2012 articles About Offbeat Oregon 2012 articles 2011 articles 2010 articles 2008-2009 articles About me Store (the Finn J.D. John Centre for Crass Commercialism and Filthy Lucre)
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Link to Web site for Wicked Portland: The Wild and Lusty Underworld of a Frontier Seaport Town z

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The four-masted schooner North Bend, stranded on a sandy spit, 'sailed' through two and a half miles of sand and relaunched itself on the other side.

The stranded sailing ship that salvaged and re-launched itself.

The North Bend was the last tall ship ever built on the West Coast. When it ran aground on Peacock Spit, it just kept on sailing through the sand, crossing two miles of sandy beach to reach Baker Bay. It took over a year. Here's the story.

The Sagebrush Symphony Orchestra on its “giant violin” float, after riding it through the town of Burns in the Fourth of July Parade, 1915.

america's first youth orchestra came out of tiny sagebrush town.

The Portland Youth Philharmonic says it was founded in Portland in 1924. Actually, it's older than that -- and much more rural. Here's the story.

Vaudeville's famous Klondike Kate became a Central Oregon legend

central oregon's most fabulous homesteader ever.

Homesteader Kitty "Klondike Kate" Rockwell, retired from the bright lights of Vaudeville, often wore full costume just to weed the garden. Here's the story.

Goal of Oregon whale hunters: Grow fur coats, and put a man on the moon.

helping put a man on the moon, one dead whale at a time?

Whale oil is special stuff, and NASA needed it for the space program. So an Astoria group launched a whaling venture in the early 1960s. Here's the story.

Shipwreck ended Astoria's 1840s bid to become the Nantucket of the West Coast

astoria could have become a mecca of whale hunting ...

... had it not been for the Columbia River Bar, which wrecked the only whaling ship that ever dared try to cross it with a full cargo hold. It was a total loss. Here's the story.

Early Oregon 'holy roller' cult ended in murder, suicide, insanity

THE holy-roller "NAKED LADIES' CULT" IN CORVALLIS and waldport.

It started out as a church seeking perfect holiness and Godliness. It ended in murder, insanity and chaos — and, yes, rumors of naked ladies. Check out the full story (in two parts).

The Glenesslin, under almost full sail, grinds against the rocks at the base of Neahkahnie Mountain.

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Florence's famous exploding whale: A highway engineer didn't know how much dynamite to use, so he guessed ... and guessed wrong.

Whale explodes: Details at 11.

The highway department guy didn't know how much dynamite to use, and said so on camera. But he still thinks the operation was a success. Check out the story of Florence's famous exploding whale ...

The Glenesslin, under almost full sail, grinds against the rocks at the base of Neahkahnie Mountain.

was this shipwreck insurance fraud or just drunken incompetence?

On a beautiful clear October day, astonished beach-goers watched a big windjammer simply turn and sail straight into the side of a mountain. Why would her crew do such a thing? Here's the story.

.44-caliber Colt Dragoon revolver, designed in 1848.

gold-rush bandits hunted down and killed ... but where was their loot?

No one has ever found it — or if they have, they've been awfully discreet. The Triskett Gang had stolen it hours earlier from the assaying depot in the town of Sailors' Diggins. Here's the story.

US Coast Guard 47-foot motor lifeboat takes on a heavy sea off Cape Disappointment.

tired of seeing mariners die, lighthouse keeper took action.

In 1865, Joel Munson watched 17 sailors drown on the Columbia Bar. But when their lifeboat washed up near his lighthouse, it gave him an idea — an idea that lives on today in the U.S. Coast Guard. Here's the story.

Delake Rod and Gun Club as it appeared in 1960.

mysterious mansion was haunted only by olympic medalist's dream.

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U.S. Coast Guard cutter Algonquin.

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In the early years of Prohibition, a Canadian rumrunner entered U.S. territorial waters to save the lives of nine castaways — and got caught and sent to jail anyway. Here's the story.

Bobbie the Wonder Dog

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Left behind in Illinois, the big collie dog walked home to Silverton, Oregon. It took him six months. Here's Bobbie's story.

A modern reproduction of a classic Concord Stagecoach.

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This crater marks ground zero in the Roseburg Blast. It's about 60 feet across.

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Part of the historic entry to Portland's Chinatown.

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To avoid getting robbed and murdered, Chinese couriers dressed as beggars while carrying thousands of dollars in gold from the fields. This is the story of one of these men, and the woman whose life he saved.

Steamer Admiral Evans, f.k.a. Buckman, which the two would-be pirates tried to hijack

THE dumbest would-be pirates in the history of the universe.

Their plan: Hijack a passenger steamer (that's it, in the thumbnail above), run it aground and sneak off into the bushes with 3 tons of gold. Do I need to mention that it didn't work out? Here's what happened.

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THE SHIPWRECK VICTIMS WHO THOUGHT THEY WERE GONERS ... UNTIL A TRAIN SHOWED UP.

Usually when something steams out to sea to rescue shipwrecked sailors, it's not a railroad train. Here's the story of the one (and probably only) time it was.

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Far-out guru "enlightens" Central Oregon.

What happens when a colony of acolytes of an East Indian guru move in, then try to take over Wasco County? Check out the four-part story of the rise and fall of Rajneeshpuram ...

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this oregon youth went on to save half a billion lives...guess who?

A local Willamette Valley teen-ager named Bert Hoover, an orphan sent from Iowa to live with his uncle, went on to save millions of lives and become a singularly ill-starred U.S. president.

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oregon's most spectacular shipwreck ever.

The steam schooner J. Marhoffer was almost brand-new when, burning fiercely from stem to stern, it piled onto the rocks near Depoe Bay. It's the remains of this fiery shipwreck that gave Boiler Bay its name ...

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the gallant rescue of portland's floating brothel.

Maritime madam Nancy Boggs kept her bordello on a barge floating in the river, until a police raid cut it loose. But the captain and crew of a sternwheeler came to save the day. Here's the story.

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take off to the province of oregon, eh?

Few people know how close Oregon came to officially becoming a British possession under the treaty that ended the War of 1812. Only the presence of a handful of scattered, starving survivors from Astor's fur enterprise prevented it. Here's how.

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timberline lodge could have been a glass skyscraper

Calling the plan a "profit-making eyesore," a Forest Service manager nixed 1920s plan for a modern steel-and-glass structure with an aerial tramway. You can read about it right here.

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pixieland: an edgy, vanished amusement park

Built in the late 1960s as a "fairy-tale history of Oregon," the amusement park lasted just a few years before slipping into receivership. Today, all that's left of this odd and uniquely Oregonian story is a dilapidated guardshack.


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Schoolteacher Ray Jackson may have been a serial killer

It's hard to believe, but in 1902 the school district put a convicted felon, fresh from serving hard time at the state pen, in charge of its grade-school kids. But the forgery and robbery he was convicted of may have been the least of his crimes.

Editor's Note: This column is part 1 of a 2-part series on Jackson. To read Part 2, click here.
Freight team in Lakeview in 1900, two years before Ray V.B. Jackson came to Lake County to teach.
A 10-mule freight team passing through downtown Lakeview in 1900.
This is the town in which Ray Jackson served briefly as superintendent
of the Lake County School District, eight years after this photo was
made. (Photo: UO Libraries/ Wasco County Pioneer Assoc.) [Larger
image: 1800 x 1102 px]

The morning after he'd gotten in a big fistfight with one of his students, the grade-school teacher walked nonchalantly into the classroom and laid his .45-caliber Colt revolver on the desk.

Would anyone like to continue yesterday's scrap, he asked?

No one spoke up.

So the school day got started — a day not all that much different from any other in “Professor” Ray Van Buren Jackson's classroom in Silver Lake, Oregon, in 1906.

From jailhouse to schoolhouse

One has to hope this wasn't the typical educational experience for students in early-1900s Oregon. For starters, Jackson was, by any account, not a man you'd want to entrust your kids to. At the very least, he was an embezzler, a forger, a convicted felon and an unusually cruel man. He'd come to the school district fresh from the state prison, where he'd served a total of three years for robbery and embezzling.

Freight team in Lakeview in 1900, two years before Ray V.B. Jackson came to Lake County to teach.
The prison mugshot of Ray V.B. Jackson, taken when
Jackson was admitted to the Oregon State Penitentiary
on forgery charges in 1896. (Photo: Central Oregon
Books.) [Larger image: 1200 x 1538 px]

He may also have been a serial killer.

Nobody figured that out at the time. It took seven years of serious detective work on the part of Christmas Valley historian Melany Tupper, sifting through old newspaper articles and court documents, to make the connections, and today — 100 years later — it would be pretty tough to actually find proof.

Still, Tupper found an astonishing array of dramatic and sometimes deadly events — run-ins with neighbors, disappearances of large sums of money and high-profile unsolved murders — that swirled around Jackson's life, and which paint a pretty grim picture of the man himself.

The full story is in Tupper's book (see "Sources," below). But here are some of the highlights:

A penchant for forgery

Ray Jackson grew up in Sodaville, near Lebanon. He was left-handed, and his teachers were determined to “fix” this “defect” — which they did, although he had to be held back two years in school to do it. The ability to write with either hand carried with it an ability to imitate almost anyone's handwriting. This ability would prove useful later in his career.

Jackson followed in the footsteps of his older brother by going to college and getting a teaching certificate. Everything seemed to be going well, until the summer of 1895 — when two things happened that, Tupper suggests, pushed him over the edge and into true psychosis.

First, his favorite uncle was run over by a railroad train before his eyes at the bottom of Singer Hill in Oregon City, in one of the most grisly accidents ever. The train collided with wagon Jackson's uncle was driving, killing his horses and literally running over his head while Jackson watched.

Then when Jackson got home to Beaver Creek, where he was working as a teacher in the local school, he learned he was wanted by the law for having forged a couple vouchers. Jackson went on the lam for a year or so, during which he was able to continue teaching at Klamath Falls, but eventually he was caught and sent to the state penitentiary for two years.

He was released in 1898, but a year later he was back in again, this time for a robbery committed in Baker County.

Now a “jailbird,” with a reputation

If you're keeping track, the places in which Ray Jackson had established his bad reputation included the entire Willamette Valley, plus Jackson and Josephine counties in the south, and Baker County in the east. There wasn't much of Oregon left in which Jackson could get a fresh start. And people travel; if Jackson set up housekeeping in, say, Shaniko or Bend, sooner or later somebody would travel to town and recognize him.

But the remote stockland of Lake County was different. The nearest railroad was more than 100 rocky, bone-jarring wagon-road miles away, and Silver Lake was on the way to absolutely nowhere; you didn't come through town unless you were coming to town. Hard characters often came to Lake County to get away from the reputations they'd forged in gentler places; some of them took a liking to it and stuck around even after it was no longer necessary for them to do so.

Now, as he left the state pen for the last time, Jackson did exactly that. He took a job teaching first through eighth grade at Silver Lake, moved into the school house and started calling himself “Professor Jackson” — although he wasn't credentialed as a professor and never taught above the eighth-grade level.

A felon in charge of the children?

It's hard to imagine this happening today — a man who's spent three solid years in the slammer being put in charge of small children. But nobody seems to have asked any probing questions about the man's background, and perhaps Silver Lake's options were limited. Oregon teachers were very poorly paid in the early 1900s.

In any case, Jackson soon established a reputation as a strict disciplinarian. He kept a pair of buggy whips in the classroom, and used them — both the butts and the lashes — on older students who misbehaved. Accounts of his classroom management, and things he said to others in the community, suggest his goal in meting out corporal punishments may have been more than just discipline — that he may have actually been deriving pleasure from it. He confided to a neighbor that he always took his single-action Colt revolver and baseball bat to class with him. And at least one of his students narrowly avoided serious injury, when Jackson hurled a heavy glass inkwell at his head.

Jackson loses his job — but in a good way

Jackson's run as Silver Lake's schoolteacher was relatively short; he was there from 1902 to 1908. But it didn't end the way you might think it would; he was promoted, not fired. In 1908 Jackson was elected superintendent of Lake County Schools, and moved to Lakeview.

It was in Lakeview that Jackson's career in education was definitively put to an end. Once he was in charge of the whole show, the temptation to make grabs from the till was apparently too much. Two years later, he was indicted for embezzling money from the district, and he resigned in 1911.

After that, Jackson was involved in a number of ventures involving cattle ranching, retail business and homesteading. He never went back to teaching school.

The most extraordinary part of Jackson's life, though, was his personal involvement in at least six suspicious homicides — three of which were declared suicides and three of which remain officially unsolved. (That's not including his own death, which was also declared a suicide, in 1938.) We'll talk more about those six deaths in the next column (here's a link to it).

(Sources: Tupper, Melany. The Sandy Knoll Murder. Christmas Valley: Central Oregon Books, 2010; Moore, Earl F. Western Echoes. Klamath Falls: Tremaine, 1981)