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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The second pressing of The Kingsmen's "Louie Louie" record, on the Wand label. This bodgey, lo-fi monophonic recording, with its inscrutable lyrics and driving yet languid style, got thousands of parents worried about possible obscene lyrics, and was even banned in Illinois.

Bad recording job led to an F.B.I. investigation for Portland band

No one could understand the lyrics in The Kingsmen's recording of 'Louie Louie," but many tried ... and some of them had rather dirty minds.


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

Opium culture a long-forgotten part of the urban underworld

A century ago, the drug had a dark, smoky allure for the "fast" young men and women of Oregon cities, and smuggling routes through Portland were supplying the entire West Coast with the exotic, deadly stuff.

An illustration of a group of smugglers bringing opium and illegal
Chinese immigrants into Oregon, from a 1889 issue of Portland-
based magazine The West Shore. (Image: UO Libraries)

Most people think of opium today with a certain kind of mild romantic nostalgia. We know it was bad, and people got hurt, but opium and the demi-monde that developed around it had a certain dark allure with its fragrant, smoky fumes and its elegant, exotic smoking rituals.

A hundred years ago, though, attitudes were different. In 1914, opium had only just been outlawed in the United States. Dark, secret, candlelit dens in the basements of Chinatowns all over the West — if you could find them, and if they would let you in — would still sell you the drug and give you a pipe and a bunk in which to smoke it. And the newspapers were still full of stories of opium joints raided and opium smugglers busted. In Portland, at the drug’s peak in the 1890s, there was at least one such story every week.

The illustration on the cover of the pulp magazine “Secret Service,”
published in May 1899, shows the interior of an opium den. Real
opium dens did not have fluffy pillows, though, and real opium
smokers always lay on their sides to smoke it. (Image: Stanford
Libraries)

Opium was the bête noir of turn-of-the-century Oregon, particularly in Portland. It seemed to be everywhere.

And, actually, it was. Portland — or, rather, the wild and woodsy riverside area just downstream from the city — was one of the key access points for opium being smuggled into the West Coast, almost from the start.

Opium on the frontier

In 1851, when Portland was founded, almost nobody knew or cared about opium. But they’d soon learn. Gold had just been discovered in California, and torrents of people from all over the world were coming in to hunt for it. Some of those people were coming in from China, and some of those people smoked opium.

As the Chinese community grew in Portland, awareness of the drug began to grow and its reputation started to darken. Still, most mainstream Oregonians didn’t care. It was a free country, and people could smoke what they wanted. There were no restrictions or special taxes on the stuff, and merchants cheerfully advertised it in the newspapers.

This embarrassingly racist bit of doggerel was the lyric to a song from the
1890s that, like a cautionary tale in musical form, sought to teach girls the
dangers that might lay in wait for them if they were to go “slumming” in
opium dens. The book, which was published in 1914 well after the song
was popular, gives no indication of what the melody might have been.
(Image: Google Books)

“JUST OPENED! Chinese tea and provision store!” one such ad shouts happily from the pages of the Morning Oregonian on Aug. 22, 1864. “YE LOUNG takes this method of informing his friends and the public that he has just opened the above store with an entire stock of Chinese merchandise, consisting of a large assortment of the best qualities of teas, sugar, rice, coffee, syrup, preserves, silks and other articles usually found in a Chinese provision store, together with a good assortment of Chinese medicines and opium. All of which will be sold very cheap for cash at wholesale or retail.”

Other advertisements in the paper, though, showed the growing association of opium with crime. Throughout the 1860s, the U.S. Marshal’s office kept up a steady patter of public notices of auction sales of cases of opium seized from criminals. Slowly, the non-Chinese community started to notice.

Smoking opium

Smoking opium was, as Mark Twain wrote, “a comfortless operation, and requires constant attention.” A customer would enter the opium den and be given a long bamboo pipe with a small metal bowl in one end along with a little lamp and a thin skewer. He would collect a small wad of opium — a substance like thick molasses — on the end of the skewer; pay for it (usually 25 cents); and go lay down on one of the hard wooden smoking bunks. There, with the lamp arranged at just the right distance, he would meticulously work the little wad of opium into the shape of a small cylinder. This he then would vaporize in the heat of the lamp and use the pipe to capture the stream of vapor as it rose – “chasing the dragon,” as it was called.

Another cover illustration from “Secret Service,” this one from April
1902, again showing action taking place in an opium den. This cover
is an excellent illustration of the threat middle-class white Americans
thought opium dens posed to their children. (Image: Stanford
Libraries)

As you can imagine, this elaborate ritual and romantic sense of secrecy had its appeal for the “fast” young men and women of the day. Opium dens started attracting a more diverse crowd as the sons and daughters of the “respectable” people of Portland came for the thrill of the dark, fragrant, secret underworld of Chinatown. Their parents, of course, were horrified.

By the 1870s, the Victorian-era middle- and upper-class residents of Portland had developed a healthy dread of the drug, and states had started taking action. California banned opium outright in 1881, and all seaports started taxing imports of the stuff heavily. And that’s when the smuggling began.

Smuggling opium

By the late 1880s the import duties were as high as 100 percent, and the vast majority of opium being smoked in Oregon dens was smuggled in. Opium-joint operators would steam the tax stamps off legally-bought tins of the drug after they were empty, and stick them on smuggled ones.

Yet another lithographed front cover to a turn-of-the-century dime-
novel cover featuring dastardly doings in an opium joint. (Image:
Stanford Libraries)

Most opium came from the Chinese communities in Vancouver and Victoria, up in British Columbia, where they had several processing facilities that took raw dope and refined it and packed it in one-, three- and five-tael cans (one tael was about  1.3 ounces) and sent it off through channels legal and illegal to the United States. A pound of opium was worth about $12 at the time, and the import duty was $10 (raised in 1890 to $12) — so there was a powerful incentive to smuggle it.

The operators of opium dens quickly learned not to keep too much smuggled stock in inventory. They never knew when the city cops might stage a raid, and because they were usually Chinese, the American civil protections that should have applied were ignored.

Opium’s golden age

In Portland particularly, opium culture reached its zenith between 1890 and 1893. Opium poured into the city at such an astonishing rate that even the newspaper reporters started wondering what was going on.

“The strangest thing is what becomes of all (the opium) that is brought into this country,” remarked the Morning Oregonian in 1893. “The number of Chinese here is growing smaller, and only a small proportion of them use the drug, and a little of it goes a long ways … the question is, what becomes of it.”

This drawing was published to illustrate an article in the Portland Morning
Oregonian on March 26, 1893. The article, headlined “The Yellow Drug,”
sought to explain to the non-smoking population of Portland how the stuff
was used in the much-dreaded but little-understood opium dens. (Image:
OSU Libraries)

It turned out that, at that time, Portland was basically supplying the entire West Coast with smoking-opium, with the help of a smuggling ring that probably included James Lotan, the top U.S. customs official at the Port of Portland — who happened to also be a member of the Arlington Club, a personal friend of the Oregonian’s publisher, and the head of the Oregon Republican Party.

That all unraveled in late 1893 in a spectacular trial in which 15 people — including some highly respected members of the Portland establishment — were indicted on smuggling charges. (Here's a link to that story.) The case dragged on for several years through a series of appeals before being dropped as it became increasingly clear that the government’s star witness, smuggling-ring kingpin Nat Blum, was an easy and imaginative liar and was completely untrustworthy.

The unwinding

Smuggling continued in the Portland area, but by the end of the century, opium smoking was fading out anyway. Locals of all nationalities by then had had 25 years in which to observe what happened to “opium fiends,” and what they saw was not pretty or romantic or charming in any way. As would happen 100 years later with the methamphetamine craze, the drug’s dark allure couldn’t compete with the ugly, squalid reality people saw in its victims, and by the time the federal government got around to outlawing the drug in 1909, the shadow opium cast in Portland was a fraction of what it had once been.

(Sources: Portland Morning Oregonian, 1864-1894; Ahmad, Diana L. The Opium Debate and Chinese Exclusion Laws. Reno: Univ. of NV Press, 2007)