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)
2012 articles 2012 articles About Offbeat Oregon 2012 articles 2011 articles 2010 articles 2008-2009 articles About me Store (the Finn J.D. John Centre for Crass Commercialism and Filthy Lucre)
z

you just might ALSO
enjoy ...

A scene from the Disney movie "Saludos Amigos" (1943), a sort of cartoon-character tour of South America. This scene is from the Argentina part, with Goofy dressed as a gaucho. In this cartoon and most others, Goofy was voiced by Pinto Colvig.

Goofy was from Oregon. Also Bluto, Grumpy, Sleepy, Bozo, dozens more.

Vance "Pinto" Colvig, from Jacksonville, was a pioneer in animated cartoons and a gifted show-biz man.


Earle Leonard Nelson, a.k.a. The Dark Strangler, as he looked a week or two before his execution in Canada. Nelson's hanging ended a cross-country and international murdering spree in which he murdered dozens of women.

When the 'Dark Strangler' preyed on Portland landladies

His M.O. was simple: While a woman was showing him a room or house for rent, he'd strangle her, take her jewelry and flee.


A breathless headline that appeared in the Portland Morning Oregonian after Lulu Reynolds revealed her clandestine lover's guilt in a particularly dramatic and creepy way.

The tawdriest love triangle in the history of the universe.

Lulu Reynolds was having a torrid affair with her music teacher. Her husband carried a .38 in his jacket pocket. It wasn't the kind of thing that ends well. It didn't.


A screen capture from an episode of ABC's legendary 1970s show "Happy Days." Because the show is set in 1950s Milwaukee, Wisc., "The Fonz" is actually breaking the law in this scene; pinball was outlawed in Milwaukee at the time.

Graft, corruption, racketeering, and ... uh, pinball?

Until just a few dozen years ago, pinball was illegal, and the mobbed-up characters who supplied the games played for keeps.


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 Roseburg "newspaper war" that was settled with a gunfight

The owners of rival papers escalated their war of words when they went for pistols on a downtown street one morning in 1871.


An artist's sketch of what D.B. Cooper may have looked like, from an FBI bulletin sent out shortly after the skyjacking.

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 front cover art of "For Men Only" Magazine showed a scene that bore some resemblance to the scene on the day Dave Tucker robbed the bank of which  he would, 32 years later, be named Vice-President.

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.


A detail from the movie poster for the 1915 racist move 'Birth of a Nation,' which inspired and propelled the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the years just after the Great War.

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.


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.


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).


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Outlaw Bill Miner’s first train robbery was a fiasco

Fresh from a 20-year stretch in the pen, the famous stagecoach robber known as "The Gray Fox" found the world had changed and he would now have to learn to rob trains instead. His learning curve started in Portland and ended in disaster.

Actor Justus Barnes takes a shot straight into the camera at the end of
a 10-minute silent Edison Films production called “The Great Train
Robbery," the filming of which started in November 1903 – two months
after Bill Miner’s gang tried to rob the train just outside Portland. It’s
hard to miss the similarity between Barnes’ character and Bill Miner.
(Image: filmmakeriq.com)

It had been a good 20 years, but Bill Miner was back and once again, as he liked to say, “on the rob.” Specifically, he was lurking with his partner behind a pile of baggage on an eastbound express train, a dozen or so miles out of Portland, waiting for his chance.

It was September of 1903, and Bill was about to rob his very first railroad train. Or, rather, try to.

The obsolete outlaw

Bill “The Gray Fox” Miner was already a well-known outlaw by this time, a specialist in the frontier art of robbing stagecoaches. Part of the reason he was so well known is, he wasn’t particularly good at it – or, rather, he wasn’t good at not getting caught afterward. Bill had spent 34 of his 54 years in one prison or another. Most of that time had been done at San Quentin. His most recent stint there had been particularly lengthy: Twenty years for stagecoach robbery.

Bill Miner as he appeared in 1906, three years after his botched
attempt to rob an Oregon train. This photo was taken while Miner
was in Canada. (Image: City of Vancouver Archives)

When the Gray Fox got out of the joint, he found that the march of progress had made his skills obsolete. In the early 1880s when Bill was first sent to prison, his area of expertise had been one of the most valuable specialties in criminal society. Stagecoaches were common in the American West; they frequently carried strongboxes full of gold and valuables; and they followed predictable routes. Robberies were common, and so were stories of the dapper, courteous “gentleman bandit” who called himself Bill Miner.

But after his release, Bill found a different world was waiting for him outside. There were hardly any stagecoaches in use any more, and the ones that were still around didn’t carry money. They weren’t even worth robbing. The real action, Bill realized, was in robbing railroad trains.

Train robbery was a different kind of thing. You couldn’t just step out in front of one, level a Winchester and order it to stop. Train robbery required new skills, better planning, more subtlety. Bill would have to adapt — or get out of the business.

At first, the erstwhile Gray Fox chose to get out of the business. He moved to Washington, where his face wasn’t much known, and got a job in an oyster bed. But a couple years of the law-abiding life were about all he could take. When the call of easy money finally came, it found him eager and ready to go.

This movie poster for “The Great Train Robbery." (Image: Edison Films)

The call to adventure

The call came from an old pal from San Quentin, counterfeiter J. Guy Harshman. Harshman had gotten out of “The Q” at about the same time as Bill, and he’d been working shifts at a sawmill in the lower-Columbia-River town of Goble. But he’d been thinking about taking on a train, and wondered if Bill would like to team up.

Bill didn’t need to be asked twice. He quit his job at the oyster beds, moved to Goble and took a job in the mill with Guy. He recruited a third man, a baby-faced young man named Charles “Kid” Hoehn, and they had a team. And they started making plans.

Their first attempt was an embarrassment. The train they planned to rob just lumbered blissfully by, and they realized they’d set the “stop” signal for the wrong set of tracks. And it was just as well, as they later realized; their getaway plan (to high-tail it to Portland and get lost in the crowd) would probably not have worked.

They’d regrouped and done some more careful planning. And that planning had led to the heist Miner was getting ready for now, hiding behind the luggage with Harshman, waiting for the right moment.

When it came, he and Harshman stood up, drew their revolvers, and climbed through the gangway into the engine, where they found the engineer and fireman.

The robbery

“They ordered us to run the train to twenty-one mile post and stop at a light which would be found there,” engineer Ollie Barrett later recalled. “The bandits told us that if we kept still and obeyed orders, neither of us would be harmed, and we did so. At twenty-one mile post another masked man came out of the brush on the right hand side of the railroad and joined us as the train stopped.”

The other masked man was Hoehn, who had brought the getaway vehicle – a rowboat tied up in the nearby Columbia River. The gang was together again; now it was time to go get the money.

Accordingly, the three of them ordered the engineer and fireman to come back with them to the express car – where the valuables were kept.

Meanwhile, inside the express car, clerks Fred Korner and Solomon Glick were getting nervous. When the train had unexpectedly stopped, Korner had suspected something was wrong, so he’d put the light out in the express car, got his sawed-off shotgun ready, and waited to see if this unscheduled stop meant what he thought it meant.

He got his answer a few minutes later, in the voice of engineer Barrett: “It’s Barrett. Open the door. Don’t shoot.”

Korner and Glick had no intention of opening that door. But they knew what would be happening next, so they retreated as far away from the door as they could get, and plugged their ears.

Sure enough, Miner and Harshman were ready with the dynamite. They lit the fuses, propped the explosives against the door, and hustled back to the engine.

Two great explosions lit up the night.

The best-laid plans …

When the smoke of the blast cleared away, there was a big hole in the express car door, but still no movement inside.

But even as the bandits were hustling back to the badly damaged car, Korner was silently opening the baggage door at the rear of the car, shotgun at the ready. From the shadows, he stealthily drew a bead on the lead robber and pulled the trigger.

The blast of buckshot took Harshman to the ground instantly, looking very dead. A stray pellet hit Barrett in the shoulder.

Kid Hoehn dropped everything and ran for the boat. Bill Miner wasn’t far behind. Korner hustled out of the car and, seeing their shadowy forms fleeing down the hillside, sent another charge of buckshot whistling past their ears, although they were by then too far away for a sawed-off shotgun to be effective.

When they reached the river, the two of them leaped into the boat and rowed furiously downstream to Kalama, on the Washington side. Then, agreeing that they’d be less likely to get “made” if they split up, they went their separate ways.

The aftermath

Harshman was taken to the hospital, where he was not expected to live. But to general surprise, he rallied, and when he regained consciousness he ratted his former partners out. Hoehn was found in Everett, Wash., and arrested; he drew a 10-year stretch for his part in the caper, and Harshman, when he recovered, got 12.

As for Miner, he ran across the border into British Columbia, where he perpetrated Canada’s first train robbery. This one was rather more successful and netted him $300,000 worth of loot. Caught again, he was sentenced to prison in B.C., but escaped after a year or so under suspicious circumstances; the rumor persists, to this day, that the Canadian government let him escape to the U.S. in exchange for a promise to tell them where the $300,000 was stashed. In any case, he was shortly back in the states, although he never came back to Oregon. He finished out his days robbing trains in the Georgia area, once again in and out of jails and prisons.

He died on Sept. 1, 1913, at the age of 67.

(Sources: Yuskavitch, Jim. Outlaw Tales of Oregon. Guilford, Conn.: Twodot Press, 2007; Meier, Gary. Oregon Outlaws. Boise: Tamarack, 1996)