Background photo of the beach at Whale Cove was made by Bryce Buchanan in 2004. (Via WikiMedia Commons, cc/by/SA)
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In this, they were only partly successful. After all, it was early February on the Oregon Coast; getting anything to burn was a tall order. But they didn’t stick around to make sure it worked. Two members of their local loading crew were there with a getaway car, and the five of them now piled into this and made themselves scarce. Their chances of making it back to Canada, already slim, were getting slimmer by the minute. There was a good 400 miles of twisting two-lane roads between them and the border.
Roughly 365 of those miles were still untraveled when disaster struck again. The driver of the stolen car got a little too eager, or perhaps he’d tipped a glass or two of the Sea Island’s cargo before they left the scene of the wreck; in any case, near Hebo he ran off the road and wrecked the car — actually overturned it.
Luckily, nobody was hurt. The five of them made their way to town, where the two locals managed to disappear; the three Canadians, though, were still on the lam and hoping to get home, so they bought tickets on a morning bus bound for Portland.
But by the time they’d gotten there, the wreckage of the Sea Island had been found. The Depoe Bay locals, who found it first, knew exactly what had happened the minute they saw the burned hulk on the beach. Nor did it take a whole lot of imagination to figure out what had happened to the Sea Island’s cargo. Local Depoe Bay-area residents flocked to Whale Cove, shovels in hand.
Meanwhile, Trooper Johnson of the Oregon State Police, responding to investigate the car wreck in Hebo, discovered that the car’s license plates had been switched — and the game was up. The three Canadians had been seen in Hebo as they boarded the bus; a description was promptly wired to Portland, and when the bus arrived at the station there, a delegation of bluecoats was ready and waiting.
DEPOE BAY'S “WHISKEY Galore” moment was all too brief. The Lincoln County Sheriff’s men were soon on the scene, and the party was mostly over from there. Federal and state Prohibition agents arrived with shovels and spent the better part of a week uncovering the cache — they were delayed by a nasty storm that arrived just after they did. Of course, locals tried to slip onto the scene at night, and despite the feds’ best efforts, some of them succeeded.
The storm had dispersed a lot of the cases and bottles, though, and reburied them hither and yon. Or, if our theory is right, maybe they were left over from previous runs. Either way, after the feds left the beach with most of the booze, there remained several dozen cases of very good liquor buried here and there, and for the next several months the beach at Whale Cove was a very popular recreation spot; visitors wandered around probing the sand with metal rods. They promptly named the rocky reef that had precipitated their good fortune upon them “Rumrunner Rock.”
The three Canadian rumrunners were taken to the county jail in Toledo and locked up to await their trial. But anyone who thought the story was over was in for a surprise. A little over a month after the Sea Island wreck, the boat’s crew members escaped from the county joint in one of the most spectacularly audacious jailbreaks in all of Oregon history.
We’ll talk about that jailbreak in next week's Offbeat Oregon article.