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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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.

"I can make a
six-shooter sing 'come to jesus'!"

Meet Robert Gordon Duncan, the pioneering Portland shock-jock who was the first person ever sent to prison for cursing on the air, in 1930.


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.


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.


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Union squabbles were part of life on Portland waterfront

Every few years, in the early 1900s, burly and hard-fisted dock workers got into a battle of wills with the autocratic sea-captains who ran the shipping companies. Most of the time, the dock workers got the worst of it.

One of Robert Dollar’s steamships, docked at a Portland wharf to take on
cargo in the mid-1910s. The tarp  is there to protect the cargo, probably
sacks of wheat, from getting rained on. (Image: OSU Archives)

The first couple decades of the 20th century were rocky ones for everyone involved with the shipping industry in Portland.

The law had just changed — in 1915 — prohibiting shipboard officers from physically beating sailors. The waterfront was still peppered with watering holes in which strangers were being shanghaied. And the longshoremen — the burly men who did the hard, dangerous physical labor of loading cargo on ships — were starting to get serious about joining a union.

Waterfront unions

Unions weren’t a new thing on the waterfront. Down in San Francisco during the Gold Rush, the longshoremen struck for — and got — a $6-a-day wage deal, which was a phenomenal amount of money in the 1840s. And on the docks in Portland, the first union formed in the late 1860s.

Sacks of wheat wait in a dockside warehouse for longshoremen to load
them aboard an outbound ship. (Image: OSU Archives)

What was new in the 1900s, though, was the growing antagonism between the longshoremen and the hard, autocratic men they worked for — men who, in most cases, had grown up in the maritime environment of the 1880s and 1890s, when sailors were routinely disciplined with lash and fist and the captain’s word had the force of iron law. Their transition to a more democratic social philosophy would not be a smooth one.

“(My) experience has shown that quietness (has) been secured in a few days when union men went to the hospital in ambulances,” remarked one such autocrat, Captain Robert Dollar of the Dollar Steamship Line, when a San Francisco newspaper reporter asked about labor unrest.

The union-busters

A misty day in Portland’s lower harbor, sometime around 1904. The long,
rectangular bridge is the old Steel Bridge, which was replaced in 1912 with
the Steel Bridge we know today; in this picture, the bridge is drawn open
for ships to pass through. (Image: Reid Publishing)

Captain Dollar and his fellow maritime entrepreneurs had banded together late in the 1800s to form a sort of anti-union, the Shipowners’ Protective Union, which worked hard to keep “open shops” (basically employment-at-will, with no requirement of union membership for workers) and to keep labor costs as low as possible. In this, they were successful — predictably, given that they were well-financed and well-organized and their opponents were not.

But, as so often happens in long conflicts like this, once they started winning these fights they didn’t know when to stop. In the 1890s the SPU felt powerful enough to impose actual wage cuts on dock workers, which saved a little money for the employers — but set the stage for some very expensive activity down the road. The employers were in the process of learning, the hard way, that when people who work for you don’t feel fairly treated, you lose money. It would take decades for this lesson to sink in.

The cut-‘em-off contract

The employers weathered a big strike in 1901 down in California that left all West Coast longshoremen’s unions considerably weakened, whether they’d participated or not. For a time, the employers felt pretty confident.

A steamer being loaded with wheat using conveyer belts in the mid-1910s.
(Postcard image)

By 1914, though, union activity on the waterfront was back up to levels that the employers thought were threatening. So they tried a new tactic.

They formed a new employers’ union, and negotiated a deal with the longshoremen’s union. Basically, they bamboozled the naïve labor negotiators into signing a contract that explicitly cut them off from the support of other unions representing teamsters and seamen and such.

Two years later the union unilaterally abrogated this deal, violating the termination clause by giving two weeks’ notice instead of two months’, and went out on another strike. This time they were demanding a closed shop — in which employers agree to only hire union workers.

The strike was a repeat of 1901, except that 1,000 workers in Portland participated in this one. In response, the Portland Chamber of Commerce started a petition drive to put a referendum on the ballot that would outlaw closed shops. (This went nowhere.)

It was also different in that the employers were able to prevent other unions from helping the Longshoremen out. Most likely the Teamsters and Seamen were miffed at the Longshoremen’s willingness to sign that 1914 contract.

In any case, on their own, the Longshoremen were only able to last a few months before they were forced to make the best deal they could — basically, pre-strike conditions — and sheepishly slink back to work.

1919 and 1922: The union-killing strikes

Resentment continued to simmer on the waterfronts of the West Coast until 1919, just after World War I, when San Francisco went on another strike — this time giving proper notice under its contract.

Captain Dollar, never one to sit on his hands at such a moment, organized a “vigilance committee” for purposes of co-opting the legal system as a strikebreaking tool. Dollar and his associates would file charges against union people, and then burst into the courtroom in force during the trial to “encourage” a guilty verdict. In one case, Dollar later boasted, the capitalist vigilantes actually threatened to lynch a judge whom they saw as insufficiently sympathetic to their side.

Once again, the other unions stayed out of the fight. Once again, the strikers were simply worn down — they didn’t have enough cash to continue. This time, the employers turned the strike into a lockout, and entered negotiations with a strong hand.

The Portland strike

Portland followed suit in 1922, when its union’s contract ran out and the employers announced they were going to handle hiring from now on. That, of course, meant union membership would now make it harder to get a job rather than easier. So Portland longshoremen walked out.

The employers were ready for them. In a crucial innovation, they brought an old steamship, the F.J. Potter, and moored it at the dock so that strikebreakers could live on board; this would stop them from having to cross picket lines to work.

As a result of this, the strike barely slowed the port down. A week later, the employers announced they’d reopened the port. Frustration mounted among union guys, and found its way out in fistfights and other outbreaks of violence, which the employers used as a pretext to seek and get a court injunction preventing union members from congregating in places where there “might be outbreaks of violence.” Union members and pickets started getting arrested.

Now, at last, the other unions started getting involved. Cargo loaded by the strikebreakers was labeled “hot,” meaning that other union members wouldn’t handle it. And U.S. government officials made several attempts to mediate the strike.

But the employers, clearly sensing that they had the upper hand, would have none of it. They were going for the win this time.

Finally, on June 22, they clinched it. The employers essentially dictated the terms of the agreement that ended the strike, and they arranged it smoothly so that the union would be essentially destroyed without the appearance of them having done it. A joint hiring hall was established, with both union and employer representatives, which sounded fair. But the hall would be used to hire both union and non-union dockworkers — a guaranteed source of future friction and conflict. That conflict would serve, within a month or two, as a pretext for the employers to lock the union out.

And that was the end of the Longshoremen’s Union in Portland — until 12 years later, in 1934, when it would rise again in the West Coast-wide labor eruption that became known as “Bloody Thursday.”

(Sources: Buchanan, Roger. Dock Strike: History of the 1934 Waterfront Strike in Portland. Eugene: Univ. of Oregon, 1964 (master’s thesis); Cody, Robin. “Division on the Docks,” Oregon Magazine, May 1984)