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)
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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.

The legend of cool-cat skyjacker
D.B. Cooper:
What happened?

The man calling himself Dan Cooper parachuted into legend, and 40 years later the case remains unsolved ... but there are plenty of theories.

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

The bank robber who became vice-president of the bank he robbed

After he got out of prison, Dave Tucker spent 30 years rebuilding his reputation in his hometown of Joseph, and it seems he succeeded.


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

The Rise and Fall of the House of Klux in Oregon

A slick marketing campaign and a taste for political power marked the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, which spread through Oregon like a racist virus — and then collapsed.


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.

During a conjugal visit at a cheap motel, the prisoner escaped

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? . 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.


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).


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.


Steamer Admiral Evans, f.k.a. Buckman, which the two would-be pirates tried to hijack

THE dumbest would-be pirates in the history of the universe.

Their plan: Hijack a passenger steamer (that's it, in the thumbnail above), run it aground and sneak off into the bushes with 3 tons of gold. Do I need to mention that it didn't work out? Here's what happened.


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Frontier journalists settled their differences with a gunfight

The nationally notorious “Oregon Style” of newspapering involved vicious personal attacks and a take-no-prisoners style of cutting invective; but it was ink being spilled, not blood. That is, until one day in downtown Roseburg ...

The front cover of the May 1946 issue of 44 Western Magazine
shows a scene vaguely reminiscent of the downtown gunfight
between feuding newspaper editors in 1871 Roseburg.

The “Oregon Style” of newspaper journalism was already a thing in 1871, when upstart newspaper publisher William “Bud” Thompson got in his famous gunfight in downtown  Roseburg.

But until that day, the vicious personal attacks that characterized the “Oregon Style” had mostly involved the spilling of ink — not blood.

On that late Monday morning on a corner in downtown Roseburg, that changed.

The enemies meet

The groundwork for the Roseburg Newspaper Shootout was laid when Thompson came to town in 1870, when he was just 22 years old. He’d just sold the newspaper he’d run in Eugene — the Eugene City Guard — and, with $1,200 in his pocket, had come to Roseburg to do it again. He launched his paper and it steadily started building circulation.

This was not OK with Henry and Thomas Gale, the two brothers who had founded the weekly Roseburg Ensign three years before. Like Thompson, the two of them were from the Eugene area, and like him were in their early 20s; but unlike Thompson, they were staunch Republicans. Henry, the older of the two, was a tall and powerful man, but Thomas was tiny — under five feet tall.

William “Bud” Thompson as he appeared at around age 30, during the
Modoc Indian wars.

Tensions between the two newspapers built as they fired salvoes at one another from their editorial pages. This was to be expected: after all, the Gales ran a Republican newspaper, and Thompson was a lifelong Democrat and a son of the South. But there was something else happening, too, which added fuel to the brewing feud: Almost as soon as Thompson opened for business, Democrat Lafayette Grover was elected governor of Oregon, ending an eight-year run of Republican governors. The victorious Dems, in Salem, now had a choice of papers to favor with their lucrative public-notice business. That meant most of the business that had sustained the Ensign now was going to the upstart Plaindealer.

Also, looking at all the different accounts of this event, it’s clear that Thompson was an unusually thin-skinned fellow. After being sarcastically called “the ripe scholar and gallant gentleman who stands — when sober enough to stand at all — behind the Plaindealer chair,” and “a sardine among codfish,” and various other quaint-sounding (to us) epithets, Thompson reportedly informed the Gale brothers that he would no longer tolerate this sort of abuse.

Of course, the Gales kept it up. They would have been a disgrace to Oregon-style journalism if they had not.

The inciting incident

Things came to a head one Saturday, when Thompson chanced to meet Thomas Gale in the post office. Reports on the action are varied. Thompson’s memoir claims that Gale tried to draw a pistol, and he (Thompson) grabbed his hand and slapped him in the face. Contemporary newspaper accounts, including one by Thompson’s own newspaper (published while he was recovering from his wounds) say Thompson spat in Gale’s face and slapped him, and Gale — probably because Thompson towered over him like a giant — didn’t get in a single blow. Bystanders quickly separated the two before a full-on brawl could develop, and Thomas Gale stormed off to get his gun — which he had not had in the post office, or he probably would have used it.

It was not the kind of public affront that went unanswered in a frontier town like 1870s Roseburg. Everyone knew a showdown of some kind was coming.

It arrived two days later, on Monday. When Thompson stepped out of his office to go to the post office, he found the Gale brothers waiting for him.

“Pick on somebody your own size!”

Again, Thompson’s memoir describes the encounter with shameless mendacity. He basically claims the brothers took turns shooting him in the back as he turned from one to the other, that one pretended to surrender so he would lower his guard and then shot him, and (by implication) that he left both brothers dead. His own bravery, and the brothers’ cowardice, fairly pours from the page. And again, if contemporary newspaper accounts are to be believed  — including the one by his very own newspaper — it’s almost all lies.

The newspaper accounts all say that the encounter started with Thompson apologizing to Thomas Gale for spitting in his face. The apology was not accepted, though, and Henry, the bigger brother, told him he should be ashamed of himself, and that he should pick on somebody his own size.

Gunshots ring out

What happened next is very unclear. There are just too many conflicting accounts to pick a line through them, especially on the question of who shot first. The most likely scenario is that Henry Gale intended to use his cane to administer a humiliating public beating to Thompson, and had started doing so when Thompson pulled his pocket derringer out. At that point, Thomas Gale (the small brother) pulled his revolver out and the shooting started.

First, Thomas Gale shot Thompson in the chest, but the ball was deflected by a thick sheaf of letters and inflicted only a flesh wound. Thompson turned and fired his one-shot derringer into Thomas’s right side, just above the liver; he then started using his now-empty pistol to beat Henry Gale over the head. Henry then pulled a four-shooter and shot Thompson three times with it from close quarters: once in the back of the head, from the side, apparently at an angle because the skull wasn’t penetrated; once in the shoulder; and once in the neck. The neck shot went behind Thompson’s jaw and lodged in his tongue, filling his mouth with blood.

And with that, the drama ended. Much to the surprise of almost everyone, all three of the men survived this bloody encounter. Thomas and Henry Gale went to a nearby drugstore for treatment, and Thomas’s wounds were quite serious; they may have eventually caused his death, which came eight years later. Thompson went home to have the bullets extracted.

“Although neither paper was put out of commission, both had had the stuffing knocked out of their editors,” writer David Loftus remarked in his article about the incident.

Thompson leaves town

Thompson soon left Roseburg, selling the Plaindealer for $4,000 and moving to Salem to take over the Salem Mercury. The Gales sold their paper around the same time, and, languishing with the winds of political fortune, it eventually closed.

Throughout the rest of his life, Thompson would be a dangerous fellow to have around. At the Mercury, he reportedly beat the editor of the Forest Grove paper with a cane after the editor wrote some disparaging things about him. Later, as a cattle rancher, he would become notorious as the head of the Prineville Vigilantes, a gang of masked outlaws responsible for at least seven lynchings and extrajudicial killings in Crook County. After that, he moved to Alturas, Calif., and there were more lynchings and vigilante action there.

Thompson’s enemies, of whom there were many, characterized him as that rare blackguard who had the skill to know whom he could attack and when he needed to leave town … and they were probably right. But one thing is for sure: He definitely made journalism in frontier Oregon a more interesting occupation.

(Sources: Loftus, David. “Papers’ feuding editors settled disputes with gunfire,” www.david-loftus.com, 21 Feb 1988, accessed 29 Jun 2013; Thompson, Colonel William. Reminiscences of a Pioneer. San Francisco: Alturas Plaindealer, 1913)