Heroes and rascals, shipwrecks and lost gold: Strange but true stories and secrets of Oregon's wild past | Offbeat Oregon History 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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A screen capture from an episode of ABC's legendary 1970s show "Happy Days." Because the show is set in 1950s Milwaukee, Wisc., "The Fonz" is actually breaking the law in this scene; pinball was outlawed in Milwaukee at the time.

Graft, corruption, racketeering, and ... uh, pinball?

Until just a few dozen years ago, pinball was illegal, and the mobbed-up characters who supplied the games played for keeps.


The front cover of the May 1946 issue of 44 Western Magazine shows a scene vaguely reminiscent of the downtown gunfight between feuding newspaper editors in 1871 Roseburg.

The Roseburg "newspaper war" that was settled with a gunfight

The owners of rival papers escalated their war of words when they went for pistols on a downtown street one morning in 1871.


An artist's sketch of what D.B. Cooper may have looked like, from an FBI bulletin sent out shortly after the skyjacking.

The legend of cool-cat skyjacker
D.B. Cooper:
What happened?

The man calling himself Dan Cooper parachuted into legend, and 40 years later the case remains unsolved ... but there are plenty of theories.


The front cover art of "For Men Only" Magazine showed a scene that bore some resemblance to the scene on the day Dave Tucker robbed the bank of which  he would, 32 years later, be named Vice-President.

The bank robber who became vice-president of the bank he robbed

After he got out of prison, Dave Tucker spent 30 years rebuilding his reputation in his hometown of Joseph, and it seems he succeeded.


A detail from the movie poster for the 1915 racist move 'Birth of a Nation,' which inspired and propelled the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the years just after the Great War.

The Rise and Fall of the House of Klux in Oregon

A slick marketing campaign and a taste for political power marked the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, which spread through Oregon like a racist virus — and then collapsed.


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.

During a conjugal visit at a cheap motel, the prisoner escaped

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.


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? . 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.


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.


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).


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 ...


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Race exclusion of early Oregon is still embarrassing today

In a country divided between slave states and free states just before the Civil War, Oregon was the only example of a third alternative: it was neither.

Former slave Louis Southworth sits by the fireplace. Southworth, a
gifted violinist, was brought to Oregon in 1853, while one of the
exclusion laws was still in effect. He earned and saved enough money
playing fiddle for dance schools to buy his freedom, and eventually
homesteaded a claim near the Alsea River west of Monroe. (Image:
oregonencyclopedia.org)

In middle-school history classes, most Oregonians learned that Oregon was a “free” state in the runup to the civil war.

The familiar map of slave states and free states was a source of some pride, since everyone today sees the ludicrous injustice of the slavery system.

But the map was wrong.

The new state of Oregon was, in fact, unique in the country. Black people in Oregon in 1859 were neither slaves nor free; they were simply illegal.

Oregon is the only state that was admitted to the union with a racial exclusion law baked right into its constitution. No African-Americans could legally come to or live in the state — no slaves, no freemen, nobody.

And although the restriction wasn’t actually enforced, it wasn’t removed from the state’s law books until 1926.

As if that weren’t enough, after the Civil War, the state legislature actually rescinded its ratification of the 14th Amendment (equal protection). As for the 15th Amendment (voting rights for blacks), that was left unratified for 90 years — until 1959, on the eve of the state’s Centennial Celebration.

So, what gives? Most Oregonians today consider themselves among the more enlightened citizens of the country when it comes to matters of race. And yet the popular attitudes of just a few dozen years ago seem like those of another place entirely.

The answer is that Oregon was, in essence, another place entirely. Specifically, it was Missouri — which was very much a slave state.

A colony of Missouri

The Oregon Trail started in Missouri, and although plenty of emigrants came from other states, the trail’s draw was strongest in the Show-Me State. Consequently, most of the torrent of settlers coming out west in the wagon trains of the 1850s were frontier southerners. Moreover, they were poorish frontier southerners — with enough money to outfit a wagon and leave town, but not wealthy enough for it to make financial sense to stay. That gave them a particular outlook on race matters, and it’s that outlook that Oregon ended up stuck with.

First, the emigrants were near the bottom of the social pecking order, with free blacks just below them. That meant they felt the pressure of social competition with those free blacks much more than their wealthier peers would have.

And secondly, the emigrants were leaving an environment in which the deck was stacked against them because their wealthier competitors were benefiting from free labor.

Emigrant Wilson Morrison, who left Missouri in 1844, phrased it succinctly: “Unless a man keeps [racial slur omitted] ... he has no even chance; he cannot compete with the man who does. ... I’m going to Oregon, where there’ll be no slaves, and start over.”

So for these guys, it came down to competition. Free blacks would compete with them for social standing and for available resources; and enslaved blacks would make it impossible for them to compete with their slaveholding neighbors.

And there was another aspect to this as well: The Native Americans. Though many tribes were wiped out by exotic diseases, other Native Americans in Oregon were actively resisting the settlement process in those days — especially in the south and east parts of the state. What might happen if a population of free blacks were to move to Oregon and make common cause with the Native Americans there?

Something hinting at that sort of thing had already happened, involving a free black man named James Saules, back in 1844. Saules had married a Native American woman; in a subsequent dispute with a man named Cockstock over ownership of a horse, he threatened to raise an army of his wife’s relatives and start a race war. This, of course, was utter balderdash, but it got taken seriously at the time.

The “Lash Law”

The Saules incident touched off the first of several territorial laws excluding blacks from Oregon, later that year. That first law was known as the “Lash Law” — because it stipulated that any African-American caught in the territory would get “not less than 20, nor more than 39” stripes laid across his or her back with a whip. Then, if he or she did not leave within six months, the punishment would be repeated.

The brutality of this penalty proved shocking even to the hardened Southern settlers of the day, and its author, Peter Burnett, was later embarrassed by it. It was modified to exclude the whipping before it went into effect; but the name stuck, and the sentiment behind it could not have been more clear.

A colony of Massachusetts

What made Oregon different from Missouri, though, was the presence of another cohort of settlers clustered around the trading port cities of the lower Willamette — such as Oregon City, Portland and Astoria. Of the elites of these towns, very few had come over the Oregon Trail from Missouri. They were, by and large, from New England states like Massachusetts, and they had come by sea, “around the horn.”

These New Englanders were not particularly worried about blacks one way or another. They were mercantile libertarians, wanting primarily to be free to pursue business success and personal happiness free of distractions such as the Civil War. From their standpoint, the presence in Oregon of free blacks and slaves alike held only the potential for trouble; it would get the passions of those Southerners all inflamed. These Yankee traders saw the Civil War as a massive destruction of wealth and resources, and wanted no part of it. So they were just fine with keeping blacks out.

After the Civil War, though, worries of getting sucked into the war were gone, and the Yankees lost all enthusiasm for exclusion. Furthermore, Portland was a very Republican town in the 1800s, while the rest of the state was predominantly Democratic. And after the Civil War, the Republican Party was far less hostile to free blacks.

So the African-Americans who did move to Oregon tended to settle in Portland, where they formed the nucleus of a friendly colony and could look after one another — rather like the Chinese did.

Oregon’s cultural legacy

The cultural legacies of Missouri and Massachusetts, and their disparate attitudes toward black people, were still very influential in Oregon right through the end of World War II — when thousands of black families came to work in the shipyards, and returning servicemen brought back a more cosmopolitan, combat-forged attitude on race. The fruits of those influences are Oregon’s attitudes today, which most people agree are pretty modern.

But when you walk down a street in downtown Portland at rush hour and see only one or two non-white faces, it’s a reminder that Oregon is a latecomer to egalitarian enlightenment.

(Sources: Nokes, R. Gregory. Breaking Chains: Slavery on Trial in the Oregon Territory. Corvallis: OSU Press, 2013; McLagan, Elizabeth. A Peculiar Paradise: A History of Blacks in Oregon. Portland: Georgian Press, 1980; oregonencyclopedia.org; ohs.org)