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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Iconic movies shot in Oregon

A three-part series covering 16 of the most influential Oregon films, from 1908 to 1989.

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The forgotten world of urban opium dens

A century ago, the drug's mysterious, smoky allure held society spellbound. And Portland was the West Coast's main supply point.

The fully restored PT-658 as seen from the sidewalk on the Hawthorne Bridge during the 2011 Rose Festival. On this occasion, the PT-658 inadvertently intruded into the dragonboat races, which were then in progress, and quickly retreated back downriver – but not before giving the dragonboat-racing spectators on the bridge a spectacular view of its deck armaments. (Image: F.J.D. John)

The world's only working PT boat is docked in Portland

The PT-658 is among the last of its kind, and it's the only one that still goes out on the water.

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.

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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:
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

The mysterious disappearance of a schooner’s entire crew

Pilot boat sailed back and forth on the Columbia River Bar all day and all night before finally crashing onto the beach; when onlookers ran to rescue the sailors, they found the boat empty and deserted.

A stereo-viewer slide showing the pilot boat J.C. Cousins hauled up
on shore near San Francisco following an earlier near-catastrophic
grounding in 1875. (Image: J. Paul Getty Museum)

It was early afternoon on a sunny October day in 1883, and a group of Astorians were standing on the shore watching a small, trim schooner sailing toward them.

They’d been watching it all day, and by now they were a little worried. The boat was the J.C. Cousins, one of the two pilot boats based out of Astoria. On the morning of the day before it had cast off from the dock and sailed out to sea to await incoming ships — to offer them its professional assistance in crossing the Columbia River bar, the treacherous “graveyard of ships.”

But now the Cousins was behaving rather strangely, and the onlookers were starting to wonder if something was wrong.

About the J.C. Cousins

Another stereo slide view of the J.C. Cousins undergoing repairs in San
Francisco in 1875.  (Image: J. Paul Getty Museum)

The J.C. Cousins was a 66-foot schooner that had been built in San Francisco as a pleasure yacht for a wealthy citizen in 1863. Its lines were gorgeous, and it was trimmed generously with expensive hardwoods, and its chandlery was all top-notch.

But within a few months of taking delivery, the yacht’s owner was forced to give it up — whether he had to sell for financial reasons, or whether the loss had to do with the Civil War, isn’t clear. So the gorgeous, luxurious yacht ended up functioning as a pilot boat. Eventually, in 1881, it was sold to a group of skippers to use in piloting merchant ships through the treacherous bar on the Columbia.

It was two years after that, on October 6, 1883, that the J.C. Cousins cast off from the dock in Astoria for its ill-starred final cruise.

Strange sailings

A stereo-viewer slide showing the J.C. Cousins from the bow. (Image:
Jim Crain)

At first everything appeared normal. The J.C. Cousins’ crew rigged the sails for a close reach and stood out onto the bar, making for the open sea. Soon afterward, the little schooner was seen anchored off Peacock Spit, watching for incoming ships in need of guidance through the channel.

But late that afternoon, things had started to look just a little bit odd. The crew of the tugboat Mary Taylor, coming across the bar, saw the J.C. Cousins on the move, sails trimmed for a close reach seaward across the southwest wind. That, in itself, wasn’t too unusual, although it wasn’t clear why it was on the move; there were no ships in sight.

But what really made the situation strange was, for no apparent reason, the boat was sailing through the breakers at the edge of the channel instead of the clear water a few dozen yards away in the middle.

The Mary Taylor’s skipper watched as the J.C. Cousins cleared the breakers and stood out to sea. Then, when it was a few miles offshore, it tacked around and started sailing back toward the bar again. When it got there, it once again came about and headed back out toward the sea.

It continued doing this, alternating close reaches out to sea and back toward land, until darkness came and it was lost to sight.

The next morning found the Cousins still on the move. It looked as if it had been sailing around all night long.

An advertisement in the Daily Astorian on October 10, 1883.
(Image: UO Libraries)

Their concern growing, a small group of locals watched from shore as the Cousins continued its strange wanderings. Then, around 1 p.m., the Cousins turned back landward, and this time, made no attempt to come about. Churning through the surf with its sails still rigged and full of the wind, the sleek schooner piled hard onto the beach and tilted over onto its side.

The onlookers ran to help, but couldn’t get near the wreck until several hours later at low tide. In the meantime, nothing had moved on the deck of the J.C. Cousins. The ship looked lifeless.

When they finally reached the schooner, they found it empty and deserted. Both lifeboats were gone, and the paperwork was all missing from the wheelhouse — suggesting that the vessel had been deliberately abandoned.

There was no sign of the crew on board the ship, and none of them were ever heard from again.

What happened?

Local mariners and other amateur investigators started coming up with theories right away. The one that got the most attention was the theory that one of the crew members, a Mr. Zeiber — whom nobody in town really knew — had been hired by the J.C. Cousins’ competitors as a rat to murder the other crew members and wreck the ship. This theory gained currency later when mariners returning to Astoria from ports of call in East Asia claimed to have seen Zeiber there, alive and well.

If this was the plan, though, it didn’t work very well. The J.C. Cousins was insured — no one with a lick of sense would run a pilot-boat service on the Columbia River Bar without insurance — and the boat’s owners had replaced the Cousins with a big sloop within a matter of days.

According to author Gibbs’ book, there were also quite a few of what you might call “X-theories” making the rounds in waterfront watering holes as well. Perhaps a sea monster got the men, the saloon patrons whispered darkly over their drinking-jacks. Maybe there was a mutiny and they all killed each other.

“One demented old beachcomber told how a great ghost ship had borne down upon the Cousins and frightened the crew so badly that they took to the boat for fear of being rammed,” Gibbs writes.

Gibbs, taking perhaps a little literary license with the story, quotes the doddering fellow at some length:

“He would shake his bony finger at them (those who doubted his story). ‘It is real, I tell ye,’ he would frown. ‘A ship of the dead that sails the sea, with a ghostly crew. In the tempest she appears, and before the gale or agin’ the gale. She sails without a rag of canvas and without a helmsman at the wheel.’”

So, yes, there was that theory too.

What, then, really happened? Gibbs’ guess is as good as any. He suggests that the boat strayed into shallow waters and grounded on the sand. Desperate to get away from the ship before the breakers could sweep its decks clean, pin it to the sandy bottom and pound it to pieces (the usual script in such situations), they piled into a lifeboat, which was then swamped before it could reach shore and all aboard were drowned. The schooner then drifted into deeper water and, its sails trimmed just right, sailed off to sea without a crew.

It certainly possible, and it fits the evidence. But what are the odds that the sails would be trimmed just right so the boat would sail back and forth in the same spot for 12 to 24 hours instead of being blown, as flotsam usually was, downwind onto the coast north of the river?

As with any ghost-ship story, there’s just no way we will ever know what really happened.

(Sources: Gibbs, James A. Pacific Graveyard. Portland: Binford, 1950; Wright, E.W. Lewis and Dryden’s Maritime History of the Pacific Northwest. Chicago: Lewis and Dryden, 1895; The Astorian, 09 Oct 1883)

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