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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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, a convicted cop killer, 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.

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.

An illustration of the scene in the Davis Hotel when detectives saw a hand suddenly  reach out from under the bed, grabbing for a pistol hidden there, from the Portland Morning Oregonian.

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.

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.

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.

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

riverboat captain had to choose: save passengers, or save his boat?

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?

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.

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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.

Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Schemers sought to seize Peter Iredale shipwreck, sell for scrap

Clackamas County man claimed his father had bought the salvage rights in 1908, setting off a huge dust-up among residents, beachgoers and politicians, who scrambled to protect the landmark wreck. He almost got away with it, too.

The wreckage of the Peter Iredale as it appeared in the summer of
2006. (Photo: Matt Conwell)

Early in 2012, a big section of a Japanese harbor dock that had drifted across the Pacific Ocean was removed at considerable expense from the beach near Newport.

The state government had gotten itself into something of a lather over the dock — as it also did several years ago with the wreckage of the freighter New Carissa. The government wanted that stuff off the beach immediately, if not sooner, and was willing to go to great lengths and spend lots of money to get it done.

The wreck of the Peter Iredale a few days after it was stranded..

That hasn’t always been Oregon’s official attitude, though. There was a time when Oregon state and local governments took the opposite approach — as happened in a somewhat comical squabble in 1960 over salvage rights to the wreckage of the Peter Iredale.

The Peter Iredale is, of course, still there — so you know how this story ends. The wreckage has been a highlight of the northern Oregon coast for more than 100 years.

History’s most uneventful shipwreck

The wreck of the Peter Iredale as it appeared a few months after its
stranding. (Image: Oregon Historical Society)

It first appeared there on a foggy late-October morning in 1906. The 287-foot steel-hulled four-masted barque Peter Iredale was running before the usual southwest wind, making for the mouth of the Columbia River, when a sudden squall roared out of the northwest, driving the ship straight up onto the beach on Clatsop Spit.

What followed was, as author Don Marshall describes it, “the most singularly unexciting shipwreck scenario in maritime history.” The crew members were all uneventfully evacuated with a breeches buoy (essentially a zipline), but had they waited a few hours until low tide, they could have all walked ashore.

Instant tourist attraction

Another image of the wrecked Peter Iredale. (Image: Cannon Beach
History Center and Museum)

Of course, a 2,000-ton sailing ship parked on the beach is something you don’t see every day, so there was a good bit of excitement on shore. Local schoolchildren were released early for the day so they could go check it out. A local railroad operator started making plans for a special excursion train. And photographers, both professional and amateur, started making images of the Peter Iredale — which has been called, with some justification, the most photographed shipwreck in the world.

The barque Peter Iredale as it looked shortly after stranding on Clatsop Spit
in 1906. (Image: Oregon State University archives)

It’s also quite possibly the most long-lasting shipwreck in the world. In part, that’s because of geology. After the ship grounded, of course, it was stuck firmly on the beach, but beaches change. Sometimes the wind and currents wear them away, and other times they grow.

In the case of Clatsop Spit, the beach was growing. Over the years, more and more sand accumulated around the wreck, until it was high and dry most of the time.

This made it more popular than ever. Tourists posed on its decks and explored its depths. As time and weather and salt spray eroded away its hull, a ladder-like structure of rusty steel remained for children to climb and play on.

A diagram of the Peter Iredale, prepared for ship model builders. For a larger
version of this image, see the Peter Iredale's page on shipmodeling.net.

The Peter Iredale quickly became counted among the state’s great treasures — a real, picturesque shipwreck that you could walk around and photograph and imagine as a setting for maritime adventures and ghost stories.

The salvage scheme

The growth of the beach sands changed other things as well, though. A ship stuck fast on a beach in six feet of water with West Coast surf breaking around it is a hopeless proposition for scrap salvage, but a ship stuck on a dry beach is a two-week easy-money job. Couple that with the fact that unsalvageable wrecks were frequently sold to suckers for small amounts of money in the aftermath of incidents like this, and you have a recipe for — well, for what happened next.

On June 2, 1960, a Clackamas County man named Cliff Hendricks notified the Oregon Highway Department (which was in charge of beaches at the time) that he was the owner of the wreck, having inherited it from his father, and that he intended to start salvage operations immediately.

Clatsop County dons war paint

The Peter Iredale under sail. No larger version of this image is
available. (Image: shipmodeling.net)

Anyone who remembers the state government’s angry determination to get every last vestige of the New Carissa off the Waldport and Coos Bay beaches will likely find the state’s response to Hendricks’s letter ironic and amusing. It started with a Clatsop County judge, who — after threatening to throw Hendricks in jail if he tried anything of the kind — alerted the city of Warrenton; the growth of Clatsop Spit in the intervening half-century had, the city claimed, put the wreck inside its city limits.

Local newspapers picked up the story, and the public got very excited. Astoria newspaper editor Fred Andrus settled everyone down by spending an afternoon at the county courthouse examining all the records for 1908, the year Hendricks said his father bought the wreck for $25. There was no trace.

But then, after everyone had settled down and breathed a sigh of relief, a county records clerk found the record. It had sold in 1917, not 1908.

Things started heating up. An offer came in from the “Oregon Coast Ad Club,” which wanted to buy the wreck and make it part of Lincoln County’s “Twenty Miracle Miles” tourism project (yes, the same project Governor Tom McCall later slagged as "Twenty Miserable Miles). Hendricks’s attorney suggested his client might be inclined to donate it to Clackamas County, where it could be arranged in the parking lot in front of the courthouse in Oregon City. The people of Clatsop County, of course, viewed all these schemes as a form of piracy.

The tension mounts …

Various governments were taking hard lines, as well. The state parks department cited the potential for harm to state-owned property around the wreck. The city of Warrenton asserted its jurisdiction (again) and told Hendricks to get lost. Editor Andrus pointed out that if Hendricks did in fact own the ship, he owed five decades’ worth of property taxes on it. Attorneys for the highway department started looking into abandoned-property laws.

By June 5, the wreck was being watched 24 hours a day by guards with machine guns.

But just as everything seemed to be building to some sort of horrible climax, the Clatsop County records clerk — the one who found Hendricks’s record of purchase — found something else. It seemed the elder Hendricks had, 72 hours after buying the Peter Iredale, sold the wreck for $325 — an annualized return of 85,166 percent on his $25 initial investment. Hendricks, it now appeared, had no claim on the wreck at all.

It's still pretty hard to imagine how this could have all been an innocent misunderstanding. Nonetheless, nobody seems to have pursued it, apparently because it was such a relief that Oregon’s only visible and visitable shipwreck was safe.

The Peter Iredale remains Oregon’s only visible shipwreck to this day (excluding, of course, small bits like the boiler of the J. Marhoffer in Boiler Bay, and the occasional wreckage of wooden ships that from time to time have emerged from eroding beach sand). And, given the attitude of the state government during the New Carissa debacle, it doesn’t seem likely that that will change anytime soon.

(Sources: Marshall, Don. Oregon Shipwrecks. Portland: Binford, 1984; www.iredale.de)