Heroes and rascals, shipwrecks and lost gold: Strange but true stories and secrets of Oregon's wild past | Offbeat Oregon History Click in the very top of this header to go back to the main menu page. Yaquina Bay was home to the best-tasting oysters anywhere, and naturally they soon provoked a battle: The Yaquina Bay Oyster War. 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. The voice of Goofy -- as well as many other grand old cartoons -- was animation pioneer and performer Vance 'Pinto' Colvig, a Jacksonville native and an OSU grad. The one and only Buster Keaton in 'The General' -- one of several legendary films made here in Oregon. Local aero-daredevil Silas Christofferson flew this rickety airplane off the roof of a downtown hotel in 1912! 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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Table of Contents: 2015 articles

These are all the columns published in the eighth year of Offbeat Oregon History. (Click here to jump to most recent year)

<<<   Older: 2014 stories      |     — This page: 2015 stories —     |      Newer: 2016 stories    >>>


January 4, 2015

Express clerk's silence foiled train robbery

The masked outlaw planned the job out carefully, and thought he was ready for anything. But he met his match in the cool-handed express man, and had to leave almost empty-handed.



January 11, 2015

Dynamite used to be a regular part of Oregon life

Just a few dozen years ago, nearly anyone in Oregon could easily get all the high explosives he or she might want — if not by buying it, then by mixing a few common ingredients together with some old sawdust.



January 18, 2015

How to rob trains with dynamite: Tips from the pros

Award-winning criminal mastermind/ motivational speaker Blackie DuQuesne shares a few key insights for aspiring train robbers on how to avoid “n00b mistakes” on a railroad heist.



January 25, 2015

Oregon crooks have always enjoyed their dynamite

Extortionists, jailbreakers, safecrackers, jealous lovers and even truant students have, throughout the early years of Oregon history, found high explosives a powerful aid to their nefarious schemes.



February 1, 2015

When the rebel flag flew over Oregon soil

Smithfield rebels' gesture of defiance on the main stagecoach route caused shock and outrage, but nobody was outraged enough to risk being shot over it; so the flag waved there until federal troops arrived and confiscated it.

•Franklin (near Elmira)


February 8, 2015

Cow Creek Canyon robbers weren’t afraid to blow stuff up

The “Baritone Bandit” led a small group of desperados with a large cache of dynamite, and they got away with a good bit of loot. But one of the passengers saw behind the bandit's mask ...

•South Douglas County


February 15, 2015

Bold bandits robbed express train three miles from Roseburg

The job got off to a bad start when the fireman escaped and sprinted for the nearby town. The main suspect in the robbery quickly left town, and a few months later was killed in a holdup in Washington.



February 22, 2015

Lafe Pence's crazy plan: Move mountains down, fill up lake

He might have accomplished it, too, but he lost friends when he tried to claim water rights to Bull Run, and when his primary investors went bankrupt, he was forced to give up and leave town.



March 1, 2015

Shipwrecked sailors drifted from Oregon to Puget Sound

While the captain of the Emily G. Reed was sadly reporting the loss of 11 brave mariners, four of the missing were adrift, desperately bailing water out of a damaged and leaky lifeboat. Destination: Puget Sound.

•Tillamook Head


March 8, 2015

Gold-dredge scheme failed — luckily for Tarzan fans

Had Edgar Rice Burroughs and his brothers been successful with their Snake River gold dredge, Ed likely would never have had the time or inspiration to start writing “John Carter of Mars,” “At the Earth's Core” and “Tarzan” books.

•Snake River


March 15, 2015

Coast Guard “Sand Pounders” kept Oregon Coast secure

They never did see any action against the Japanese spies and commando teams they expected. But the fact that they were on the job may have had something to do with the fact that none ever tried to come ashore.

•Oregon Coast


March 22, 2015

Civil War plotters hoped to get West Coast to secede

Dreamed up by supporters of the old south, the plan envisioned the “Pacific Republic” as a slave state — to be stocked with slaves via a sort of bait-and-switch human-trafficking swindle.

•Salem, Sacramento


March 29, 2015

Legendary “authoress” started with poetry, dime novels

Frances Fuller Victor became the founding mother of all Oregon history, and one of its most important writers of all time. By the time she arrived in the Beaver State, she was already a well-known writer.



April 4, 2015

Pioneering historian earned recognition, but little money

The “Mother of Oregon History” fell on hard times in the late 1870s. She never quit, but after she took a job writing for Hubert Howe Bancroft, he took credit for the books she wrote.



April 12, 2015

French sailors miraculously saved from death on bar

As they hung in the riggings of the sailing ship Etoile du Matin waiting for death, they felt their ship start to break apart — but the piece that broke off first was the keel, enabling the ship to float upriver to safety.

•Columbia River Bar


April 19, 2015

Famous “Doolittle Raid” had roots in Pendleton air base

Oregon played a vital role in America's answer to Pearl Harbor — the daring daylight airstrike on Tokyo and other Japanese cities that provided a much-needed morale boost during the dark days of 1942.

•Pendleton, Japan, China


April 26, 2015

The Oregonians who flew with the Doolittle raid

Robert S. Clever, Everett “Brick” Holstrom, Henry “Hank” Potter and Robert G. Emmens were four Oregon aviators who did the Beaver State proud in what seemed like a suicide mission over enemy territory.



May 3, 2015

Oregon’s Doolittle raiders made history in startling ways

Two of them had movies made about their wartime exploits — “30 Seconds over Tokyo” and “The Great Escape”; a third, captured and imprisoned in the raid, returned to Japan after the war as a Christian missionary.



May 10, 2015

Storm-tossed ships shared a double date with destiny

The Mindora and the Merrithew had docked next to each other in San Francisco, arrived within a few days of each other, wrecked within a few hours of each other, and washed up on the beach within a few miles of each other.

•Columbia River Bar


May 17, 2015

Mount Angel Abbey owes grandeur to colorful Swiss monk

Jovial and gregarious, Adelhelm Odermatt locked his sights on a vision of a hilltop monastery—then deployed himself like a jovial, glad-handing, never-sleeping bombshell to make it happen. And he pulled it off.

•Mt. Angel
•Engelberg, Switzerland


May 24, 2015

Oregon’s highest, smallest city once had its jail stolen

Because of how it's chartered, the ghost town of Greenhorn remained an incorporated city even when its population was zero — but it couldn't defend its city hoosegow from Canyon City raiders one summer night.

•Canyon City


May 31, 2015

FBI’s “Most Wanted” gangster was busted in Beaverton

The mild-mannered drywall contractor turned out to be a notorious gangster after an article in the Morning Oregonian published his mugshots; he was wanted for the murder of three family members.

•Alcatraz Island


June 7, 2015

The small-town police chief who was executed for murder

At the pay the city offered, Otto Austin Loel was the only man willing to take the job. He didn't turn out to be much of a bargain ... but it wouldn't be until years later that the town learned how much worse he could have been.

•Sandy, Oklahoma City


June 14, 2015

“Ship of Romance and Death” came to a dramatic end

The Melanope's maritime career started with a witch's curse. But her most dramatic story was the torrid, doomed love affair its skipper carried on with the heiress who bought the ship so she could be with him.

•Columbia River Bar


June 21, 2015

Cursed or not, S.S. Rosecrans was unusually unlucky

The big oil tanker had weathered two major catastrophes in the previous year — a stranding and a colossal fire. But for 33 doomed crew members, the third time would be the charm — or, rather, the hex.

•Columbia River Bar


June 28, 2015

Rosecrans rescue one of Coast Guard’s finest hours

Two motor lifeboat crews went out on the bar to save three surviving sailors. Both boats went to the bottom of the sea — but not a man was lost on either crew, and all the survivors were rescued.

•Columbia River Bar


July 5, 2015

Sudden tempest caught steamship at worst possible time

Not since before the Civil War had so many mariners drowned in a shipwreck on the bar; as hurricane-driven breakers tore the big ship to pieces, all the would-be rescuers could do was watch in horror.

•Columbia River Bar


July 12, 2015

Blundering robber turned out to be Joaquin Miller’s son

Young Henry Miller, rejected by his illustrious father, turned to a life of crime, but he turned out not to be very good at it. For his part, Joaquin took to claiming Harry was not really his son.

•Portland, Coos Bay, California


July 19, 2015

Oregon’s 20th-century “gold rush”: The quest for uranium

As the Cold War spun up, federal government guarantees sent thousands of Geiger Counter-packing prospectors in Army surplus Jeeps scrambling across Oregon's Outback, hoping to make their fortunes mining “A-metal.”

•Southeastern Oregon
•Early 1950s


July 26, 2015

Schooner doomed by skipper’s fear of skipping sailors

As sailors melted away into the new Oregon country, their captain sweated bullets; they could not be replaced. But his haste to get back out to sea while he still could set the stage for disaster.

•Fort Vancouver, Astoria


August 2, 2015

Shark shipwreck: Navy’s loss was Cannon Beach's gain

The captain's desperate haste to get out to sea, combined with a terrible decision to cross the bar on the ebb, resulted in disaster — and the ship's stranded armaments resulted in a name for the town of Cannon Beach.

•Columbia River Bar


August 9, 2015

Six picnickers were only victims of balloon bombs

Lunching in the woods during World War II, Elyse Mitchell and four kids from church were killed in the blast. But, hoping to deny the Japanese knowledge of their “victory,” the newspapers kept it quiet.

•Bly (Lake County)


August 16, 2015

The ones that got away: Almost-shipwrecks on the bar

When a sailing ship found itself in trouble in the legendary “graveyard of ships,” there was nothing left to do but count the bodies. But every now and then, a vessel would slip out of the icy grip of the bar to sail on.

•Columbia River Bar
•1882, 1874, 1900


August 23, 2015

The Unwritten Law: A license to kill (but just for men)

Around the turn of the last century, if a murderer could convince a jury that his victim had been a “home-wrecker,” he could expect to be not only acquitted, but lionized as a brave and noble domestic hero.



August 30, 2015

Man hailed as a hero for murdering sister’s ex-lover

Unwritten Law Files, Episode 1: Orlando Murray's trial had something for everyone: Sex, revenge, vigilantes, a Fallen Woman, drunkenness, hysteria, the asylum, and even fist-fighting lawyers.

•Hubbard, Portland


September 6, 2015

Private manhunt ended with jury-approved murder

John Bowlsby stalked his wife's paramour from North Bend to Portland, a heavy .44 revolver in his pocket. He caught up with him on a steamboat in Astoria.

•North Bend, Astoria


September 13, 2015

Cop's murder turned Portland against Unwritten Law

What started out looking like a clean-cut morality play, with a hero, a villain, an innocent victim and a bereaved widow, quickly turned into a tale of remarkable sordidness as the truth slowly emerged.



September 20, 2015

Clean-cut case turned out to be sordid and complex

“Good guy”: A petty swindler. “Wronged woman”: A prostitute and bigamist. “Innocent victim”: A serial philanderer. By the time the “bad guy” was caught, Portland just wanted to forget the whole thing.



September 27, 2015

Unwritten Law wasn’t always a disastrous moral failure

A Linn County case with a strong element of self-defense, and a Malheur County child-abuse travesty that ended with a shotgun blast, were hailed as Unwritten Law triumphs in the newspapers — sort of.

•Brownsville; rural Malheur County


October 4, 2015

Murderer shocked when Unwritten Law fails him

R. Thomas Dickerson, after gunning down the chief witness in his wife's suit for divorce, clearly expected the jury to buy his claim that the man was a “home-wrecker” and deserved what he got. It didn't.



October 11, 2015

A tale of two heroes of two different Civil Wars

The farmer was a former Union general; the pastor, an ex-Rebel soldier who once faced his forces on a battlefield. But in Corvallis, they traded enmity for friendship, and blue-vs.-gray for Beavers-vs.-Ducks.



October 18, 2015

Daring rescue saved 49, made skipper toast of the coast

Dead in the water and adrift in a gale, passengers and crew of the steam schooner Washington thought they were goners. But then out of the mist and spray came Buck Bailey's tugboat ...

•Astoria, Columbia River Bar


October 25, 2015

Tillamook Lighthouse ghost greeted keeper on first night

Somewhere in the inky blackness of his little room, miles away from shore, James Gibbs awoke to hear stealthy footsteps, getting closer and closer. And then something brushed his throat ...

•Tillamook Rock
•North Coast


November 1, 2015

To get help building lighthouse, bosses had to be sneaky

Locals familiar with Tillamook Rock would have nothing to do with the project, so the government had to hire suckers from distant cities to fill crews; rumor has it some were even supplied by shanghaiers.

•Tillamook Rock
•North Coast


November 8, 2015

Keeping lighthouse running was hard, and expensive

Tillamook Rock gets the worst weather in the state — and waves that sometimes break over the top of the lighthouse. When they do, they sometimes carry with them boulders torn off the basalt bluff below.

•Tillamook Rock
•North Coast


November 15, 2015

Monmouth’s 150-year tradition of Prohibition in Oregon

By the 1990s, support for keeping Monmouth's ban on booze wasn't about morality; it was about the cachet that came with being the only “dry” town west of the Mississippi. But that wasn't enough.



November 22, 2015

The all-night municipal gunfight in the town of Ione

Holed up on a nearby hillside clutching a stolen shotgun, local drunken rowdy Charlie Earhart held the whole town at bay until dawn, when he finally gave himself up; surprisingly, no one was killed.



November 29, 2015

Charity Lamb, Oregon’s most misunderstood ax-murderess

Abusive husband Nathaniel Lamb probably didn't really plan to kill his wife, but when he aimed his rifle at her that morning, he clearly wanted her to think he did. That night, he learned how successful he'd been.

•Clackamas County


December 6, 2015

Incompetence and a labor strike led to deadly shipwreck

Passengers on the speeding liner said an incompetent crew and disappearing ship's officers contributed to a shocking death toll after the Alaska crashed in the fog; the captain blamed an “uncharted current.”

•Cape Blanco


December 13, 2015

Collection of “history hoarder” now a priceless treasure

Printer George Himes saw the historical value of the everyday things around him, and although that made for some very unsuccessful publishing ventures, his collection is the heart of the Oregon Historical Society's archives today.



December 20, 2015

Oregon’s own would-be fascist dictator: Charles Martin

During the First World War, Martin was the central figure in one of the most shameful acts in U.S. history: the deliberate, systematic breaking of the spirits of black combat veterans to put them back “in their place.”



December 27, 2015

Gov. Martin tried to run Oregon like an Army base

The retired general campaigned as a New Deal Democrat, but dropped the mask immediately; seeing every hint of opposition as an existential threat to democracy, he reacted to criticism like a junta dictator.

•Portland, Salem

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