On occasion, we touch on those men and women of the past who appear for but a brief moment on the world stage, before sinking once more into obscurity. Today’s Forgotten Person is O. Puren of Seattle, Washington.
Puren was apparently a large fellow; at least according to the Prosecutor who called the twenty-year old a “big hulking brute,” when he appeared before Judge Gordon on a charge of disorderly conduct. His crime was breaking into a boxcar that lay on a siding near the Seattle waterfront on the morning of April 6, 1908.
Puren had been out of work, and as a consequence was hungry. He’d last eaten on the morning of April 4, and when he saw the refrigerated boxcar, knew it contained food of some sort. He broke the car’s seal, and downed four cans of condensed milk. But then Puren did a strange thing, which we confess we might not have done in his shoes. He left a note behind:
This burglary have been made by me, O. Puren, because I was near to the starvation. I am voluntary to give myself up and pay for it by such act. I am courageous to give myself up because I am unequal to do wrong. I was broke and nothing to eat since 10 a. m. yesterday. I guess you will be very satisfied because that is not so many thieves in the country confess their crime. I drunk four of the cans of milk that were in the box present here.
Puren then marched out, found Patrolman Jennings of the Seattle Police Department, and placed himself in the officer’s custody. Taken before Judge Gordon the next morning, Puren received the maximum sentence; 30 days in jail and a $100 fine. Unable to pay the fine, Gordon added another 33 days of hard labor on the chain gang.
Compared to the other sentences handed down by the same Judge, Puren’s sentence seems unduly harsh:
- On March 27, thirty Chinese workers were arrested for gambling, and had the charges against them dropped;
- On that same date, George Baldwin was apprehended with a loaded gun, and charged with carrying a concealed weapon. He was fined $20;
- J. Hong was convicted of operating a boiler without a license, and forfeited his bail and went free.
- Several men were charged with selling milk that didn’t come up to the standards of the health code, and fined $15 each.
There ends the story of poor, but honest O. Puren, who leaves behind a question for us some 105 years later. Would you have turned yourself in?