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Link to Web site for Wicked Portland: The Wild and Lusty Underworld of a Frontier Seaport Town z

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Part of the historic entry to Portland's Chinatown.

he dressed in rags like a beggar, so no one would know ...

To avoid getting robbed and murdered, Chinese couriers dressed as beggars while carrying thousands of dollars in gold from the fields. This is the story of one of these men, and the woman whose life he saved.

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.

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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).

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THE SHIPWRECK VICTIMS WHO THOUGHT THEY WERE GONERS ... UNTIL A TRAIN SHOWED UP.

Usually when something steams out to sea to rescue shipwrecked sailors, it's not a railroad train. Here's the story of the one (and probably only) time it was.

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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.

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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 ...

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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.

Delake Rod and Gun Club as it appeared in 1960.

mysterious mansion was haunted only by olympic medalist's dream.

OSU Wrestling legend Robin Reed, an Olympic gold medalist, was never pinned once in his entire career. But his plan for the Delake Rod and Gun Club ended in defeat. Here's the story.

U.S. Coast Guard cutter Algonquin.

bootleggers save sailors' lives, but get thrown in jail anyway.

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.

Bobbie the Wonder Dog

Bobbie the wonder dog's 2,400-mile odyssey.

Left behind in Illinois, the big collie dog walked home to Silverton, Oregon. It took him six months. Here's Bobbie's story.

A modern reproduction of a classic Concord Stagecoach.

a few legends of buried gold and treasure ...

Some of them might even be true. Here's a selection of them — as far as we know, the loot from any of them has never been found.

This crater marks ground zero in the Roseburg Blast. It's about 60 feet across.

a nuclear strike
in downtown roseburg?

No; it was "just" an exploding dynamite truck. But the mushroom cloud was big enough to fool a passing airline pilot. Here's the full story of the legendary "Roseburg Blast."


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

The day the drinks were on Governor Oswald West

Legendary governor, a staunch prohibitionist, had to buy a round for the house when he dropped by the town marshal's saloon in the now-ghost town of Harney; a few years later, he pardoned the marshal, who'd been busted for gunfighting.

The Sagebrush Symphony Orchestra on the Fourth of July, 1915, in Harney City.
Members of the Sagebrush Symphony Orchestra pose with family and
friends in Harney City ― including, most likely, all the residents of Harney
City and their automobiles ― following a performance on the Fourth of
July about 1915. That was the year the group toured Eastern Oregon for
the Redpath Chautauqua. The Sagebrush Symphony Orchestra, based in
Burns, was the project of violinist Mary Dodge, who later helped found
what became the Portland Youth Philharmonic. (Image: Harney County
Public Library) [Larger image: 1200 x 881 px]

A dozen or so miles out of Burns, just off Highway 20, there's a spot along Rattlesnake Creek where, if you know what you're looking for, you might find the last remnants of one of Oregon's most-gone ghost towns.

This is (was) Harney City, formerly the seat of Harney County. Today it's hard to find; it's been a ghost town since the 1930s, when the last of the high-desert homesteaders gave up and moved away. But in 1912, when Governor Oswald West dropped in to make a stump speech, it was a thriving community of 100 souls, with a couple sawmills, a stockyard full of sheep, a Presbyterian church, a general store and a saloon.

West surely wasn't the only Western-state governor to have made a stump speech in a soon-to-be ghost town, but he may have been the only one to make a speech in a town so remote and tiny. The other funny thing about this speech is that just before making it, West ― the governor who more or less sponsored Prohibition in Oregon ― bought drinks for everyone in the saloon.

Here's the story:

Stumping in the sticks

West, in his second year as Oregon's governor, was on his way to a conference of Western governors in Boise. Riding out of Burns, he headed for Harney City, where he hoped to make an afternoon speech.

 When he got there, he headed straight for the general store and talked to proprietor Fred Haines. Fred was a staunch Republican, but graciously refrained from throwing the Democratic governor off the premises and told him town meetings were usually held in the church. Prompted for more information, he allowed that the town marshal was the man to talk to about making such an arrangement. Prompted again ― Fred clearly was not bending over backwards to be helpful here ― he told West the town marshal would be found across the street in the local saloon, which he owned.

(This wasn't as unusual as it sounds to the modern ear. The town marshal of Portland in the 1870s, and later its first police chief, was a fellow named James Lappeus, owner of a famous Stumptown saloon called the Oro Fino.)

West went to the saloon and found the joint packed with about 40 percent of the population of Harney City ― sheepherders, packers and mill workers eating and drinking, with the town marshal pulling beers and filling orders for food at the bar. It was almost certainly lunchtime, although West didn't say specifically what time it was.

 West introduced himself and asked about using the church. The marshal was happy to oblige ― although his cooperation may have had to do with West's next move:

A teetotaler rings the bar bell

“Although a pronounced Prohibitionist, I didn't have the crust to ask such a favor without setting up drinks for the crowd,” West remembered later, in 1949. “After the ceremonies at the bar, the marshal said, 'All of you get the hell out of here. I'm going to lock up. We are going down to hear West make a speech.”

Across the street traipsed the happy lunchtime crowd, followed by a number of other residents attracted by the steeple bell, which the marshal was ringing. The guv delivered a speech, shook some hands and headed out toward Vale and points east.

An old friend visits the governor ... in handcuffs

A year or two later, West was in his office in Salem. Things were going well; the Oregon Beach Highway Law had passed, and the wheels were already turning to outlaw the sale of drinking alcohol in Oregon. He'd gained some nationwide notoriety for the incident at Copperfield, where he'd declared martial law and sent his secretary at the head of a detachment of National Guard troops to padlock every saloon and gambling hall in the place after the county sheriff's response to complaints of corruption and illegal activity there weren't vigorous enough for him.

And that's about when the Harney County Sheriff stopped in to let the governor know he was bringing an old friend to Salem ― to the Oregon State Penitentiary.

Wild West-style shootout

It seemed the Harney City town marshal/saloon keeper had gotten into a frank exchange of views with a couple of local competitors ― the town of Harney City apparently was not big enough for more than one saloon. The antagonists had gone for pistols, and the town marshal had ended up plugging one of the other two in the arm. Tried and convicted, he was now on his way to Salem to serve time for this felony.

“Well, when you bring him down, drop in here on the way to the Pen,” West replied.

When the saloon keeper/town marshal/convicted felon arrived at the governor's office, he got a surprise that may not have been so surprising:

“I had a pardon prepared for my Harney friend, and as I handed it to him I said, 'Brother, go thy way and shoot no more,” West recalled.

I haven't been able to learn the marshal's name, although somewhere in the state archives there is surely a copy of his pardon. West discreetly leaves it out of his account. But within a year or two, the saloon he was fighting over would turn into either a restaurant or a speakeasy, as Oregon's prohibition law kicked in. Not many years after that, the entire town would be left to the jackrabbits.

(Sources: West, Oswald. “Reminiscences and Anecdotes: Political History,” Oregon Historical Quarterly, v. 50, December 1949; Friedman, Ralph. The Other Side of Oregon. Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton, 1993; Brimlow, George Francis. Harney County and its Range Land. Portland: Binford, 1951)