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The burning steamer S.S. Congress, as seen from the deck of the dredge Colonel P.S. Michie, with lifeboats in the water.

Massive ocean liner won its race with fiery death

Calm seas, a cool-headed skipper and a hard-working crew brought the burning S.S. Congress to safety just in time. All 428 aboard made it.

A massive breaker slams down on the stricken Czarina shortly after the ship was caught anchored in the outer line of breakers. Those aren't flags hanging on the lower part of the rigging; those are sailors. Twelve hours later, only one of them would be alive.

One by one they fell into the sea and drowned ... as their families watched.

The 1910 wreck of the steamship Czarina was a true worst-case scenario — caused by a "perfect storm" of incompetence.

This cover illustration from "Masked Rider Western," published in 1950, bears an uncanny resemblance to the events that kicked off Vigilante rule in Crook County.

"I can make a
six-shooter sing 'come to jesus'!"

Meet Robert Gordon Duncan, the pioneering Portland shock-jock who was the first person ever sent to prison for cursing on the air, in 1930.

This cover illustration from "Masked Rider Western," published in 1950, bears an uncanny resemblance to the events that kicked off Vigilante rule in Crook County.

When prineville was ruled by masked vigilante riders

In Crook County, the early 1880s were like a Louis L'Amour novel. And it all started with the lynching of an innocent man.

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.

The Motel 6 on Mission Street in Salem as it appeared in the mid-1970s, when Carl Cletus Bowles made his run from its back door. Don't laugh, at least not too loudly ... two innocent people would die before Bowles was back in prison.

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.

This postcard picture of Cannon Beach was created in 1966, which means just off to the left of the frame is a beach with a fence around it and "no trespassing" signs.


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.

A color lithograph of George and Kate Ann Williams’s Victorian  mansion, located at 18th and Couch streets downtown.

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.

Title screen from a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Mel Blanc, the legendary Looney Toons voice man, grew up in Portland.

The voice of Bugs Bunny went to high school in Portland

Legendary Hollywood voice man Mel Blanc's teachers weren't too impressed with his voice talents, but Oregon radio listeners and cartoon fans sure were. Here's the story.

Three Rocks Beach, Camp Westwind, the mouth of the Salmon River and Cascade  Head as they appear today.

Is there pirate loot buried at this YWCA youth camp?

The discovery of a giant skeleton in the 1930s suggested that the old Indian legend of a pirate ship sinking in the Salmon River might be true ... or maybe not. Here's the story.

This is not a picture of the Sunshine; it's a lumber schooner of a similar type, the Wawona. The Sunshine, on her way home from her maiden voyage to San Francisco, vanished and then reappeared, upside down, 200 miles off course.

Gold was gone when schooner washed ashore ... empty

The fate of the Sunshine's passengers and crew is unknown ... did somebody wreck the ship on purpose?. Here's the story.

One of Conde McCullough's bridges -- the steel one linking Oregon City with Gladstone. he's better known for the Oregon Coast bridges.

Sammy Davis Jr. used to regularly play portland clubs.

Many consider him the coolest member of the Rat Pack. Sammy caught his big break while he was in Portland. Here's the story.

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

Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Rise of Ku Klux Klan in Oregon: A racist moneymaking scheme

How a sinister, secretive hate-group found acceptance in 1920s Oregon with its message of "100-percent Americanism" and pledges of a moral cleanup. But undertones of masked vigilantism were there from the very start.

This story is Part 1 of a 3-part series on the Klan in Oregon. Here are links to Part 2 and Part 3.
A flyer for a Klan rally held in December of 1921 in Portland, in
an attempt to boost enrollment. By the time this was published,
the Klan was well established and already making plans for the
next election. (Image: Georgian Press)

In early 1921, an outgoing Louisiana salesman named Luther Powell crossed the border from California to Oregon, with business on his mind.

Powell was a “Kleagle.” His job was to recruit new members for the newly resurgent Ku Klux Klan, collecting the $10 membership fee from each.

His commission was a whopping 40 percent. And the Oregon territory was wide open.

Sending in the Klowns

Powell’s arrival in the Beaver State kicked off a short but interesting period that most Oregonians today would rather not think too much about. A magic combination of sour reactionary feelings against “foreign entanglements” following World War I, the latent racism of an America still relatively fresh from the Civil War, and the opportunity for big profits from membership fees, brought the Kluxers from nothing to a position of serious political influence in just two years.

And then, even more quickly than it had risen, the Klan dropped away, fading into a cacophony of screechy internal squabbling and covering itself with the stink of hypocrisy after a few high-profile kickback scandals. By about 1925 it was finished as a serious political force.

King Kleagle Luther Powell, center, and Exalted Cyclops Fred Gifford pose
for a picture with (left to right) H.P. Coffin of the National Safety Council;
Senior Police Capt. John T. Moore; Police Chief L.V. Jenkins; District
Attorney Walter H. Evans; United States Attorney Lester W. Humphries;
Multnomah County Sheriff T.M. Hurlburt; U.S. Department of Justice
Special Agent Russell Bryon; Portland Mayor George L. Baker; and
Scottish Rite Masonic Lodge Sovereign Grand Inspector General P.S.
Malcolm. (Image: Portland Evening Telegram)

In ’21, though, Oregon was fresh territory and Powell was ready to work it. Acquiring the title of “King Kleagle” for the state, he settled into Medford and started gathering his army. Besides white supremacy, the doctrine the Klan preached was “100% pure Americanism,” which it defined as white gentile Protestantism that put Jesus first and America a very close second. To be a member, one had to be a native-born white Protestant gentile with a good reputation. No Jews or Catholics were allowed. A subordinate order, the Royal Riders of the Red Robe, was created to accommodate naturalized Americans — that is, not native-born — but they still had to be white protestant gentiles.

The Klan in Southern Oregon

In Medford, Powell and his Kluxers stirred up some trouble here and there. A black man was sort of demi-lynched — a rope put around his neck and used to lift him off his feet for a few terrifying moments before he was set free with a dire warning to get out of town, a practice known as a “necktie hanging” — and several others were threatened. Crosses were lit on fire on various hilltops. There are rumors that some people were branded.

But as large gangs of anonymous vigilantes go, the Klan was remarkably mild-mannered in Southern Oregon — so far as is known, nobody was actually murdered. This may have been because their King Kleagle knew if the community started to fear them, he’d have a much tougher time making sales — especially in the bigger cities to the north, which were still wide-open. There was plenty of money to be made in hatred in early-1920s Oregon, but the trick was finding just the right balance of dangerousness. Too much, and people would turn away — as they eventually did, but only after Powell was pushed out. He knew what he was doing.

By June, Powell had deputized several particularly gifted orators from his gang, appointed them Kleagles, and sent them forth to recruit members on their own in various other cities. Of course, he’d get a piece of every membership fee they brought in — it was a bit like a multi-level marketing operation.

Spreading throughout the state

But Powell himself wanted to turn his attention to the big markets now. So he checked into the Multnomah Hotel in Portland in June and started quietly gathering his “Invisible Empire” army around him. He personally picked Fred L. Gifford, a former union electrician who’d been booted from the union for “scabbing” a few years before, to lead “Portland Klan No. 1” as “Exalted Cyclops.”

Powell spent two months getting ready for the big Klan debut. In addition to the discreet recruiting of leaders, he probably also needed the time to gauge the public mood. Remember, Powell was first and foremost a salesman. He wasn’t here sowing the seeds of chaos, terror and disorder for his health. He was here to make money, and in order to do that, he needed to know what Oregonians wanted to hear, so that he could say it to them and cash in.

Finally, on August 1, after two months of preparations, Powell and Gifford were ready for their coming-out party.

The mysterious meeting

This they accomplished, according to that evening’s Portland Telegram, with a “series of ‘learn-something-to-your-advantage’ telephone messages” placed to Portland Mayor George Baker, Police Chief L.V. Jenkins, district attorney Walter H. Evans, U.S. attorney Lester Humphries, and several other high-ranking city and county law-enforcement officials — as well as to newspaper reporters and photographers.

The whole visit was shrouded in the kind of overcooked cloak-and-dagger goofiness for which the Klan has become famous. The guests arrived at Room 376 of the Multnomah Hotel, were ushered out into waiting cars and driven to a mysterious and undisclosed “throne room” where the King Kleagle and Exalted Cyclops were waiting to receive them in full pointy-hatty regalia.

The visiting dignitaries (and, through the newshounds, the community at large) were introduced to the Portland Klan and assured that the “Invisible Empire” was not a hate-group.

“Ours is not an anti-organization of any kind,” Powell, in character as King Kleagle, said. “We are not anti-Japanese, or anti-Jew, or anti-(black), or anti-Catholic, or anti-anything else. It is simply that the United States has not any American secret fraternal organization, and we are going to supply that need. The fact that we limit membership does not mean anything against the people we bar. They have their own organizations, membership in which is barred to us.”

He went on to claim that the Klan was a powerful ally to the friends of law and order. Crime and lawlessness and moral bankruptcy were so prevalent in Portland, he said, that residents should be “afraid to let their wives and daughters appear on the streets” — so the King Kleagle had apparently learned in his two months’ residency in a fancy downtown hotel.

Moral rottenness at both the city and the state level was, he added, “due for a purification process, which the Klan intends to see is accomplished.”

Then the Telegram’s reporter covering the event struck a rather ominous note:

“Respect for the law and the working of a small army of unofficial detectives who will work with the constituted authorities are the marks of the Klan character, the King Kleagle declared,” the newspaper wrote. “Stories of Klan violence are largely false, [the King Kleagle] insisted. ‘However,’ he said, ‘there are some cases of course in which we will have to take everything into our hands. Some crimes are not punishable under existing laws, but the criminals should be punished.’”

And with that naked apology for open and uncontrolled anonymous vigilantism, the new Kluxers closed the ceremony.

First, though, they took a photograph, which appeared in the next day’s Telegram, of themselves in their full-on Klan eyehole suits posing with the mayor, police chief, district attorney and other city notables.

This photo is somewhat controversial. District Attorney Evans’ son later told legendary Portland historian E. Kimbark MacColl that the photo was a put-up job, that the dignitaries in the photo were arranged in front of a velvet curtain and the robed Kluxers popped out from behind the curtain just as the shutter clicked. Looking at the photograph, in which the Klan characters are in the front of the group and separated from each other, it’s a little hard to buy this claim.

That’s especially true when you consider that in 1921, the Klan wasn’t considered all that much more sinister than any other secret society in Oregon, like the Masons or the Knights of Columbus. But within three or four years, that would have changed utterly — and membership in it, or association with it, would be a substantial political liability.

We’ll talk about how that came to be — the Rise and Fall of the House of Klux, as it were — next week.

(Sources: Toy, Eckard. “Ku Klux Klan,” The Oregon Encyclopedia, oregonencyclopedia.org; MacColl, E. Kimbark. The Growth of a City. Portland: Georgian Press, 1979; Portland Telegram, 7-01-1921 and 7-02-1921)

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