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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.


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Massive 1934 Portland
dock strike paralyzed the state

Half a century of winning labor disputes left the waterfront employers feeling overconfident. When the Portland longshoremen walked out, they expected it would be a repeat of earlier victories for them ... it wasn't.

The Portland municipal dock as it appeared around the time of the
longshoremen’s strike. (Postcard image)

When the gunfire broke out and he heard the bullets sizzling overhead, visiting New York senator Robert Wagner was dumbfounded.

“This can’t be true,” he said.

It was. The bullets had come from four “special police” guards — part of a group of 200 guards hired by the city of Portland to keep the peace on the waterfront during the big longshoremen’s strike. They were not professional cops.

Senator Wagner had been sent to Oregon by President Roosevelt himself to see if he could help the two sides settle their differences. Reaching out to both sides, he’d accepted an offer to tour the picket lines.

Quite why these guards decided it would be a good idea to open fire on the two cars isn’t clear, but it’s a safe bet they had no idea there was a U.S. senator in one of them. And as you can imagine, both of them got into some serious hot water over the incident.

An ad published in the Portland Morning Oregonian on May 12,
1934, urging striking longshoremen to get back to work.

The Portland waterfront strike of 1934 was by far the biggest labor dispute in state history. It was part of a West Coast-wide strike by the International Longshoremen’s Association union — the same one that resulted in two deaths in San Francisco on “Bloody Thursday” — and although there were no deaths in Portland, plenty of people got black eyes and fat lips, and a few got considerably worse than that.

Roots of the strike

The strike got its start with some new federal legislation — the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933. Among other things, this law, for the first time ever, gave unions governmental recognition and a right to strike.

This news stirred up some trouble on the Portland waterfront, which had been quiet for some time. The local International Longshoremen’s Association union chapter had been crushed in the strike of 1922, and for most of the intervening years it was a union in name only. Freed from labor pressure, the employers had drifted into some bad habits. Chief among these was allowing the staff in their hiring hall to abuse their positions — taking bribes and kickbacks and blacklisting workers they didn’t like.

So throughout the early 1930s, resentment had been building among the longshoremen. But without a union to work through, they’d essentially bottled it up — until now. Suddenly the union was growing again.

The steam passenger liner Admiral Evans as seen in roughly 1920. By
1934, the aging steamer was brought to the Portland pier to serve as a
floating hotel for strikebreakers. This steamer had a full and interesting
life; 22 years earlier, when it was called the S.S. Buckman, it had been the
scene of a bizarre and unsuccessful but deadly attempt at piracy on the
high seas. (Image: Superior Publishing)

The employers’ organization — the Waterfront Employers Association — responded to the new legislation by doing two things that almost certainly would have taken care of the problem, had it not been for their history of corrupt hiring. They gave all the longshoremen a raise (they’d cut their pay from 90 to 75 cents an hour over the previous two years, and they now boosted it to 85 cents); and they started a brand-new company-controlled labor union for them to join.

When representatives of the ILA asked to meet with the employers, the employers refused to talk to them, claiming the sole legitimate voice for waterfront workers was the company union they’d just chartered.

For several months, the union pressed its case, while rapidly growing in strength. It wanted the employers completely out of the business of hiring dock workers — that was the core demand. The only way to accomplish that was a “closed shop” — where you have to be a union member to work there, and the union makes all the hiring decisions.

For reasons that will be obvious to any business owner reading this, that was not something the employers were going to be OK with. The ironic part is that by failing to maintain a professional hiring system, they’d set the situation up. It was a bit like economic karma.

Finally, after a failed intervention by President Roosevelt himself, the workers voted to go out on strike on May 9.

Ready for battle

When the decision to strike came, many employers actually welcomed it. They remembered the strike in 1922, which had been an overwhelming victory for them, and expected to have an even easier time crushing this one. The major difference they saw between 1922 and 1934 was that now there was a depression on and Portland was knee-deep in unemployed men who could be hired as strikebreakers (what the union guys called “scabs”) to keep the port open.

This turned out to be a major miscalculation. As it turned out, 1922 had taught the union people a few lessons, and most of these were in the area of public relations. Well before the strike began, union people started going out into the community to make their case with small farmers, line cops, members of other unions and even the unemployed. After the strike started, they welcomed unemployed families to union food kitchens — so nobody would have to become a strikebreaker to feed the family. They also added a demand to their list — six-hour workdays, which would mean that although the union members would get smaller paychecks, employers would have to hire more workers to get the job done.

The union’s overtures to the police made a huge difference, as one of the first things the employers wanted to do was get the police and, if possible, the National Guard to protect strikebreakers with armed force so they could reopen the port. They had good cooperation from the police chief, but from the line cops, not so much. That would change later, but mostly because the city hired 200 “special policemen” who were far less sympathetic to strikers than the regular patrol cops were.

Skirmishes

The first thing the employers did was to advertise for strikebreakers and assemble a large group of them into the company hiring hall, with buses ready to take them to the docks. Union members surrounded the hiring hall and disabled the buses in various ways — they nearly tipped one of them over. The strikebreakers never even got near the docks.

A few days later, they tried another approach: They brought the worn-out passenger liner Admiral Evans upriver from Astoria and moored it at the dock, intending to make of it a floating hotel for strikebreakers so they wouldn’t have to cross picket lines. A group of strikers managed to reach the ship, clamber aboard and start a big free-for-all fistfight with the “bulls” guarding it, one of whom was tossed into the river.

(The official union line was that the guard had panicked and "jumped" into the river. To which the only possible logical reply was, "Suuuuuure he did.")

After several strikebreakers and truck drivers were beaten after crossing picket lines, Mayor Joseph Carson pleaded with Governor Julius Meier to call out the National Guard. In response, the other local labor unions announced that if the National Guard were called out to help open the port, or if the employers resorted to armed violence in trying to get that done, they’d call a general strike.

Meier, worried the presence of the Guard could spark further violence, decided he’d only send the Guard if order broke down and they were needed to stop riots. After Wagner’s car was fired on, though, the governor did order the National Guard to stand by at Camp Withycombe — presumably to be ready in case the bumbling “special police” did something stupid again and started a riot.

By early July both sides were worn down and eager for the strike to be over, so they agreed to let the federal government’s National Longshoremen’s Board arbitrate. The longshoremen went back to work, and eventually the deal that came through gave them most of what they’d wanted.

And by the time President Roosevelt came to Oregon later that summer to dedicate the new Bonneville Dam, everything was back to normal on the waterfront.

(Sources: MacColl, E. Kimbark. The Growth of a City. Portland: Georgian, 1979; Bigelow, William & al. “Agitate, Educate, Organize: Portland, 1934,” Oregon Historical Quarterly, spring 1988; Buchanan, Roger B. Dock Strike. Eugene: Univ. of Oregon (master’s thesis), 1964)