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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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.

How Bill Miner learned to rob trains ... he learned the hard way.

But his botched Portland job appears to have inspired an iconic 1903 movie called 'The Great Train Robbery' a month or two later. Maybe he even watched it later ... in prison.


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

Charming gentleman by day, highway robber-poet by night

Charles “Black Bart” Bolton's neighbors in San Francisco thought his money came from ownership in gold mines. It turned out it came from furtive excursions northward to rob stagecoaches in Oregon and northern California.

Charles Bolton, a.k.a. Black Bart, as he appeared in the early 1880s.
(Image: Calaveras County Historical Museum)

Charles Bolton was a man with many friends. A charming, gentlemanly member of the social elite in the brand-new frontier town of San Francisco, he always had plenty of money. And if you asked him, he’d tell you he was the owner and manager of some mining concerns in the Sierra Nevadas, up near the Oregon border.

If you pressed for more details, he’d talk vaguely and change the subject, like a successful fisherman trying not to divulge the location of his favorite fishing hole. That was nothing unusual; plenty of successful mine operators were similarly cagey.

It also didn’t raise any eyebrows when Bolton left San Francisco for extended trips into the mountains, ranging in time from a few days to several weeks. Other mine owners did the same thing, going off to inspect their mining operations, making sure they weren’t being stolen from and maybe doing a little strategic prospecting too, or inspecting mines for possible purchase.

But Bolton was different. When he went off into the mountains, he didn’t bring a pick and gold pan. He brought a heavy ax – and a shotgun.

Charles Bolton was a stagecoach robber. In fact, he was, by some measure, the most successful stagecoach robber in history. His string of robberies lasted for over eight years – from July 1875 to November 1883.

If The Shadow had robbed stagecoaches …

A scale model of a Wells Fargo Concord stagecoach on display at the Wells
Fargo History Museum in Sacramento. The model was created by Jim
Means. (Image: Jack Snell)

Once safely out of sight from the city, Bolton would take off his gentlemanly attire and put on crude, homespun clothes and a stained-up linen duster. Like Lamont Cranston stepping out as The Shadow, Charles Bolton would transform into “Black Bart,” outlaw terror of the Oregon-California Wells Fargo stagecoach line.

Black Bart – he took the name from the villain of a popular dime novel – would promptly head for a rugged, wild place like the Siskiyou Mountains on the border between Oregon and California, moving quickly and quietly through the wilderness on foot. This was a major reason for his success: he was a master woodsman. Also, he knew that if he rode a horse or took a stagecoach, people would see him and possibly remember him afterward. Black Bart moved across the landscape like a fox, avoiding people and often traveling by moonlight.

The goal was to get to a spot where the stagecoach was most vulnerable – a steep, rocky incline overlooked by close trees and underbrush. The reason Black Bart liked the Siskiyous so much was, that kind of terrain was common along the stage routes there.

After carefully scouting the stage road, Black Bart would carefully arrange some sticks to look like rifle barrels aimed at the road, then pull a flour sack over his head with eyeholes cut in it so he could see, and hide behind a bush with his shotgun and wait for the stage to come. When it did, he’d step out into the road and, with exquisite courtesy, ask if the driver would be so kind as to throw down the Wells Fargo strongbox and the mail sacks.

Gentleman, poet, armed robber

A poster advertising a 1948 “B Movie” titled “Black Bart.” Although
the movie’s title character shares Black Bart’s real name (Charles
Boles), the movie’s plot bears no resemblance to the real Black Bart
story.

Over the years, that courtesy became a Black Bart hallmark. He always said “please” and “thank you,” and he made a point of never bothering passengers. Several times, when frightened passengers tried to surrender their booty to him, he handed it back to them with urbane smoothness.

“It is Wells Fargo that I am robbing, not the passengers of this stage,” he told one woman as he handed her purse back to her.

Black Bart also became known as a poet, although not a very good one. At several of his robberies, he left notes including bits of doggerel (“I’ve labored long and hard for bread, for honor and for riches/ But on my corns too long you’ve tred(sic), you fine-haired sons of bitches”).

The express box was where the action was – that, and the mail sacks. Most stagecoach robbers robbed the passengers as well, but a key part of Black Bart’s success was that he never did that; passengers, after all, were usually armed, and the last thing Bart wanted was a gun fight.

Once the box and the mail sacks were on the ground by the stage, Black Bart would motion the driver to move on, and then he’d get his ax out and break open the express box, take whatever was inside and be on his way – moving, usually, at top speed on foot through the densest possible brush for 12 to 24 hours, and leaving any trackers far behind, scratching their heads and wondering how he did it.

Black Bart’s Oregon adventures

Oregon was farther away from Black Bart’s home base, but he made some of his most lucrative hauls from stages robbed on the Beaver State side of the pass. That’s because they were heading south – toward the gold fields instead of away from them – and therefore most stagecoach robbers figured they wouldn’t have any gold aboard. So they were so seldom robbed that it didn’t make sense to guard them heavily.

But one key part of Black Bart’s success was that he specifically targeted stagecoaches that would be carrying money rather than gold. As an old miner himself – he’d been in on the Gold Rush in 1850 – Black Bart knew raw gold was dangerous. A good assayer could look at it and know what part of gold country it came from, and a stranger bringing in a big haul of gold from different regions would raise suspicions. Plus, it was always well-guarded by men who expected robbery attempts, meaning it was a lot more likely that Bart would have to kill somebody – which he took considerable pains, on more than one occasion, to not do.

He also depended on stage drivers to cooperate with him, knowing his reputation as an easy robber. With Bart, you threw down the strongbox and you were on your way. Everybody knew this, and few drivers were willing to risk the wrath of his shotgun knowing that was all he wanted.

As time went by, Wells Fargo started chaining or bolting the express box to the coaches. This resulted in Black Bart having to climb up onto the stagecoach with shotgun and ax and batter his way into it, an activity that surely gave more than one driver a chance to get the drop on him; but that didn’t happen until that November day in 1883, when an armed rider came upon the stagecoach as Bart was trying to get into the box. The driver hastily borrowed the rider’s pistol and sent a bullet singing past Bart, who leaped from the stage and disappeared into the underbrush. Unfortunately for Black Bart, he left behind a bloody handkerchief – he’d cut his hand on the ax while attacking the express box with it. The handkerchief had a laundry mark and the Wells Fargo detectives lost little time in making the rounds of every laundry in San Francisco, asking whose it might be.

“Sir, I am a gentleman.”

Eventually, the trail led the detectives to Charles Bolton. Asked if he was the notorious Black Bart, Bolton tried to bluff his way out with a haughty “Sir, I am a gentleman.” Alas, once detectives started looking closely at his financials, it was all over for Bolton – whose real name, as it turned out, was Charles Boles.

Boles drew an eight-year sentence for his crime. He was released in January 1888, and promptly disappeared. There are rumors that he tried to rob a stage in Nevada later that year and was shot dead; but nobody really knows.

(Sources: Yuskavitch, Jim. Outlaw Tales of Oregon. Helena, MT: Twodot, 2007; Hoeper, George. Black Bart: Boulevardier bandit. Fresno: Quill Driver, 1995; www.blackbart.com)