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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.


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

A deadly maritime concert
of timidity and incompetence

The wreck of the steamship Czarina: A cascade of bad decisions by nearly everyone involved resulted in the worst possible outcome: 23 mariners slowly dying in the surf as friends and family members watched from the beach.

A massive breaker slams down on the stricken Czarina shortly after the
ship was caught anchored in the outer line of breakers. Those aren't
flags hanging on the lower part of the rigging; those are sailors. Twelve
hours later, only one of them would be alive. (Image:
www.wrecksite.eu)

The night of January 12, 1910, was a long one for a group of women clustered on the storm-swept beach of Coos Bay Spit. They were there watching as their husbands, clinging to the rigging of their foundered ship just a few hundred yards away, fell one by one into the churning sea and drowned.

It was the final act in what had to be the bleakest shipwreck drama in state history. Twenty-three of the 24 men aboard the 216-foot iron steamer Czarina died that day. And they died not from heavy weather, but from a veritable concerto of timidity and incompetence. There were no villains in the tragedy — just a number of people who, when weighed in the balances, were found very wanting.

Here’s the story:

Into the storm

On the last day of its life, the Czarina was loaded with a heavy cargo of cement and coal belowdecks, with some 40,000 board feet of lumber lashed to the decks, and scheduled for a coastwise run to San Francisco to deliver it. The ship may have been overloaded; such steamers often were.

The Czarina as she appeared before the disaster, just another small
coastal steamer. (Image: Binford & Mort)

A fierce gale was blowing out of the southwest, making conditions on the bar decidedly hostile. Prudent skippers were waiting for conditions to settle down before putting out to sea. But for reasons that will never be known, Captain Dugan decided to take the little steamer out to sea anyway.

That was the first of many bonehead moves on the part of virtually all the players involved in the Czarina's demise.

The seas were breaking all the way across the bar of the Coos River as Dugan and his crew chugged out to sea. Almost immediately, the little ship was enveloped by a massive comber that swept the deck, severely damaging the pilothouse.

Now, too late, one has to imagine Dugan realized what a bad decision he’d made. But under the circumstances there was only one thing to do, and that was go forward. Trying to turn the heavily loaded freighter around and retreat back into the bay would have presented the oncoming breakers with a broadside to hit, possibly capsizing the Czarina. So forward she chugged, as breaker after breaker pounded onto her decks, tearing loose pieces of the deckload and sweeping away the lifeboats.

But then a particularly baleful breaker pounded down onto the ship and put out the boiler fire, and she was truly helpless. Drifting in the breakers, she was pounded by a total of 61 deck-sweeping breakers — worried onlookers were actually counting them — before finally fetching up against the rocks of the south spit; at this point, belatedly, she blew a distress call, and members of the crew started climbing into the rigging to get away from the relentless seas.

From an observation tower near the harbor mouth, Captain W.A. Magee of the harbor tug Astoria was watching the whole thing, astonished that Dugan would even attempt the bar on such an awful day. When the distress call was sounded, he hustled to his ship, brought the steam up and went out to help. But by this time, the river current had carried the wallowing ship past the breakers and out to sea, and the bar was really rough, and he very much did not want to have to try to cross it.

“After seeing the position of the Czarina I knew that nothing could be done from the outside,” he later explained. “A steam schooner was off about three-fourths of a mile from the wreck, standing by.”

By this he seems to have meant that he hoped the steam schooner would be able to help, so that he would not have to. Unfortunately, that schooner was heavily loaded, including a giant deck load of lumber, and although it tried to get close enough to help, it simply wasn’t able to.

Another steamer tried to help out, too, but the Czarina was too close to shore and the seas were too big for deep-draft, fully-loaded vessels to get near enough to help. The only survivor from the Czarina later opined that the Astoria was the Czarina’s only real hope of rescue. When Captain Magee opted to stay safely in the bay and hope somebody else would do the job, he more or less doomed the Czarina to fetch up on the beach.

But the Czarina didn’t fetch up on the beach. If she had, it’s highly unlikely that any of her crew would have died. To make the wreck of the Czarina into a true humanitarian disaster, a couple more bad decisions would have to be made.

Anchored in the breakers

Spectators and would-be rescuers watch the desperate sailors drop one
by one into the churning sea as the Czarina is hammered by wave after
wave. (Image: OSU Archives)

The first of these was another bonehead move by Captain Dugan. After the steamer was out of the bar and floating in calmer seas, the skipper ordered her anchor dropped. The relentless and powerful wind, coming out of the southwest, was pushing the Czarina relentlessly toward the shore of the north spit. Dugan hoped that by dropping anchor outside the breakers, he could prevent the ship from being blown onto the beach, so that someone could come and rescue them and the ship could be salvaged.

In the golden light of hindsight, it’s easy to see that this was the absolute worst possible thing he could have done. Because as the merciless wind pushed the Czarina closer and closer to shore, it soon became obvious that Dugan had miscalculated. He’d anchored his ship not off the breakers, but in them — in the big outer breakers, too far from the beach to reach with a rescue line, and too far out for much hope of swimming to shore. And with no steam to run the winches, bringing the anchor in was not possible.

Dugan sent a crewman with a hacksaw to try to cut the anchor chain. But this was a 20-minute job even on a calm day, and the gale-force winds and growing breakers didn’t give the crewman a chance. He soon was driven up into the rigging with the rest of the crew to await their fate.

Stuck in the deadliest part of the surfline, the Czarina soon filled with water and settled to the bottom with just her masts sticking up, covered with terrified sailors. The deckload had been torn loose, and the surf between the Czarina and the shore was clotted with big wood timbers, making rescue efforts much more complicated and dangerous.

A desultory rescue

A postcard painting of a small lifesaving crew launching through light surf
on a calm day. Judging by the size of the waves they're working through,
this was probably an East Coast scene.

It was now lifestation keeper Clarence Boice’s time to shine — or, rather, fail to do so. First, he stayed in the observation tower watching the ship wash shoreward for 20 minutes before taking action, so by the time his crew got to the scene the Czarina was already settling to the seafloor and the surf was already thick with dangerous lumber.

He then set up a Lyle gun, hoping to get a line across the ship so that a crew member could get and secure it. He tried two shots, but for reasons that were never explained, neither shot was made using a maximum charge of powder, and neither one would carry 900 yards against the fierce wind. By that time, it was probably too late anyway, as the wreck was just a pair of masts protruding from the breakers and the sailors wouldn’t have been able to secure a line — or, at any rate, so he must have told himself. Because having failed with both of those initial shots, he never tried again.

A couple attempts to launch a surfboat to go to the rescue didn’t work so well either. Perhaps that was because Boice had discontinued the surf-launching drills for his men. It’s possible that even a well-trained crew wouldn’t have been able to launch that day — but we’ll never know, because there were no well-trained crews on the scene.

The Czarina’s mainmast sticking out of the breakers is all that’s left by
the time this image was made. All the sailors, by this time, had fallen into
the sea; only one would survive. (Image: Binford & Mort)

So Boice gave up and watched, hoping some of the exhausted and bone-chilled crew members would make it to the beach, and building a warming fire to greet them if they did.

We can only imagine how the women on the beach that night reacted to this passiveness. And indeed, the rest of the community was very critical; they requested, and got, a Lifesaving Service investigation afterward. The investigators concluded that they were right — that Boice had not risen to the occasion, although they were very sympathetic with the difficulty of the situation he’d found himself in.

This small piece of ship’s wheel is one of the pieces of wreckage that
floated ashore from the Czarina. (Image: Binford & Mort)

Boice appeared to agree. He submitted his resignation as keeper immediately after the disaster.

None of that was of any help to the men on the Czarina’s masts, though. Throughout the night, they dropped one by one and two by two into the sea to drown. By late the following morning, they were all gone. And of the numerous bodies that washed up on the beach, only one survived.

(Sources: Annual Report of the U.S. Life-Saving Service. Washington: Gov’t Printing Office, 1910; Ocean City (Maryland) Life-Saving Station Museum, www.ocmuseum.org; Marshall, Don. Oregon Shipwrecks. Portland: Binford, 1984)