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

Tillamook Burn “blew up” with shocking speed

Quick action by state forester Lynn Cronemiller prevented the devastating forest fire from claiming hundreds of lives when a furnace-stoking wind blew in from Eastern Oregon, flogging the fire toward the sea.

The Tillamook Burn as it appeared shortly after the fire, before the
charred landscape had started to re-grow. (Image: Oregon State
Archives)

Perhaps the most interesting part of the story of Oregon’s Tillamook Burn of 1933 is not what happened, but what didn’t happen.

Three decades before the Tillamook Burn, the wildfire known as the “Yacolt Burn” — really dozens of simultaneous fires all across Oregon and Washington — lit into the states with a savage ferocity and blinding speed. It engulfed whole towns, destroyed sawmills and chased frantic loggers out of doomed camps. And it chased down 35 people and burned them alive.

On the great grim day of Aug. 24, 1933, the Tillamook fire moved with even greater speed, and there were thousands of people — firefighters and residents — at risk of fiery death as it raced down upon them. Yet although one firefighter was killed by a falling tree, not a single person was burned to death in the 1933 blaze.

According to historian Stewart Holbrook, who was there that day, the survivors have Lynn Cronemiller — the chief forester for the Oregon Department of Forestry — to thank for that.

A big fire gets huge

Men look over a burned and cut-over section of the Tillamook Burn
around 1940. (Image: Oregon State University archives)

On the morning of Thursday, Aug. 24, 1933, Oregon wildland firefighters weren’t unduly concerned about the large forest fire that was eating into Tillamook and Clatsop counties from the east. It was a big, hairy forest fire, but nothing too out of the ordinary for that time of year. They hoped to contain it within the next day or two at 40,000 acres — a big burn, sure, but all in a day’s work.

By noon, everything had changed, and everyone knew they were dealing with something new — with a half-million-acre fiery monster that would leave its scars on the state for the next hundred years. Already it had a name: The Tillamook Burn.

For many people on the fire lines, the first word of what was to come was a phone call. It was Cronemiller, and he wanted everybody off the fire lines on the west side of the burn — immediately. Then Cronemiller sent drivers racing out through the back roads in the Coast Range west of the fire with orders to get the word to every rancher, woodsman and hiker in the area: Get out. Now.

Their belongings hurriedly stuffed into automobiles and trucks, the residents obeyed, and as they hastened to safety through thickening smoke they found themselves racing with herds of wildlife — deer and elk galloping along the roadway where the going was easiest, heedless of the danger of hunters.

Cronemiller that morning had seen the signs, and knew what they meant. Humidity at 26 percent — almost a record low for the region at daybreak. Little puffs of hot wind coming out of the east and gaining strength as the day continued, bringing air fresh from the sun-baked plains of Central Oregon. And a big, out-of-control forest fire still burning in the crowns of 63 square miles of big old-growth fir trees. The conditions were perfect for a worst-case scenario — what wildland firefighters call a “blow-up” — and if that happened, the fire would move much faster than a fire crew could run. There were by now 3,000 men battling the fire, and most of them were in its path, trying to stop its progress by cutting and digging fire lines. Hundreds, maybe thousands of them would die horribly if they didn’t get out — now.

The blow-up

It happened just a little later that morning.

Fifty miles away in Portland, residents soon were gawking at the massive mushroom-shaped cloud that hung towering over the valley to the east, two miles high and dozens of miles wide.

Beneath that cloud, hurricane-strength winds howled, driven by the intense heat of hundreds of thousands of acres of burning old-growth firs. Whole burning limbs and treetops soared into the sky and were blown toward the sea, where they rained down on beachside communities and fishing boats.

The men weren’t able to do much more than just stay a safe distance away. By that night, the fire was burning more than 270,000 acres and looked to be unstoppable.

But a little later, the hot east wind died down and was replaced with a moist breeze off the ocean — and a fog bank. And with the help of this cloud of moisture, firefighters finally were able to slow the fire’s race to the sea, contain it behind fire lines and bring the fire back down out of the crowns of the trees.

After that day, the fire settled into a slow crawl toward the sea, and firefighters managed to mostly keep it out of the crowns until it was finally stopped for good by the early onset of the fall rains a week or two later.

The Tillamook re-burns: 1939, 1945, 1951

The great fire hadn’t destroyed the trees. It had merely killed them, leaving them standing as massive snags that, each summer, got drier and more flammable.

Knowing what it meant to have a quarter-million acres of kindling sticking up in the air, property owners hastened to get salvage logging under way. But there were a lot of those trees, and the lumber market could only handle so many logs at once. Every fire season came with a fresh set of fears for Oregon foresters.

Conditions came up snake-eyes again in 1939, when another careless logging operation restarted the burn in nearly the same spot as before. By the time this fresh outbreak was done, it had ravaged more than 200,000 acres, mostly among the well-seasoned firewood of the previous burn — although 19,000 acres of fresh green timber was burned over as well.

It happened again in 1945 — two fires covering 182,000 acres, one of them possibly started by a Japanese balloon bomb. People started talking about a six-year jinx. And indeed, 1951 brought with it another fire — but by comparison with the earlier ones, this one was puny at 32,000 acres, and it was the last one.

Restoring a forest

At least a part of the reason the 1951 fire was the last one was the realization of a key insight that the fresh fires made abundantly clear: The forests would have to be replanted. A single forest fire leaves seed cones behind, ready to sprout and grow a new forest; but hit that same area with a second fire six years later, and you’re left with a charred wasteland.

So in 1949, the state government launched a program to plant more than 72 million new trees in the ravaged landscape. By this time most of the burned-over lands had escheated to the government for unpaid property taxes.

In their podcast about the burn, Andy Lindberg and Doug Kenck-Crispin take the provocative position that except for the death and injuries resulting from it, the Tillamook Burn was, on balance, a good thing. They may be right about that. As a result of the fire, vast tracts of privately owned forest became public lands, part of what today is the Tillamook State Forest. Furthermore, the experience of re-seeding those lands (and the example of what happened when they were not re-seeded) inspired many of the modern forestry laws and logging practices that protect us from similar catastrophes today -- catastrophes that, because of the state's higher population density today, would undoubtedly come with a considerably higher body count.

(Sources: Holbrook, Stewart. Burning an Empire. New York: Macmillan, 1945; Decker, Doug. “Tillamook Burn,” Oregon Encyclopedia, oregonencyclopedia.org; Kenck-Crispin, Doug, and Lindberg, Andy. “KAOH 7.3: The Tillamook Burn” (podcast), orhistory.com, 8/29/2013)