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

Hank Vaughan in middle age: The outlaw as elder statesman

In 1883, Eastern Oregon's wildest horse-rustling gunfighter gave up his stock-thieving ways (mostly) and became a wheat farmer. But to say he'd settled down wouldn't quite be accurate.

This line drawing by Ralph Lee of the Portland Morning Oregonian
depicts Hank Vaughan in one of his several gunfights — with Charlie
Long in Prineville during the reign of the Prineville Vigilantes. Both men
were hurt badly by the hail of gunfire, but both made full recoveries and
they afterward became friends.

By the mid-1880s, the wild, unpredictable and dangerous Oregon almost-outlaw Hank Vaughan had started showing distinct signs of settling down. He had married a part-Umatilla woman named Martha Robie in 1883; Martha, a widow, had inherited a comfortable sum from her late husband, and also was entitled to claim 640 acres of reservation land.

Hank, as Martha’s husband, now turned his considerable managerial talents away from livestock rustling and toward wheat-farm management. The results were surprisingly gratifying.

The farm was in the Pendleton-Athena area, which meant both those towns were going to be seeing a lot of Hank Vaughan over the following dozen-odd years. Hank quickly developed a reputation as a real local character. He also became known as somebody to never lend money to. For the most part, once Hank had borrowed money, the only way he’d pay it back was through legal proceedings. But historians Jon and Donna Skovlin tell of one constable in Pendleton, Billy Mays, who figured out how to collect: He’d simply ask Hank for a loan in the same amount as what was owed. Hank would never refuse, nor would he ever remember to ask for it to be paid back, so it was all good.

Hank’s pranks

Hank Vaughan as he appeared around the age of 35, in 1885, when
he was beginning to settle down in the Athena-Pendleton area.
(Image: Reflections Publishing)

Hank became most famous for his Saturday-afternoon excursions to Athena, then called Centerville. According to former resident Lute Lane as quoted in The Dalles Chronicle in 1926, he’d “patronize the various bars until he attained his Western frame of mind, and then he would ride up and down the streets shooting out the few lights or go in stores, two guns on his hips, and take without pay whatever he wanted. The merchants never worried over this, for Monday morning Hank was sure to come to town with a repentant headache, and ask the various storekeepers what he had “charged” Saturday. He would then pay what they asked and go out without a word.”

When in Pendleton, Hank would request service at the Bureau Saloon, his favorite watering hole, by putting a bullet through the transom window over the door, showering the floor of the bar with broken glass. This was the bartender’s signal to drop everything and hustle out onto the front stoop with a drink for Hank; if he moved too slow, Hank might ride his horse into the bar and start shooting glasses and bottles off the back wall. He’d pay for everything, of course, but the hassle and drama was best avoided, and Hank always got the promptest possible service.

Hank’s pranks weren’t always drunken revelry, though, and they weren’t always really pranks. On one occasion, when he learned a judge was holding court (without his permission) in a building he owned, he charged into his building and evicted everyone inside — during the trial of a man accused of a stabbing. The prisoner slipped away in the confusion, and there’s some reason to suspect that may have been the real purpose of the whole affair — that the defendant was a friend of Hank’s, and the timely eviction was intended to rescue him from prosecution.

Rustlers and sodbusters make peace

Something else happened about that time, too, that no one could have predicted. The livestock business had started consolidating into the hands of a small cadre of cattle barons — men like Peter French and Henry Miller. They displaced and undercut local cattle producers and feuded with settlers over property boundaries, and they considered themselves to owe nothing to the local communities near which they operated other than the stingy wages they paid to the local cowboys who worked for them. Resentment started to grow among the small farmers and homesteaders, and Hank found it convenient to harness that resentment to get in one last great glorious round of industrial-scale stock theft at the expense of the big out-of-town operators.

By late 1885, though, the local support for this sort of thing had subsided into a fresh outbreak of vigilantism, inspiring Hank to actually leave town for a few weeks on a “camping trip” (in December) to give the vigilantes time to cool down. After that, although he certainly didn’t stop rustling, he became much more discreet about it.

A prank gone bad

In 1886, Hank tried one of his favorite pranks — the old “dance, varmint” routine familiar to us from so many old Western movies and Yosemite Sam cartoons, in which he’d inspire his victim to step lively by shooting at his feet — on a newcomer to town, one Bill Falwell. Falwell turned out to be a former member of the Younger Brothers gang, a hot-blooded Southern outlaw who would not let such a humiliation go unanswered. Hustling out of the bar, he spotted a man packing a massive .50-caliber cap-and-ball revolver and traded his saddle horse for it. Then he hustled back into the saloon and without further ado opened fire on Hank.

Hank soaked up one of the bullets using his right arm — his shooting arm — which was shattered. In spite of this, he surged out from behind the bar when the shooting stopped, collared his assailant and was busy pummeling him when the sheriff arrived. Falwell got four years in the state pen for this assault, and Hank had to spend about that much time learning to shoot with his left hand.

The “dance, varmint” routine backfired on Hank another time, too, with less damaging (but more humiliating) consequences. Hank picked a big burly railroad bridge builder as his dancer, and after his bullets ran out and the dancing subsided, this fellow stepped up to Hank, grabbed his gun with one hand, and flattened him with a powerful roundhouse punch with the other. Then he handed the gun to one of the bystanders and walked unhurriedly away.

Hank the robber-buster

Hank earned a lifetime free pass on the railroad after foiling a robbery attempt one day. He was napping on the train when a trio of robbers appeared and started robbing the passengers in the car. Martha, who was traveling with him, reached up under his Prince Albert coat and unbuckled his gun belt, and as the pistols fell to the floor he caught the butts and flipped the muzzles up. A split second later, two of the three robbers suddenly decided to call the robbery off and legged it, bullets whizzing past their ears as they ran. They left the third robber behind, dead on the floor.

The end of the legend

Eventually, the wild chances Hank took every day caught up with him. While galloping wildly through downtown Pendleton, his horse slipped — there are all kinds of explanations for what it might have slipped on, ranging from a muddy street to a railroad track to “Pendleton’s first concrete sidewalk,” so apparently nobody knows for sure — and fell heavily to the ground, landing on top of Hank. His head whiplashed into the rocky ground, hitting it hard enough to fracture his skull and force his right eyeball partway out of its socket.

A week or so later, on June 15, 1893, at the age of 44, Henry Clay Vaughan slipped away from the land of the living and took his place in the pantheon of Western legends.

(One last thing: There are many more interesting anecdotes about Hank Vaughan than I’ve been able to touch on here. If you’re interested in more stories of his gunfights and horse thefts and wild-eyed rascalities, you should find a copy of Jon and Donna Skovlin’s thoroughly researched, carefully sourced and very readable book. I highly recommend it.)

(Sources: Skovlin, Jon and Donna. Hank Vaughan: Hell-Raising Horse Trader of the Bunchgrass Territory. Cove, Ore.: Reflections, 1996; Gulick, Bill. Outlaws of the Pacific Northwest. Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton, 2000)