Enjoy! And if you have any comments on stories, suggestions for column topics or other feedback — or if you're coming by the OSU campus and have time for a cup of coffee with a fellow history dork — drop me a note at fj-@-offbeatoregon-dot-com any time!
SISKIYOU PASS — After several other attempts to get into the crime business didn't work out for them, the DeAutremont brothers came up with a plan to rob a train at the summit of the Siskiyous. It did not go well — for anyone involved.
ASHLAND — College professor's forensic investigation fingered the DeAutremont Brothers in the brutal robbery; after a years-long manhunt, and more than 2 million “wanted” posters, they were caught. But we still don't know the full story.
LAKE COUNTY — Summer Lake, Abert Lake and Goose Lake were once all part of a vast network of seas surrounded by lush vegetation. In dry years they can evaporate completely — which led to some confusion on the Applegate Trail one year.
BLUE MOUNTAINS — As a historical account, the Lost Blue Bucket Mine story is, to put it mildly, questionable. But there can be no denying the impact it has had as a legend, repeated and believed by generations of Oregonians.
BEAVERTON — The darksome story of the old console game, with its attendant Men In Black and swarms of zombie children, is a fun story to look back on; but its odds of being true are up there with tales of Bigfoot.
SUTTER'S MILL — Had James Marshall stayed in Oregon for one more month, he likely never would have left; instead, he headed south and found gold. And the discovery led more or less straight to his ruin.
NEWBERG — He arrived in Oregon at age 9, and people called him “Poor Little Bertie.” He left Oregon for good to go to college at Stanford when he was 17. But Herbert Clark Hoover remained a member of the Salem Quaker church until his death.
SALEM — When World War I broke out, Herbert Hoover was the world's most successful mining engineer. He abandoned all that to build an organization to feed the starving, first in Belgium and then throughout war-torn Europe.
FOREST GROVE — When Salem native Alfred Carlton Gilbert, inventor of the Erector Set, learned that government officials were going to cancel Christmas with their “Buy Bonds, Not Toys” campaign, he went to Washington to change their minds. He did.
SANTIAM PASS — Desperate for some ready cash after his steamer wrecked on the beach, the would-be magnate hastily built a “railroad to nowhere” over Santiam Pass in an attempt to swindle the federal government. It probably would have worked, but ...
WHALE COVE — Let's face it: No one actually knows where the famous English privateer and explorer spent the summer, and his notes, upon his return, were deliberately opaque. But it's possible that his “Nova Albion” was on the Oregon Coast.
EAST PORTLAND — East Portland's White Eagle Saloon has a colorful past. Over the years, it's been local headquarters for the Polish Resistance, a rough watering hole for sailors and dock workers, and Portland's hottest blues and rock-and-roll hot spot.
SALEM — A.C. Gilbert was a practicing magician good enough to astonish Hermann the Great at age 7, a world-record-holding athlete at age 17, and a born salesman — in the best “win-win” sense of the word.
ASHLAND — The city business leaders hoped the Shakespeare Festival would do OK, but just in case it tanked, they insisted that it share the stage with a series of prizefights. The boxing matches bombed badly; luckily, the Shakespeare plays did not.
TILLAMOOK ROCK — The construction crew had knocked off work for the night, and outside the building the blustery January weather raged. Then, over the roar of wind and surf, the crew heard a terrified voice from below shouting, “Hard aport!”
PORTLAND — In 1861, the worst floods in state history turned the Willamette Valley into one giant half-million-acre lake and swept several burgeoning towns away. And, despite our flood-control dams, someday it will probably happen again.
EAST PORTLAND — Portlander Walter Waters arrived in D.C. at the head of 20,000 disciplined, well-intentioned petitioners to request that First World War vets be paid their service bonus early. Hoover refused to meet with him — a big mistake.
Eugene city leaders campaigned hard at the ballot box to stop South Lane County from seceding, and the plan to create a new county was defeated. A year or two later, the embittered south-county used the same ballot box to get even.
OREGON COAST — Although Oregon turned out to be harder for the Japanese navy to reach than folks thought, historian Bill McCash estimates the civilian plane-spotting service likely saved as many as 100 American aviators from dying in plane crashes.
MOUNT HOOD — Back when the Mazama Club formed, with membership open only to those who had climbed old Wy’East, standing on top of the mountain meant more than it does today. Just 35 years earlier, fire had been belching out of it.
WILLAMETTE VALLEY — When the mercury dropped below 20 degrees for six weeks, a six-inch layer of ice formed on many Willamette Valley lakes — and locals took up ice skating. And five years earlier, it got so cold, a newly built steamship actually cracked in half.
SKAGWAY, ALASKA — The most famous con artist of the Old West started in Portland, then traveled throughout the state working the “marks” with his signature swindle. Fifteen years later, an Oregonian shot him in a gun fight in Skagway.
CHAMPOEG — Hopping on an old steel one-speed and pedaling 30 miles, then mowing a half-acre of lawn with a push mower, chopping down an oak tree twice, and riding 30 miles back again — it was all in a weekend's work for Gov. T.T. Geer.
CORVALLIS — The "Genius of Corvallis" hoped his cattle-powered riverboat would give the upper-Willamette sternwheelers a run for their money; and so it did, so long as it didn't try to go upstream . . . .
BONNEVILLE — Although she's most remembered for being the mistress of a famous man, journalist and rodeo performer Mona Bell Hill was, on her own, one of the most interesting people ever to live in Oregon — and, to the government, one of the most vexing.
As the Native American bride of a French-Canadian interpreter, she joined the Astorian Party on its overland voyage to Oregon to set up a trading post on the Columbia River. Did she know what they were getting into?
Charged with blazing a trail to the West Coast, the voyageurs in the party decided to paddle down a strange river, hoping for an easy ride to the sea. Only the charity of local Native American tribes saved them all from starvation.
Original owners of the falls tried for years to log it, but the steamship and railroad moguls were making a lot of money on excursion trips, so they blocked the scheme, preserving the falls for today's park.
Don't be fooled: Fern Hobbs was a secretary in the “Secretary of Defense” sense of the word. A practicing attorney, she was the highest-paid woman in public service. Copperfield's city fathers thought they could charm her ... they were wrong.
State treasurer Straub was a regular visitor to the state park through which the highway department wished to route the main Oregon Coast arterial. He took one look at the department's plans — and declared war.
The former logger tried to cash in on his knack for boat design and total lack of normal fear by paddling over waterfalls: Willamette Falls, Celilo Falls, South Silver Falls. But although he got famous, he never managed to get rich.
When first reported, it looked like a simple murder-suicide. But it quickly became clear that it was something far more sinister — and the motives of the killer were uglier and more sordid than anyone had thought possible.
But did Lischen M. Miller create the story of Muriel Trevenard, the mysterious young woman who came to Newport in the 1870s and vanished ... or did she merely write down a story that locals whispered to each other on stormy nights?
The little pocket of temperate, well-watered land, tucked into some of the most inhospitable territory on the trail, was a real lifesaver for many an emigrant. But, that didn't stop them from griping about the prices they were charged ....
Jerry and Lu Parks envisioned a “fairy-tale history of Oregon” in the form of an amusement park. What they created was a rich cultural artifact, and a treasured childhood memory for a generation of Oregonians.
“Amsterdam Jack” Murray claimed it was all a misunderstanding, but the jury obviously suspected he'd intended to murder his wife's brother all along; then the appeals court learned he was a bigamist to boot.
The salvage bid was won by a house-moving company from Portland, which, rather than trying to pull the stranded Columbia Lightship off the beach, built a road, trucked it over the peninsula, and launched it in Baker Bay.
He called himself James Cook, and spoke with an English accent. But when asked about his past, he spun fanciful and ever-changing stories full of world travels, tiger hunts, shanghaiings and the like; he went to his death a total enigma.