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

Japanese shipwrecks on Oregon coast likely predate Columbus

The case of John Ottoson (ne Otokichi) in 1832 illustrates what can happen: Blown off to sea by a gale, he and his comrades rode the Kuroshio Current to Washington State — much to the astonishment of Dr. John McLoughlin

A 19th-century painting of a small Japanese merchant ship from the
early 1800s. The Hojin Maru was probably similar to this. (Image:
Wikimedia Commons)

On November 3, 1832, the 50-foot Japanese cargo vessel Hojun Maru left Ise Bay bound for Edo — the city now known as Tokyo. Its hold was full of rice and porcelain dishes from the south end of the Japanese archipelago, to be traded for salt fish from the north.

One of the youngest members of the Hojun Maru’s 14-man crew was a 14-year-old boy named Otokichi, a cook’s apprentice.

Otokichi and his shipmates couldn’t know it, but when they stepped aboard at Ise Bay, they were leaving their homeland forever.

The Hojun Maru’s fate stemmed from a political decision made 200 years before. In 1637, the Shogunate government of Japan had decreed the island nation closed. No one was allowed to enter, and no one was allowed to leave, on pain of death.

There was, however, an enforcement problem with the Shogunate’s decree. The sea was both Japan’s main highway system and a vital source of its food. The island nation had a massive fishing and trading fleet, staffed by some of the world’s most skilled mariners. What was to stop these mariners from becoming smugglers?

So the government ordered a change in the configuration of all Japanese vessels. All Japanese merchant and fishing ships of seaworthy design, suitable for deepwater navigation, were to be destroyed. Henceforth, all Japanese ships and boats would have open sterns and large square rudders — well suited for close-in coastal work in fair weather, but completely unfit for the conditions of the open sea.

This worked. But there was an unintended consequence. Actually, there were thousands of them. And the Hojun Maru was about to join them.

The thing was, it didn’t take much of a gale to strip those big square rudders away. And if that happened far enough from shore, unless the winds were absolutely perfect, the crew of that boat was as good as dead. Without a means of staying square against the sea, the ship would quickly around into the “trough of the sea,” or broadside to the waves, which would roll it fiercely until the masts either broke loose or were chopped free by the desperate crew.

At the mercy of the wind, the helpless ship would then be blown into the stream of the famous Kuroshio current — which, flowing past Japan a few dozen miles offshore, would carry ship and crew inexorably away into the open sea.

“Among Japanese mariners, the fear of being thus blown off their coast, has been an ever-threatening danger,” writes author Charles W. Brooks, “and the memory of such time-honored accidents is a common feature in the traditions of every seaport settlement along the eastern coast of Japan.”

The vast majority of these unfortunate castaways met their deaths in storms on the north Pacific, their ships foundering and sinking hundreds of miles from land, alone in the open sea. And this, in fact, is what the Hojun Maru’s crew members’ families assumed had happened to them. They grieved and carved gravestones and chalked up another loss to their ruthless ocean.

But if a ship was carrying enough supplies when blown off the coast — enough to keep the crew alive for a year or more — they might just survive the ordeal. The Kuroshio Current, after merging into the North Pacific Current, crosses all the way across the Pacific Ocean to within a few hundred miles of the west coast of North America, moving at a rate of up to 10 miles a day.

And this seems to have happened with some regularity. Brooks lists some 60 incidents of “junks” found on or near the West Coast over the years, and that’s just the ones we know about. Brooks, who was the Japanese government’s longtime commercial agent in San Francisco, believed it had happened often enough to infuse West Coast Native American tribes with recognizable elements of Japanese culture and language.

“Quite an infusion of Japanese words is found among some of the Coast tribes of Oregon and California,” he writes, “either pure, as ‘tsche-tsche,’ milk; or clipped, as ‘hiaku,’ speed, found reduced to ‘hyack,’ meaning fast ... or ‘yaku,’ evil genius in Japanese, similarly reduced to ‘yak,’ devil, by the Indians. ... Shipwrecked Japanese are invariably enabled to communicate understandingly with the coast Indians, although speaking quite a different language.”

(EDITOR'S NOTE: After publication of this article, I heard from a modern language scholar specializing in Native American dialects, who tells me most modern scholars don't buy Charles Brooks' assertion that many Japanese words have been adopted into Coast Indian languages. Nobody disputes that numerous Japanese mariners have been blown onto the Oregon Coast over the centuries; however, Brooks' assertion that the stranded strangers significantly affected the natives' language — backed by anecdotal evidence that may very well have been cherry-picked, and by that unsupported assertion of mutual intelligibility — is, on careful consideration, probably not credible. However, if any readers have further information on this, I'd love to hear from you.)

The story of the Hojun Maru proved such trans-Pacific accidental journeys were possible. By the time the battered derelict was blown ashore in early 1834 near Cape Flattery in what’s now Washington State, only three of its crew members still lived. Everyone else had died of scurvy after nearly a year and a half at sea eating nothing but rice.

The castaways were found by a party of Makah Tribe seal hunters, and taken as slaves — nursed back to health and put to work. But one of them — probably the ship’s navigator, a 28-year-old man named Iwakichi — was an artist. On a piece of paper, he sketched their ship on the beach surrounded by Native Americans, and wrote a message on it. The Indians, fascinated, took the letter, passed it around and eventually offered it in trade to Hudson’s Bay Company employees at Fort Vancouver — where it fell into the hands of Chief Factor John McLoughlin, the “Father of Oregon.”

Dr. John McLoughlin, known as the “Father of Oregon,” sent his
stepson to ransom the survivors of the wreck of the Hojun Maru
after he learned they’d been taken prisoner. (Image: Oregon
Historical Society)

McLoughlin looked at the kanji characters written on the letter with some astonishment. How, he wondered, could anyone from the Far East have managed to get shipwrecked here, at the opposite corner of the Earth?

He promptly dispatched his stepson, Thomas McKay, to find and ransom the Japanese mariners, and after a few complications, this was done.

And that’s how the three long-suffering mariners came to live at Fort Vancouver, in what was then known as Oregon Territory.

Otokichi and his comrades lived in Vancouver for five months, learning English, before being sent around the horn to London.

The three of them subsequently sailed to Macao, where an ever-hopeful silk merchant hoped they might be his ticket to open commercial relations with the still-tightly-closed Japanese markets. However, when he tried to bring them home to Edo Bay, they were rebuffed with cannon fire.

Otokichi doesn’t seem to have minded. His services as a translator were already in high demand. He moved to Shanghai, changed his name to John Matthew Ottoson (“Oto-san”) and married a British woman. When offered the chance to return to Japan in 1854, perhaps still miffed by his earlier attempt to return home, he declined.

(Sources: Tate, Cassandra. “Japanese Castaways of 1834: The Three Kichis,” HistoryLink.org, 2009; Brooks, Charles Wolcott. Japanese Wrecks Stranded and Picked Up Adrift in the North Pacific Ocean. San Francisco: California Academy of Sciences, 1876; Gibbs, James Jr. Pacific Graveyard. Portland: Binfords, 1950)