Heroes and rascals, shipwrecks and lost gold: Strange but true stories and secrets of Oregon's wild past | Offbeat Oregon History The Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (now known as Osho -- yes, THAT Osho) as he appeared when he lived in Wasco County with his followers. That's also him in the white Rolls-Royce surrounded by followers, in a scene from Rajneeshpuram. (Four-part story starts with Column No. 73, May 9, 2010 While doing some cleaning-up around the Odd Fellows Hall in Scio, a local girl found a tiny coffin with this partial skeleton inside. Whose? We'll probably never know ... (Story No. 204, Oct. 14, 2012) The ever-elusive D.B. Cooper peeks into the page from behind his signature shades. The story of his skyjacking exploit starts with episode 237, from June 2, 2013. Meet Kitty Kat, the wealthiest feline in the state of Oregon and landlord to the City of Tangent. Kitty Kat, until he died at a ripe old age in 1995, owned City Hall. (Story No. 163, Jan. 8, 2012) This crazy-looking speedboat was the invention of Portland wizard Victor Strode. The city commissioned a harbor patrol boat based on his design, but it didn't work out. (Story No. 201, Sept. 23, 2012) The Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (now known as Osho -- yes, THAT Osho) as he appeared when he lived in Wasco County with his followers. That's also him in the white Rolls-Royce surrounded by followers, in a scene from Rajneeshpuram. (Four-part story starts with Column No. 73, May 9, 2010 This is the roof of the Franz Bread Rest Hut at Pixieland, the Oregon Coast's ill-starred answer to Disneyland, which opened in 1969 and went out of biz in 1974. The Rest Hut consisted of a giant fiberglass loaf of bread sticking out of the top of this giant fiberglass hollow log, the whole thing towering over a log-flume roller coaster ride. It's probably the most campily awesome example of the proud display of crass commercialism that was Pixieland. (Column No. 52 - Dec. 6, 2009)
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Did Elvis play here? Probably not, but Johnny Cash did.

The Cottonwoods, a jumpin' dance joint between Albany and Lebanon, hosted a dizzying array of music legends. Today, it's just a vacant lot.

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.

the most awkward prison-break scenario — ever.

The bad guy simply walked out the back door of the Salem Motel 6 during a conjugal visit. Here's the story.

Jim Wright, at the stick of his Hughes H-1 Racer, flies a low pass over the airfield at Cottage Grove State Airport - which has since been renamed Jim Wright Field in his honor.

the heroic pilot who had to choose who would die in crash-landing.

Jim Wright built a perfect replica of one of history's most important airplanes, and for a time, all was good. But one day he was forced to choose between landing it in a crowded field of tourists, and dying in a giant fireball. Here's what he did.

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.

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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'

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Railroad Murder mystery solved with the victim's help

The thieves, cornered in a boxcar, shot their way out, mortally wounding a railroad "bull." But the dying man was still a pretty good shot. Here's the story.

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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.

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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.

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

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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

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Sammy Davis Jr. used to regularly play portland clubs.

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The steamer Telephone, fastest boat on the river in the 1880s and possibly the world -- until it burned to the waterline one day.

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The steamboat Telephone caught fire at the widest spot in the Columbia; the decision must not have been too tough, because Captain U.B. Scott didn't hesitate for a moment. Here's what happened.

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?

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Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Astronaut left a piece
of Oregon lava on the moon

When astronaut Jim Irwin came to Bend for lunar landing training in the lava rock of Oregon's 'moon country,' he made friends with a local resident — who gave him a sliver of Oregon lava to leave on the moon's surface. And so he did.

Apollo 15 blasts off from Cape Canaveral on July 26, 1971. Inside,
probably in astronaut Jim Irwin’s pocket, is a tiny chunk of Central
Oregon, destined to be left on the lunar surface. (Image: NASA)

When the moon is full and hanging low in the sky over Central Oregon, take a good close look at it. In one of its craters, surrounded by tire tracks and boot prints and the abandoned “moon buggy,” a tiny chunk of Oregon lies on its surface.

Here’s how it got there:

In search of moonscapes

Starting around 1964, NASA started sending future lunar astronauts to various unusual places to study volcanic geology and to familiarize themselves with landscapes that they thought they might encounter on the moon. Although terrestrial telescopes were excellent in the early 1960s, nobody really knew what the astronauts would find when they arrived on its surface.

So, to give them both scientific knowledge and operational familiarity, astronauts like Buzz Aldrin, James Lovell and Jim Irwin were sent to a variety of places around the world that were known for unique volcanic features: Iceland, Hawaii, Meteor Crater in Arizona — and Central Oregon.

NASA technicians and an astronaut test a spacesuit design for mobility
and durability in a Central Oregon lava flow during the early 1960s.
(Image: UO Libraries)

Central Oregon had rather a lot to offer the astronaut-scholars, so they spent a lot of time here. They studied Hole in the Ground, Fort Rock, the Newberry Crater — and, of course, the McKenzie lava fields.

Bend, being a relatively decent-sized town in the middle of all these features, naturally became a sort of field headquarters for NASA scientists and astronauts.

Moon Country, Oregon

NASA was very pleased with Central Oregon’s helpful and enthusiastic response, and its astronauts and scientists in Oregon started referring to Bend as “Moon Country” — a term that some historians think actually originated with the Bend Bulletin newspaper, but was quickly adopted by NASA personnel.

A short (1:12) video by historian Darrell Jabin about the astronauts in
Oregon, part of his "Did You Know About Oregon?" series. (Video: Darrell

As the space program intensified, so did NASA’s connection to Central Oregon. In 1965, it staged an international lunar geological field conference in Bend, featuring more than 100 of the best and the brightest members of the team that was then pouring everything it had into the goal of landing the moon shot. Legendary Oregon science journalist Phil Brogan, at the time a staff writer for the Bend Bulletin, must have thought he’d won the lottery.

It was the following year that astronaut Jim Irwin came to Bend; like his colleagues, he came to study and to practice.

The astronaut and his friend

Commander Dave Scott salutes the U.S. flag, which has just been
planted on the surface of the moon. The small piece of Oregon lava
rock is within this photo, next to one of the many footprints.
(Image: NASA)

When Irwin and the others arrived, the city threw a welcoming dinner for them at the Bend Golf Club. Each astronaut was paired up with a local host, whose job it was to make sure his guest didn’t get bored or overlooked. Irwin was assigned to a fellow named Floyd Watson, the building inspector for the city.

The two of them must have gotten along well, because Irwin remembered Watson five years later, when he was picked for the Apollo 15 moon landing — the first of three lunar missions that involved putting a car on the moon (the Lunar Rover) and driving it around the surface.

When Watson heard his old friend had been picked as the lunar-module pilot for the mission, he got out a chunk of lava rock that he’d picked up near Devil’s Lake — the one near Bend, not the Devil’s Lake in Lincoln City. With a hammer, he chipped a chunk off of it that weighed no more than a few grams, slim enough to slip into an envelope, and then posted it off to Irwin with a letter congratulating him on being selected for the historic mission.

This image of Floyd Watson’s photo of his piece of rock on the moon,
autographed by astronaut James Irwin, ran on the front page of The
Bend Bulletin on Oct. 2, 1971. (Image: Bend Bulletin)

“I am sending you a small sliver of Central Oregon lava that I hope you will be able to deliver to the moon for me,” he added at the end of his letter. “I have five grandchildren who will be eternally grateful to you.”

Off went the letter, and Watson thought little more of it. It had been a long shot, of course, and there was no guarantee Irwin even remembered who Watson was.


A few months later, on July 26, 1971, Irwin blasted off from Cape Canaveral, packed into the Apollo 15 module with commander David Scott and command-module pilot Alfred Worden. Scott and Irwin spent three days prowling the surface of the moon while Worden orbited above them.

Apollo Lunar Surface Journal Editor Eric M. Jones sharpened and
annotated this image from the Apollo 15 mission, marking the tiny
chip of Oregon lava rock where it lies. (Image: NASA)

And a few weeks after their return, Watson got a letter from Irwin.

“I did carry your sliver of lava to the moon and left it there,” Irwin wrote — and enclosed an autographed photo of it, with the tiny chip of Oregon denoted with an arrow and the words “Oregon lava on the moon!”

Watson treasured the letter, picture and the chunk of rock that he broke the lunar sliver off of for the rest of his life. And, of course, he never looked at the moon the same way again.

NASA initially skeptical

Irwin never told his higher-ups at NASA about the lava, though. This was probably because he and Scott were reprimanded after their return. It seems they’d cut a private deal with a postage stamp dealer to haul a bunch of postal covers up to the moon with them, to be autographed and sold upon their return. With Irwin and Scott in that kind of hot water, they were probably reluctant to admit to having brought up any other unauthorized cargo.

And indeed, NASA officials were at first skeptical about the claim of Oregon lava on the moon.

“I don’t recall any stories about Jim Irwin taking a rock from Oregon and placing it on the surface of the moon,” NASA historian Glen Swanson told Central Oregon journalist Melany Tupper in a 2002 letter. “I think this is pretty unlikely due to the severe weight restrictions and time limitations that the crew had on the lunar surface.”

However, perhaps the letter got NASA thinking about it, because a few years later the space agency got a similar request from Oregon Public Broadcasting reporter Sierra Jenkins, and Eric M. Jones, editor of the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal, took a closer look at some of the photographs from the mission. Cross-referencing them with Irwin’s letter to Watson, he was able to identify the rock, and confirmed the story as almost certainly true.

Thus, we can consider — with apologies to martyred Great War poet Rupert Brooke — that there’s some corner of a foreign world that is forever Oregon.

(Sources: Tupper, Melany. High Desert Roses: Significant Stories from Central Oregon. Fairfield, CA: 1st Books, 2003; Matthews, Denise. “Returning to Oregon’s Moon Country,” Oregon Documentary Project, Univ. of Oregon School of Journalism, 2010; Brogan, Phil. “Central Oregon rock rests on the moon,” The Bend Bulletin, Oct. 2, 1971; Jones, Eric M. Apollo Lunar Surface Journal, at www.hq.nasa.gov)