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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.


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.


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.

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.


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.


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.


Goal of Oregon whale hunters: Grow fur coats, and put a man on the moon.

helping put a man on the moon, one dead whale at a time?

Whale oil is special stuff, and NASA needed it for the space program. So an Astoria group launched a whaling venture in the early 1960s. 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).


The Glenesslin, under almost full sail, grinds against the rocks at the base of Neahkahnie Mountain.

mariner's spooky nightmare came true the next day

In his dream, the 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. Here's the story.


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

Whale explodes: Details at 11.

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.


U.S. Coast Guard cutter Algonquin.

bootleggers saveD sailors' lives, were rewarded with prison.

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

Corruption, hypocrisy and the fall of the house of Klux

Klan-backed politicians won a big victory that they interpreted as a mandate for ethnic and religious cleansing, then found out the hard way that they'd misjudged the voters' intentions.

This story is Part 3 of a 3-part series on the Klan in Oregon. Here are links to Part 1 and Part 2.
This modest display ad ran in the Silverton Appeal the week
before a big Klan recruiting meeting there. Ironically, the border
around this ad is made of swastikas — of course, the Nazis
were still a decade away from taking power, but it’s an
interesting coincidence. (Image: UO Libraries)

After the 1922 midterm elections, the Ku Klux Klan in Oregon was riding high. It had won almost every election it had deigned to compete for. It looked to them like they’d been handed a solid mandate to remake Oregon in the image of their ethnocentric social agenda, and they lost no time in getting right to work.

There was a problem, though. Looking back now, we can plainly see that there was one key element that Oregonians found appealing about the Klan’s vision and its leaders — and it wasn’t what those leaders assumed it was.

That element was Klan’s focus on “moral uplift.”

This group considered itself to be the secret enforcement arm of American Protestantism, and American Protestantism had rather a lot to say about lying, cheating, stealing and promiscuity. Consequently the Klan, in public statements almost from the start, focused heavily on the corruption of government and the bad elements in society, and held itself up as an alternative to that corruption and debauchery. In a country that had just been shaken to the core by President Warren Harding’s Teapot Dome oil scandal, that message really resonated.

As the non-Klan-related public saw it, that was the nature of the mandate they had delivered to Klan-backed politicians — to replace the corrupt Tammany Hall-type politics with a new politics of personal virtue.

And the trouble with that was, that’s not what the Klan thought its mandate was at all. In their view, the victory they’d been handed demonstrated that Oregonians wanted Oregon ethnically, religiously and politically cleansed. So under the leadership of House Speaker Kaspar K. Kubli — a known Klan member — they got right on that as soon as the session started, bright and early in 1923.

They started off in the state legislature by focusing their fire on Oregon’s Catholic minority, starting with an ordinance against wearing religious outfits in public-school classrooms. This meant nuns, who at the time often served as schoolteachers in public as well as private schools, could no longer wear habits and veils. This law passed unanimously in the House and with only two dissenting votes in the Senate.

Next came an initiative petition presented to the voters that would mandate compulsory public school for all Oregon children. This was a gun aimed directly at the Catholic Church, which of course had a well-developed network of parochial schools around the state. By a narrow margin, this passed, and for a while it looked as if the Catholic Church was going to be out of the education business in Oregon.

A few other of K.K. Kubli’s plans didn’t fare so well. A scheme to eliminate Columbus Day from Oregon’s holiday calendar (a symbolic slap at the Knights of Columbus) failed, as did a blatantly unconstitutional plan to ban sacramental wine and to start taxing Catholic church property (but not that of Protestant churches).

Still, enough legislative action did stick to keep Kubli and Company upbeat and feeling like winners as they moved on to their next target: Japanese and Japanese-Americans.

At the time, Oregon’s population of about 800,000 included roughly 5,000 Japanese people, fewer than 200 of whom owned land totaling less than 3,000 acres. In other words, Japanese nationals were about 0.6 percent of the population, controlling 0.008 percent of the land.

Never mind that, Kubli said. The Japanese were acquiring too much land, and they were cheating — protecting their property by having their American-born children (who were, of course, American citizens) hold the title to the land. Outrageous!

He quoted a fellow scaremonger who had estimated, apparently on the basis of absolutely nothing, that by 1950 population levels of Japanese and Japanese-American people in California would reach 50 percent.

“Why postpone action?” Kubli demanded.

Why indeed? And so the Alien Land Bill of 1923 — which banned Japanese nationals from owning land, although it couldn’t touch their citizen children — rocketed through the Legislature. It passed unanimously in the Senate and was resisted by just one member of the House. It was soon followed by a bill prohibiting foreigners from operating hospitality businesses — apparently on the theory that if Japanese people couldn’t run boardinghouses and hotels, it would be harder for them to find a place to stay, and they’d be more likely to leave. And the cherry on the sundae was a literacy test to be applied to all Oregon citizens, Japanese and otherwise, which they would have to pass in order to "earn" their right to vote in the state.

But while the Klan-backed pols were joyfully enacting their agenda of ethnic chauvinism, it was becoming increasingly clear to large numbers of Oregonians that their talk of moral uplift didn’t mean much. They were, if anything, even more corrupt than the politicians they’d replaced.

They were also getting increasingly strident in the hotel-ballroom road shows that functioned as the Klan’s primary recruiting tool — strident, and sometimes hilariously tone-deaf. In Silverton, on March 5, 1924, J.R. Johnson, pastor of Portland’s Sellwood Christian Church and “exalted cyclops" of the Klan, thundered passionately against the Roman Catholic church and its practices … possibly unaware that the overwhelmingly Catholic town of Mt. Angel was just four miles away. There was some rivalry between the two towns, and plenty of Silverton residents agreed with Johnson that the Church was “the most dangerous power to the U.S. today.” But to judge from the cautious tone of coverage in the next edition of the Silverton Appeal, it’s probably safe to guess Johnson didn’t exactly have the town eating out of his hand.

The final blows to the Klan came in 1924, when its hand-picked candidates on the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners were caught trying to hustle a padded construction bid — to the tune of half a million extra dollars, the equivalent of $6.8 million today. In the ensuing hubbub, the dishonesty of the Klan commissioners was exposed, and it turned out to be both breathtaking and shameless. Within just a few months the entire commission was turned out of office by an angry Portland public, which then turned its wrath on the horse the commissioners had, as it were, rode in on.

About the same time, rumors started circulating that Grand Dragon Fred Gifford was using the Klan as his own personal cash kitty. Then, late that year, the Klan’s newspaper editor, Lem Dever, quit the organization. Early in 1925 he published a tell-all article in a Portland journal, affirming what most Oregonians already believed — that that those rumors were true.

All this evidence of corruption and hypocrisy surfaced just in time for the next election season, and the Klan’s influence at the state level collapsed like a bad soufflé. It was shortly followed by the eviction from power of most Klan-backed politicians at the local level as well. Men who probably had been in the Klan — most notably Portland mayor George Baker, and possibly even governor Walter Pierce — hastened to disclaim any affiliation; Pierce lost his bid for re-election in 1926 anyway, and Baker was trounced in his bid to win a seat in Congress.

And the following year, the compulsory school bill was ruled unconstitutional before it could go into effect.

By the early 1930s, Oregon’s Ku Klux Klan had dwindled to almost nothing, and for most Oregonians it was nothing more than a distant and uncomfortable racist-vigilante dream.

[Personal note: In the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention that I am a graduate of St. Anthony's School in Tigard and subsequently Central Catholic High School in Portland, both institutions that the Klan sought to outlaw.

Also, it should be noted that it's tempting to interpret the sudden fall of the Klan as Oregon coming to its senses on the subject of racism, but that was not the case. Oregon was a profoundly racist place in the 1920s, and remained so until well after World War II — as late as the 1960s placards that read "white trade only" were a common sight in the windows of cafes and retail businesses. The relative cosmopolitan attitude of modern Oregon toward racial issues is a fairly new thing.

'The KKK Took My Baby Away,' by The Ramones. (AllRamonesMusic via
YouTube )

Finally: Before we leave the topic of Oregon's Klux Klowns, I feel a need to share one of my favorite Ramones songs with you, just in case you're not familiar with it. It's been playing in the back of my head the entire time I've been working on the Klan stories. There it is, to the right of this paragraph. Enjoy! —fjdj]

(Sources: “KKKs Draw Crowded House,” Silverton Appeal, 07 Mar 1924; MacColl, E. Kimbark. The Growth of a City. Portland: Georgian, 1979; Marsh, Tom. To the Promised Land. Corvallis: OSU Press, 2012)