Heroes and rascals, shipwrecks and lost gold: Strange but true stories and secrets of Oregon's wild past | Offbeat Oregon History 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 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)
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The classic melodrama villain, with sleek silk hat and waxed handlebar mustache, in the act of evicting the poor widow and children from their freshly foreclosed family homestead. Except for the mustache, Oregon's longest-serving 19th-century senator fit the trope with remarkable precision.

Senator John H. Mitchell: Oregon's own real-life Snidely Whiplash

He abandoned his family, changed his name, moved to Oregon, bilked widows and orphans in two big real-estate swindles ... and was promptly elected to Congress.


The skull of the skeleton found in the Odd Fellows hall in Scio, which is now at Oregon State University. The skeleton was that of a hard-working man who died sometime between 1860 and 1890.

Mysterious skeletons of Oregon: If these bones could talk ...

A long-dead dry-land homesteader ... a medical specimen in an Odd Fellows lodge ... what are their stories? We'll never know.


Oregon inventor Victor Strode’s revolutionary boat, the 'aerohydrocraft,' made the front cover of the March 1931 issue of Popular Science. The design didn't prove a useful one for the City of Portland, though, and the larger model the city commissioned to function as a harbor police boat didn't work out.

Buck Rogers-style police boat didn't work out for city of Portland

A local inventor developed the "aerohydrocraft" design in the early 1930s. But when the city built one as an ambulance boat, it flopped.


The remains of the barque Peter Iredale as they appear today, jutting out of the beach sands on Clatsop Spit at Warrenton as they have since 1906. In 1960, the wreck nearly was lost to a man who claimed he owned it.

How the Oregon Coast almost lost the Peter Iredale to a scrap-metal shark

An Oregon City man claimed he'd inherited the rights from his father, and demanded to be allowed to cut it up and haul it away. He almost got away with this little swindle.


Commander Dave Scott salutes the U.S. flag, which has just been planted on the surface of the moon. A small piece of Oregon lava rock, carried to the moon by Scott's fellow astronaut Jim Irwin, lies within this photo, next to one of the many bootprints. (Image: NASA)

There's a piece of lava from central oregon in this photo, on the moon.

It was left there by astronaut Jim Irwin at the request of a friend from Bend — who gave him a sliver of Oregon lava to leave on the moon's surface. And so he did.


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Killer broke out of state prison during a conjugal visit at a nearby Motel 6

It had to be the most awkward prison-break scenario in the history of the universe. But it really did happen. Here's the story.


James Lappeus, former Portland Chief of Police. He eventually was fired over allegations that he'd offered to 'accidentally' leave the jailhouse door open for a convicted murderer if his wife paid a $1,000 bribe.

gambler, swindler, gunfighter, liquor man ... oh, and also police chief.

James Lappeus came to Portland to open a saloon and "theater." Despite his checkered past — or maybe because of it — he was named city marshal and, later, Chief of Police. Here's the story.


Boats of the Astoria fishing fleet, with the help of both wind and incoming tide, race away from the dangers of the Columbia River Bar in this postcard image from around the turn of the century.

When fishing was so deadly, one in 15 didn't survive the season.

They drifted downstream in heavy 24-foot boats with their nets out ... and prayed the tide would turn before they got sucked out onto the bar. Here's the story.


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HOW OREGON ALMOST LOST PUBLIC ACCESS TO ITS BEACHES

A Portland real-estate guy found a loophole in the law and claimed a patch of beach for his own, and his friends in the state Legislature tried to keep it that way. Here's the story.


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This spooky-looking Portland mansion was home of a 'starvation cult'

A prominent Portland socialite led a sect called "Truth," with the motto "Pray and Be Cured," that required 40-day fasts. It vanished after its leader starved herself to death during a 110-day fast. Here's the story.


The archway monument leading up to the Wallowa County Courthouse,  built in 1936. The bronze plaque on the inside left of the arch includes  the name of murderer and horse thief Bruce “Blue” Evans.

A monument in honor of a horse thief and mass murderer?

Bruce "Blue" Evans led the gang that slaughtered over 30 innocent Chinese miners in 1887. So why is his name celebrated on a monument to Wallowa County Pioneers? Probably because they didn't know. Here's the story.


The gravestone of Ame, who despite having died 10 years after the Civil War, was still considered a slave.

sHE DIED AROUND 1874. SO WHY DOES THE GRAVESTONE SAY SHE WAS A SLAVE?

Ame came over the Oregon Trail from Missouri. But when the North won the Civil War, her status as a slave didn't change. Here's what happened.


Ray V.B. Jackson in a booking photo from the Oregon State Pen, in 1896. Four years after this photo was taken, he was teaching grade school in Silver Lake.

Is this the face of oregon's first serial killer?

Like an "angel of death," ex-con Ray V.B. Jackson just happened to be at the scene of at least five Central Oregon homicides. What are the odds? Here's the story (in two parts).


Vaudeville's famous Klondike Kate became a Central Oregon legend

central oregon's most fabulous homesteader ever.

Homesteader Kitty "Klondike Kate" Rockwell, retired from the bright lights of Vaudeville, often wore full costume just to weed the garden. Here's the story.


Early Oregon 'holy roller' cult ended in murder, suicide, insanity

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).


Florence's famous exploding whale: A highway engineer didn't know how much dynamite to use, so he guessed ... and guessed wrong.

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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 ...


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.


U.S. Coast Guard cutter Algonquin.

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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.


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

When the Vigilantes ruled Prineville

In Crook County, the early 1880s were like something out of a Louis L'Amour novel: Masked riders galloping around by night, dispensing what they saw as justice. It all started with the lynching of an innocent man. (Part 1 of 2)

Artist’s rendering of Lucius Langdon shooting neighbors A.H. Crooks
and Stephen Jory on March 15, 1882 — the killing that touched off two
years of D.I.Y. law enforcement in the Prineville area by the masked
riders and lynch mobs who called themselves The Vigilantes. (Image:
Ralph Lee/ Portland Morning Oregonian)

It was the Ides of March — March 15, 1882. A.H. Crooks and Stephen Jory were blazing the boundary lines of some land — cutting big marks in trees to mark what they claimed was the property line — near the ranch of a man named Lucius Langdon, near Prineville.

The two of them broke for lunch, and when they returned, Langdon was waiting for them — with a shotgun.

A few noisy, smoky seconds later, Crooks and Jory were dead. And their killing marked the start of a two-year period of rule by masked gunmen and lynch mobs in the Prineville area that sounds, today, like the plot of a Louis L’Amour novel, or maybe Zane Grey — the story of the Crook County Vigilantes.

The November 1950 issue of Masked Rider Western, a pulp-
fiction magazine, features cover art that, by sheer happenstance,
is remarkably close to what actually happened to W.H. Harrison
at the hands of the masked Vigilantes who lynched him.

“When a band of men went outside the law … to revenge the killings, they also hanged an innocent man, and started a rule by gun and rope that is one of the blackest chapters in Oregon’s history,” local rancher and future sheriff James Blakely told a Morning Oregonian reporter, many years later.

Vigilantes and Moonshiners

Blakely himself was no unbiased observer of the Vigilante phenomenon. He would, two years later, be the leader of the community group formed to oppose them. Blakely’s anti-Vigilante group called itself the Moonshiners, because they kept watch when the moon was out, looking for masked riders. (Remember, this was decades before Prohibition, when the name “moonshiner” would come to mean something entirely different.)

Blakely’s chief opponent was a frontier character named Colonel William “Bud” Thompson, a hard-fisted rancher, gunfighter and sometime newspaperman. Although Colonel Thompson denied involvement with the Vigilantes, he wrote an eloquent defense of their methods, along with a noticeably Vigilante-friendly version of the whole story, in his book 30 years later.

(It's also worth noting that when he left Prineville, he went to Alturas, California, and vigilante activity broke out there as well. He denied involvement with that, too.)

It is chiefly from the reminiscences of these two men — Blakely and Thompson — that we have the story of the Vigilante era, and their stories diverge wildly in places.

The posse rides out

Another issue of Masked Rider Western also shows a scene close
to the Vigilante story — in particular, the early-morning lynch-
mob raid that took Harrison and Langdon from the deputy
sheriff's custody.

According to Blakely’s account, he (Blakely) was in town with Langdon’s hired hand, W.H. Harrison, when he heard the news that Langdon had gunned down Crooks and Jory. Both Blakeley and Harrison hurried to join a posse that was coming together to go out to Langdon’s ranch and bring him in. Another posse went to Langdon’s brother’s place, in case he’d gone there, but the killer was found at his own ranch and arrested.

Colonel Thompson’s account is a bit different. In it, he says Harrison, the hired hand, wasn’t with Blakely and didn't ride with the posse; instead, he was hiding out with Langdon at the brother’s place.

Thompson also claims that they found 10 men who were completely unknown to them in Langdon's brother's house. It’s this story that most convinces me that Thompson’s is an unreliable account, for in it these 10 armed men are not arrested and nothing is ever heard from them again, as if they were minor characters in a Western pulp-magazine story. It’s almost certain that he made them up in order to claim the Langdons were the leaders of a gang of outlaws (a gang conveniently made up entirely of strangers from out of town) and to justify what was about to happen to Harrison, the hired hand ... more on that in a minute.

In any case, the posse brought Langdon home under arrest, with Harrison riding with them as a posse member. Langdon was entrusted to Deputy Sheriff John Luckey, and everyone went to bed.

An early-morning lynching

Very early the next morning, though, as Deputy Luckey was sitting by the stove, the Vigilantes made their first move.

“The door was suddenly opened and I was caught and thrown backward on the floor and firmly held, while my eyes were blinded and immediately a pistol was fired rapidly 5 or 6 times. I heard someone groan about the time the firing ceased,” Deputy Luckey wrote in a subsequent report to his boss. “I went to Langdon and found him dead. I looked around and a masked man stood at each door, warning by ominous signs for no one to undertake to leave the room.”

The Vigilantes then grabbed Harrison — it’s not clear whether he was in the room with Langdon when the masked riders burst in, or whether he came later, attracted by the activity. Ignoring his panic-stricken pleas, the masked men put a rope around his neck and used a horse to drag him through the streets of Prineville to the bridge, where they strung his by-now-lifeless body from a banister.

Vigilante rule

It was the beginning of the Vigilantes’ reign of their own special kind of law and order in Prineville country — enforced by masked riders with drawn guns and ready ropes.

“The ‘Vigilantes’ who banded together that night to shoot Langdon and lynch the innocent Harrison stuck together for two years, getting bolder and bolder,” Blakely told the Oregonian.

The group took to sending death threats, with skull-and-crossbones emblems, to various people around town — some of whom, certainly, were rustlers and criminals, but others of whom were simply fellow ranchers opposed to their methods.

Colonel Thompson claims the escalation in Vigilante activity was in response to a bold increase in crime, apparently by the unknown gang of 10 outlaws first encountered in Langdon’s brother’s house.

Public opinion starts to turn

Public opinion appears to have been on the Vigilantes’ side at first, which gives some credence to Colonel Thompson’s claim that the group formed out of frustration with ineffective local law enforcement. But it didn’t stay on their side for long. In fact, it seems to have turned on them later that year, in December, when the Vigilantes lynched a horse jockey named Charles Luster. The Vigilantes claimed Luster had been about to steal some horses, but most folks in town happened to know that Luster had just refused to throw a horse race at the behest of some prominent Vigilantes who’d bet against him; the sudden declaration that Luster was a horse thief seemed disturbingly convenient.

Moreover, in the process of getting even with Luster, the Vigilantes also killed another young man, a friend of Luster’s who was with him that night; the two of them ended up hanging from a juniper tree together with the rancher they’d been having dinner with, and the rancher they’d been working for was shot through a window at a Prineville saloon the same night. Colonel Thompson later tried to claim the four of them had been part of a gang that had ridden through Prineville earlier in the day shooting into the air and threatening to burn the town down, but his is the only account that mentions anything of this kind; again, it seems likely that he was just making up a story to justify the Vigilantes.

After this incident, the residents of Prineville definitively turned against the Vigilantes. But law enforcement was still extraordinarily light and ineffective throughout the Prineville area. Sure, the Vigilantes were throwing their weight around, but could anything be done about them? And would a Crook County without the Vigilantes be even worse?

More innocent people were going to have to die before the town would commit to doing something about it. We’ll talk about how that played out in next week’s column.

(Sources: Lundy, Herbert. “When the Juniper Trees Bore Fruit,” Portland Morning Oregonian, 3-12-1939; Thompson, William. Reminiscences of a Pioneer. San Francisco: Alturas Plaindealer, 1912; Brogan, Phil. East of the Cascades. Portland: Binford, 1977)