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No, they ain’t really liars. Well, most of ’em.

Oregon’s culture and history have been deeply affected — mostly in good ways — by plenty of fine craftsmanship by storytellers over the years. This small collection explores some of their work — including the recollections of colorful characters, cheerful swindles put over with a wink, and fiction crafted so skillfully that some folks still swear it’s truth. Read on:

Title and synopsis


Date written



The ghost town of Ellendale, in Polk County

An interview with the elderly Newton McDaniel about life in western Polk County during the Gold Rush era, long before statehood, conducted by Ardyth Gibbs of the WPA Writers Project. With podcast (09:37).

Ardyth Gibbs

Winter 1937

Downtown Dallas, in Polk County and four miles away from Ellensburg, as it appeared in 1874.

Polk County

The Lost Ledge

A short story about a Southern Oregon gold miner who lost everything that was important to him one day — and then got the most important part of it back just in time. (Presented as a work of fiction in Pacific Monthly Magazine) With podcast (13:28).

Laura Miller

December 1898

A turn-of-the-century hand-tinted postcard image of three happy miners gazing at gold nuggets in a mining pan.

Southern Oregon

Oregon's most notorious prison break: A convict's story

On July 2, 1902, two desperados gunned down several guards and ran from the Oregon State Penitentiary. This is the story of their escape and the subsequent manhunt, as recounted by 'Prisoner No. 6435.' With podcast (20:52).

No. 6435


The outlaw Harry Tracy as he appeared in his prison booking photo.

Salem and points north

Bull-cooks: When they ring the gong ...

A glimpse of life in an early-1920s logging camp for the guy who builds the cabin fires, keeps the place clean-ish and "cooks" for the livestock. (An article published by Stewart Holbrook in The Century Magazine, July 1926.) With podcast (20:42).

Stewart Holbrook

July 1926

Loggers in camp pose with their locomotive engine, next to the log landing, sometime in the 1910s.

The Oregon woods

A legendary 1800s circus man talks about Big Top life

At the age of 91, "Doc" Van Alstine was a living legend among circus people when he gave this interview. He recalls a lifetime of traveling and performing — with train wrecks, dangerous animals and the occasional tornado. (An Oregon Folklore Studies interview by A.C. Sherbert of the WPA Federal Writers Project.) With podcast (15:54).

A.C. Sherbert

Jan. 13, 1939

Clowns joke around with a circus elephant at the Ringling Bros.-Barnum and Bailey circus's winter quarters in Sarasota, Florida (postcard)


Over the Bar

A wistful short story of a maritime mystery that left an old sea-captain wondering, for the rest of his life, what happened to his two beloved sons. (This story was originally presented in Pacific Monthly magazine as a work of fiction.) With podcast (15:54).

Lischen M. Miller

October 1898

A postcard image of heavy surf after a storm, on an unknown but rocky shore.

Northern Oregon coast

The Cat that Couldn't Be Killed

A good-natured "tall tale" (if a somewhat bloodthirsty one) from an unnamed Oregon backwoods pioneer, about the world's meanest housecat. (An Oregon Folklore Studies interview by Manly Banister of the WPA Federal Writers Project.) With podcast (09:34).

Howard McKinley Corning


A postcard picture of a cougar. The cat featured in this old Oregon 'tall tale' would have had to be at least as big and mean as this one.

Backwoods Oregon

C.C. Beekman, Jacksonville banker

The former miner and Wells Fargo stagecoach agent outfoxed would-be stagecoach robbers by shipping gold in candle boxes. (An Oregon Folklore Studies interview by Manly Banister of the WPA Federal Writers Project.) With podcast (07:40).

Manly Banister

July 11, 1939

Table Rock, near the town of Jacksonville. Jacksonville's original name was Table Rock City.


Old Hankins' Roundup.

Just one thing was precious to the bitter, coldhearted old cattle king: his three-year-old grandson. But when a hated neighbor rescued the little tyke, at great risk to her own life, it changed his attitude forever. (A very short story reprinted from The Pacific Monthly magazine.) With podcast (09:14).


May 1899

This postcard image shows lunchtime on a cattle drive in Eastern Oregon.

Upper Columbia (Wasco County)

The Hermit of the Siskiyous (short story)

The citizens of Betsyville proved less than hospitable to a mysterious stranger, and after he left they never did find the source of all the gold he found. (A short story reprinted from The West Shore magazine.)
With podcast (29:39).

Henry Laurenz

January 1887

A view of mining mecca Yreka, Calif., as it appeared in 1887. This lithograph was published later in the same year as this story.

Siskiyou Mountains

The 1870s in Lake County (interview)

An Oregon Folklore Studies interview by Sara Wrenn of the WPA Federal Writers' Project with old Lake County cattleman Gus Schroder at his home. Gus was the widower of Silver Lake fire heroine Lucinda Schroder. Cattle stampede, the cowboy life, some great practical jokes.
With podcast (14:03).

Sara B. Wrenn

March 1939

Lake County

Lumberjacks' Saturday Night (short story)

A night of hell-roaring by a logging camp crew was a far different thing in the mid-1940s than it had been just a dozen years before. Legendary Oregon writer Stewart Holbrook, a former misery-whip logger, writing in 1943, gives us the full flavor of how the industry changed in this wartime article in The American Mercury. With podcast (17:51).

Stewart Holbrook

March 1943

Any 1940s sawmill town

The Haunted Light at Newport-by-the-Sea (short story)

A lovely, charming and mysterious young woman comes to Newport and vanishes while exploring the creepy abandoned lighthouse, leaving only a pool of blood and the echo of a scream. This was published as a work of fiction, but visitors at the lighthouse still ask to see the bloodstains.
With podcast (16:43)

Lischen M. Miller

August 1899


Fire in the Bush (memoir)

Drawing on his personal experience as a young man on a British Columbia logging crew, legendary Oregon writer Stewart Holbrook gives a gripping account of his crew's battle to save the logging camp — and their very lives — back in the era of "misery whips" and railroad logging.
With podcast (17:40)

Stewart Holbrook

September 1926

British Columbia