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.


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

“Camp Castaway” was an inconvenient miracle

Feeling lucky to be alive, the soldiers and sailors of the shipwrecked schooner Captain Lincoln got busy salvaging everything off their stranded ship. But then the Army had a problem: How were they going to retrieve it?

The site of Camp Castaway as seen on satellite imagery via Google
Earth. The shipwreck took place on the beach close to the bottom of
the frame.

It was January 3, 1852 — the middle of the night and the middle of winter, just off the middle of the Oregon Coast. The U.S. Army’s schooner Captain Lincoln, carrying a detachment of U.S. Army dragoons and supplies to reinforce a garrison near Port Orford, was in desperate trouble. Wave after massive wave descended on the hapless Captain Lincoln, opening up a thousand little leaks in its hull;  the soldiers toiled below decks at the pumps in shifts, trying desperately to stay ahead of the rising water in the bilge. Trying — and failing.

Finally, Captain Samuel Naghel realized he had two options: Slowly let his ship sink lower in the water until it became unstable and rolled, which would surely drown every man on board; or, in a desperate gamble, turn and race for the black and unknown shore, hoping against hope that the ship would beach on sand instead of rocks.

The longer he waited, the lower the ship would sit in the water when she struck that beach. It had to be done — now.

Snake-eyes ... almost

“Hard over!” Naghel bellowed to the helmsman, and the Captain Lincoln fell off the relentless southwest wind and raced eastward, and the sailors strained to see the approaching land — and wondered if they were all about to die.

A century and a half after the wreck of the Captain Lincoln, another famous
ship came to grief in almost the exact same spot: the wood-chip carrier
New Carissa, in 1999. (Image: NOAA)

They were still several hundred yards from the beach  — far enough to drown most if not all of the men in the surf — when the doomed ship slammed into a sandbar.

Meanwhile, toiling at the pumps or huddled in bunks below and trying to sleep, the exhausted and seasick soldiers had no idea what was happening.

“The writer had just retired for a short time, preparing to woo sweet Somnus and dream of those we left behind us, when a thundering crash was heard,” soldier Henry H. Baldwin later wrote, recalling the incident. “The doomed bark quivered and tall masts, groaning, felt the deadly wound, her deck was rent asunder. Neptune’s flood descended, deluging the hapless sons of Mars, who were below in dreams. For a short while it seemed that the sulphurous regions of the infernal were let loose; breakers roared, water dashed and splashed, men swore; then there came a lull, the wounded skimmer of the seas bounded onwards, her aged commander’s voice was heard encouraging the panic stricken crew with the following words: ‘Fear not, men, we’re in deep water now.’”

Miraculously, the schooner had been washed off this deadly sandbar and into deeper water, closer to shore. Again the ship drove westward until it fetched up on the beach, the real beach this time. Breakers started sweeping over the decks.

Thoroughly soaked and bone-chilled, the soldiers and sailors huddled below, perched atop whatever would keep them out of the water, and waited for dawn.

A new day in a transformed world

Whether by happy accident or consummate skill, Captain Naghel had managed to beach the ship at the apex of high tide. So when morning came and the formerly hapless castaways emerged from the ship, they found it high and almost dry. The sailors lost no time in lugging enough kitchen equipment ashore to brew up a big hot pot of grog — there was, in the ship’s cargo, plenty of whiskey — to lift spirits and warm toes. The day was dry and the sun was shining and every man in the group knew very well that he was phenomenally lucky to be alive.

Native Americans were everywhere, attracted by the fuss, and they were all of the friendly sort, eager to trade delicious cuts of elk and slabs of salmon for hardtack and extra Army uniforms. The ship had struck ground at what’s now Horsfall Beach, at the root of the Coos Bay Spit, within walking distance of several sparkling-clean freshwater lakes.

As hackneyed as the term is, for the soldiers, it really must have been as if they’d died and gone to heaven.

Being good soldiers, the men immediately got busy salvaging all the stuff from their ship: Barrels and barrels of flour and sugar and whisky and lard were landed and stacked, along with everything valuable off their ship, which broke up a little more with each incoming high tide until finally it was in pieces on the beach. They also lost no time building sturdy tents with the ship’s scavenged masts, timbers and sails.

But now the government had a problem.

What to do now?

If the ship had simply sunk, there would have been nothing to worry about. If the men had made it ashore without the supplies, ditto; they would simply have had to make their way south to Port Orford, and a ship would have come to get them, and they would have been back at work doing soldier stuff in a month.

But because they’d salvaged thousands of dollars’ worth of goodies from the ship, the Army couldn’t quite do that.

There was no way to bring a cargo ship in through the breakers to take on that freight. Geography made it impossible to get a wagon to them overland. The only hope was for someone to bring a ship across the unknown and fearsome Coos Bay bar, and nobody was willing to do that.

“The difficulty attending this undertaking arose from the fact that no vessel had ever been into the (Coos) River, nor was it supposed that any vessel could enter it,” the Army’s quartermaster wrote, in explaining the situation to Benicia Army Headquarters.

Of course, they could have simply made a gift of the supplies to the Native Americans who had been so helpful; all parties would have been helped by such generosity. But the Indians would have gotten the best of such a deal, and to the somewhat-spiteful minds of the military commanders, that made the idea unthinkable.

An “as-is, where-is” surplus sale was tried. Nobody was willing to bite, although a few local pioneers did come to the camp to inspect the wares; however, they seemed more motivated by a desire for a neighborly visit than any urge to buy stuff.

A happy ending, especially for Coos Bay

Finally, one brave skipper agreed to take on that fearsome river bar, and with Captain Naghel serving as a pilot, the schooner Nassau sailed boldly across that bar and came around to the inside of the spit on which Naghel had wrecked the Captain Lincoln. Naghel, of course, had never been across the bar before either, but he had spent five or six glorious months shipwrecked right next to it, and it appeared he’d used the time there to make some careful observations.

The Army got its supplies back, and didn’t lose a single soldier; all the sailors survived the ordeal too.

And although the event went down in the annals of military disasters as an expensive and unfortunate event, the real benefit of the whole thing was the discovery that the Coos Bay bar — while certainly  no pussycat — was not as impassible as had been supposed. Within a few years, the bay was in regular use.

By the way, about 150 years later, this same beach would be the site of another famous shipwreck — that of the stunningly ugly wood-chip carrier New Carissa, in 1999.

And in 2009, archaeologist Scott Byram actually found Camp Castaway; it’s currently an active archaeological dig, being conducted by Southern Oregon University students and faculty.

(Sources: Dodge, Orvil. Pioneer History of Coos and Curry Counties. Salem: Capital, 1898; Marshall, Don. Oregon Shipwrecks. Portland: Binford, 1984; Higgins, Jesse. “Camp Castaway,” Coos Bay World, July 14, 2012)