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)
2012 articles 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)

you just might ALSO
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.

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, 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.

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.

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.

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.



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.


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 ...


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 ...


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

Oregon’s most famous elephant led a colorful and tragic life

Largest elephant in captivity went from “Tusko the Magnificent,” star of Lotus Isle, to “Tusko the Unwanted,” abandoned at the Oregon State Fair, with several destructive rampages along the way. But who could blame him?

Promoter Al Painter stands with Ned (“Tusko”) at Lotus Isle during the
1931 season. (Image: www.pdxhistory.com)

Under the light of a single bulb, in a big storage room at the University of Oregon’s Museum of Natural and Cultural History in Eugene, are the bones of a famous onetime Oregonian named Ned.

Ned had other names. On stage, he was billed as “Tusko the Magnificent,” “Tusko the Terrible,” or just plain “Tusko.” Toward the end of his short life, he was known in the newspapers as “Tusko the Unwanted.” But he always answered to Ned, and toward the end he started getting angry when people called him Tusko.

Ned was, of course, an elephant. Specifically, he was the biggest elephant in captivity in the 1930s, when he came to Oregon to join the cast and crew of history’s most surreal amusement park, Lotus Isle.

A show-biz life

Ned had started out his career in show business at the age of six, when he was just five feet tall. He’d been shipped to America from the lumber camps of Siam in 1898, and spent the following quarter-century on the road with various circuses and traveling shows. Along the way, Ned ate and ate, and grew and grew. Unfortunately, the bigger he got, the more nervous he made people.

Ned “Tusko” the elephant, chained securely to the bed of a flatbed truck,
is prepared for his long, bone-chilling journey to Portland after being
auctioned off by the state fair, where he had been abandoned for the
state to feed. (Image: Salem Public Library)

The beginning of the end for Ned and his show-business career came in 1922. He’d been acquired by the Al G. Barnes Circus, and was being promoted as “Tusko the Terrible.” On May 17, 1922, Ned and his circus were in Sedro-Wooley, Washington, when “Tusko” went on a rampage.

Why he did this is unclear. One source suggests he was drunk at the time, and he probably was — Tusko’s later reaction to being presented with a tub of moonshine (to fight a cold) suggested a long familiarity with strong drink. Another source says Tusko was responding to an unusually vigorous beating, which, unfortunately, wouldn’t be unusual for a circus elephant in the 1920s.

In any case, Ned tossed his handler aside (breaking several of the man’s ribs in the process) and lit out for the wide open spaces. He overturned a number of cars, knocked a few buildings off their foundations and caused a mass panic in a Sedro-Wooley dance hall. By the time the circus crew caught up with him, he’d carved a 30-mile trail of destruction through the northern Washington countryside, demolishing a chicken coop and disrupting a lumber camp. His handlers found him stuck between two angled boxcars, so he was easily recaptured.

Circus people then followed his trail of destruction through the countryside with a suitcase full of money, indemnifying anyone and everyone they thought might sue them.

Ned’s two-year sentence

The rampage seems to have changed Ned somehow, though. While before this incident he’d been known for a mellow disposition, he now started getting increasingly testy, and circus customers were starting to notice. Finally, Barnes pulled him off the circuit for a rest at the circus’s winter headquarters in southern California. What was supposed to be a short break turned into a two-year sentence after Ned lashed out at his manicurist, breaking both tusks against the bars of his prison-cell-like home.

While he was serving this time, another bull elephant was touring the country as Tusko the Magnificent. This impostor elephant, at a show in Texas, went on a deadly rampage, killing a spectator, and was promptly shot and killed. But after that many circus visitors assumed Ned was a killer — which, it must be noted, he absolutely, positively never was.

That edgy reputation, coupled with his famous appetite — two tons of hay each week, plus supplements of apples and carrots — made Ned a net liability for the circus. So it sold him off in 1931 for $2,800 to a dapper, stocky showman from Portland's Lotus Isle named Al Painter.

And that’s how Ned came to Oregon.

Ned’s Oregon story

Painter first offered Ned to the city zoo, hoping apparently to score some goodwill points for Lotus Isle. But, mindful of what happened to the city of Sedro-Wooley, the Portland Zoo declined. So Ned spent the summer as a prime attraction at Lotus Isle.

This was a bit of a hair-raising time for his handlers. Tusko was noticeably crotchety most of the time, and when early aviator Tex Rankin flew low over Lotus Isle in his biplane one day, Tusko spooked, breaking his chains and going on a short but panicky rampage that destroyed several of Lotus Isle’s Moorish-style buildings.

At the end of the 1931 season, Painter could see that “Tusko” was not working out. He wasn’t bringing enough business to justify his staggering food bill, let alone the damage from his rampage. Plus, Lotus Isle itself was facing a rocky future. The massive Peacock Ballroom, the dance hall in which Painter staged his lucrative "Dance-a-thon" promotions, had burned to the ground, and it was growing increasingly clear that it wouldn't be rebuilt. Could Lotus Isle survive without it? Painter didn't plan to stick around long enough to find out.

So he asked fellow show-biz man T.H. Eslick to bring Tusko to Salem for the Oregon State Fair, and while Eslick and Ned were down there, Painter disappeared like a puff of smoke on the wind.

“The Great Unwanted”

This cartoon ran on the front page of the Portland Morning Oregonian on
Oct. 16, 1931, commenting on the state’s dilemma after “Tusko” (whose
real name was Ned) was abandoned at the Oregon State Fair that year.

Eslick, at the end of the state fair, left Ned behind and slipped off home to Portland, and Fair Director Max Gehlar found himself stuck with the baby. Eslick claimed Ned was Painter’s responsibility, and Painter could not be found. It was about this time that newspapers started referring to Ned ruefully as “Tusko the Unwanted.”

A couple months of expensive hay munching later, the state finally managed to auction Ned off for $200. His new owners chained him to a flatbed truck and hauled him north to Portland — a trip that took four hours in those pre-freeway days, and surely came near to killing Ned from the cold; after all, it was October.

In Portland, he was lodged in a ramshackle tin building near the waterfront, at East Main and Water streets, where people could pay a dime to look at him. Here he spent a miserable, cold, hungry winter.

The plight of “Tusko” found much sympathy among
Portlanders, as demonstrated by this ad from a furnace
company, which ran on Dec. 2, 1931.

At one point, he caught a cold and it got bad enough to put him off his feed; everyone knew what a legendary trencherman Ned was, and for him to stop eating he had to be really sick, so his handler brought him a 10-gallon keg of moonshine, cut it with five gallons of water and poured it into a trough for the visibly excited Ned. Three giant gulps later, Ned was happily and drunkenly frolicking with a hay bale, then soon fell asleep. The Morning Oregonian covered both his “ten-gallon spree” and the ensuing hangover on its front page.

In his downtown Portland shed, Ned went on another rampage, this time on Christmas Eve. This one didn’t do much damage, other than to the shed he was living in; Ned seemed mostly to just want to run away. Cornered and with dozens of rifle barrels pointed straight at him, he was soon recaptured.

Back on the road

The following spring, the elephant left Portland as his new owners took him on the road. All the press coverage of Ned’s troubles at the state fair and his Christmas Eve bustout had raised his profile, and tens of thousands of Northwesterners were eager to see him. But still he lost money. He simply ate too much. His handlers decided he needed to retire to a nice city zoo, and they picked Seattle.

The "elephantimatum game"

Then they launched an elaborate con: They were going to “execute” him. They even advertised in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for a big-game hunter to be their trigger man.

It worked. The city rallied; schoolchildren broke open piggy banks; the mayor made a speech. A few weeks later, Tusko moved into his new digs at the Woodland Park Zoo.

He died about a year later at the youthful (for an elephant) age of 42. The official cause of death was a blood clot in his heart, but one of his old handlers later told the Oregonian he’d developed debilitating arthritis and had be euthanized with “the black bottle” — that is, poison.

Even in death, poor Ned could get no respect. He was skinned immediately; one of his owners planned to stuff his hide and mount it outside a motel to attract business. The hide was ruined by vermin before he could get this done, in one of history’s very few examples of rats making the world better instead of worse.

The bones were cleaned by boiling in a huge pot, and the skeleton spent a summer on tour as a circus sideshow attraction. It ate a lot less, of course, but people were less willing to pay to see it. Finally its owners gave up and put it away, and eventually donated it to the University of Oregon.

Maybe someday soon Oregonians will be able to come to Eugene to visit old Ned … and, maybe, mutter a little apology to the giant animal’s long-suffering bones.

(Editor's Note: Oregon Quarterly, the University of Oregon's magazine, ran a detailed feature on Ned in its Spring 2014 issue (vol. 93, no. 3) which includes a good deal of additional information about Ned as well as pictures of the big fellow's bones. You'll easily find it with a search for "Tusko Oregon Quarterly," or go to it directly at https://www.oregonquarterly.com/spring2014/feature2.php .)

(Another editor's note: In August 2017, Capi Lynn of the Salem Statesman Journal recently wrote an account of Tusko's life that nearly renders mine obsolete. It's somewhat difficult to read if you're not a subscriber — lots of ads and survey questions to answer and what-not — but worth going through with it if you're interested in Tusko; Capi did a ton of research and found lots more interesting stuff. It's at https://www.statesmanjournal.com/story/news/2017/08/25/tusko-elephant-abandoned-oregon-state-fair-salem-portland-seattle/595886001/.)

(Sources: Pintarich, Dick. Great and Minor Moments in Oregon History. Portland; New Oregon, 2003; Portland Morning Oregonian, March-Dec. 1931; www.pdxhistory.com)