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This postcard picture of Cannon Beach was created in 1966, which means just off to the left of the frame is a beach with a fence around it and "no trespassing" signs.

HOW OREGON ALMOST LOST PUBLIC ACCESS TO ITS BEACHES

A Portland real-estate guy found a loophole in the law and claimed a patch of beach for his own, and his friends in the state Legislature tried to keep it that way. Here's the story.


A color lithograph of George and Kate Ann Williams’s Victorian  mansion, located at 18th and Couch streets downtown.

This spooky-looking Portland mansion was home of a 'starvation cult'

A prominent Portland socialite led a sect called "Truth," with the motto "Pray and Be Cured," that required 40-day fasts. It vanished after its leader starved herself to death during a 110-day fast. Here's the story.


An illustration of the scene in the Davis Hotel when detectives saw a hand suddenly  reach out from under the bed, grabbing for a pistol hidden there, from the Portland Morning Oregonian.

Railroad Murder mystery solved with the victim's help

The thieves, cornered in a boxcar, shot their way out, mortally wounding a railroad "bull." But the dying man was still a pretty good shot. Here's the story.


The archway monument leading up to the Wallowa County Courthouse,  built in 1936. The bronze plaque on the inside left of the arch includes  the name of murderer and horse thief Bruce “Blue” Evans.

A monument in honor of a horse thief and mass murderer?

Bruce "Blue" Evans led the gang that slaughtered over 30 innocent Chinese miners in 1887. So why is his name celebrated on a monument to Wallowa County Pioneers? Probably because they didn't know. Here's the story.


Legendary Coast Guard rescue-boat man Tom McAdams.

Newport's legendary cigar-chomping Coast Guard lifesaver:

In one famous incident, he saved four drowning people and earned a lifesaving medal — but the Coast Guard had wanted to reprimand him for risking their nicest boat to do it. Here's the story.


Jonathan Bourne Jr., the rascally and creative political mastermind behind the 'hold-up session.'

The legislature's notorious 40-day drunken party

Lawmaker Jonathan Bourne Jr. knew if the state House convened, it would elect his opponent. So he held things up for six weeks — with a Bacchanalian bender. Here's the story.


Title screen from a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Mel Blanc, the legendary Looney Toons voice man, grew up in Portland.

The voice of Bugs Bunny went to high school in Portland

Legendary Hollywood voice man Mel Blanc's teachers weren't too impressed with his voice talents, but Oregon radio listeners and cartoon fans sure were. Here's the story.


Three Rocks Beach, Camp Westwind, the mouth of the Salmon River and Cascade  Head as they appear today.

Is there pirate loot buried at this YWCA youth camp?

The discovery of a giant skeleton in the 1930s suggested that the old Indian legend of a pirate ship sinking in the Salmon River might be true ... or maybe not. Here's the story.


This is not a picture of the Sunshine; it's a lumber schooner of a similar type, the Wawona. The Sunshine, on her way home from her maiden voyage to San Francisco, vanished and then reappeared, upside down, 200 miles off course.

Gold was gone when schooner washed ashore ... empty

The fate of the Sunshine's passengers and crew is unknown ... did somebody wreck the ship on purpose?. Here's the story.


One of Conde McCullough's bridges -- the steel one linking Oregon City with Gladstone. he's better known for the Oregon Coast bridges.

Sammy Davis Jr. used to regularly play portland clubs.

Many consider him the coolest member of the Rat Pack. Sammy caught his big break while he was in Portland. Here's the story.


The steamer Telephone, fastest boat on the river in the 1880s and possibly the world -- until it burned to the waterline one day.


riverboat captain had to choose: save passengers, or save his boat?

The steamboat Telephone caught fire at the widest spot in the Columbia; the decision must not have been too tough, because Captain U.B. Scott didn't hesitate for a moment. Here's what happened.

A shallow-draft riverboat of the type pioneered by Uriah B. Scott, on the river at Albany around 1900 or so.

Turns out the 'ignoramus from back east' knew what he was doing.

The big steamboat outfits laughed at the crude, ugly riverboat Uriah B. Scott was building ... until he used it to eat their lunch. Here's how.


The gravestone of Ame, who despite having died 10 years after the Civil War, was still considered a slave.

sHE DIED AROUND 1874. SO WHY DOES THE GRAVESTONE SAY SHE WAS A SLAVE?

Ame came over the Oregon Trail from Missouri. But when the North won the Civil War, her status as a slave didn't change. Here's what happened.


Ray V.B. Jackson in a booking photo from the Oregon State Pen, in 1896. Four years after this photo was taken, he was teaching grade school in Silver Lake.

Is this the face of oregon's first serial killer?

Like an "angel of death," ex-con Ray V.B. Jackson just happened to be at the scene of at least five Central Oregon homicides. What are the odds? Here's the story (in two parts).


The Sagebrush Symphony Orchestra on its 'giant violin' float, after riding it through the town of Burns in the Fourth of July Parade, 1915.

america's first youth orchestra came out of tiny sagebrush town.

The Portland Youth Philharmonic says it was founded in Portland in 1924. Actually, it's older than that -- and much more rural. Here's the story.


Vaudeville's famous Klondike Kate became a Central Oregon legend

central oregon's most fabulous homesteader ever.

Homesteader Kitty "Klondike Kate" Rockwell, retired from the bright lights of Vaudeville, often wore full costume just to weed the garden. Here's the story.


Goal of Oregon whale hunters: Grow fur coats, and put a man on the moon.

helping put a man on the moon, one dead whale at a time?

Whale oil is special stuff, and NASA needed it for the space program. So an Astoria group launched a whaling venture in the early 1960s. Here's the story.


Early Oregon 'holy roller' cult ended in murder, suicide, insanity

THE holy-roller "NAKED LADIES' CULT" IN CORVALLIS and waldport.

It started out as a church seeking perfect holiness and Godliness. It ended in murder, insanity and chaos — and, yes, rumors of naked ladies. Check out the full story (in two parts).

Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Quest for “Lost Cabin Gold Mine” led to 12,000-acre jewel

Searching for a fabulous source of gold formerly belonging to a friend who'd mysteriously disappeared, miners stumbled across Crater Lake. They never found the gold, though; could it be that it's still out there somewhere?

A hand-tinted postcard image of Crater Lake from the 1940s. (Image:
A.M. Prentiss/ Wesley Andrews Co.)

Hang around a group of gold miners long enough, and sooner or later — but most likely sooner — you will hear a story involving a lost gold mine of unfathomable richness, located close by a lost cabin that folks have been looking for for the last 150 years. Depend on it.

Among gold-mining stories, the “lost cabin mine” has become a cliché, like the bug-eyed monster in science fiction or the Jessica Fletcher-type character in murder mysteries. Every state that has a gold-mining history has at least one Lost Cabin Gold Mine story.

A hand-tinted image of sunset over Wizard Island on Crater Lake, from
a 1930s postcard. (Image: Wesley Andrews Co.)

Oregon has at least four, probably a few more.

The earliest of the lot dates all the way back to the heyday of the California Gold Rush, in either 1849 or 1850, and ends with the discovery not of a gold mine, but of a jewel — a deep blue 12,000-acre jewel that we know today as Crater Lake.

“Set ’em up for the house!”

The story starts off in Yreka, California. It seems one of the well-known miners in the Yreka area came back to town from his summer’s adventures with an enormous poke of gold, which he immediately got busy “squandering happily and rapidly,” as author Ruby El Hult memorably phrased it.

A postcard image of visitors to Crater Lake enjoying the scenery.

His chief method for doing so involved strolling into one of the saloons and hollering, “Set ’em up for the house!”  With that, he’d toss his poke to the bartender, then bask in the appreciation coming his way from all his thirsty friends — whose number multiplied exponentially as the winter wore on.

He did this so many times that the good people of Yreka took to calling him Set-em-up, and the nickname stuck so hard that his real name is, so far as I’ve been able to learn, lost to history.

The next spring, Set-em-up headed out again, and once again came back in the fall with a creakingly heavy load of gold, which he used to once again keep the entire town’s hard-drinking population warm all winter long.

Where was Set-em-up’s mine?

A particularly enthusiastically hand-tinted postcard image of Crater
Lake and Wizard Island.

The regulars in Yreka, who by this time were finding the local diggin’s increasingly stingy, were very interested indeed. But for a fellow so loose of purse, Set-em-up was remarkably tight of lip. Rarely did he allow himself to get far enough into a bottle to forget what he was doing, and on those few occasions when he did, he didn’t say much.

But he did, in one of those rare unguarded moments, say that his mine was up in Oregon, not in the playing-out hills of Nor-Cal. He had a cabin up there, he said, and every summer he’d go stay in it and work the phenomenally productive diggin’s around it.

An image from a double-sided souvenir postcard of Crater Lake.

That spring, Set-em-up packed up and headed north — and was never seen again. And throughout the hard, cold, thirsty winter of 1853, the townfolk talked a lot about their missing benefactor.

The thing was, he’d clearly got his hooks onto a very attractive piece of real estate. If he’d come to some tragic end falling off a mountain or soaking up a couple bullets or arrows on his way to or from the mine, why, then, that was unfortunate, but it meant that somewhere there was an ownerless mine of phenomenal value just waiting for somebody to come take over.

So several Yreka miners put their heads together and tried to figure out where exactly this cabin in Oregon was, so they could go forth and “adopt” it.

The expedition departs

Crater Lake Lodge as it appeared in the late 1930s, from an old
picture postcard.

One old miner said he’d been drinking with Set-em-up one night and had been told where the place was. And yes, he said, he might be able to lead the group to it. And so, in the spring of 1853, the group packed up and set out.

The group got a little bigger at Table Rock City (now called Jacksonville), after one of the Yreka boys got a little drunk and talked too much in a saloon. Some of the witnesses decided they were going to join the party whether they were invited or not, and started following the Yreka party as it headed northward. Unable to shake the Oregon miners, the Californians finally agreed to team up with them, and they continued to search.

Almost falling into “Deep Blue Lake”

Prospector John W. Hillman of Table Rock City (Jacksonville)
was the first American of European descent to see Crater Lake,
and he nearly fell into it. This image was made later in Hillman’s
life. (Image: Crater Lake Institute)

Well, they never did find the lost cabin, nor the mine. But they did find something else. On a hunting expedition, combing through the mountains of southern Oregon in hopes of finding an animal to eat, one of the Table Rock City prospectors, John Hillman, was riding a mule along a high ridge when the animal suddenly lurched to a stop and would not budge. Hillman looked down and saw that the beast had come right to the rim of a huge crater with a brilliant blue lake at its bottom.

“Not until my mule stopped within a few feet of the rim of Crater Lake did I look down,” Hillman later wrote, “and if I had been riding a blind mule I firmly believe I would have ridden over the edge to death and destruction.”

In that moment, John Hillman became the first person of European descent to lay eyes on what we now know as Crater Lake.

Mission ends in failure, sort of

By this time, though, the party’s provisions were exhausted and the men were getting weak with hunger, and there was nothing for it but to go on back to Table Rock City. On the way back, they talked about the lake, debating whether to call it Mysterious Lake or Deep Blue Lake.

Well, back in Table Rock City the other miners considered this a total bust. They didn’t care about some stupid lake; they wanted the gold, and that had not been found. Also, the local Native Americans were restless and — perhaps having heard some rumors of how their counterparts in northern California were being treated — increasingly hostile. Table Rock City had other fish to fry, and so Deep Blue Lake was forgotten about until nine years later, when it was rediscovered by another party.

As for the Lost Cabin Gold Mine, well … there are people still out there looking for it today. So far as anyone knows, it has never been found.

But then, if you found it … would you tell anyone?

Editor’s Note:  As originally told, this story blends well-documented facts — the discovery of Crater Lake by a party of miners looking for the “Lost Cabin Gold Mine” — with a folkloric version of the Legend of the Lost Cabin Gold Mine. After talking about it with Southern Oregon gold-country expert Kerby Jackson, I decided to add this note just to make sure it’s clear where the legend ends and the documented facts begin.

The main source for this account — Ruby El Hult’s book — tells the story similarly, and it may very well be correct; however, there are several different versions of this particular Lost Cabin Gold Mine story, and there’s no way of knowing which, if any, of those stories inspired the Yreka miners (if, indeed, they were from Yreka) to start northward in search of it. In fact, the Yreka miners themselves are part of the folkloric part of this story; all we know for sure is that Hillman and his party of miners left Jacksonville looking for a "lost cabin gold mine," and were doing that when they stumbled upon Crater Lake.

According to Kerby, a more popular version of the Lost Cabin Gold Mine story goes like this (and I’m quoting from Kerby’s note to me here):

One day a strange miner dragged himself into Jacksonville. The miner looked like he had seen hell, for in addition to his clothes and boots having been reduced to rags, the man was also dirty, wounded and starving. This man related a rather fantastic story to the miners who took him in.
 
The story he told was that he and a partner had discovered rich diggings about a day's hard ride over the mountains from Jacksonville. As the gold appeared endless, the two men had built a cabin for the purpose of staying for the long haul.
 
However, it was not long until the miners began to receive regular irritating visits from some local Indians and as such, they were forced to take turns taking watch and adopted a nightly ceremony of burying their day's gold in the dirt floor of their cabin. Despite their vigilance, one day the miners were ambushed and the storyteller's partner was mortally wounded. After a few days, the wounded man succumbed to his injuries and as the remaining man buried his partner in the floor of the cabin next to the gold.
 
Realizing that his situation was now dire, the remaining miner slipped out of the cabin and made a run for it. During his escape, the miner engaged the Indians in a running fight and though he survived, he was subsequently wounded and lost his belongings.

By time he reached Jacksonville, he was so delirious from fatigue that he seemed to have little clue about the direction which he came from or where his diggings had been located. Best guesses at the time pointed to three likely vicinities for the location of the cabin and its cache, which included the headwaters of the Applegate River, the vicinity of Yreka and finally, somewhere just beyond the Cascades.

As you will have gathered, gold miners and prospectors make some of the finest storytellers in the West. If you’re interested in more stories of this wild and colorful aspect of Oregon history, I highly recommend Kerby’s book, Gold Dust: Stories of Oregon’s Mining Years.

—Finn

(Sources: Hult, Ruby El. Lost Mines and Treasures of the Pacific Northwest. Portland: Binford, 1957; Harmon, Rick. Crater Lake National Park: A History. Corvallis: OSU Press, 2002; craterlakeinstitute.com)