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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Actor Justus Barnes takes a shot straight into the camera at the end of a 10-minute silent Edison Films production called 'The Great Train Robbery,' the filming of which started in November 1903 – two months after Bill Miner’s gang tried to rob the train just outside Portland. It’s hard to miss the similarity between Barnes’ character and Bill Miner.

How Bill Miner learned to rob trains ... he learned the hard way.

But his botched Portland job appears to have inspired an iconic 1903 movie called 'The Great Train Robbery' a month or two later. Maybe he even watched it later ... in prison.


A scene from the Disney movie "Saludos Amigos" (1943), a sort of cartoon-character tour of South America. This scene is from the Argentina part, with Goofy dressed as a gaucho. In this cartoon and most others, Goofy was voiced by Pinto Colvig.

Goofy was from Oregon. Also Bluto, Grumpy, Sleepy, Bozo, dozens more.

Vance "Pinto" Colvig, from Jacksonville, was a pioneer in animated cartoons and a gifted show-biz man.


Earle Leonard Nelson, a.k.a. The Dark Strangler, as he looked a week or two before his execution in Canada. Nelson's hanging ended a cross-country and international murdering spree in which he murdered dozens of women.

When the 'Dark Strangler' preyed on Portland landladies

His M.O. was simple: While a woman was showing him a room or house for rent, he'd strangle her, take her jewelry and flee.


A breathless headline that appeared in the Portland Morning Oregonian after Lulu Reynolds revealed her clandestine lover's guilt in a particularly dramatic and creepy way.

The tawdriest love triangle in the history of the universe.

Lulu Reynolds was having a torrid affair with her music teacher. Her husband carried a .38 in his jacket pocket. It wasn't the kind of thing that ends well. It didn't.


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.

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).


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Edouard Chambreau gave a swindler's-eye view of old Oregon

French-Canadian gambler started out as one of the most scurrilous rascals in the state, then reformed his ways and became one of its most earnest and effective reformers. This is the story of his early years. (Part 1 of 2)

A portrait of Edouard Chambreau as a young man, based on a very
early photograph that appears in Wehrkamp’s dissertation. (Image:
Leland John)

In its early years, Oregon was at the outer limits of the known world, and that remoteness attracted all sorts of interesting characters. There were Joe Meek types, driven by a spirit of adventure; there were guys like William Ladd, who came hoping to get in on the ground floor and become the next generation of business barons; and, of course, there were the Marcus Whitmans and Jason Lees, the state’s spiritual forefathers, come into the wilderness to save souls.

But there was another kind of frontier Oregon character, too, to whom the remoteness of Oregon appealed: The criminal, looking to run away to a place where people’s memories are short and laws are new and weak.

History has recorded plenty about the successful, hardworking folks who would, a few decades later, become Oregon’s gentry. But history was mostly written by members of that gentry, people who wanted to cast Oregon in a positive, glorious light. The last thing they wanted to write about was what was going on in seedy saloons in places like Portland’s North End “Whitechapel” district, or the brothels and “cribs” of the Second Street “Court of Death.”

Which is why the writings and recollections of Edouard Chambreau are so valuable. Chambreau, in middle age, wrote a long and heartfelt memoir as a sort of confessional – hoping by his example to turn future young men away from the path he had trodden for the previous 40 years. In his youth, he had been an itinerant swindler, gambler, gunfighter and liquor peddler, one of the most scurrilous rascals in all the Oregon territory. Then, in his later years, he became one of its most earnest and effective reformers.

It was, one has to admit, an interesting story. And it sheds much light on the seedy underbelly of the frontier communities of the Oregon Country.

Not cut out to be a tailor

Chambreau was born in France in 1821, and moved with his family to Montreal in 1825. His parents had hoped he’d become a tailor, but he hated the work, and in 1838, at age 17, he ran away to join the circus.

He spent the following decade or so in circuses and blackface-minstrel troupes, and it was there that he learned the skills that he’d bring to bear so effectively on the Oregon frontier: fighting to win, cheating at cards and dice, and making money the old fashioned way – by swindling people.

He spent a little time in the Army of the West, fighting in the Mexican-American War, and it’s that enterprise that brought him to Oregon for the first time, in 1847.

The Oregon Territory would never be the same.

Almost immediately upon arriving, Chambreau connected with William Johnson, the Oregon country’s first bootlegger, who was secretly distilling a nasty substance called Blue Ruin out of flour-mill leftovers and selling it to the local Native Americans (here's a link to the full story of that venture). (Oregon was under Prohibition at that time – Johnson’s Blue Ruin enterprise had inspired the first Prohibition law in American history. It wouldn’t be repealed until 1849.)

Chambreau in the gold fields

The next year, Chambreau was in a Hudson’s Bay Company prison in Fort Vancouver when he got word of the discovery of gold in California, and he immediately knew he had to go. With the help of some friends, he broke out and fled southward to the gold fields.

But not to look for gold – at least, not directly. Although he got in very nearly on the ground floor in the gold fields, it seems never to have occurred to him to try his luck as a miner. No, Chambreau’s plan was to let the miners get the gold, and then swindle them out of it at rigged games of chance.

Hounded out of San Francisco

In San Francisco, Chambreau settled in with a pack of his friends from the Army of the West – including James Lappeus, who would become the first Portland Chief of Police twenty years later. The group of them formed themselves into a gang, dubbed themselves “The Hounds,” and got busy terrorizing the frontier citizens of the future City by the Bay, running a sort of protection racket there.

Then one night, Chambreau and fellow Hound Jim Beatty got into a shootout with a group of Mexican miners. When the smoke had cleared, Beatty was dead, and the Hounds decided some retribution was in order.

So a few nights later, their faces masked or blacked out with burned cork, the Hounds descended on the Mexican and Chilean mining camps for an out-and-out massacre. Miners were shot as they stumbled out of their tents, and then the tents were torn down and set afire. Chambreau does not say whether he participated in this atrocity, but he almost certainly did, since he was with Beatty when he was killed.

For a frontier town that had been suffering less egregious thuggishness from the Hounds for some time, this act of mass murder was too much.

The next day, “San Francisco had put on a different look,” Chambreau wrote. “People could be seen in different places whispering together, and sizing up all those who were suspicioned of having taken part in the massacre.”

And the day after that, with stunning speed, Sam Brannan’s vigilance committee formed, about 400 strong and armed to the teeth, and fanned out over the city looking for Hounds. Their official goal was to arrest the Hounds, not to lynch them, but every Hound knew mob action was a real possibility.

Trouble on the run

Chambreau got out, but only just barely. He disguised himself as a hobo and stowed away on a schooner, whose first mate he bribed to help him get out.

The schooner took him to Stockton, where he again very nearly got lynched after being caught harboring a robbery suspect.

After that, he quickly headed into the gold fields, where law enforcement was sketchier and less organized and where gold by the ton was being hauled out of the ground by suckers, ripe for the plucking. Dressed like a miner to allay suspicion, the sharp-dealing gambler drifted from town to town, fleecing the real miners and then shooting, punching or knifing his way out of any trouble that resulted.

Portland’s future police chief

Around 1850 Chambreau dropped in to visit old friend Lappeus, who’d also made it out of San Francisco somehow. Lappeus was running a saloon-general store called Ten Mile House, just north of Sacramento. Chambreau arrived just in time to help Lappeus deal with a large, angry cohort of drunken teamsters. He doesn’t say, but the most likely explanation for this is that the teamsters had caught Lappeus cheating them; he and Chambreau were both masters of the art of swindling people at the card table or faro bank.

The two ex-Hounds drove the teamsters out of the building by throwing whiskey bottles at them.

“Some of them, after they got outside, they began to shoot,” Chambreau writes. “In an instant we both had our six-shooters out, and you think it was not lively there for a little while? After we had driven them away from near the store, we retreated and barricaded ourselves inside and made ready for an attack, but they did not want any more of it. We were both hurt but nothing serious.”

After this, Chambreau teamed up with another gambler and headed out to the mining towns again – “We had something new on the game of Monte, and before it would be exposed, we thought we would take a trip in the small mining towns,” he wrote – and had a few more experiences of shooting and pistol-whipping his way out of lynch mobs before finally giving up and heading back toward Oregon.

Like a bad penny…

By 1853, Chambreau was back in Portland, and had opened a saloon near the corner of Front and Morrison streets, right by the river. He was also courting a local woman, a respectable girl who was understandably terrified by his sinister reputation, but who also seemed to see something in him. She would be the cause of the big change in his life – but that change wouldn’t happen for a full twenty years, and those would be eventful years indeed.

We’ll talk about those 20 years in next week’s column.

(Sources: Wehrkamp, Timothy Lee. Edward Chambreau: His Autobiography (Ph.D. dissertation). Eugene: Univ. of Oregon, 1976)