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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Jonathan Bourne Jr., the rascally and creative political mastermind behind the 'hold-up session.'

The legislature's notorious 40-day drunken party

Lawmaker Jonathan Bourne Jr. knew if the state House convened, it would elect his opponent. So he held things up for six weeks — with a Bacchanalian bender. Here's the story.

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).

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.

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.

Bobbie the Wonder Dog

Bobbie the wonder dog's 2,400-mile odyssey.

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.

a few legends of buried gold and treasure ...

Some of them might even be true. Here's a selection of them — as far as we know, the loot from any of them has never been found.

Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

“Oregon’s Outback” was a real moonshiner’s paradise in ’20s

Central and Eastern Oregon was “Oregon's liquor cabinet” during Prohibition; its wide open spaces and tight-knit communities made busting bootleggers uncommonly difficult there.

Law enforcement officers raiding an indoor moonshine still in King County, Washington.
Sheriff Matt Starwich of King County, Wash., center, poses with two
of his men in a room full of moonshining equipment around 1925. This
room was likely in Seattle. (Photo: Univ. of Washington)

In the pre-dawn hours of Monday, March 8, 1926, a massive explosion suddenly shattered the stillness of a quiet residential street in Bend. Windows shattered. Residents leaped out of bed.

Dawn soon broke on a chaotic scene. An apartment house had been torn apart, and half of it lay in ruins. No one was killed, but in the heavily-damaged house next door, a neighbor had been injured by being buried under debris as she slept.

Investigators soon figured out what had happened: Someone had tucked a big charge of dynamite under the apartment-house porch. And a motive for the crime wasn’t long in presenting itself — the targeted apartment building was occupied by two Oregon Prohibition Commission officers, A.F. “Buck” Mariott and C.C. McBride.

McBride had been involved in a shooting the previous month, and had killed a bootlegger named Vale Taylor, up in Crook County near Prineville. Taylor’s associates now apparently wanted revenge.

A reward of $750 was offered for the dynamiters, but the episode remained a mystery to this day.

Oregon under Prohibition

Thanks to Oregon governor Oswald West, the state of Oregon had an unfair advantage when the Volstead Act went into effect, officially launching Prohibition.

Newspaper photograph of the aftermath of the attempt to assassinate two Prohibition officers in Bend, Oregon, in 1926.
A photo of Oregon Prohibition officer A.F. Mariott and his wife inset
into an image of the aftermath of the dynamite explosion that was
intended to kill them, published in the March 10, 1926, edition of the
Portland Oregonian. The damaged house on the right is the one in
which a neighbor was injured by being buried under rubble. The
Mariotts were both unhurt. (Photo: Portland Morning Oregonian)

You see, Oregon had already implemented something that you could think of as “Prohibition Lite,” years before, in 1916.

So when Prohibition became the law of the land, Oregon’s illicit liquor industry was already up and running. The speakeasies, the smuggling routes, the hidden-away stills — all of it was ready to go. For Oregon bootleggers, after 1919 the stakes were higher if you got caught — but otherwise, it was business as usual.

There were a few ways of getting liquor into the state; folks who wanted to drink something with a recognizable label, something perhaps that had been aged in small oak casks or otherwise rendered tolerable, did business with the Canadians, who slipped bottles of rum and Scotch ashore under cover of darkness on board sailing ships.

But for those who weren’t quite so picky, Oregon was awash in white lightning. And in the late 1920s, when a speakeasy patron raised a glass of that rough-and-ready bathtub booze, he or she was probably looking at a product of Central or Eastern Oregon.

“The Outback”: Oregon’s liquor cabinet

Brian Stansberry photo of a moonshine still exhibit in a Kentucky museum
A mountain moonshine still on display at the McCreary County Museum
in Stearns, Kentucky. The working parts of this still — boiler pot, arm
and thump keg — are real working components seized from a
moonshiner by the McCreary County Sheriff's Department. The sign
on the barrel is a recipe for moonshine. (Photo: Brian Stansberry )

“During Prohibition, the Oregon Outback became the principal (source) of bootleg whiskey on the West Coast,” Prineville historian David Braly writes. “At a certain late hour of the night, the sky around Prineville would suddenly light up because of hundreds of stills being fired at the same time.”

Given the size of the sky around Prineville, Braly must have intended this remark to be taken figuratively rather than literally. But the fact is, Eastern Oregon is large, lonely and quiet. In the 1920s, it was also full of high-desert dry-land homesteaders who were hanging on by their fingernails, trying to eke a living out of 320 acres of land that barely had enough forage for a cow or two. For any of these folks lucky enough to have a creek on the claim, Prohibition came just in time. A two-dollar investment in sugar and yeast could pay the bills for a couple months.

Local sheriffs and their deputies tried to enforce the law, because that’s what good cops do. The problem was, Eastern Oregon was one of those places in which most folks knew the sheriff. You couldn’t exactly go undercover. And since everybody knew everybody, when a couple state revenue agents came into the area, the word traveled faster than they could.

Some Eastern Oregon bootleggers did get caught, of course. Braly recounts one case in which state revenue officers busted a group of men working a still on the Metolius River. Before hauling them off to jail, the revenuers had to help the bootleggers round up their sheep.

Plenty of stills got found and destroyed during Prohibition. But plenty more remained, faithfully pumping out liquor, until 1933 when the 21st Amendment repealed Prohibition and made them unnecessary. Hundreds of them were simply abandoned in knocked-up shacks deep in the canyons and juniper thickets; from time to time, someone still stumbles across one.

(A quick side note about Prohibition Officer McBride: As a prohibition officer, this fellow was clearly either uncommonly unlucky or unsettlingly trigger-happy. Two and a half months after the Bend apartment house was blown up in an attempt on his life, he was back in the papers again; this time, he’d gunned down a moonshiner in a raid near Woodburn. According to his report, the outlaw, a man named John Kaboris, during the liquor raid, charged McBride, firing as he came. McBride shot him dead, and wounded one of the other bootleggers as well.)

(Sources: Braly, David. Tales from the Oregon Outback. Prineville: American Media, 1978; Portland Oregonian, 3-09-1926, 3-10-1926 and 6-13-1926; Oregon State Archives, http://arcweb.sos.state.or.us/50th/prohibition1/prohibintro.html)