On the evening of May 13, 1854 in a pioneer cabin on the Clackamas River about nine miles east of Oregon City, Nathaniel Lamb was seated at the dinner table regaling his children with a tale of shooting a bear. His wife, Charity Lamb, sneaked up behind him with an axe and twice brought it down violently upon his head. Both strikes pierced his skull, one dug two inches into his brain. He died a week later.
With very few facts yet gleaned, frothing newspaper editors immediately expressed outrage; calling the deed cold blooded and atrocious, declaring it a Revolting Murder, and portraying Nathaniel as an unfortunate and innocent cuckold and his wife Charity a lascivious, conniving, and remorseless cheater and murderer.
Of course the story was much more complicated. Nathaniel had repeatedly abused and threatened his wife, and Charity may or may not have been all there, so to speak. The newspapers insinuated that both Charity and her nineteen year old daughter Mary Ann had been involved with a roving Lothario named Colin who stayed at their place for a while working as a hired hand, though the truth was never established, and the most likely scenario was that Mary Ann saw Colin as a possible way out of a dysfunctional family situation.
The jury returned their verdict of guilty of second degree murder, urging mercy from the judge. Charity Lamb was sentenced to life in prison and died at the SE Portland’s Hawthorne Insane Asylum in 1879.
Source: The Tragedy of Charity Lamb, Oregon’s First Convicted Murderess by Ronald B. Lansing. Published in the Oregon Historical Quarterly, Vol. 101, No. 1 (Spring, 2000).
So that’s where The Decemberists get all their song ideas.