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The burning steamer S.S. Congress, as seen from the deck of the dredge Colonel P.S. Michie, with lifeboats in the water.

Massive ocean liner won its race with fiery death

Calm seas, a cool-headed skipper and a hard-working crew brought the burning S.S. Congress to safety just in time. All 428 aboard made it.

A massive breaker slams down on the stricken Czarina shortly after the ship was caught anchored in the outer line of breakers. Those aren't flags hanging on the lower part of the rigging; those are sailors. Twelve hours later, only one of them would be alive.

One by one they fell into the sea and drowned ... as their families watched.

The 1910 wreck of the steamship Czarina was a true worst-case scenario — caused by a "perfect storm" of incompetence.

This cover illustration from "Masked Rider Western," published in 1950, bears an uncanny resemblance to the events that kicked off Vigilante rule in Crook County.

"I can make a
six-shooter sing 'come to jesus'!"

Meet Robert Gordon Duncan, the pioneering Portland shock-jock who was the first person ever sent to prison for cursing on the air, in 1930.

This cover illustration from "Masked Rider Western," published in 1950, bears an uncanny resemblance to the events that kicked off Vigilante rule in Crook County.

When prineville was ruled by masked vigilante riders

In Crook County, the early 1880s were like a Louis L'Amour novel. And it all started with the lynching of an innocent man.

The classic melodrama villain, with sleek silk hat and waxed handlebar mustache, in the act of evicting the poor widow and children from their freshly foreclosed family homestead. Except for the mustache, Oregon's longest-serving 19th-century senator fit the trope with remarkable precision.

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

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.

This Motel 6 was the scene of the most embarrassing jailbreak EVER.

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.

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).

Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

The Rise of the House of Klux: How the KKK took over the state

The secret society of anonymous xenophobic vigilantes spread through Oregon society like a virus in 1922, and by the time elections were held that year, it was ready to seize the reins of power. But it wouldn't keep them for long.

This story is Part 2 of a 3-part series on the Klan in Oregon. Here are links to Part 1 and Part 3.
The 1915 movie “Birth of a Nation” sparked a Ku Klux Klan
resurgence and introduced the practice of cross burnings and
the pointy-topped outfits with red-cross emblems that would
characterize the 1920s Klan in Oregon.

There was something shockingly sudden about the Ku Klux Klan’s seizure of the reins of power in Oregon in 1922.

Within a few months of Klan evangelist Luther Powell’s arrival in southern Oregon, the “invisible empire” had spread through Oregon society like a virus. Tens of thousands of Oregonians had paid their $10 membership fee and had white eyehole-suits hanging in their closets, and tens of thousands more looked upon the secret society as a positive thing.

It’s important to understand that the Klan in 1922 was different from the Klan in 1866. The 1922 Klan had arisen out of D.W. Griffith’s 1915 movie, “The Birth of a Nation,” which glorified the Klan, and gave the group its iconic robe-and-pointy-headpiece look and introduced the practice of cross burning. Then, after the war, an advertising agency took the Klan on as a client and crafted its public image and its sales message with the manipulative skills honed in First World War propaganda campaigns.

The results were striking.

The original Klan of the 1860s had targeted freed former slaves and their white allies, and was quickly shut down in the early 1870s after leaving a trail of bloody corpses and terrified survivors strewn about the countryside.

By contrast, this new Klan would be, if you will, a kinder, gentler terrorist organization. It would last a little longer, and for a few years it would seem destined to take over, because the agency took its message down a notch and broadened it. It now appointed itself as the enforcement arm of white American Protestantism, ready and willing to undertake anonymous vigilante actions as needed to preserve white American Protestantism as the definitive American culture. Non-WASPS — black people, Chinese and Japanese folks, Jews and Catholics — were to be kept under control as a matter of cultural self-defense. (Melting pot, schmelting pot.)

This postcard image shows members of the local Ku Klux Klan marching
through town during a parade in Lincoln, Maine, in the summer of 1924.
Similar exhibitions were staged in many Oregon towns during this time as
well. The fact that the Klan was considered an appropriate subject for a
postcard, clearly meant as a proud showcasing of a town, says a great
deal about the Klan's acceptability in the early 1920s.

With an eye on public relations, the new Klan controlled the level of vigilantism and terrorism carefully, seeking that perfect level of edgy, attractive muscularity while avoiding becoming extreme enough to threaten mainstream society. Crosses were regularly lit afire in spots where they overlooked Catholic, Jewish and African-American neighborhoods. They barged into Catholic churches during services dressed in their sinister, anonymous eyehole suits. They honored their organization’s long-established tradition of lynching innocent people by conducting “necktie lynchings,” in which victims were led to believe they were about to die, lifted an inch or two off the ground by the neck for a moment, and released with a dire warning. This went badly for them on at least one occasion in Oregon, when their victim (a white guy whom they suspected of having seduced a 16-year-old girl) figured out who they were and sued them.

The new Klan also had designed a sales system of astonishing sophistication. Each recruiter (“kleagle”) got a standard kit; in addition to the usual stuff like contracts and eyehole suits to sell the new recruits, the kit included a prospect list. Kleagles were encouraged to discreetly make contact first with Protestant pastors, and then target cops and local government officials for membership. Then the ads would be placed in newspapers and the kleagle and/or an especially enthusiastic pastor would arrange a dog-and-pony show in some hotel ballroom, in which the entire community was invited to come hear all about the Klan. Since the Klan was a secret society, the promise was that you could find out what it was all about by coming to one of these things, and the people who arrived were then played masterfully by the recruiter, who would finish the evening with sometimes hundreds of new $10 memberships — $4 of which, if he was a top-level kleagle, he got to keep.

In due course the kleagle would identify and deputize sub-kleagles to go out and repeat the process at other towns. Klan membership would spread virally until any man in the state who thought he might want to be a Kluxer had the opportunity to pay his $10 and take home his very own Klown suit.

As we know from last week, Luther Powell did a yeoman’s job of working this system in Oregon. By election season in 1922, the process had completed itself and Oregon was shot through from one side to the other with Kluxers. These local Klan groups immediately got busy packing school boards, city councils and county commissions with friendly faces.

In Salem, the Klan found a ready ally in the fortuitously named legislator Kaspar K. Kubli, who soon became a member. Because Republicans at the time dominated the state government, the Klan got involved at the party level in a campaign to “purify” its ranks. It got control of the Multnomah County Republican Party, and probably several others as well. Roman Catholic and Jewish officeholders — as well as those the Klan thought just weren’t friendly enough to its aims — quickly found themselves embroiled in primary battles with challengers who were clearly on track to win.

The state’s Republican governor, Ben Olcott, was an outspoken and intransigent opponent of the Klan. He knew the stand he was taking would probably cost him the election, but he also knew that letting a secret society of anonymous xenophobic vigilantes take over state government would be an awful thing, and he refused to give the state anything less than his full effort to stop it.

The primary election that year was a massive dogpile of victories for the Klan. There were just two high-profile losses: Olcott had been renominated, and so had Congressman Clifton Nesmith McArthur — yes, THAT Nesmith; he was the legendary pioneer’s grandson. McArthur was a four-term U.S. Congressman whom the Klan had targeted for being too independent.

No problem: the Klan simply shifted its endorsement to the Democratic party’s candidates in the fall, when the general election was held.

The Klan would get both Olcott and McArthur defeated in that election, replaced with men who were either Klansmen or at least friendly to the Klan’s agenda. It would also get a law passed that more or less outlawed private schools in Oregon, in a direct attack on the Catholic church. And it would take over the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners. It was very nearly a clean sweep. Every race the Klan had taken an interest in had swung their way.

“There is something new under the sun,” wrote Waldo Roberts of the magazine Outlook, at about this time. “Oregon, politically the most conservative and temperamentally the least romantic state west of the Rocky Mountains, is now under the control of the Ku Klux Klan.”

But not for long.

(Sources: Marsh, Tom. To the Promised Land. Corvallis: OSU Press, 2012; MacColl, E. Kimbark. The Growth of a City. Portland: Georgian Press, 1979; Lansing, Jewel. Portland: People, Politics and Power. Corvallis: OSU Press, 2002)

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