit. Oregon law requires the request go through the legislative process and Lt. Bigman is looking for a sponsor.
“For us, Trooper Baucom’s story could be any of us. And we know that – when things go sideways out here and fighting alone on a side of a mountain could be our story. We always say ‘we’ll never forget,’ ‘we’ll always remember’ and this quest to get the fallen officer memorial sign for him and to find the site of the actual homicide scene is something we should do for this man who served in the armed forces. He took an oath to protect and serve the citizens of Oregon and he lived and died on the side of this mountain.”