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.

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.

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

Bootlegger’s paradise: Oregon’s Prohibition adventures

Oregon went "dry" in 1914, so by the time the Volstead Act passed in 1919, Beaver State bootleggers were already seasoned professionals. So when the rest of the West Coast needed them, Oregon's "midnight entrepreneurs" were ready to roll.

A piece of vintage sheet music from the University of Oregon’s
collection: a song titled “Prohibition Blues,” written by the
legendary Nora Bayes ("Over There," "Shine On Harvest Moon,"
"How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm?") in 1919. For the
full sheet-music PDF, click here.
(Image: University of Oregon

Late in 1912, for the sixth and final time, the topic of voting rights for women was on Oregonians’ ballots. And when the votes were counted, it was a win: A fifty-two percent majority had voted for women’s suffrage.

Among those who’d voted against it, there were many motivations — some far sillier than others, but all of them pretty goofy in the light of history.

But there was a certain cadre of anti-suffrage men who, if you got them to speak frankly and off the record, would tell you, straight out, the real reason they didn’t want to give women the right to vote:


For decades, the temperance and women’s suffrage movements had been to one degree or another associated with each other. Every woman knew a friend who was helplessly saddled with a hard-drinking husband who couldn’t keep a job, trying desperately to keep the family together despite having no control.

A cartoon from Harper’s Weekly in 1872 shows the classic allegory
of an unlucky Victorian-age woman’s burden — carrying a drunken
husband on her back in addition to her several children. (Image:
OSU Libraries)

By 1912 it was almost a cliché that when women’s suffrage initiatives were defeated, suffrage activists would blame the setback on “the liquor men.” They were right. Most bar owners, brewers and distillers pulled every string they could reach to stop women from getting the vote. They knew that the instant women had electoral clout, they would use it to eliminate what many of them saw as the great social evil of their day: The bottle.

And the liquor men, in turn, were also right — in Oregon, at least. Because as soon as women got the vote, in 1912, preparations were under way for a prohibition initiative, slated to hit the books in 1914. And it passed with flying colors.

Dry Oregon

Oregon was now a “dry state.” You could still bring liquor in from out of state and consume it in the privacy of your own home, but you couldn’t buy it and you couldn’t sell it and you sure couldn’t blow your entire paycheck on it while playing faro in the corner bar before staggering home with empty pockets to your long-suffering wife.

A cartoon from Puck Magazine in the late 1800s. (Image: Library of

In the next election cycle — just two years later, in 1916 — even that loophole was closed. Oregon was now “bone dry,” and the era of bootleggers and moonshiners, of blind pigs and speakeasies, had begun.

The primary effect of early Prohibition in Oregon seems to have been to enable Oregon bootleggers to get some practice in before the federal government got involved and consequences became serious.

So when the Volstead Act passed in 1919, inaugurating nationwide Prohibition, Oregon’s midnight entrepreneurs were ready to go.

The rumrunners

Portland had always had a special mercantile relationship with Vancouver and Victoria, up in British Columbia. These two cities had, for most of the 1890s, partnered with Portland to bring most of the opium into the country to supply Chinese communities in various West Coast cities. The smuggling routes were time-tested and the smugglers were well-trained; it was just a case of bringing in a different cargo.

An especially interesting news story from the January 18, 1922
Portland Morning Oregonian announcing the capture of a 40-foot
motor launch which lost its way in the pre-dawn darkness and ran
aground at the mouth of the river while ferrying booze to Sauvie
Island from an offshore ship. Hilariously, the little motorboat is
presented as having been on a voyage from British Columbia to
San Pedro, all by itself. (Image: Portland Morning Oregonian)

The usual routine was that a small Canadian ship crammed with distilled spirits would sail south along the coastline and heave to 12 miles off the mouth of the Columbia River. From there, safely in international waters, she would rendezvous with several small, powerful launches, which would transfer as much booze as they could safely carry, cross the bar and race upriver. Once they reached a prearranged remote spot, often on Sauvie Island, they’d pull in, unload, and head back out to do it again — until the rumrunner was empty.

Then the ship would head back to B.C. to do it all over again.

This made for some frustrating times for Prohibition agents, because they couldn’t touch the big ship in international waters and the individual launches were small potatoes — and usually too fast to catch.

By the way, it’s almost certain that the Pescawah, the Canadian rumrunner caught in 1926 after it left the safety of international waters to rescue a lifeboat full of shipwrecked sailors off the mouth of the Columbia, was participating in this smuggling operation. (Here's a link to that story.)


Another very popular way to get booze in the Beaver State was by distilling it. Portland itself had some vast expanses of forested areas right inside city limits — notably the patch of unbuildable vacant land that now comprises Forest Park — and once one got over the Cascade Mountains into Eastern Oregon, there were all kinds of opportunities to be alone with a giant vat of pulped-up pears and some yeast. While the Appalachians have an enduring reputation as a bootlegger’s paradise, the region had absolutely nothing on the state of Oregon. (Here's a link to the Offbeat Oregon column about moonshiners in "Oregon's Outback.")

A fashionable young woman at a soda fountain looks playfully at
the camera as she pours moonshine from her cane-flask into her
drink, in defiance of Prohibition. (Image: Library of Congress)

But all that booze, whether made or imported, had to be poured into a glass someplace ... and that’s where Portland came in.


The ink was no sooner dry on the 1916 legislation than the Portland Police Department started mounting liquor raids. Nearly every day there would be a headline in the Morning Oregonian announcing some fresh arrest: a store caught with a whiskey barrel labeled “Heinz Pickles,” a restaurant caught serving cups of “very special” coffee, a still spotted (or, more likely, smelled) in someone’s back yard.

The cops would eagerly sally forth, collect the goods and arrest the perps. Then there might be a photo-op involving a representative of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union as a case or two of bottles was smashed or poured into the gutter. And then the rest of the booze would go into a special storeroom in the basement of the police station, there to await later disposal ... or so they claimed.

When you went to the store for a "can of Bud" in 1926, this is what
you'd get ... a can of hop-flavored syrup, which you could use to
make your own beer by simply adding water and yeast. Helpfully,
the ad offers some tips for using it to make hop-flavored candy as
well. (Image: Portland Journal)

Graft, corruption and Cutty Sark

An old Portland vice squad member, Floyd Marsh, blew the whistle on the whole thing many years later, in 1976.

What really happened was this: The booze was disposed of, all right — through City Hall. Marsh himself was tasked with hauling case after case of fine Canadian hooch down the street for Mayor George Baker and his cronies to lap up — or, for those with illicit commercial establishments, to serve up.

(You may recognize Baker as the Portland mayor whose photograph appeared in the Portland Evening Telegram with a group of other city notables and two members of the local Ku Klux Klan in 1924.)

By a few years into Prohibition, the police department had enough seized booze stashed in the basement to control prices on the streets of Portland. And it moved its inventory out through particularly favored speakeasies — the ones that ponied up for the monthly payoff.

“At least $100,000 a month was paid out in protection money to authorities of Multnomah County and the City of Portland,” Marsh wrote.

Marsh particularly remembered being ordered to haul several cases of Scotch up to Mount Hood, where a City Councilor had a summer home. He was rather nervous about this assignment, because he was pretty sure if a county sheriff’s deputy or federal agent caught him with a carful of booze, claiming he was transporting it on city business might not fly, and he could end up in prison.

After Prohibition went into effect, some drugstores managed to get around
it for a little while by selling “medical” booze. This loophole was quickly
closed, but not before it generated some amusing advertising campaigns,
like this one from a drugstore in The Dalles. (Image: Wasco County
Historical Society)

Marsh didn’t seem to have much of a problem with flouting the laws of prohibition in general. What drove him to finally quit the department was the unfairness he saw. While the well connected, wealthy outfits downtown could pony up protection money and operate with impunity, private citizens were getting sent up the river. The one that finally did it for him was an Italian widow caught with a small keg of homemade wine that she’d made from her own grapes, Old Country-style. When she was vigorously prosecuted for it, he decided he was done.

(Sources: Lansing, Jewel. Portland: People, politics and power. Corvallis: OSU Press, 2002; MacColl, E. Kimbark. The Growth of a City. Portland: Georgian Press, 1979; Donnelly, Robert C. Dark Rose: Organized Crime and Corruption in Portland. Seattle: UW Press, 2011.)

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