Heroes and rascals, shipwrecks and lost gold: Strange but true stories and secrets of Oregon's wild past | Offbeat Oregon History 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 burning steamer S.S. Congress, as seen from the deck of the dredge Colonel P.S. Michie, with lifeboats in the water.

The legend of cool-cat skyjacker
D.B. Cooper:
What happened?

The man calling himself Dan Cooper parachuted into legend, and 40 years later the case remains unsolved ... but there are plenty of theories.

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

The bank robber who became vice-president of the bank he robbed

After he got out of prison, Dave Tucker spent 30 years rebuilding his reputation in his hometown of Joseph, and it seems he succeeded.

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

The Rise and Fall of the House of Klux in Oregon

A slick marketing campaign and a taste for political power marked the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, which spread through Oregon like a racist virus — and then collapsed.

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.

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.

During a conjugal visit at a cheap motel, the prisoner escaped

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.

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? . 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.

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).

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.

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.

Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

McCarty Gang’s Oregon story: “Bonanza” meets “Unforgiven”

After homesteading some of the West's best cattle country, the family could have been wealthy squires like TV's Cartwright family; instead, they gave it all up for a series of outlaw enterprises that left some broke and others dead.

The bodies of Bill McCarty and his son, Fred, after they were slain in the
McCarty gang’s last bank robbery. (Image: Museum of Western

Imagine yourself as a television network executive at NBC in 1973. The bright, happy Western classic “Bonanza” is about to be canceled. In a last-ditch effort to save it from the ax, you’ve been asked to put a fresh, “western-noir” spin on the show so that it can compete with the darker TV fare that’s now in fashion — like “All in the Family” and “M*A*S*H.”

Here’s something you might come up with: Old Ben Cartwright, now that he’s built the Ponderosa Ranch to prominence, moves to Oregon with son Adam, leaving the Ponderosa to his other two sons, Hoss and Little Joe. After running the ranch for a few episodes, the boys get impatient, sell the Ponderosa and promptly burn through the money at the gambling tables in town. To support their lifestyle, the two become family-style outlaws: large-scale cattle rustlers, bank robbers and friends of the legendary outlaw Butch Cassidy.

Oh, and along the way, they move to Oregon.

Your new, “improved” Bonanza would surely not have lasted a minute in an NBC pitch meeting. But it’s the basics of the story of a famous outlaw family called McCarty, a gang of brothers and brothers-in-law that made life in eastern Oregon very lively for the first few years of the 1890s.

By the way, the McCartys were, as far as I've been able to learn, unrelated to William McCarty Jr. — a.k.a. Billy the Kid.

The McCarty family came from the gorgeous cattle country of San Juan County, Utah. The old man — Lorne Green’s Ben Cartwright character, in our rebooted “Bonanza Noir” — was a surgeon in the Confederate army during the Civil War, who became a successful cattleman in Montana before settling down there and building, with his sons, a ranch that should have made them wealthy squires.

Instead, it made the boys $35,000 and a ticket to the Outlaw Hall of Fame — and, for one of them, to a casket.

On the Outlaw Trail

One of the boys, Tom — the “Little Joe” character — hit the outlaw trail right away with his brother-in-law, Matt Warner, and soon fell in with Butch Cassidy. Several high-profile bank robberies later, Tom, Matt and Butch were outlaw royalty. They became famous as “The Invincible Three.”

Brother Bill — the “Hoss” character — became a large-scale cattle rustler. Eventually, though, he gave up the outlaw life, bought himself a spread near Baker City, and with his son Fred, tried hard to make a go of it as a legitimate rancher.

Meanwhile, Brother George — the “Adam” character — had still been under the stabilizing influence of old, respectable Dr. McCarty (“Ben Cartwright”), running cattle in Harney County near Haines. But after Dr. McCarty moved to Myrtle Point, George, too, was at loose ends, and feeling his larcenous oats. As Bill tried to make a go of his new ranch, George was trying to make a go of a mining claim a few dozen miles away, in the Wallowa Mountains mining town of Cornucopia. Neither of the two was having much luck.

The Wallowa Mountain mining town of Cornucopia, where George
McCarty’s mining claim was located. (Image: Baker County Library)

That’s probably why, when Tom and brother-in-law Matt rolled into town and asked if they’d like to get back into the family business, neither required much convincing.

Building an outlaw empire

The McCartys started by rigging Bill’s money-losing ranch — the New Bonanza, if you will — as an outlaw hideout, with secret chambers and tunnels and hollowed-out haystacks. Then Tom, his pockets still jingling with the proceeds of his robberies with Butch Cassidy, went out and started buying remote pieces of property around the area that the gang could use as hideouts and staging spots for rustled cattle.

Meanwhile, the rest of the gang was coming together, a group of wives, sisters, nephews and cousins, all tied together by blood and kinship. Those ties would make the McCarty gang very strong. They would also lead directly to its ultimate destruction.

A bank-robbing Bonanza

The gang’s first hit was the Wallowa National Bank in Enterprise. It was a textbook bank job. They put on homemade horsehair beards to hide their faces without wearing masks — masks, of course, would draw suspicion. Tom stood guard by the door, keeping customers from coming in; Bill and Matt strolled into the bank and stuck a six-shooter in the teller’s face. They got out before the townspeople knew what was happening.

This last item was critical: Eastern Oregon was famously hostile to bank robbers, and five minutes could mean the difference between a clean getaway and a running, unwinnable gun battle on Main Street with 50 or 60 angry depositors behind Winchesters borrowed from the local hardware store. The McCartys would eventually learn this lesson the hard way.

In the meantime, though, they were on to a string of successful stick-ups. A few weeks later, they jacked up the Summerville bank at 9 p.m., taking advantage of the cover of darkness. This heist went even more smoothly, and netted them a full $5,000.

An attempt to rob the wealthy patrons of the Hotel Warshauer in Baker City didn’t go so well. In the middle of the operation, a cop saw Tom and Matt in an alley looking scruffy in their horsehair beards and tried to arrest them for vagrancy. Matt clobbered him with his rifle and they all ran for it, empty-handed.

An attempted train robbery ended with even more embarrassment. They piled a bunch of debris on the tracks and lurked, waiting for the train to stop so that they could rob it; but the engineer, who was clearly no greenhorn, knew immediately what was going on and opened up the throttle wide — risking a high-speed derailment because he knew there were men with guns waiting in the bushes.

He won the bet. The cow catcher cleared the junk and the train disappeared around the next bend as the four disappointed bandits watched, coughing on its coal smoke.

The gang’s end

Oregon was getting too hot for comfort, so the gang moved up to the Washington Territory and pulled a string of heists up there — successfully knocking over banks in Wenatchee and Roslyn and nearly getting caught and shot trying to rob a circus. But then Matt’s sister-in-law came to stay with them, and, convinced their lifestyle wasn’t good for her sister (Matt’s wife), ratted them all out. Matt and George were arrested, and their lawyer got them sprung but then cleaned out their entire stash — $41,000 — as his legal fee.

After that, the gang decided the Northwest was too hot for them, and they headed to Colorado — for one last bank job, on Sept. 3, 1893, in Delta.

During this heist, one of the boys shot the teller in the head, murdering him. Alerted by the gunfire, the town started rallying, and by the time the robbers left the bank, the local hardware store owner was ready for them with his .44 Sharps rifle. As they galloped out of town, he picked off Bill (in our “Bonanza” reboot, that’s Hoss) and his son Fred. Both were dead before they hit the dirt. (The newspapers said Fred was shot first, and then Bill was picked off when he rode back to try to get his body.)

The others got away. But after that disaster, the McCartys never rode again.

(Sources: Kelly, Charles. The Outlaw Trail: A History of Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch. Lincoln, Neb.: UN Press, 1938; www.rockincherokee.com/TheWildBunch.htm; Yuskavitch, Jim. Outlaw Tales of Oregon. Guilford, Conn.: TwoDot, 2012)

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