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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Oregon inventor Victor Strode’s revolutionary boat, the 'aerohydrocraft,' made the front cover of the March 1931 issue of Popular Science. The design didn't prove a useful one for the City of Portland, though, and the larger model the city commissioned to function as a harbor police boat didn't work out.

Buck Rogers-style police boat didn't work out for city of Portland

A local inventor developed the "aerohydrocraft" design in the early 1930s. But when the city built one as an ambulance boat, it flopped.

The remains of the barque Peter Iredale as they appear today, jutting out of the beach sands on Clatsop Spit at Warrenton as they have since 1906. In 1960, the wreck nearly was lost to a man who claimed he owned it.

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.

Commander Dave Scott salutes the U.S. flag, which has just been planted on the surface of the moon. A small piece of Oregon lava rock, carried to the moon by Scott's fellow astronaut Jim Irwin, lies within this photo, next to one of the many bootprints. (Image: NASA)

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

If only these bones could talk: Mysterious skeletons of Oregon

Sometimes the silent bones of the long dead almost seem to want to tell their stories ... but, of course, they can't.There are a few stories of skeletal remains found in Oregon whose secrets will probably never be known.

Oregon State University student Dawn Alapisco with the skull of the
skeleton found in the Odd Fellows hall in Scio. Alapisco wrote her Honors
College thesis on the skeleton, which is that of a hard-working man who
died sometime between 1860 and 1890. (Photo: Mitch Lea/ OSU Daily

In a few weeks, the streets of Oregon will be thick with trick-or-treaters again. And although the hot costumes this year include zombies, pirates and Batman, there will probably be one or two kids out there dressed as skeletons.

Skeletons may be out of fashion this year, but they’re arguably the most interesting Halloween artifact you could name. Skeletons are real; they’re dead, but were once alive; they can’t talk, but once could; and their cold and lifeless condition suggests that something dramatic, perhaps tragic, happened to them. If only they could talk ….

Oregon has a few skeleton-related mysteries — mysteries that we could clear right up if only those bones could tell us their story.

One of them dates back to 1911, and it involves the skeletons of horses, not humans; the skeletons of the humans, in this case, were never found.

This French postcard from just after World War I shows the skeleton
of a horse on a road near the Marne.

Six white horses

It seems one sunny day, 101 years ago, a prospector was looking down into a valley in the Ochoco Forest and saw a log with a very strange profile — six identical notches in it, looking like they were cut that way on purpose.

The prospector hiked down into the forest to investigate — perhaps thinking he’d stumbled across an old homestead or mining claim.

When he got there, he found the skeletons of six horses, complete with the metal parts of long-rotted-away bridles and saddles. Clearly they had been tied to a log and left there to die of thirst. The desperate animals’ attempts to gnaw through the log had cut the notches that the prospector had seen from above.

The partial Odd Fellows skeleton, laid out at Oregon State
University. (Image: OSU Libraries archives poster)

Well, six saddle horses would have meant six riders. Six riders who clearly tied their horses here in the middle of nowhere, meaning to come back for them in a matter of hours or maybe minutes. Six men who’d gone somewhere on foot, and not a single one of them had made it back. Six men whose presumed disappearance hadn’t made a big enough impression for anyone in the area to remember who they might be. What on Earth could have happened?

To this day, no one has figured that out.


Legendary Central Oregon raconteur Reub Long tells a story of another mysterious skeleton.

Sometime in the early 1920s, when he was a young man, Reub was hauling freight with his hired hand, a six-foot-four Silver Lake lad named Shorty Hawkins. The two of them stopped at an abandoned homesteader's cabin by Peters Creek Sink, in one of the most remote parts of the high desert of southeast Oregon.

Near the cabin, the two of them found a human skeleton, mostly buried in a sand bank and blasted by the cold and relentless high-desert wind.

Was this the original builder of the cabin, a dry-land homesteader trying to eke out a living on 320 acres of windswept desert? Had he perhaps broken an ankle stepping in a hole and died out here, hundreds of miles from the nearest settlement? Or had he been caught in a blinding snowstorm, unable to find his cabin, and frozen to death a few hundred yards from warmth and safety? What had happened to this stranger?

An abandoned homestead in central or eastern Oregon, as it appeared
in 1962. The homestead on which "Sandy" was found would have been
far cruder and more remote than this one. (Image: OSU Archives,
Jackman collection )

Reub and Shorty gathered up his bones and took them inside the cabin, out of the wind. There, they assembled them on the floor as best they could. There were quite a few bones missing, but the important ones — skull, pelvis, most of the ribs — were all there.

The skeleton, of course, had a name, but Reub and Shorty didn’t know what it was, so they dubbed him Sandy.

That done, the two went outside to take care of their team of horses. They were doing that when a cowboy rode up.

“We forgot all about the skeleton and told him to go in, get warm, and get himself something to eat,” Reub wrote years later in his book. “When we came back in, no one was there. Shorty said, ‘That’s funny. Sandy likes most people.’”

The Odd Fellow's bones

An old Odd Fellows regalia-and-paraphernalia catalog. Complete
human skeletons could be ordered out of catalogs like this one.
(Image: OSU Libraries archives poster)

In August of 2010, a 16-year-old girl named Jenny Minten was helping clean out a closet at the International Order of Odd Fellows hall in Scio, when she made a startling and creepy discovery.

It was a small black casket full of human bones.

The bones turned out to be part of the ceremonial accoutrements of the Scio Odd Fellows. This particular chapter was chartered in 1856, and the induction rituals for the Odd Fellows include a memento mori — usually in the form of a skeleton.

Today, active Odd Fellows chapters don’t typically use real skeletons for this, but at one time they did. This particular skeleton was bought out of a catalog — an Odd Fellows “regalia and paraphernalia” catalog — sometime in the late 1800s, according to the recollections of Scio Odd Fellows and Rebekahs members. The cranium of the skeleton's skull had been neatly sawn in half, suggesting that the skeleton was a “retired” medical-school subject.

This raises a number of fascinating questions. In the late 1800s, most people weren’t open to the idea of donating their bodies to science, and it was quite difficult for medical schools to slake their thirst for fresh cadavers to dissect.

A 19th-century engraving showing a gang of body snatchers
digging up a freshly buried corpse. (Image: The Independent)

So an entire underground industry developed on the East Coast — an industry devoted to stealing corpses and selling them to medical schools.

Body snatchers, or “resurrectionists” as they called themselves, would prowl graveyards looking for fresh diggings, and bribe undertakers to slip them corpses. They’d even go into poorhouses and impersonate relatives so they could claim bodies. (In Britain, some body snatchers actually started murdering people so their bodies could be sold. In the U.S., so far as is known, nobody ever went quite that far.)

All of which is to say that it is somewhat unlikely the man whose bones the Odd Fellows bought had any idea that this would be his fate.

The bones were donated to the Oregon State University anthropology department, where they were cleaned and analyzed and served as the subject of OSU student Dawn Marie Alapisco’s Honors College thesis. Alapisco reports the bones belonged to a powerful, strong man, nearly six feet tall and ripped; the skeleton had developed in a way that telegraphed “muscular hypertrophy.” His neck, back and knees were worn and bent in ways that suggested he’d carried many heavy loads. And he’d died of tuberculosis, which had eaten into his bones; by the time he died, his right arm would have been useless. He was 45 to 55 years old. He died sometime between 1860 and 1890, but probably closer to 1890, since that’s when his bones were sold.

The bones from the Scio Odd Fellows' Lodge laid out in trays at
Oregon State University. (Image: OSU Libraries archives poster)

That means he would have been at or near fighting age during the American Civil War. Did he fight in it? What did he do for a living, this job that made his muscles so big and wore him out so soon? Could he have been a deepwater sailor? His skull bears an odd resemblance to Popeye the Sailor Man. Or was he perhaps a “misery whip”-era logger, or longshoreman, or something else? Did he have a family, maybe a son or daughter to bury him and cry and put flowers by his tombstone, never dreaming that someone had slipped by one night and stolen his corpse out of the ground? Or was he one of those unclaimed dead in the poorhouse, left destitute after a life of working too hard for not enough, with no family, dying painfully of consumption, alone?

Just one thing is sure: We’ll never know.

(Sources: Braly, David. Tales from the Oregon Outback. Prineville: Kilmarnock, 1978; Long, R.A., and Jackman, E.R. The Oregon Desert. Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton, 1977; Smith, McKinley. “Skeleton in the Closet,” OSU Daily Barometer, June 7, 2012; Alapisco, Dawn Marie. “The Skeleton in the Closet,” OSU Honors College thesis, 2012)

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