2012 articles About Offbeat Oregon 2012 articles 2011 articles 2010 articles 2008-2009 articles About me Store (the Finn J.D. John Centre for Crass Commercialism and Filthy Lucre)
Link to Web site for Wicked Portland: The Wild and Lusty Underworld of a Frontier Seaport Town z

you just might ALSO
enjoy ...

z

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 ...

z

Far-out guru "enlightens" Central Oregon.

What happens when a colony of acolytes of an East Indian guru move in, then try to take over Wasco County? Check out the four-part story of the rise and fall of Rajneeshpuram ...

z

this oregon youth went on to save half a billion lives...guess who?

A local Willamette Valley teen-ager named Bert Hoover, an orphan sent from Iowa to live with his uncle, went on to save millions of lives and become a singularly ill-starred U.S. president.

z

oregon's most spectacular shipwreck ever.

The steam schooner J. Marhoffer was almost brand-new when, burning fiercely from stem to stern, it piled onto the rocks near Depoe Bay. It's the remains of this fiery shipwreck that gave Boiler Bay its name ...

z

the gallant rescue of portland's floating brothel.

Maritime madam Nancy Boggs kept her bordello on a barge floating in the river, until a police raid cut it loose. But the captain and crew of a sternwheeler came to save the day. Here's the story.

z

take off to the province of oregon, eh?

Few people know how close Oregon came to officially becoming a British possession under the treaty that ended the War of 1812. Only the presence of a handful of scattered, starving survivors from Astor's fur enterprise prevented it. Here's how.

z

timberline lodge could have been a glass skyscraper

Calling the plan a "profit-making eyesore," a Forest Service manager nixed 1920s plan for a modern steel-and-glass structure with an aerial tramway. You can read about it right here.

z

pixieland: an edgy, vanished amusement park

Built in the late 1960s as a "fairy-tale history of Oregon," the amusement park lasted just a few years before slipping into receivership. Today, all that's left of this odd and uniquely Oregonian story is a dilapidated guardshack.

 


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Man from Oregon started gold rush, but didn't benefit much

Driven from Oregon's Willamette Valley by the spring rain, James Marshall likely would have been happier if he'd stayed

The beginning of the California gold rush is a pretty well known story. But what’s not quite so well known is that it was started by an Oregonian.

His name was James Wilson Marshall. And of course he wasn’t originally an Oregonian; he was a carpenter from New Jersey who’d come out on the Oregon Trail to set up a farm in the Willamette Valley.

Well, like all the emigrants, he traveled all summer and arrived as the rains were getting started. Several months of uninterrupted precipitation later, Marshall had had enough.

“Reckon I wasn’t cut out for farming life,” he said, and packed up and headed south.

He ended up in Sacramento, where a wealthy landowner named John Sutter hired him to build a water-powered lumbermill. Sutter was building the lumbermill to make the lumber he’d need to build a flour mill nearby, which was where he expected to make his money processing the wheat he was growing.

Not long afterward, Marshall was widening the tailrace of the mill by opening the sluice gate at night to cause torrents of water to erode the channel. For safety reasons, he couldn’t do this during the day, but he’d come back and check progress when the sun came up.

Well, one morning when Marshall was doing this, he saw something glittering underwater.
An hour or two later, Marshall showed up unexpectedly at Sutter’s house, soaked through in a downpour – rain seemed to be a continuing part of Marshall’s life out West – and asked to speak to Sutter privately. He showed him several ounces of very nice gold nuggets pulled from the tailrace.

Surprisingly, Sutter’s first thought seems to have been for his mills. He begged everyone to keep the discovery secret for just six weeks, to give him time to finish the lumbermill and flour mill. He was a developer, not a miner. So he toiled away, racing against time to save his $25,000 investment, as a million dollars’ worth of gold crunched beneath his feet.

Of course, word got out. Of course, the labor market dried up as every able-bodied worker grabbed a gold pan and hit the hills. Of course, the mills languished and Sutter lost his investment. He tried hiring miners to look for gold, but this didn’t work out particularly well; one assumes they simply pocketed what they found. Then Sutter found himself plagued with aggressive squatters who hired lawyers to try to defeat his land claim, which was through the Mexican government – California was part of Mexico until the end of the war in 1848. The squatters also filched food from his fields and stole his cattle.

“By this sudden discovery of the gold, all my great plans were destroyed. Had I succeeded for a few years before the gold was discovered, I would have been the richest citizen on the Pacific shore; but it had to be different. Instead of being rich, I am ruined,” he wrote in 1857 in Hutchings’ California Magazine.

Marshall fared even worse. The squatters forced him off his land and he lacked the resources to fight them. Like Sutter, he became a miner only reluctantly and not very successfully. He tried a vineyard, but it didn’t do well for him either. In the end, he wound up in a tiny cabin eking out a living with a subsistence garden.

Ironically, if he’d stayed in the Willamette Valley just one more month and experienced Oregon in the dry part of spring, he probably never would have left – and his great-grandchildren might still be farming his land there today.

(Sources: Friedman, Ralph. Tales Out of Oregon. Sausalito, CA: Pars Publishing, 1967; www.sfmuseum.org)