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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Senator John H. Mitchell: Oregon's own real-life Snidely Whiplash

He abandoned his family, changed his name, moved to Oregon, bilked widows and orphans in two big real-estate swindles ... and was promptly elected to Congress.

The skull of the skeleton found in the Odd Fellows hall in Scio, which is now at Oregon State University. The skeleton was that of a hard-working man who died sometime between 1860 and 1890.

Mysterious skeletons of Oregon: If these bones could talk ...

A long-dead dry-land homesteader ... a medical specimen in an Odd Fellows lodge ... what are their stories? We'll never know.

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

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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.

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When fishing was so deadly, one in 15 didn't survive the season.

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A monument in honor of a horse thief and mass murderer?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Vaudeville's famous Klondike Kate became a Central Oregon legend

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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.

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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).

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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.

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Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Rabies epidemic was like a war
in Eastern Oregon

State health officials scoffed at the idea of hydrophobia in Oregon — until people started dying. It was the start of a decade of attacks by mad coyotes, when folks carried shotguns everywhere and nature seemed to be in open revolt.

This 1930s-era postcard image shows a coyote howling. Coyotes,
rightly or wrongly, were considered the primary disease vector in the
rabies outbreak, and great efforts were made to exterminate them.

To Dr. W.H. Lytle, Oregon’s state veterinarian, the entire idea was preposterous. A rabies outbreak in northeast Oregon? Bah. Rabies was barely known west of the Rockies.

“However,” he added — no doubt with an exasperated sigh — “we intend to investigate the situation in Wallowa County and ascertain the facts at once.”

Two weeks later, on Aug. 21, 1910, Dr. Lytle was back and ready to announce what he’d learned. As expected, he’d found no evidence of rabies, he told the Portland Morning Oregonian. And as for that torrent of panicky letters from Eastern Oregon residents — letters telling of coyotes wandering into people’s yards in broad daylight and attacking their pets, of docile pigs turning vicious and chasing farmers up trees — why, that was probably nothing but a few cases of strychnine poisoning. There was nothing to worry about.

Three coyote hunters pose with their guns and their quarry in downtown
Burns in front of a very early Model T Ford bearing 1913 license tags. At the
time this photo was taken, the Eastern Oregon rabies outbreak was a
growing problem, and bounties paid for coyote pelts made this sort of
thing lucrative. (Image: W.J. Lubken, OSU Archive/Edwin Russell
Jackman collection)

The Oregonian must have been convinced. They ran the story on Page One under a headline reading, “REPORT OF RABIES  WRONG.”


The very next day, also on Page One, the Oregonian ran another headline. It read, “Sheepherder of Washington Lies at Point of Death.”

It seemed a shepherd, far up in the hills tending to his flock, had been attacked and bitten by a mad coyote a couple weeks before. Now, the paper said, he was about 30 miles from medical attention, along the Snake River, in late stages of rabies and very unlikely to survive another day. And across the river in Idaho, two boys had already died of the disease.

The great Eastern Oregon Coyote War had claimed its first few human victims. Rabies had come to the Beaver State. And it was only going to get worse.

The coyote’s personality change

An image of a coyote on a circa-1915 postcard published by Sawyer Scenic
Photos of Portland.

Throughout the next few years rabies spread remorselessly through the rest of the state. Residents would know the dreaded disease had reached their area when coyotes suddenly started appearing in broad daylight, seemingly not caring if anyone saw them or not. Residents found this unnatural behavior extremely disconcerting.

“The coyote — the poor, miserable coyote — an animal of such nature and habits that its name and that of coward are almost synonymous, who shuns man as Satan does holy water, under the influence of this infection becomes as fierce, ferocious and venomous as the cornered cougar, the wounded tiger or the bear,” the Klamath Falls Evening Herald wrote, rather turgidly, in early 1915. “The change of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde was never so complete as the change of the slinking, cowardly night prowler into the wildly attacking, fighting animal whose fangs are charged with a poison that means sure death to those inoculated and untreated.”

This 1910s-era postcard image shows a coyote amid clumps of high-desert
sage, probably somewhere in Eastern Oregon (although the postcard
does not specify).

If a rabid animal bit you in the 1910s, you probably would not die — that is, if you sought treatment right away. Louis Pasteur and his lab staff had invented the rabies treatment 25 years earlier, and it was well known and, after the state realized what it was up against, practiced. But it was painful and it was unpleasant and occasionally someone would have a bad reaction to it and die — so the stakes were fairly high.

A growing panic

Newspapers issued a steady patter of dark warnings as incidents became more and more common. Coyotes were seen slavering in the streets of towns and cities from Prineville to Burns, their mouths full of red foam, their tongues hanging out the side and dripping blood from having been bitten hard and repeatedly under the influence of the madness.

This is J.R. Carper, the U.S. Forest Service government trapper, posing on
the front porch of a log cabin in 1908 with the skins of a number of
predatory animals he’s killed. This was two years before the rabies
outbreak, when Carper’s trapping expertise would be called upon to
help reduce the population of potentially rabid coyotes. (Image: OSU
Archive/U.S. Forest Service)

The newspapers quickly filled with stories of rabid dogs and cats, of coyote attacks, of people bitten and saved because they quickly got vaccinated — and of people bitten and dead because they didn’t. Dog owners were ordered to muzzle their animals. A Portland man was prosecuted after his dog, which was supposed to be on rabies watch, got loose and bit a 9-year-old boy. Bounties on coyote pelts reached dizzying new heights, and poisoned coyote bait was hopefully distributed all over the landscape.

Residents wore pistols on their hips, but shotguns were the tool of choice; a rabies-crazed animal could sometimes charge through a hail of bullets, but a charge of bird shot would knock it physically backward. And shotguns could be heard going off with increasing frequency in Eastern Oregon towns as the season wore on.

The Coyote War’s darkest hour

The summer of 1916 was the nadir of the rabies epidemic.

“People living in Crook and Deschutes counties in 1916 had to practice ceaseless vigilance,” historian David Braly writes. “A man could be working, a woman hanging her laundry or a child playing when suddenly a snarling and vicious coyote, foam dripping from its mouth, would spring from nearby woods to the attack.”

A 1908 postcard painting showing cowboys capturing a coyote on the high

At night, people in lay awake in bed listening to the sounds of infected coyotes and cougars stumbling around outside their homes, dragging paralyzed hindquarters. Sometimes these animals would still be there in the morning, having succumbed to the fatal disease.

The maddened animals took a heavy toll on livestock as well, attacking and biting slow-moving cattle and sheep and picking poison-fanged fights with dogs. Carcasses of all kinds of animals, all dead of rabies, littered the landscape. Bats were everywhere, flying at mid-day, landing on animals and biting.

“No place, including buildings, was safe from rabid animals,” Braly writes. “One woman near Prineville was forced to flee out of her own kitchen when a crazed mountain lion crashed through the window.”

Things get better

But 1917 was a little better, and by 1918 some hopeful voices were actually suggesting that the epidemic was over.

It wasn’t over, of course. Rabies in Eastern Oregon would continue to be a problem for at least a decade after that. In the early 1930s, newspaper articles were still bringing word of an infected cow here, a coyote attack there, and taking the whole thing very seriously.

But the summers of madness, of neighbors walking out to get the mail and stopping to chat with loaded shotguns tucked under their arms, of schools canceled for fear the children would be attacked en route — those days were, thankfully, over.

(Sources: Braly, David. Tales from the Oregon Outback. Prineville: American Media, 1978; Burns Times-Herald, 16 Jan 1915; Klamath Falls Evening Herald, 11 Jan 1916; Malheur Enterprise, 30 Jan 1915; Portland Morning Oregonian, 09 Aug 1910, 21 Aug 1910, 22 Aug 1910)

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