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.

Mysterious skeletons of Oregon: If these bones could talk ...

A long-dead dry-land homesteader ... a medical specimen in an Odd Fellows lodge ... what are their stories? We'll never know.


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.

Buck Rogers-style police boat didn't work out for city of Portland

A local inventor developed the "aerohydrocraft" design in the early 1930s. But when the city built one as an ambulance boat, it flopped.


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.

How the Oregon Coast almost lost the Peter Iredale to a scrap-metal shark

An Oregon City man claimed he'd inherited the rights from his father, and demanded to be allowed to cut it up and haul it away. He almost got away with this little swindle.


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.

There's a piece of lava from central oregon in this photo, on the moon.

It was left there by astronaut Jim Irwin at the request of a friend from Bend — who gave him a sliver of Oregon lava to leave on the moon's surface. And so he did.


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.

Killer broke out of state prison during a conjugal visit at a nearby Motel 6

It had to be the most awkward prison-break scenario in the history of the universe. But it really did happen. 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.


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.


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 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.


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).


The Glenesslin, under almost full sail, grinds against the rocks at the base of Neahkahnie Mountain.

mariner's spooky nightmare came true the next day

In his dream, the first mate of the German barque Mimi saw seaweed covering all but three shipmates. The next day, all but three drowned in one of Oregon's worst-ever salvage disasters. Here's the story.


Florence's famous exploding whale: A highway engineer didn't know how much dynamite to use, so he guessed ... and guessed wrong.

Whale explodes: Details at 11.

The highway department guy didn't know how much dynamite to use, and said so on camera. But he still thinks the operation was a success. Check out the story of Florence's famous exploding whale ...


The Glenesslin, under almost full sail, grinds against the rocks at the base of Neahkahnie Mountain.

was this shipwreck insurance fraud or just drunken incompetence?

On a beautiful clear October day, astonished beach-goers watched a big windjammer simply turn and sail straight into the side of a mountain. Why would her crew do such a thing? Here's the story.


.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.


US Coast Guard 47-foot motor lifeboat takes on a heavy sea off Cape Disappointment.

tired of seeing mariners die, lighthouse keeper took action.

In 1865, Joel Munson watched 17 sailors drown on the Columbia Bar. But when their lifeboat washed up near his lighthouse, it gave him an idea — an idea that lives on today in the U.S. Coast Guard. Here's the story.


U.S. Coast Guard cutter Algonquin.

bootleggers saveD sailors' lives, were rewarded with prison.

In the early years of Prohibition, a Canadian rumrunner entered U.S. territorial waters to save the lives of nine castaways — and got caught and sent to jail anyway. Here's the story.


This crater marks ground zero in the Roseburg Blast. It's about 60 feet across.

a nuclear strike
in downtown roseburg?

No; it was "just" an exploding dynamite truck. But the mushroom cloud was big enough to fool a passing airline pilot. Here's the full story of the legendary "Roseburg Blast."


Part of the historic entry to Portland's Chinatown.

he dressed in rags like a beggar, so no one would know ...

To avoid getting robbed and murdered, Chinese couriers dressed as beggars while carrying thousands of dollars in gold from the fields. This is the story of one of these men, and the woman whose life he saved.


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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take off to the province of oregon, eh?

Few people know how close Oregon came to officially becoming a British possession under the treaty that ended the War of 1812. Only the presence of a handful of scattered, starving survivors from Astor's fur enterprise prevented it. Here's how.


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timberline lodge could have been a glass skyscraper

Calling the plan a "profit-making eyesore," a Forest Service manager nixed 1920s plan for a modern steel-and-glass structure with an aerial tramway. You can read about it right here.


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pixieland: an edgy, vanished amusement park

Built in the late 1960s as a "fairy-tale history of Oregon," the amusement park lasted just a few years before slipping into receivership. Today, all that's left of this odd and uniquely Oregonian story is a dilapidated guardshack.


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Boozy generosity turned tables for the Prineville Nine that day

Wall Street financial wizard Thomas Lawson happened to be in town and betting on Prineville. With Silver Lake up 9-0 halfway through, he knew just what to do.

A hand-tinted postcard image of a Prineville street in the summertime,
circa 1905.

Things looked grim for the Prineville Nine that summer day in 1910. The little Central Oregon town’s baseball team was getting its clock cleaned by the Silver Lake ball club. The score was nine-zip, and the game was only half played. It was shaping up to be a bloodbath.

The game was the third in a best-of-three tournament, a sort of good-natured grudge match between the two central Oregon towns. Prineville was playing host, and had invited Silver Lake to bring its best and its brightest, its fastest-running and its hardest-hitting, to come see who was best.

Silver Lake cheated! Well, sort of.

But after the first game — an unexpectedly brutal loss at the hands of the visitors — the Prineville fans learned the truth: Silver Lake boosters had gone to Portland and hired some professional ringers for the occasion.

The town of Prineville and the surrounding Crooked River Valley as it
appeared in the early 1900s, when the Lawson-McCall family arrived.
(Postcard image)

Now, this wasn’t cheating, exactly. Nobody had told anybody they couldn’t hire mercenaries for the event; it simply hadn’t occurred to the Prineville boys to even consider the possibility.

Obviously, though, it had occurred to someone. The team that was taking the field against Prineville, sporting Silver Lake colors, was mostly made up of guys from other places — guys who paid the bills hitting baseballs. Prineville’s motley collection of amateurs — cowboys and shopkeepers who played ball on the weekends — didn’t have a chance.

Still, they managed to rally somehow and tie it up for the second game of the series; no one was really sure how they managed it, and it felt a little miraculous, but there it was. It’s actually possible that the Silver Lake pros let them win, so that the series could go into three games. In any case, going into the final game, the two towns were even up.

But now it looked like Prineville was done for. Silver Lake was about to put it away.

Or were they?

The sporting stranger

Studio portrait of Thomas Lawson in the 1890, from Lawson's book,
"Frenzied Finance."

There was a stranger in town that weekend who had a plan for making sure they didn’t. And, what’s more, he had a cool $1,000 riding on it.

That stranger was one Thomas William Lawson.

Thomas Lawson was a very eccentric, somewhat infamous man. He was, essentially, a reformed shark. He’d made a mammoth pile of money in the course of a career on Wall Street that culminated in the most notorious stock-market swindle of the Gilded Age, a swindle that he orchestrated with fellow robber-baron plutocrats William Rockefeller and Henry Rogers.

The three of them formed an empty shell company called Amalgamated Copper. Then they bought up Anaconda Copper for $37 million, paying for it with IOUs, and set about whipping up a public feeding frenzy over shares in Amalgamated — which was still just an empty shell.

Stock promoter Thomas Lawson reads ticker tape in his office on State
Street in Boston, probably in the mid-1890s. The photograph on his
couch is of J.P. Morgan. (Image: Dorothy L. McCall)

The publicity was Lawson’s particular specialty. People tended to trust him, whereas Rockefeller and Rogers had no such advantage. Now he moved to trade on that trust, declaring Amalgamated the best, most sure-thing investment he’d ever seen, and when people asked him about the company, he told them, flat-out, “Go your limit!”

Then someone figured out the bait-and-switch, and the bottom fell out. Amalgamated went from $175 to $30 a share. Several investors, ruined after having borrowed heavily to buy shares, are reported to have killed themselves.

This wasn’t his only such swindle, but it was by far the biggest and most successful. It pushed his personal net worth to $50 million.

A guilty conscience

A 1905 edition of Lawson's confessional book. (Image is from
rare book specialists Lorne Bair, http://www.lornebair.com;
this copy is, at the time of this writing, for sale for $75.)

But he was haunted by the aftermath of this big deed of villainy. Cracks soon started appearing in his sanity, and they got worse after his wife died.

Finally, in 1904, he tried to redeem himself by writing a confession of sorts — a tell-all titled “Frenzied Finance,” which ran as a serial for two solid years in Everybody’s Magazine. It sold magazines like you wouldn’t believe, and had a noticeable impact on public pressure to crack down on the trusts. After that, he was heartily loathed by Wall Street, which suited him just fine. He’d made his pile; he was done with all that.

Now Lawson was in Prineville looking for a nice country spread to give his daughter, Dorothy, and son-in-law, Hal, as a wedding present. He just happened to be in town for the game, and no doubt felt putting a little money on the home team would help warm up the welcome the newlyweds would get in their new home town. And Hal, himself a onetime professional baseball player, must have been especially interested in the game. Chances are he was already thinking about joining the Prineville team.

Losing the bet? Not an option.

But for Lawson, betting on the home team was one thing. Losing was another. Lawson had not made his fortune  by placing bets and letting them lose. It was time to go and do in the bullpen what he’d so often done on the trading floor.

Thomas Lawson’s daughter, Dorothy Lawson McCall. This
image was made before she married Hal McCall; she’s shown
dressed to go to a Harvard-Yale football game. (Image: Dorothy
L. McCall)

This jovial and charismatic stock promoter, the chief salesman of the biggest bamboozle of the Gilded Age, knew just what to do. Smiling broadly, he made his way down to where the Silver Lake players were resting and catching their breath, waiting for the game to resume.

No doubt he was at his boisterous and hearty best as he stepped up to the members of the visiting ball club, although the records don’t mention that part. What they do mention are his words:

“The drinks are on me!” he roared.

An hour or two later, at the end of the ninth inning, the final score was 10-9, Prineville — and Lawson had run up one humdinger of a bar tab. But then, he’d won a thousand bucks to pay it off with. And his family’s full and enthusiastic acceptance by the jubilant Prineville community was a done deal.

The Tom McCall connection

Which was good — not just for the newlyweds, but for the entire state of Oregon. Because Thomas Lawson’s son-in-law and daughter were none other than Hal and Dorothy Lawson McCall. And their first-born son would be Thomas William Lawson McCall, known to his friends (and to voters) as Tom McCall … an Oregonian whom you just might have heard of, once or twice.

(Sources: Braly, David. Tales from the Oregon Outback. Prineville: American Media, 1978; Walth, Brent. Fire at Eden’s Gate: Tom McCall and the Oregon Story. Portland: OHS Press, 1994; McCall, Dorothy Lawson. The Copper King’s Daughter. Portland: Binfords, 1972)