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Table of contents: 2010 articles

These are the columns published in the third year of Offbeat Oregon History.

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Date pub.






Caught rescuing shipwrecked sailors, rumrunners sent to prison anyway.

With a hold full of whisky, Canadian crew of schooner Pescawah left safety of international waters to search for lifeboat from foundering freighter – and got caught.

•Columbia bar,



Depoe Bay, the world's smallest harbor, used to be even smaller.

Tiny coastal town was once known for the oldest privately owned aquarium in U.S.; thanks to a decision not to fill the Spouting Horn in with cement, it’s a popular place for stormwatchers.

•Central Coast



America's first “rest area” had marble walls, crowns oldest scenic highway.

Legendary Crown Point Vista House looks out over Columbia Gorge and was the highlight of a highway built when roadbuilding was as much an art as a science.




Temperance crusaders showed saloon keeper a real “bar fight.”

The owner of Portland's notorious Webfoot Saloon squared off with dozens of hymn-singing upper-crust Victorian ladies on a temperance crusade in 1874. Guess who won?




Did this tiny, soggy, scary road save Oregon's public beaches?

Until Highway 101 was built in the 1930s, the beach was Arch Cape’s only road to the outside world — a fact that was Exhibit A in Governor Oswald West’s plan to save the beaches.




Town of Bandon destroyed by its founder's favorite garden shrub.

Gorse reminded Irishman Lord George Bennett of home, so he planted it when he founded the Oregon seaside town; years later, the gorse destroyed the city in a fiery cataclysm.




Last geyser in Pacific Northwest has gone still in Lakeview.

Oregon’s last geothermal water-blaster, Old Perpetual, erupted for the last time sometime in the spring of 2009; a few dozen years ago, the state had two.

•Lake County



Portland Trail Blazers' fate hung on extra-long bathroom break.

Promoter Harry Glickman was late getting to the key meeting, so Baltimore Bullets basketball team owner Abe Pollin stalled for time by waiting in the bathroom until he arrived.

•Beverly Hills,



Mountain ghost town home of Oregon’s greatest mining swindle.

Though home to some productive mines, the Blue Mountain boomtown made much of its money working the suckers back east; then its head honcho disappeared into the night with the money, hours ahead of the law.

• Baker County
(Blue Mtns.)



Family camped unnoticed in downtown Portland for years.

Portland is the only city in which you can get lost in the woods without leaving downtown. Why is there 5,000 acres of near-wilderness at the heart of Oregon's largest city? Because nobody could develop it — although many tried.

• Downtown Portland



Fossil Lake: Oregon's answer to the LaBrea Tar Pits.

Discovered by Oregon's first governor, the dry lakebed in south-central Oregon's Lake County is a gold mine of Ice Age fossils, from tiny rodents to wooly mammoths, saber-tooth cats and dire wolves.

• Lake County



Oregon City is home of America's steepest street —it runs straight up.

You can't drive on it, though, or even walk — the only way to use this officially platted city street is by riding America's one and only municipal elevator.

• Oregon City



Marcus Whitman wanted to "save" Oregon, but not from the British.

Persistent legend claims the pioneer doctor and preacher brought the first wave of emigrants out on the Oregon Trail, foiling Great Britain's plans to take over, but it's probably completely untrue. Here's why.

• North-central Oregon and Washington



Why legendary Old West lawman Virgil Earp is buried in Oregon.

Retired marshal of Tombstone, Ariz., had only visited Portland once. But his connection to his daughter, Nellie Jane Bertrand, proved to be a strong one.

• Portland



Cattlemen-sheepmen wars had more than 10,000 wooly casualties.

Growing tension over rights to run livestock on Oregon's publicly owned rangeland led to the formation of the "Izee Sheep Shooters," a secret society of cattlemen dedicated to the extermination of their animals' wooly rivals.

• North-central Oregon



“Guns of August” blasted Nature Man's quest to prove he wasn't a fraud.

Hounded by skeptics who thought he spent his "wilderness survival" time drinking beer at a friend's house, Joe Knowles planned to do it again under closer supervision, but World War I broke out and the public lost interest.

•Siskiyou wilderness



Columbia was a wild, frothy, dangerous place once — especially Celilo Falls.

It was known for spectacular scenery and phenomenal fishing; we've traded that for a placid, lake-like waterway and cheap hydroelectric power.

• Northwest Oregon



When bank closed, North Bend minted its own money — out of wood.

The myrtlewood "so-called dollars" are still legal tender there, and have been since they were made during the Great Depression — but not many are used today because coin collectors treasure them.

• Central coast



The legendary Spanish gold of Neahkahnie Mountain, near Cannon Beach.

A Native American story tells of a galleon coming to the bluff, just south of Astoria, and its crew burying a mysterious chest — guarded by the body of a murdered crew member. Is it true? And has the treasure already been found?

• North coast



West Coast's first woman doctor lived in Oregon.

After Bethenia Owens divorced the frontier slacker she'd married at age 14, she went on to become one of Portland's most influential and respected professionals.

• Portland
• North coast
• Roseburg



Without Astorians' "failure," Oregon would be part of Canada, 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.

• North coast
• Astoria



Oregon state governor to President of the United States: "Drop dead."

Governor Sylvester Pennoyer, an irascible populist and an unapologetic racist, was by far the most colorful chief executive the Beaver State has ever had; he especially relished feuding with sitting presidents in Washington, D.C.

• Salem



West's first floating bordello was in Portland's Willamette River.

Riverboat-brothel operator Nancy Boggs took customers from both sides of the river, paid no liquor taxes to City Hall; in 1870s Oregon, it was the money, not the morals, that stuck in the city fathers' craw.

• Portland
• Willamette V.



Wagon train to Oregon was led by a dead man.

Young Willie Keil was the only person to have followed the Oregon Trail while dead, and it's fortunate for his family — and the Aurora Colony — that he did.

• Oregon trail
• Aurora



Harry Tracy, the last desperado, was gunned down after bloody jailbreak.

The former associate of Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch (the Hole in the Wall Gang) was trying to shoot his way back to Idaho and rejoin the gang after breaking out of the Oregon state pen in Salem; he killed 11 men before being shot down.

• Salem
• Portland



"Flumgudgeon Gazette," Oregon's first newspaper, was written out longhand.

Most people think the first paper was the Oregon Spectator, but an irascible local political gadfly named Edward "Philosopher" Pickett (writing as "The Curltail Coon") stole a march on the bigger paper in 1845 using only a pen and ink.

• Oregon City



Lewis and Clark left a trail of heavy-metal laxatives across the country.

Dozens and dozens of mercury-laden purgative pills invented by Founding Father Benjamin Rush were an indispensible part of the Corps of Discovery's kit; the toxic-but-effective tablets helped explorers cope with a very-low-fiber diet. Today, the pills help researchers trace the expedition's (ahem) movements across the continent.

• Oregon trail
• North coast



Portland was the "shanghai capital of the world" in the 1890s.

In the days when Portland was a rough, tough, hard-drinking, hard-punching dockside town, press-gang activity was common in waterfront bars and flophouses; the city's "crimping" activity actually generated international incidents with foreign governments.

• Portland



Lincoln City's D River is part-time holder of a world record -- sort of.

The river, which is 440 feet long at high tide and 120 feet long at low, participates in a spirited rivalry with Montana's 201-foot-long Roe River for the title of World's Shortest River.

• Central coast



Pioneer preacher was more than Legislature bargained for.

"Uncle" Joab Powell gave the first invocation at the Oregon State Legislature in 1860, just after Oregon became a state. His words: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." And he sat back down.

• Oregon City
• Willamette V.



Rajneeshpuram: Did it almost become an Oregon Jonestown?

Police made some chilling discoveries after Rajneeshpuram collapsed -- discoveries that led many of them to speculate that Oregon narrowly avoided a "bloody mess" there.

• North-central Oregon



Rajneeshpuram: The collapse of the Bhagwan's city

Rajneeshpuram crumbled from within after well publicized attempts to take over local governments, which included the biggest biological-warfare attack in U.S. history.

• North-central Oregon



Rajneeshpuram: Oregon's "red scare" featured Rolls-Royces

One of the strangest episodes in Oregon history saw a "far-out" guru from India setting up a commune/ashram in central Oregon; relations with the rest of the state quickly grew strained.

• North-central Oregon



Rajneeshpuram, Oregon's most infamous ashram: The backstory

The early (pre-Oregon) story of a man who would go on to be one of the most influential thinkers in New Age thought -- and one of the most reviled figures of Oregon history: The Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.

• Poona, India



Oregon astronauts made history in good and not-so-good ways

One performed the first unscheduled spacewalk in history. Another has spent more time in space than most people have spent in their own back yards -- more than six months. A third became one of the only two astronauts ever fired after getting involved in NASA's first and only public love triangle.




Camp Adair, state's second-largest city, built in 6 months

Crews cranked out a new building every 32 minutes; at the end of the summer, they'd built a bustling community of 40,000. It lasted just six years before being shut down and dismantled.

• Willamette V.



Flash flood in Oregon in 1903 was nation's deadliest

After the flood swept away a third of the town of Heppner and killed 247 people, two heroic horsemen raced the floodwaters to the next town downstream and got there in time to warn everyone.

• North-central Oregon



Boiler Bay named for fiery, spectacular 1910 shipwreck

The ship was on fire and moving at full cruising speed, and the crew couldn't get to the engine room to shut it off. So they pointed the J. Marhoffer at the shore and abandoned ship. Today, all that's left is its old rusty boiler ... in what's now called Boiler Bay.

• Central coast



Wolf Creek Tavern was Jack London's writing retreat

The historic hotel was also frequented by Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Mary Pickford and Orson Welles; it still has marks on its rafters from the spurs of cowboys who'd sleep in the attic for a dime a night.

• Southwest Oregon



Is Oregon's crystal cave a legend? Well ...

Somewhere in the high desert of central Oregon, there's a large cave lined with quartz crystals, which you can walk into. Where is it? There are people who know ... but they're not talking.
This vintage postcard shows a different kind of crystal cave -- one full of ice crystals. The one  this article talks about is lined with quartz crystals and would be worth millions if found.

• Central Oregon



Old excursion steam train is now a new bike path

Up until the early 1980s, you could book a ticket on a steam train that would take you over the line where the movie "Stand By Me" was shot. Today, the rails are gone, and it's a 15.6-mile bike trail.

• South Willamette Valley



Mohawk Valley debated school with dynamite

Last and most successful attempt, in 1909, rumored to have been made by students at school, who felt they needed a new building; others suspected to be work of a grumpy old pioneer and experienced "dynamite fisherman" who lived nearby.

• South Willamette Valley



Lure of sea brought potatoes to Oregon

Globe-trotting sailor chose Oregon to settle down and retire in; he'd first seen the state, and planted potatoes in it, in 1828 while his ship was being repaired.

• Northwest Oregon



Oregon Vortex: 80 years of keeping 'em guessing

Water seems to run uphill, and people's height appears to change from one end of a plank to another. Is it a fantastic optical illusion, or a mysterious force? Opinions vary, even among scientists.

• Southwest Oregon



Dispute over reservation land lasted 101 years

Warm Springs Indians struggled from 1871 to 1972 to get back a piece of land taken as a result of a survey everyone admitted was in error. But proceeds from timber sales and grazing on the disputed land enabled them to build Ka-Nee-Ta Resort.

• Central Oregon



Bits of Hollywood train wreck still in Row River

The movie was "The General," starring Buster Keaton; in the scene, a real locomotive is crashed through a real burning bridge into the river, at a cost (in 2010 dollars) of more than half a million dollars.

South Willamette Valley



For pioneer family, robbers were lifesavers

Three armed desperados who'd planned to rob a traveler instead saved him from freezing to death by pulling his wagon over the pass -- after they learned his six children were inside.

• Central Oregon



Underground city found in Pendleton potholes

Repair crews found tunnels that contained entire businesses and residences, once used by Chinese residents to avoid contact with liquored-up cowboys; they are now a popular tourist attraction for the city.

• Central Oregon



Gold country legend: The solid-gold snuff can

Is there anything to the story of the Native American man who came out of the woods every few years with a snuff can full of gold dust? Maybe ... but it's a well-worn legend.

• McKenzie River



Biggest meteorite in U.S. found in West Linn

Massive 16-ton chunk of iron was found in 1902 by a neighboring property owner, who dragged it half a mile in an attempt to steal it; today it's in the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
A photo from 1905 of the theft of the Willamette Meteorite. Homesteader Ellis Hughes built this giant wooden cart to haul the 16-ton rock through the forest to his own property; he found it on a neighboring plot of land.




Bing Cherry has roots on Oregon Trail

World's most popular cherry was bred by pioneer Quaker nurseryman who brought its progenitors in a wagon across the Oregon Trail, with Native Americans' help.




Timberline Lodge could have been a skyscraper

Calling the plan a "profit-making eyesore," Forest Service manager nixed 1920s plan for a modern steel-and-glass structure with an aerial tramway.


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