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)
2012 articles 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) 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)

Table of contents: 2011 articles

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

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Date pub.






2011 articles:





Dory fisherman rescues stranded sailors — from Coast Guard boat

The conditions were too rough even for the legendary Coast Guard 36-foot motor lifeboat to make it through the breakers, so a fisherman brought them ashore two by two in his rowboat.
One of the U.S. Coast Guard's legendary 36-foot motor lifeboats, type T, under way.

•Port Orford



“Voice of Looney Toons” was the terror of his Portland high school

His teachers may not have appreciated Mel Blanc's humor and talents, but Portland radio listeners sure did — and later, so did generations of Porky Pig, Yosemite Sam, Daffy Duck, Sylvester the Cat and Bugs Bunny fans.
A panel from the credits of a 1948 Warner Bros. Looney Toon show, featuring the voice of former Oregonian Mel Blanc

•Portland and Hollywood, Calif.



The Port Orford Meteorite: Was it all a big hoax?

If it's true, the 11-ton space rock is still out there — and worth over $300 million. But the guy who says he found it was in financial trouble, and many geologists today suspect he made the whole thing up.
A piece of Pallasite meteorite found at the scene of the 1820 meteor strike in Chile. Many skeptics now think the Port Orford meteorite was a hoax, and a sample from this meteor strike was used to perpetrate it.

•Coos Bay, Columbia Bar



Missing gold suggests something sinister in shipwreck mystery

There were, so far as we know, no survivors. But when the upside-down hulk drifted ashore, it was 200 miles off course — and there was no sign of the 40-pound keg of gold it had been carrying. What happened? Nobody knows.
The three-masted schooner Wawona, launched in 1897, is of the same type as the mysteriously-vanished ship Sunshine.

•Coos Bay, Columbia Bar



Portland was the scene of Sammy Davis Jr.'s big break

Star performer of the Will Mastin Trio was a regular sight in Portland nightclubs during the late 1940s and early '50s; a telegram from old friend Frank Sinatra took him away to the big time.
Sammy Davis Jr. laughing it up with lifelong friend Frank Sinatra in Las Vegas. Sammy played Portland venues a lot after the war, before he caught his big break — with a little help from his friend.




Black sheep of the Union Army was Oregon's last Civil War veteran

Lebanon man lived a quiet, respectable life after the Civil War, but in his youth he was a member of Olney's Detachment of Oregon Cavalry — a Union Army outfit nicknamed "Olney's Forty Thieves."
The modest gravestone of Oregon's last surviving Civil War veteran, who lived a quiet and respectable life in the small Willamette Valley town of Lebanon ... after what appears to have been a fairly wild youth.




Oregon's distinctive bridge style is Conde McCullough's legacy

Legendary engineer's genius was in making gorgeous architecture cost-effective; his spectacular bridges on the Oregon Coast highway are nearly tourist attractions in their own right.
One of the few Conde McCullough bridges executed in steel rather than reinforced concrete, the Dr. John McLoughlin Memorial Bridge over the Clackamas River linking Oregon City with Gladstone was awarded the Annual Award of Merit for Most Beautiful Steel Bridge by the American Institute of Steel Constructors in 1933.




Captain's quick decision saved hundreds from a fiery death

Legendary riverman Uriah Scott had to choose between trying to save his steamboat and trying to save his passengers. He didn't hesitate for a second.
The sternwheeler 'Telephone,' fastest riverboat on the Columbia, had to call on all her speed to get her passengers safely ashore - then burned to the waterline.

•Columbia River, Astoria



Steamboat monopoly's clever coup ended up costing them plenty

Buying the connecting boat put a competitor out of business ... but left him free to use his boat to eat their lunch on an even more lucrative steamboat route.
Capt. Uriah Scott's flagship on the Columbia in later years, the Bailey Gatzert.

•Columbia River



They laughed at Captain Scott's ugly little riverboat ... at first.

He came to the steamboat companies asking for a job, and they laughed him off. So he built his own boat on a shoestring budget — then used it to eat their lunch on the upper Willamette run.
A shallow-draft sternwheeler of the type pioneered by Uriah B. Scott plies the swift currents of the Willamette River at Albany.

•Willamette River



For one Oregon slave, Civil War didn't end bondage

Ame died in 1874, more than 10 years after President Abraham Lincoln set her free, but her gravestone still identifies her as a slave.
The gravestone of Ame, who despite having died 10 years after the Civil War, was still considered a slave.




Rascally sea-captain was like a 19th-century Han Solo

A true old Oregon character, Captain Jemmy Jones seemed to bear a charmed life. Always in trouble with someone, he survived five shipwrecks and many incarcerations; he invented the steam schooner, and ran from the law in it.
A map of the Columbia River bar as seen in 1855, just a few years before Captain Jemmy Jones got in trouble on it.

•Columbia River Bar



Aurora Colony showcased the best of American utopian movement

In contrast to the bloodshed and madness that accompanied other attempts to form a more perfect society, the Aurora Colony lived graciously and ended gracefully. Today, it's remembered proudly and fondly by almost everyone.
Aurora Colony founder and leader Dr. Wilhelm Keil is buried in Aurora beneath this simple, modest gravestone.




Oregon embraced Carnegie libraries like no other state

Of the 32 towns in Oregon offered a grant to build a library, not one failed to raise its matching money; no other state was as successful.
The public library in Medford shows all the classic hallmarks of a Carnegie library.




Astoria man set out to do something nice for his wife, invented cable TV

The nearest TV station was in Seattle. But Ed Parsons figured out he could catch a very weak signal on top of a building in town. All he had to do was figure out how to boost the signal without boosting the noise as well; he did.
The historic John Jacob Astor Hotel rises into the sky over Astoria; 60 years ago, it served as the base for the world's first cable TV antenna.

•Astoria (North coast)



"Professor" Ray V.B. Jackson: Central Oregon's "Angel of Death"

The onetime school teacher, later superintendent and rancher just happened to be on hand, playing the role of helpful witness, at almost every high-profile murder scene in Lake and Harney counties. What were the odds?
A prison mugshot of Ray Van Buren Jackson in 1896, a few years before he became a Silver Lake schoolteacher.

•Lake County (South Central Oregon)



Schoolteacher Ray Jackson of Silver Lake may have been a serial killer

It's hard to believe, but in 1902 the school district put a convicted felon, fresh from serving hard time at the state pen, in charge of its grade-school kids. But the forgery he'd been convicted of may have been the least of his crimes.
A mule team ready to haul freight in downtown Lakeview.

•Lake County (South Central Oregon)



Ship sailed across two miles of sandy beach, relaunched itself

Stranded four-masted schooner North Bend crossed Peacock Spit and, a little over a year later, launched itself in Baker Bay on the other side in the late 1920s.
The four-masted schooner North Bend, stranded on a sandy spit, 'sailed' through two and a half miles of sand and relaunched itself on the other side.

•Columbia River Bar



First youth symphony in U.S. came out of Oregon's high desert

Every youth orchestra in America today can trace its ancestry back to the a tiny, dusty town in Eastern Oregon, and one gifted, visionary violin teacher named Mary Dodge, founder of the Sagebrush Symphony.
The Sagebrush Symphony Orchestra on its “giant violin” float, after riding it through the town of Burns in the Fourth of July Parade, 1915.

•Eastern Oregon



Vaudeville's famous “Klondike Kate” became a Central Oregon legend

After injuries to her knee, ankle and heart, she needed to get away from show business and from an ex-boyfriend. So she retreated to the high desert near Brothers, and became a homesteader ... and looked fabulous doing it.
Kathleen "Klondike Kate" Rockwell, most famous Vaudeville performer of Yukon Gold Rush-era Dawson City, retired to a quiet homestead near Brothers.

•Central Oregon



Space-age whalers help grow fur coats, put a man on the moon

Few people know a small whaling venture was launched in Astoria in 1961 — seeking whale oil for the space program and whale meat to feed to hungry minks. (Updated Nov. 3, 2011 with substantial new info.)
storia's 1961 whaling operation was helping with the Space Program -- hunting whales to put a man on the moon.

•Columbia River Bar



Shipwreck ends Astoria's bid to be “Nantucket of the West Coast”

When the treacherous bar claimed a fully-loaded whaling ship, its owner chalked it up as a very expensive lesson learned, and gave up on its plan to hunt whales out of the Oregon seaport.
With shipwreck, Astoria's hopes to be Nantucket of the West Coast went on the rocks.

•Columbia River Bar



In marshal's saloon, drinks were on prohibitionist Gov. Oswald West

Legendary governor dropped in on a trip to Boise, gave a speech in the now-ghost-town of Harney; a few years later, he pardoned the town marshal, who'd been convicted of shooting the owner of a competing tavern.
Prohibitionist governor Oswald West had to buy a round of drinks at a saloon in a Harney County ghost town; the town marshal owned the bar.

•Eastern Oregon (high desert)



Life of Sacagawea's mountain-man son “Pomp” a tantalizing mystery

Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, the baby born to Sacagawea during the Lewis and Clark exposition, is one of the most important figures in Oregon history — but we know almost nothing of his life.
Sacagawea and son Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau depicted in a statue in Portland, Oregon.

•Southeastern Oregon



Mariner's dream predicted shipmates' deaths with eerie precision

In his spooky nightmare, 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.
The Prussian (German) windjammer Mimi, after it became stranded on the beach.

•Northern coast, near Nehalem



Little-known hero of Silver Lake fire died saving dozens of lives

When the packed community center caught fire, Lucinda Schroder ran back inside and blocked the door open with her body, enabling dozens who otherwise would have been pinned and crushed against the closed door to escape.
Lake County ranchers gather for their annual clean-up of downtown Silver Lake.

•South-central Oregon (Lake County)



Wreck of the Glenesslin: Insurance fraud, or just drunken incompetence?

Windjammer still holds a world speed record for sailing ships, but by the time of her demise, had been losing money for years; the age of steam had made her obsolete. So when she sailed onto the rocks, insurance adjusters smelled a rat.
The Glenesslin, under almost full sail, grinds against the rocks at the base of Neahkahnie Mountain.

•Northern coast, near Manzanita



Gold-field bandits' stolen loot still hasn't been found

The Triskett Gang underestimated the citizens of Sailors' Diggins, which became a fatal error when they went on a shooting spree downtown. But the $75,000 they stole has never been recovered.
Colt Dragoon revolver, cap-and-ball, designed in 1848

•Waldo (South Josephine County)



Tired of watching mariners die, lighthouse keeper started a rescue service

After finding a battered lifeboat washed up on shore from a fatal shipwreck, Joel Munson made it his life's mission to use it to start a life-saving service to rescue people. Today, his creation soldiers on, as part of the U.S. Coast Guard.
A vintage postcard image from the turn of the 20th century, showing a crew of rescuers launching a surfboat to go to the aid of a foundering schooner.

•Astoria, Columbia Bar



Legendary Oregon wrestler pinned by heavyweight real-estate dream

Olympic gold medalist and OSU legend Robin Reed might have been the best wrestler of all time; throughout his 20-plus-year career he was never once pinned. But his plan for the "Delake Rod and Gun Club" defeated him.
Newport's historic bayfront would look a lot busier if Hogg's schemes had come to fruition.

•Portland, Corvallis,
Paris (France)



How Newport nearly became Oregon's major seaport city

Railroad developer T. Edgenton Hogg had big plans for the little city; it was going to eat Portland's lunch with cheaper, faster passenger service to San Francisco. But two suspicious shipwrecks left him in financial ruins.
Newport's historic bayfront would look a lot busier if Hogg's schemes had come to fruition.

•Newport, Yaquina City



Story of "nudist church" in Corvallis ended in murder, suicide, insanity

Bride of Christ cult sought perfect righeousness, Christ-like simplicity and total humility. In practice, though, it spawned nothing but misery and madness, and a legal precedent for “honor killings.”
Bride of Christ Church, the "holy rollers" of Corvallis and Waldport, saw their quest for perfect holiness spiral into madness and murder

•Corvallis, Waldport, Seattle



The real story of the "nudist church" in Corvallis: How it began

F. Edmund Creffield's Bride of Christ Church broke up families, sanctioned adultery and inspired deadly violence in the early 20th Century. Ironically, its practitioners' goal was perfect holiness and godliness.
The story of the Bride of Christ Church in Corvallis has inspired many mendacious and exaggerated accounts, such as this one.




Blimps were first line of defense against Japanese subs, balloon bombs

The massive dirigibles were housed in the largest clear-span wood buildings in the world, near Tillamook; one burned in 1992, while the other houses the Tillamook Air Museum today.
K-series blimps like this one were the first line of defense against Japanese subs and balloon bombs during World War II.




Crew of shipwrecked schooner rescued — by a railroad train

A small construction engine was being used to build the South Jetty, to protect the mouth of the Columbia River for ships, when one off-course sailing ship crashed into it — so construction crews chugged to the rescue.
The railroad running along the top of the South Jetty at the mouth of the Columbia River

•Columbia River bar



“Hermit of the Craggies” went from acorns and roots to prison food

Convinced his only neighbor was out to get him, solitary trapper and paranoid former prospector “Crazy Hugo” ambushed him with a rifle; the state prison became his retirement home.
The front entrance to the Oregon State Penitentiary, Crazy Hugo's home after 1934,  as seen in the 1920s.

•Rogue River Wilderness Area



Coast Guard rescue saved ship — for Stalin's most notorious gulag

Norwegian freighter got off course, piled onto Peacock Spit; a cutter pulled it off, and motor lifeboat crews rescued its crew, and the wallowing ship was pulled to port and repaired. A happy ending? Well, not for the Russians, it wasn't.
The Norwegian freighter M/V Childar wallowing in the calm waters of Puget Sound following its ordeal.

•Columbia River bar



Gallon House covered bridge: Ground Zero in Oregon's battle over booze

The historic structure, halfway between “dry” Silverton and “wet” Mt. Angel, became a meeting place for the thirsty — and a symbol of Oregon's strange relationship with good ol' Demon Rum.
The Gallon House Bridge today.

•Mt. Angel- Silverton and downtown Portland



Amateur pirates' bumbling scheme didn't work out as they'd planned

Two liquored-up Navy deserters planned to seize control of a passenger liner, drive it onto the beach and steal away into the night with three tons of gold. It's probably safe to say they didn't think their plan through very well.
S.S. Admiral Evans, f.k.a. S.S. Buckman, docked in Yukutat, Alaska, 13 years after the piracy incident.

•Central Oregon Coast



Only sitting U.S. Senator killed in battle was from Oregon … sort of

Edward Dickinson Baker was a personal friend of President Lincoln and a formidable public speaker; had he not been killed, he might well have become president. Without his influence, Oregon would likely have sided with the South.
Woodcut portrait of Senator Edward Dickinson Baker, circa 1860




Bungling burglars skunked in Corvallis courthouse job

Perhaps thinking the Benton County Treasurer would have treasure in his office, they blew the safe with dynamite — and were disappointed. A month later, having left pawnshop claim stubs lying around camp, they were busted.
Benton County Courthouse, Corvallis, OR




Oregon had the first female governor in U.S. history — for one weekend

When Carolyn B. Shelton took charge of the state for 48 hours, she and other Oregon women were still three years away from gaining the right to vote.
Governor George Chamberlain, for whom Governor Carolyn B. Shelton worked. I have been unable to find any photographs of Shelton herself.

•State capitol, Salem



Eugene woman was first female VP candidate to get Electoral College vote

Longtime Eugene resident Tonie Nathan, one of the founders of today's Libertarian Party, was also the party's first-ever vice-presidential candidate when she ran with John Hospers in the election that gave us "four more years" of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew.
Libertarian Tonie Nathan of Eugene was first female VP candidate to win an electoral college vote




Harney County rancher saves pioneer Oregon aviator's life

Barnstormer Ted Barber was down to his last half-cup of gasoline when Ralph Grove rescued him by lighting up a field with the headlights of his car; Ted's old Waco 9 biplane lived to fly the next day, and so did he.
Harney County rancher saves pioneer aviator Ted Barber's life

•Steens Mountain area



Did Buddhist monk from China “discover” Oregon 1,600 years ago?

The legend of a monk's journey to a land called “Fusang” dates back to 499 A.D.; is it possible that Fusang was Oregon? Or was the whole thing a complete fabrication?
Did Buddhist monk from China "discover" Oregon?

•Oregon Coast



Chinese gold smuggler saved woman and her baby, then vanished

In Gold Rush-era Oregon, the most skilled miners were probably the Chinese — but they were in constant danger. To avoid being robbed, they entrusted their gold to professional couriers who masqueraded as penniless vagabonds. This is a story from the life of one of them, a man we know only as "Cheng."
Chinese gold smuggler saved woman and baby, then vanished

•Southwest Oregon



Tiny home-built schooner “Morning Star” saved Tillamook settlers

After the only skipper willing to brave their fearsome river bar died, the only way to get wheat and cheese to market was to build their own trading ship — which they did, in 1854.
Tiny home-built schooner “Morning Star” saved Tillamook settlers




When dynamite truck blew up in Roseburg, it looked like nuclear war

A truck driver parked 13,000 pounds of explosives next to the hardware store downtown. That night the hardware store caught fire … and so did the dynamite, in the biggest human-caused disaster in Oregon history.
When dynamite truck blew up in Roseburg, it looked like nuclear war




Shipwrecked fur traders walked from Oregon Coast to Louisiana

While they were ashore, their sailing ship sank in a storm, leaving four fur traders alone in a vast wilderness with no prospects for rescue. So they set out for Louisiana – and two years later, they arrived.
Shipwrecked fur traders walked from Oregon Coast to Louisiana

•Umpqua River (Reedsport)



Little remains of back-woods luxury spa at Wilhoit Springs county park

During the heyday of hydrotherapy, the remote mountainside resort was Clackamas County’s No. 1 tourist draw; its waters actually had scientifically provable therapeutic value.
Little remains of back-woods luxury spa at Wilhoit Springs county park

Scotts Mills



Japanese submarine I-25 blasted its way into Oregon history — twice.

The big sub was a key part of Oregon history; it fired on Battery Russell in June 1942, tried to light a forest fire with its on-board airplane that September, and sank several merchant ships.
This is Meiji Tagami, commander of the Japanese Imperial submarine I-25, with his boat. Mr. Tagami, whose remains lie with those of his boat off the island of Vanatu, is the only enemy commander in history to have directly attacked Oregon soil.

•Oregon coast



Vanport houses floated like life rafts, helped many survive the flood.

The shoddily built Portland suburb existed for six years. In that time, it spawned Portland State University and brought ethnic diversity to the state. Few people realize how important the place really was.
Vanport houses floated like life rafts, helped many survive the flood.

•Vanport, Portland



Oregon back country is rich in legends of buried treasure and robbers' loot.

Stories of lost loot and buried booty have kept treasure hunters busy digging for gold in hidden corners of Oregon for the past 150 years. Here are a few of the stories that keep them searching.
Oregon back country is rich in legends of buried treasure and robbers' loot.

•Grants Pass area; Medford area; Corvallis; Columbia Gorge



Little boy somehow knew mom and aunt were drowning on shipwreck.

Historic sidewheel steamer Brother Jonathan’s sinking was a major maritime disaster for Oregon in 1865; treasure hunters found the gold-laden wreck in 1993, touching off squabble over salvage rights at historical sites.
Little boy somehow knew his mom was going down on Brother Jonathan shipwreck

•South Oregon
and north California



Bobbie the Wonder Dog’s 2,500-mile odyssey put Silverton on the map.

Lost in Illinois, the affable collie crossed the Rocky Mountains on foot in the dead of winter, making friends along the way — and a media sensation when he arrived.
Bobbie the Wonder Dog’s 2,500-mile odyssey put Silverton on the map.


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