2012 articles About Offbeat Oregon 2012 articles 2011 articles 2010 articles 2008-2009 articles About me Store (the Finn J.D. John Centre for Crass Commercialism and Filthy Lucre)
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This cover illustration from "Masked Rider Western," published in 1950, bears an uncanny resemblance to the events that kicked off Vigilante rule in Crook County.

When prineville was ruled by masked vigilante riders

In Crook County, the early 1880s were like a Louis L'Amour novel. And it all started with the lynching of an innocent man.


The classic melodrama villain, with sleek silk hat and waxed handlebar mustache, in the act of evicting the poor widow and children from their freshly foreclosed family homestead. Except for the mustache, Oregon's longest-serving 19th-century senator fit the trope with remarkable precision.

Senator John H. Mitchell: Oregon's own real-life Snidely Whiplash

He abandoned his family, changed his name, moved to Oregon, bilked widows and orphans in two big real-estate swindles ... and was promptly elected to Congress.


The skull of the skeleton found in the Odd Fellows hall in Scio, which is now at Oregon State University. The skeleton was that of a hard-working man who died sometime between 1860 and 1890.

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.


Oregon inventor Victor Strode’s revolutionary boat, the 'aerohydrocraft,' made the front cover of the March 1931 issue of Popular Science. The design didn't prove a useful one for the City of Portland, though, and the larger model the city commissioned to function as a harbor police boat didn't work out.

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 remains of the barque Peter Iredale as they appear today, jutting out of the beach sands on Clatsop Spit at Warrenton as they have since 1906. In 1960, the wreck nearly was lost to a man who claimed he owned it.

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.


Commander Dave Scott salutes the U.S. flag, which has just been planted on the surface of the moon. A small piece of Oregon lava rock, carried to the moon by Scott's fellow astronaut Jim Irwin, lies within this photo, next to one of the many bootprints. (Image: NASA)

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

Radical Wobblies found support among Oregon loggers

Industrial Workers of the World union grew strong in the woods just before the First World War broke out — and the U.S. Army had to teach soldiers to cut timber to get the industry moving again.

The front-cover art from a Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen
publication from 1918. (Image: University of Washington Libraries)

In early 1917, shortly after the U.S. declared war on Germany, the first detachment of U.S. soldiers was dispatched … to the forest of western Oregon.

It turned out the wildest, boldest and (if you were a capitalist) most terrifying labor union in U.S. history had got its hooks deep into the logging business just as demand for timber reached its peak, and as the rest of the country was marching to war, the loggers were marching off the job.

That union was the Industrial Workers of the World — better known as the Wobblies.

The year and a half that followed would be eventful ones in Oregon and Washington. They’d see the U.S. Army actually chartering a labor union of its own; U.S. soldiers taken from the trenches of Europe and deployed with axes and saws to cut timber; industrial sabotage; and even some violence in the woods.

They’d also result in the adoption of the eight-hour workday — something the mill and logging outfit owners fought bitterly to stop, since they paid their men by the day rather than by the hour.

The cast of characters

The I.W.W. was founded in 1905, and it was by all accounts an extraordinary outfit. It was a labor union fully committed to the concept of class warfare, of the need for workers to seize the means of production, and fully convinced of the hopelessness of trying to effect change by working within the system. The Wobs didn’t bother fielding political candidates to get labor laws changed; they preferred “direct action” — street demonstrations, strikes, industrial sabotage. They used stickers of a black cat — called the “Sabo-Tabby” — to let everyone know when they broke something on purpose.

The classic familiar emblem of the IWW “Wobblies.” (Image: Anonymous)

They were known for ferocious street preaching, in which members would shout about the need for a revolution and for a general war against the “clowns” (police) and “barons” (capitalists).

But I.W.W. people quickly figured out that the timber industry was ready to hear their message. Real wages in the woods had been sliding for some time, and conditions were getting worse every year — bunkhouses were getting smaller and less hygienic, camp food was getting cheaper and less plentiful, working hours were stretching into the 12-to-14-hour range. The timberlands had all been snapped up by trusts like Weyerhaeuser, and there were few opportunities left for bright-eyed young men to work their way into the middle and upper classes through a logging camp.

It had become a dead end, a hobo’s job. The workers were itinerant, so getting fired was no big deal; you just hired on somewhere else. They had nothing to lose.

So the I.W.W. started working the logging camps and mill towns pretty hard. They found some members, but mostly what they found was a lot of sympathy for what they were saying among men who didn’t want to get involved directly.

And that’s where things stood on the eve of the First World War.

The spark

Soldiers and residents of Toledo pose with a giant spruce log, which is
ready to be sent to the government’s spruce mill in Vancouver. (Image:
University of Oregon Libraries)

What happened then was simply this: The timber markets  exploded. Prices shot through the roof. Suddenly the government was buying finished lumber by the cubic acre. And Oregon in particular was the primary source for the most desirable wood of all — the straight, true, stable, lightweight, splinter-resistant Sitka spruce.

Overjoyed, the factory and logging-company owners started making plans to save and spend the torrents of lovely money that would soon be coming their way as the market price per board foot doubled and doubled again. And it never occurred to them that their low-level employees would even be aware of their good fortune. If it had, they wouldn’t have considered it any of their business. It was the workers’ job to cut the wood and cash their paychecks, regardless of how much their bosses were making by selling it.

So no, wages were not going to go up. If anything, they’d go down, because of the powerful incentive to lengthen the workday.

In the logging camps, though, the “slaves” (as the I.W.W.’s newspapers called them) started simmering with rage. The Wobblies had preached the concept of class conflict for a decade, and now it looked an awful lot like they were right. The bigs were about to gather in a massive windfall of profits made possible by their work, and it was clear that rising tide was not going to lift all the boats. It wasn’t fair, they fumed.

And the fight was on.

The loggers started striking, spiking logs, sabotaging equipment. They demanded an eight-hour workday, bunkhouses with beds in them, better wages, and a few other things. The owners of mills and logging outfits were furious and frantic about the opportunities for profit that were passing them by every day, but refused to budge. After all, if you give a mouse a cookie it will just keep wanting more.

As spring blossomed into summer, the U.S. Army started taking notice of the fact that they were getting a lot less timber out of the West than they had expected to, and sent a general named Bruce Disque out to investigate.

Enter the Army

Disque quickly figured out several things:

First, the Wobs had several very legitimate beefs. Wages were really low, bunkhouses were nasty and full of bedbugs, and twelve hours was a long time to be out cutting timber.

But he also quickly figured out that, with their earnest advocacy of armed insurrection, the Wobs were a dangerous organization, and as long as they had legitimate beefs, they would remain dangerous.

And he also learned that as long as it was the Wobs arguing for these changes, the owners wouldn’t budge, for fear of empowering their enemy.

So Disque did two things: First, he sent Army troops into the woods to start cutting timber. And second, he started a labor union.

The Army’s union was called the Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen. Technically it wasn’t really a union, since its by-laws forbade it to go on strike. But it was an organization that soon included hundreds of thousands of workers, and one that quickly developed a reputation for being reasonable — and, thanks to the active backing of the U.S. Army, it was fairly effective in trimming away the more egregious violations of 1910s industrial management.

Many of the owners were furious. They were especially angry about having the eight-hour workday more or less crammed down their throats. But there was a point beyond which if they resisted, they would simply have had their businesses nationalized; after all, there was a war going on. So they had to swallow hard and go along.

But if the Army’s plan was to take the wind out of the I.W.W.’s sails (as many feel it was), it worked. From a membership of around 100,000 card-carrying members in 1917, the union collapsed to just a few thousand, and those that remained fell to bitter internecine fighting. Their advocacy of sabotage and “hoosiering” — deliberately working very slowly — during a national shooting war had focused on them the ire of an aroused population, and many of them went to jail under the Espionage and Sedition Act, which was passed soon after.

A bloody shootout with the American Legion in Centralia after the war, which appears to have been provoked by a rogue Wob, put the final nail in the coffin of the Wobblies’ reputation with the public, and then the Communists — “Comicals,” in Wobblyspeak — rose up on their left and stole away their more extreme members.

By the mid-1920s, the Wobblies were spent as a serious political force.

But the eight-hour workday — that was here to stay.

(Sources: Holbrook, Stewart. Holy Old Mackinaw. New York: Macmillan, 1939; Tyler, Robert. Rebels of the Woods: The IWW in the Pacific Northwest. Eugene: UO Books, 1967; Rowan, James. The IWW in the Lumber Industry. Seattle: Lumber Workers Industrial Union No. 500, undated.)