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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This is the type of bottle in which denatured alcohol was sold out of drugstores during Prohibition. The large, scary labels notwithstanding, the vast majority of denatured alcohol sold in bottles of this size was used for drinking, despite its terrible flavor and toxic additives.

A bad batch of 'Dehorn' alcohol killed 28 hobos

Skid Road alcoholics knew denatured alcohol might make you sick, but it wouldn't kill you. Until one day, it did.


A vintage movie poster for Buster Keaton’s “The General,” a 1926  silent movie shot, in part, near Cottage Grove. (Image: United Artists)

Iconic movies shot in Oregon

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


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)

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.


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.


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Pirates were defeated in
Yaquina Bay Oyster War

The oysters belonged to the Siletz Indians and their employees, but Richard Hillyer was determined to take them anyway. We don't know much about the final battle, but we do know the outcome, and it must have been a doozie.

A promotional pamphlet for Pabco Oyster Pails, printed for the
Paraffine Companies, Inc., sold by T.W. Jenkins & Co, wholesale
grocers at Front & Pine Streets, Portland, OR, c.1917. The oyster
drawn here is clearly an Olympia. (Image: Oregon Historical
Society
via portlandfoodhistory.tumblr.com)

Like most tourist-friendly destinations on the Oregon Coast, the town of Newport is well stocked with kitschy pirate gear.

Unlike most other spots, though, Newport has a real history involving pirates — specifically, oyster pirates.

Most people who have heard of oyster piracy think of the stories of Jack London’s youth, when he borrowed money to buy a small sloop and went into the “business” down in San Francisco Bay. Or they may think of the long and occasionally bloody struggles between oystermen and oyster pirates in Chesapeake Bay, on the East Coast, which were still straggling on as late as the 1950s.

But Newport’s relationship with oyster piracy actually predates the city of Newport. It goes all the way back to the days of the Civil War, when Yaquina Bay was just starting to be noticed by European types — ship captains and traders whose rough, temporary settlement at the back of the bay was known as Oysterville.

About the oysters:

For the coastal Native American tribes, oysters had always been an important food. There were oyster beds generously distributed all over the bay, and the oysters that grew there provided the Indians with all they could eat.

The small-but-delicious Olympia variety of oyster was the subject
of Yaquina Bay oyster pirate Richard Hillyer’s ardor. These oysters
are still prized today, but are hard to come by, because they were
harvested almost to extinction in the late 1800s; commercially
grown oysters are usually of the large, fast-growing Pacific
variety. (Image: Vancouver Island University)

Unfortunately, though, two things became a problem after the “Bostons” started moving in. First, demand for oysters went from a few bushels a week to, essentially, infinity. The city of San Francisco, a few days’ sailing journey away, would buy and devour every oyster it could get its hands on. So professional oystermen, with large sailing ships and industrial oyster-harvesting techniques, got very interested in the fishery.

The second problem — which, unfortunately, wouldn’t become obvious until too late — was that those delicious, exotic West Coast oysters (the variety known as “Olympia” oysters) were very slow to reproduce and grow. This is why Yaquina Bay no longer has a commercial native oyster fishery today (although restoration efforts are beginning to bear fruit in other places, notably Netarts Bay).

Owned by the Siletz Indians

By 1863, the Siletz Indian Reservation had been created, and included all of Yaquina Bay, oysters and all. So the Indians contracted with two commercial oystermen — captains Solomon Dodge of the sloop Fanny and James J. Winant of the schooner Annie G. Doyle — to exploit the resource for them.

Dodge and Winant had a great deal. They paid the tribes a total royalty of $1.15 per bushel of oysters, hauled the tasty shellfish to San Francisco, and sold them for $10 a bushel.

The problem was, they had unwanted company on the oyster beds back home in Yaquina Bay.

Dread Pirate Hillyer

An engraving from Harper’s Weekly magazine, March 1, 1884, showing
oyster pirates at work on Chesapeake Bay in the dead of night. (Image:
Library of Congress)

Yaquina Bay’s resident oyster pirate was a skipper named Richard Hillyer, captain of the schooner Cordelia Terry. Hillyer not only helped himself to the Indians’ oysters, but did so with brazen hostility, asserting (according to Marshall’s account) the “free right of all citizens to take fish in American waters.” He considered himself to owe the Indians nothing for the oysters, and he paid them nothing, and considered Dodge and Winant suckers for having agreed to do so.

After some fruitless attempts to talk things over with Hillyer, the Siletz Indian Agent, Ben Simpson, wrote to his supervisor asking for help enforcing the law. Soon a small company of U.S. Army soldiers was on its way over the Coast Range from a post on the Yamhill River.

The soldiers settled into an encampment near Oysterville, enjoyed a hearty dinner courtesy of the grateful Dodge and Winant, and retired for the night. And the next day they sallied forth to pay a courtesy call on the pirate Hillyer, aboard his schooner.

The pirate’s trick

Hillyer received them with a smooth and unctuous welcome, and they dutifully presented their orders to him: an injunction to desist from further oyster piracy in Tribal waters on pain of arrest and prosecution. Hillyer cheerfully agreed to comply with everything, and the soldiers headed back to camp satisfied that they’d achieved their goal.

Then they found out that Hillyer had secretly arranged to dose their chow that night with enough laudanum to keep them all asleep until noon the next day. The plan was, while the soldiers snoozed and the other oystermen raged, he’d be frenetically loading his ship with oysters and standing out across the bar headed for San Francisco and payday.

The soldiers avoided the doped food, and bright and early the next morning, to Hillyer’s surprise, they came to see him.

Hillyer, thinking on his feet, hastily tried to call the soldiers’ bluff, loading his ship with oysters and essentially daring them to arrest him. When they borrowed a skiff and rowed out to do so, he hoisted a British flag — apparently in an attempt to bluff them into thinking arresting him would cause an international incident. They ignored this, boarded the ship and arrested him, then unloaded his ship and hauled him off to Corvallis.

Hillyer filed some lawsuits and criminal complaints, none of which really went anywhere, although he was soon released from prison. Meanwhile, he was officially banned from entering Yaquina Bay. Grudgingly, he returned to his ship and went off to try his luck in more northerly fisheries.

The oyster-piracy “boss battle”

Hillyer’s other oyster-thieving enterprises must not have worked out very well, though, because in September of 1864 he was back in Yaquina Bay with a crew of hard-fisted fighters, ready to take what was “rightfully” his by force. Simpson again summoned the Army — but their services turned out not to be necessary.

Historical records of this engagement are sparse; if someone left a full account of this final battle of the Yaquina Bay Oyster War, I have not been able to find it. But it seems, reading between the lines, that captains Dodge and Winant, the bay’s legitimate oystermen, had anticipated something like this. A few days later, Winant sailed his schooner, the Annie G. Doyle, into the bay with a crew of the roughest, toughest, rootin’-tootin’est bar fighters the Central Oregon Coast had yet known. A short, sharp action ensued, presumably involving fisticuffs — pirates of the oyster beds having far less affection for the arts of cutlass and pistol than their colleagues of the high seas, in Oregon at any rate — at the end of which pirate captain Hillyer was in full retreat across the bar and out to sea.

Two weeks later, perhaps seeking a rematch, he was on his way into the bay when he ran onto the bar, and the Cordelia Terry broke up and sank beneath his feet. He survived the shipwreck, but left the area and was never heard from again.

And that was the end of the Yaquina Bay Oyster War, and of oyster piracy there — unless, of course, you include the U.S. government’s subsequent theft of all of Yaquina Bay, oysters and all, from the Siletz Indians.

As a side note, Captain Winant’s schooner, the Annie E. Doyle, suffered the same fate as Hillyer’s pirate ship, just six months later — in the same spot. Meiert Wachsmuth, one of Winant’s crew members, barely managed to make it to the beach, and decided on the spot to leave the sea for the relative safety of oyster harvesting in Yaquina Bay. His business grew and thrived, and eventually led to his son, Louis Wachsmuth, founding Dan and Louis Oyster Bar in Portland.

(Sources: Marshall, Don. Oregon Shipwrecks. Portland: Binford, 1984; Muldoon, Katy. “Oregon’s Only Native Oyster, the Olympia, Makes a Comeback after Near Extinction,” Portland Oregonian, 20 Jul 2013)