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 Roseburg "newspaper war" that was settled with a gunfight

The owners of rival papers escalated their war of words when they went for pistols on a downtown street one morning in 1871.

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.

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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.

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.

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

Oregon’s Harry Lane: A real hero of the First World War

As his countrymen and colleagues succumbed to the enthusiasm and propaganda for joining the conflict, only Senator Lane and a handful of other lawmakers kept their wits. But Lane paid dearly for his commitment to sanity.

Dr. Harry Lane as he appeared at the age of about 60, when he was
a U.S. Senator. (Image: Library of Congress)

Many historians, when asked to cite the single biggest and most far-reaching government misstep in American history, will immediately start talking about the First World War.  

By getting involved with that conflict — subtly at first, by lending money to the Allies, and later directly with American boots on French soil — we made it possible for one side to crush the other and impose its will, rather than simply fighting to an impasse and being forced to negotiate peace. The world is still trying to recover from the aftershocks of that — particularly in the Middle East.

Such historians smile a bit when the topic of Oregon Senator Harry Lane comes up. Lane was one of a tiny handful of federal legislators who, for reasons of principle or partisanship, fought as hard as they could to prevent President Woodrow Wilson from taking the country into the fight.

It’s a small smile, though. Because Lane paid a heavy price for that.

Dr. Harry Lane, political reformer

Harry Lane was a well-known and respected Oregon politician, a medical doctor by profession, born in Corvallis, the grandson of the first territorial governor of Oregon. He’d been mayor of Portland just after the turn of the century, and had established a reputation as a man of principle — the worst enemy of the corrupt politicians, cops and shanghai artists that were virtually running the city when he arrived. Although he didn’t leave much of a long-term impact on those forces of corruption, he was able to suppress them during his two terms of office — long enough to put on a spectacular show at the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition, at any rate — and today he’s remembered as the father of the Rose Festival.

He also had a strong reputation as a supporter of women’s suffrage and an advocate for more respectful treatment of the remaining Native American tribes in the state.

He was also firmly opposed to any American involvement in the brewing conflict in Europe. And by early 1917, he was growing increasingly alarmed by Wilson’s steps toward war.

Dr. Woodrow Wilson, secret war hawk

Wilson had won re-election just a few months earlier in spite of his party’s underdog status at the time, largely on the strength of the slogan, “He Kept Us Out of War.” The war referred to was primarily one with Mexico — the revolution that made Pancho Villa famous was playing out very messily at the time, and there was a certain pressure for the U.S. to get involved — but, of course, war was war. Senator Lane, from deep inside the Capitol, would have been able to clearly see Wilson’s growing enthusiasm for direct American intervention in the war in Europe. The hypocrisy of running for re-election on a platform of implied commitment to peace while quietly gathering forces to take the nation to war (after the election was safely won, of course) was not lost on him.

So when, two months into his next term and after several months of steady war-drum beating, Wilson asked Congress to let him arm American merchant ships, Lane and a few other like-minded senators (most notably Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin) threatened to stop it with a filibuster. They told the White House they were willing to go along with the plan if one little change were made in it: They wanted those American ships to stop carrying munitions to sell to the Allies. And they wanted that written into the law: Arm the merchant ships, fine — but no more guns and bullets would cross the sea until after peace was achieved.

Well, of course, that was not at all what the White House had in mind. The word that came back surprised nobody: No deal.

So in early March, Lane and his colleagues filibustered — a good old-fashioned talking filibuster, a la Rand Paul or Wendy Davis — and the bill died a-borning.

Wilson lashes out

Wilson was furious. He lashed out at Lane and his colleagues personally, calling them a “little group of willful men, representing no opinion but their own” that had “rendered the great government of the United States helpless and contemptible.”

Lane was shocked by the animosity this stand earned him, both in Washington, D.C., and back home in Oregon. Hate-mail started pouring into his office. The Portland Morning Oregonian — a Republican organ at the time, and no friend to Democrat Lane under any circumstances — wrote an editorial that essentially apologized to the nation, on behalf of every Oregon voter, for having sent Lane to Washington. A recall movement was launched, and started growing.

The vote

A month later, Wilson got the pretext he needed to take the country to war when a bungling German diplomat named Zimmerman used British undersea cables to telegraph a proposal for an anti-U.S. alliance to the Mexican government. The British, of course, promptly leaked it, and Wilson was soon before Congress asking for a declaration of war.

Lane was, by this time in his life, a very sick man. He had painful chronic kidney disease and advanced heart disease on top of it, and the stress of the hate-storm swirling around him following his filibuster had exacerbated his health problems. His physician urged him to stay home and rest in bed. But Lane was adamant. He would go to the Senate floor and he would vote against entering the war.

And so he did. Just six Senators voted “no,” and he was one of them.

Seven weeks later, on his way home to Oregon, he suffered a paralytic stroke and died.

"He paid for his choice with his life."

The Oregon Journal, upon his death, may have wanted to eulogize the intransigent pacifist — but a month and a half into the war, an increasingly pro-war public was in no mood for anything like that. So the paper contented itself with a short and poignant message:

“He paid for his choice with his life.”

And perhaps he did. The stress of all the animosity his principled stand earned him weighed heavily on him, according to his friends’ recollections. It may not have actually killed him, but most of them thought it did.

Sometimes history’s heroes are neither successful nor survivors. Sometimes they’re the men and women who take up lost causes because their ethics leave them no choice. Like the ship captain who refuses to “fall into the lifeboat,” they’re forced to choose between a hopeless fight against a rising tide of evil, and becoming a part of that evil, and they make the hard choice instead of the easy one. Such a man was Harry Lane, and Oregon should be very proud to claim him.

(Sources: MacColl, E. Kimbark. The Growth of a City. Portland: Georgian Press, 1976; Marsh, Tom. To the Promised Land. Corvallis: OSU Press, 2012; Fleming, Thomas J. The Illusion of Victory. New York: Basic Books, 2003)

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