Welcome to Offbeat Oregon History, a public-history resource for the state we love. Here's what you'll find here:
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Offbeat Oregon is a division of Pulp-Lit Productions, a boutique publishing house that specializes in classics from the pulp-magazine era — roughly 1910 to 1941. For more information or to check out our catalog, please see pulp-lit.com.
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 desperation, he walked to Dr. Huckleberry’s office to inquire if medical science had yet doped out a deodorization technology potent enough to meet this challenge.
If Clarence had thought things through, he probably would have sought out a veterinarian instead. Very few of his fellow humans were (or are) dumb enough to tangle with a skunk, but plenty of dogs are; a good country vet would have had several pretty solid deodorization strategies to recommend.
Dr. Huckleberry, though, didn’t have much experience deodorizing loggers, and told the poor stinky fellow as much. He suggested, though, that Clarence might try a series of Clorox baths. The young logger had a sister who lived in town, and she agreed to let him use her bathtub to do them, provided he entered and exited by the window, left the window open after he left, and never opened the bathroom door. Her family trooped across the street to the neighbor’s house for bathroom business for a week or so while Clarence tried this.
It didn’t help much, if at all. But, of course, time passed and the smell faded, and a few days later Clarence was able to go back to work.
“He said running that trap line was no fun anymore,” Dr. Huckleberry added. “However, he felt he had to keep on with it to make up for the time and the clothes that skunk had cost him.”
Most bootleggers caught by Prohibition agents in Tillamook County were busted after someone smelled the distinctive aroma of fermentation, or spotted a smoke trail seen rising from the same remote spot day after day. Dairy farms, of course, have a powerful smell associated with them, and part of that smell is silage — which is fermented feedstock. So, Alec had the smell part covered. Anyone who caught a whiff of his mash tun drifting on the wind would just think it was silage.
To avoid the smoke, though, he powered his still with a kerosene stove. This worked great, but it required him to sneak up to the still in the middle of the night with cans of kerosene to fuel it.
One fine summer day, he was doing this, when he rounded a clump of blackberry bushes and found himself in the middle of a family of bears. One of the cubs was right in the trail, and Alec almost stepped on him.
Alec immediately made things even worse by dropping the can of kerosene on the cub’s paw. The little critter bawled like a baby, his mother roared with wrath — and the chase was on.
“The nearest tree was a little alder, but it looked better than nothing, and that bear was gaining on me,” Alec told Dr. Huckleberry. “So up I went, as high as I could get. But that wasn’t very high. Mama Bear was on her hind legs, clawing and slashing at my boots, and missing them by inches only. This went on for some time, and she showed no signs of getting tired of the game … At last I thought of my snoose can. It was nearly full.”
Snoose, as you probably know, is a tobacco product that was very popular with Scandinavians and loggers. It’s similar to moist snuff like Copenhagen, but mixed with salt and other flavoring agents. It has an extremely potent flavor, and, to the uninitiated, not a particularly pleasant one.
The desperate Alec Swenson now pulled his snoose can out of his back pocket, got the lid off, and, when the moment was ripe and those gnashing fangs were out and reaching for him, dumped its entire contents down that slavering hatch.
“She looked surprised, dropped on all fours, started coughing and clawing at her face, then headed for the creek, making noises that sounded like ‘Ulp! Ulp! Ulp!’” Alec told Dr. Huckleberry. “She didn’t even wait to call the cubs, but they followed. I climbed down, retrieved my can of oil, and tended to my still.”
If that last line makes you a bit suspicious of this story, it should. It’s pretty hard to imagine anyone coming off an encounter like this not turning around and running for the house. Who could have known how long Mother Bear would be at the creek washing her mouth out? Or how long her memory would be afterward?
So, most likely this story should be filed as folklore, rather than documented history. It, or something like it, probably did happen; but chances are pretty good that it’s been added to just a little bit ….