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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A few recent columns you might enjoy:

The Woody Herman Band performs at the Cottonwoods Ballroom in the Cottonwoods Ballroom in November 1947. Other acts that have graced the Cottonwoods include Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Chuck Berry, the Nat King Cole Trio, Bobby Darin, Fats Domino, The Drifters, Duke Ellington, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and dozens of others.

How the Oregon Coast almost lost the Peter Iredale to a scrap-metal shark

An Oregon City man claimed he'd inherited the rights from his father, and demanded to be allowed to cut it up and haul it away. He almost got away with this little swindle.

The Woody Herman Band performs at the Cottonwoods Ballroom in the Cottonwoods Ballroom in November 1947. Other acts that have graced the Cottonwoods include Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Chuck Berry, the Nat King Cole Trio, Bobby Darin, Fats Domino, The Drifters, Duke Ellington, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and dozens of others.

There's a piece of lava from central oregon in this photo, on the moon.

It was left there by astronaut Jim Irwin at the request of a friend from Bend — who gave him a sliver of Oregon lava to leave on the moon's surface. And so he did.

The Motel 6 on Mission Street in Salem as it appeared in the mid-1970s, when Carl Cletus Bowles made his run from its back door. Don't laugh, at least not too loudly ... two innocent people would die before Bowles was back in prison.

Killer broke out of state prison during a conjugal visit at a nearby Motel 6

It had to be the most awkward prison-break scenario in the history of the universe. But it really did happen. Here's the story.

James Lappeus, former Portland Chief of Police. He eventually was fired over allegations that he'd offered to 'accidentally' leave the jailhouse door open for a convicted murderer if his wife paid a $1,000 bribe.

gambler, swindler, gunfighter, liquor man ... oh, and also police chief.

James Lappeus came to Portland to open a saloon and "theater." Despite his checkered past — or maybe because of it — he was named city marshal and, later, Chief of Police. Here's the story.

Boats of the Astoria fishing fleet, with the help of both wind and incoming tide, race away from the dangers of the Columbia River Bar in this postcard image from around the turn of the century.

When fishing was so deadly, one in 15 didn't survive the season.

They drifted downstream in heavy 24-foot boats with their nets out ... and prayed the tide would turn before they got sucked out onto the bar. Here's the story.

This postcard picture of Cannon Beach was created in 1966, which means just off to the left of the frame is a beach with a fence around it and "no trespassing" signs.


A Portland real-estate guy found a loophole in the law and claimed a patch of beach for his own, and his friends in the state Legislature tried to keep it that way. Here's the story.

A color lithograph of George and Kate Ann Williams’s Victorian  mansion, located at 18th and Couch streets downtown.

This spooky-looking Portland mansion was home of a 'starvation cult'

A prominent Portland socialite led a sect called "Truth," with the motto "Pray and Be Cured," that required 40-day fasts. It vanished after its leader starved herself to death during a 110-day fast. Here's the story.

The archway monument leading up to the Wallowa County Courthouse,  built in 1936. The bronze plaque on the inside left of the arch includes  the name of murderer and horse thief Bruce “Blue” Evans.

A monument in honor of a horse thief and mass murderer?

Bruce "Blue" Evans led the gang that slaughtered over 30 innocent Chinese miners in 1887. So why is his name celebrated on a monument to Wallowa County Pioneers? Probably because they didn't know. Here's the story.

Title screen from a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Mel Blanc, the legendary Looney Toons voice man, grew up in Portland.

The voice of Bugs Bunny went to high school in Portland

Legendary Hollywood voice man Mel Blanc's teachers weren't too impressed with his voice talents, but Oregon radio listeners and cartoon fans sure were. Here's the story.

Three Rocks Beach, Camp Westwind, the mouth of the Salmon River and Cascade  Head as they appear today.

Is there pirate loot buried at this YWCA youth camp?

The discovery of a giant skeleton in the 1930s suggested that the old Indian legend of a pirate ship sinking in the Salmon River might be true ... or maybe not. Here's the story.

This is not a picture of the Sunshine; it's a lumber schooner of a similar type, the Wawona. The Sunshine, on her way home from her maiden voyage to San Francisco, vanished and then reappeared, upside down, 200 miles off course.

Gold was gone when schooner washed ashore ... empty

The fate of the Sunshine's passengers and crew is unknown ... did somebody wreck the ship on purpose?. Here's the story.

One of Conde McCullough's bridges -- the steel one linking Oregon City with Gladstone. he's better known for the Oregon Coast bridges.

Sammy Davis Jr. used to regularly play portland clubs.

Many consider him the coolest member of the Rat Pack. Sammy caught his big break while he was in Portland. Here's the story.

The gravestone of Ame, who despite having died 10 years after the Civil War, was still considered a slave.


Ame came over the Oregon Trail from Missouri. But when the North won the Civil War, her status as a slave didn't change. Here's what happened.

Ray V.B. Jackson in a booking photo from the Oregon State Pen, in 1896. Four years after this photo was taken, he was teaching grade school in Silver Lake.

Is this the face of oregon's first serial killer?

Like an "angel of death," ex-con Ray V.B. Jackson just happened to be at the scene of at least five Central Oregon homicides. What are the odds? Here's the story (in two parts).

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.

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.

mariner's spooky nightmare came true the next day

In his dream, the first mate of the German barque Mimi saw seaweed covering all but three shipmates. The next day, all but three drowned in one of Oregon's worst-ever salvage disasters. Here's the story.

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.

U.S. Coast Guard cutter Algonquin.

bootleggers saveD sailors' lives, were rewarded with prison.

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.

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

a nuclear strike
in downtown roseburg?

No; it was "just" an exploding dynamite truck. But the mushroom cloud was big enough to fool a passing airline pilot. Here's the full story of the legendary "Roseburg Blast."

Part of the historic entry to Portland's Chinatown.

he dressed in rags like a beggar, so no one would know ...

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.


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.


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.


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

Old Hankins' Round-Up

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 herd of cattle on the high country of north central Oregon, near the
scene of this apparently fictional story.

Editor's note: This brief short story remindsy me a great deal of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." No information is given as to whether it has any basis in reality, so it must be assumed to be purely fictional. From geographical references it appears to take place somewhere east of The Dalles, on the Oregon side of the Columbia River. Enjoy! — fjdj

He heard his wife calling excitedly to him as he rode by, but would not turn his grim old face that way; though he did give one swift glance to see if Wedgie, his dead daughter's little son, were there. That three-year-old tyrant was the one person before whom old Hankins became humble. His wife and college-bred son must do as the Washington cattle-men had done: keep out of the way.

Little by little Hankins’ ever-increasing herds had swallowed up those of the smaller stock-raisers. Whole bunches of their cattle disappeared in a night: and one brave fellow who resisted the raiders went down with a bullet through his head. But Old Hankins grew rich, built a modern house, and if there was little love for him in the embryo city, why, he was a good hater himself.

The one man whom he hated most cordially was his near neighbor, MacLomond. The hardy Scotchman had made the most effectual fight against the diminishing of his stock. By his shrewdness and native perseverance he had more than once made the old cattle king hand over. And on one occasion, when a bunch of steers were being driven toward the boundary regardless of their various brands, MacLomond's daughter, Leava, had been in the saddle sixteen hours in order to meet the cattle thieves with the sheriff and posse. She saved the cattle, but the herders escaped, and every one knew it was Old Hankins’ money that helped them across the Columbia.

Well, the old cattle king hated Mac as the best of us hate what we fear: and next to her father, he favored Leava with his sincerest curses. At first he was disposed to look with contempt at the slight figure and fair, freckled face, with its frame of heavy red braids; but after the episode of the sheriff and posse, and one other, he changed his mind.

The other [episode] took place when Leava began teaching the district school. Hankins slyly hinted to three of the roughest boys who attended the school that there was a pony apiece for them if they would run the teacher out. Of the three, one had become her brightest pupil, the other her stoutest champion, and the two had given the third boy a whipping he would not forget that term.

And the only time the old man had been angry at Baby Wedgie was when, acting as usual upon his own advice, this independent infant had visited the school. The indignant grandsire towered over the small autocrat and thundered, “How dared you visit that that hussy?”

When young Al Hankins came home that night, his father ordered him to go over and forbid Miss MacLomond to allow Wedgie to enter the school-room.

Al returned from his errand two hours later, and said of course he did not insult the young lady by mentioning it. Indeed, he thought it would be a good plan to take Wedgie over to school for an hour every day. At the dinner table he absently asked his father to pass the dimples, and the next day walked over to MacLomond's with a book Leava had expressed a wish to read. The heavens did not fall on him, but Old Hankins did, and in the domestic earthquake that followed his mother quietly sided with Al.

So today the old cattle king was rounding up his steers with a savage look in his black eyes, and an ominous squaring of his iron jaws. He was hot and dusty and furious.

A dozen fat steers had broken away, and for once he had failed to cut them off. He was angry at himself for refusing to hear what his wife had called to him as he passed the house. And now, right in the face of his ill-temper, Leava MacLomond came dashing up the lane on her little black horse, directly toward the tramping herd of excited cattle.

Her horse must be running away with her or she would never ride to almost certain death like this. But the drove was going slowly, and she might have time to turn her pony and escape yet. Then a worse devil than he had ever before harbored took possession of Old Hankins' heart.

The girl had halted just in front of the oncoming mass. She must have lost her presence of mind, for she dismounted. As the old man saw her bright braids and jockey cap on a level with the tossing herd, he broke into a fierce yell, spurred his horse and cracked his long stock whip, startling the frightened cattle into a wild stampede.

Through the dust he could see her trying to regain the saddle, as the frightened herd charged down upon her. Her horse was true and steady, but she was unusually clumsy about mounting; for twice she was almost in the saddle, only to stagger back among the sharp horns and bloodshot eyes. The old man could not turn his murderous eyes away, and an oath bolted through his clenched teeth, as with torn jacket and bloodstained face she mounted and dashed down the lane.

But the oath changed to a prayer, the first he had uttered in forty years, a wild prayer for God’s mercy and help. For the wounded girl, swaying dizzily in the saddle, the reins swinging loose on the horse's neck, her right arm hanging helplessly by her side, clasped with her left a little figure whose dirty pink dress and brown curls belonged only to Wedgie.

They tell yet of the leap Old Hankins made over the board fence. They say no racehorse ever covered the distance in the time he got to Leava's side, and caught her and the boy from the horse.

“He’s all right,” she said, wiping the blood from her cheek and smiling in the old man's ashen face.

“Me wunned away to help gwandpa herd,” Wedgie explained.

No one ever knew of that awful deed in the hard old heart. For in the days that Leava was imprisoned with a broken arm, he so haunted the MacLomond ranch, begged so hard to be of service and seemed so happy to give her any pleasure, that the family quite took to him. And in the delight of being “took to,” Old Hankins blossomed into a really neighborly old rascal.

Wedgie and Al are both frequent visitors at the school; and when his son looks over to the light in the MacLomond window of an evening, Old Hankins says sweetly, “Go on, Al, I'll do the chores.”

— Reprinted from The Pacific Monthly magazine, Portland, Ore., May 1899