Heroes and rascals, shipwrecks and lost gold: Strange but true stories and secrets of Oregon's wild past | Offbeat Oregon History The Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (now known as Osho -- yes, THAT Osho) as he appeared when he lived in Wasco County with his followers. That's also him in the white Rolls-Royce surrounded by followers, in a scene from Rajneeshpuram. (Four-part story starts with Column No. 73, May 9, 2010 While doing some cleaning-up around the Odd Fellows Hall in Scio, a local girl found a tiny coffin with this partial skeleton inside. Whose? We'll probably never know ... (Story No. 204, Oct. 14, 2012) The ever-elusive D.B. Cooper peeks into the page from behind his signature shades. The story of his skyjacking exploit starts with episode 237, from June 2, 2013. Meet Kitty Kat, the wealthiest feline in the state of Oregon and landlord to the City of Tangent. Kitty Kat, until he died at a ripe old age in 1995, owned City Hall. (Story No. 163, Jan. 8, 2012) This crazy-looking speedboat was the invention of Portland wizard Victor Strode. The city commissioned a harbor patrol boat based on his design, but it didn't work out. (Story No. 201, Sept. 23, 2012) The Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (now known as Osho -- yes, THAT Osho) as he appeared when he lived in Wasco County with his followers. That's also him in the white Rolls-Royce surrounded by followers, in a scene from Rajneeshpuram. (Four-part story starts with Column No. 73, May 9, 2010 This is the roof of the Franz Bread Rest Hut at Pixieland, the Oregon Coast's ill-starred answer to Disneyland, which opened in 1969 and went out of biz in 1974. The Rest Hut consisted of a giant fiberglass loaf of bread sticking out of the top of this giant fiberglass hollow log, the whole thing towering over a log-flume roller coaster ride. It's probably the most campily awesome example of the proud display of crass commercialism that was Pixieland. (Column No. 52 - Dec. 6, 2009)
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The Woody Herman Band performs at the Cottonwoods Ballroom in the Cottonwoods Ballroom in November 1947. Other acts that have graced the Cottonwoods include Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Chuck Berry, the Nat King Cole Trio, Bobby Darin, Fats Domino, The Drifters, Duke Ellington, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and dozens of others.

Did Elvis play here? Probably not, but Johnny Cash did.

The Cottonwoods, a jumpin' dance joint between Albany and Lebanon, hosted a dizzying array of music legends. Today, it's just a vacant lot.


The Motel 6 on Mission Street in Salem as it appeared in the mid-1970s, when Carl Cletus Bowles made his run from its back door. Don't laugh, at least not too loudly ... two innocent people would die before Bowles was back in prison.

the most awkward prison-break scenario — ever.

The bad guy, a convicted cop killer, simply walked out the back door of the Salem Motel 6 during a conjugal visit. Here's the story.


James Lappeus, former Portland Chief of Police. He eventually was fired over allegations that he'd offered to 'accidentally' leave the jailhouse door open for a convicted murderer if his wife paid a $1,000 bribe.

gambler, swindler, gunfighter, liquor man ... oh, and also police chief.

James Lappeus came to Portland to open a saloon and "theater." Despite his checkered past — or maybe because of it — he was named city marshal and, later, Chief of Police. Here's the story.


Boats of the Astoria fishing fleet, with the help of both wind and incoming tide, race away from the dangers of the Columbia River Bar in this postcard image from around the turn of the century.

When fishing was so deadly, one in 15 didn't survive the season.

They drifted downstream in heavy 24-foot boats with their nets out ... and prayed the tide would turn before they got sucked out onto the bar. Here's the story.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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).


.44-caliber Colt Dragoon revolver, designed in 1848.

gold-rush bandits hunted down and killed ... but where was their loot?

No one has ever found it — or if they have, they've been awfully discreet. The Triskett Gang had stolen it hours earlier from the assaying depot in the town of Sailors' Diggins. Here's the story.


A modern reproduction of a classic Concord Stagecoach.

a few legends of buried gold and treasure ...

Some of them might even be true. Here's a selection of them — as far as we know, the loot from any of them has never been found.


Steamer Admiral Evans, f.k.a. Buckman, which the two would-be pirates tried to hijack

THE dumbest would-be pirates in the history of the universe.

Their plan: Hijack a passenger steamer (that's it, in the thumbnail above), run it aground and sneak off into the bushes with 3 tons of gold. Do I need to mention that it didn't work out? Here's what happened.


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Far-out guru "enlightens" Central Oregon.

What happens when a colony of acolytes of an East Indian guru move in, then try to take over Wasco County? Check out the four-part story of the rise and fall of Rajneeshpuram ...


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Fort Rock's legendary Reub Long could spin a wild “tall tale”

Oregon was once known as a place full of “great liars” — tellers of tales so tall they'd cause every pair of pants in the room to spontaneously burst into flame. Central Oregon storyteller Reub Long could hold his own with the best of them.

Reub and Eleanor Long stand in front of Fort Rock, the extinct
volcano that they deeded to the state of Oregon for a park. Fort
Rock has been the site of some of Oregon’s most important
anthropological discoveries, including the oldest footwear ever
found anywhere — a pair of 11,000-year-old sagebrush sandals.
(Image: Caxton Printers)

There was a time, and it was not too long ago, that the state of Oregon had something of a reputation as a place for great liars.

Now, by “great liars,” I mean tellers of the GOOD kind of lies, not the kind of lies various politicians are throwing around right now. I’m talking about the “Paul Bunyan, Casey Jones and Pecos Bill” kind of liars.

One such “great liar” of honored memory is a lively Eastern Oregon fellow named Reub Long.

You may recognize Reub’s name if you’ve ever lived on the “dry side” of the Cascades. He’s also the homesteader who deeded Fort Rock to the state of Oregon as a park. Fort Rock, of course, is where they found the world’s oldest shoes — a pair of sage-bark sandals from 11,000 years ago.

And, oh yes, Reub could tell a story.

“I don’t lie to people, exactly, but it’s fun to baffle them,” he wrote in his book, by way of explanation.

Bighorns that bounce

An Eastern Oregon mountain sheep, realizing Reub is watching
after jumping off a mountain ledge, stops in mid-air and zips
back up -- according to Reub's story, anyway. (Art: Leland John)

In one case, Reub baffled a group of businessmen from the Bend Chamber of Commerce when they came to his ranch and were looking over his collection of antiquities — Native American artifacts, fossils, stone utensils, animal bones. The businessmen were especially interested in a skull from Reub’s collection; it was from a mountain sheep.

One of the businessmen commented on how thick the bone was between the sheep’s horns. “I suppose that is to enable them to fight, the way I’ve heard they did, without injuring themselves,” he said, according to Reub’s recollection.

Reub saw his opportunity. “Yes, that is part of the reason,” he said smoothly. “But those thick skulls are on the females too, and they don’t fight. The sheep grazed on mountainsides, too steep and rough for other animals. Often a mountain ledge will follow along for hundreds of feet, then pinch out … When they got into such a deal, they couldn’t back up without stepping off the ledge. These thick skulls saved them. They’d calmly hurl themselves off the ledge, head down, and they could land on the rocks below without harm.”

Clearly not quite buying it, one of the businessmen asked if Reub had actually witnessed this.

Sure he had, Reub said — sort of.

“I didn’t get to see him land,” he explained, “because when he was halfway down, he saw me and turned right around and went back up.”

The grouchy greenhorn

On an expedition like the one Jack Horton was leading, an
important part of the experience was the coffee. Reub writes that
"cowboy coffee" isn't considered ready to drink until it's caustic
enough to dissolve a horseshoe. (Drawing: Leland John)

Like most good yarn-spinners, Reub appreciated good high-quality lies as well. He passed on one particularly entertaining one from Jack Horton of the United States Forest service.

It seems Jack was in charge of a guided Forest Service tour, and a physician from Philadelphia was in the group. The physician, a total greenhorn who’d never been out of an urban setting, was a problem almost immediately. He demanded a horse that bounced less, then a saddle that wasn’t so hard; he complained bitterly about the dust, wanting to be moved up to the front of the line; and he griped about the cold lunch that was served at noon.

That night, Jack found a nice grassy spot for the riders to unroll their sleeping bags. The doctor tried first one spot, then another; one was too rocky, another too steep, a third too close to a guy he didn’t like. Finally he disappeared with the sleeping bag he’d been issued.

The next morning, he appeared by the fire, bleary-eyed, as Jack was cooking pancakes.

“Good morning, doctor,” Jack said. “How did you sleep?”

“Hardly at all,” the physician grumbled. “I guess it was that sleeping bag. I almost smothered to death and my feet froze.”

Whitewashing a rat

What’s the best way to put whitewash on a rat? The stranger from town
in the fancy red car decided not to stick around long enough to find out.
(Drawing: Leland John)

Reub’s most famous story is one which he presents in his book as a true story, and you can make of that claim what you will.

It seems he bought a ranch that had been a successful, going concern, but had been vacant for a while. During that time, the rats had moved in, and the place was utterly infested with them. Reub could not seem to get rid of them.

“I tried poisoning, shooting, trapping — all the things I knew about,” he wrote. “The rats outsmarted me on every turn.”

Then one day while he was griping about his dilemma to a neighbor, the neighbor suggested what you might call a folk remedy — that is, if you were feeling charitable; if you weren’t, you might call the neighbor’s suggestion something else.

He said if Reub would just catch a full-grown rat, whitewash him and turn him loose again, the other rats would think he was a ghost and would all leave.

“That didn’t seem to be the sort of thing a person could believe with all his heart,” Reub added dryly, “but the remedy was cheap and I was desperate.”

So Reub caught one of the rats, a nice big one, and alerted the neighbor. They brought the rat out to the road for the whitewashing, and soon a large group was assembled there: Reub and his two hired hands, the neighbor and his hired hands, and “a couple other amateur rat specialists.”

“At that point, several technical points arose,” Reub wrote. “Such questions came up as whether the whitewash should go on with the grain of the hair, thereby getting a smooth, slick job, or whether against the grain, thereby being more thorough, but leaving him rough and unattractive. Should we let the whitewash dry before turning him loose? Should we mix white of egg, flour paste, or anything in the whitewash to make it sticky?”

While they were all there clustered around the rat and struggling with these scientific questions, a big, fancy red car pulled up to the group. The driver stopped and stuck his head out the window, trying to get a glimpse of what the fuss was about.

“What in hell is going on here?” he asked.

“I said carelessly, ‘Oh, we’re just whitewashing a rat,’” Reub wrote. “He said incredulously, ‘You’re what?’ I said, as though it was an everyday occurrence and I was a little impatient with him, ‘Just whitewashing a rat.’”

The stranger said nothing more, and when Reub looked up again he was racing off into the distance … most likely, just as fast as his fancy red car would go.

(Sources: Long, R.A. et al. The Oregon Desert. Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton, 1964; Nash, Tom. The Well-Traveled Casket: A Collection of Oregon Folklore. Salt Lake City: Univ. of Utah Press, 1992)