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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Actor Justus Barnes takes a shot straight into the camera at the end of a 10-minute silent Edison Films production called 'The Great Train Robbery,' the filming of which started in November 1903 – two months after Bill Miner’s gang tried to rob the train just outside Portland. It’s hard to miss the similarity between Barnes’ character and Bill Miner.

How Bill Miner learned to rob trains ... he learned the hard way.

But his botched Portland job appears to have inspired an iconic 1903 movie called 'The Great Train Robbery' a month or two later. Maybe he even watched it later ... in prison.

A scene from the Disney movie "Saludos Amigos" (1943), a sort of cartoon-character tour of South America. This scene is from the Argentina part, with Goofy dressed as a gaucho. In this cartoon and most others, Goofy was voiced by Pinto Colvig.

Goofy was from Oregon. Also Bluto, Grumpy, Sleepy, Bozo, dozens more.

Vance "Pinto" Colvig, from Jacksonville, was a pioneer in animated cartoons and a gifted show-biz man.

Earle Leonard Nelson, a.k.a. The Dark Strangler, as he looked a week or two before his execution in Canada. Nelson's hanging ended a cross-country and international murdering spree in which he murdered dozens of women.

When the 'Dark Strangler' preyed on Portland landladies

His M.O. was simple: While a woman was showing him a room or house for rent, he'd strangle her, take her jewelry and flee.

A breathless headline that appeared in the Portland Morning Oregonian after Lulu Reynolds revealed her clandestine lover's guilt in a particularly dramatic and creepy way.

The tawdriest love triangle in the history of the universe.

Lulu Reynolds was having a torrid affair with her music teacher. Her husband carried a .38 in his jacket pocket. It wasn't the kind of thing that ends well. It didn't.

A screen capture from an episode of ABC's legendary 1970s show "Happy Days." Because the show is set in 1950s Milwaukee, Wisc., "The Fonz" is actually breaking the law in this scene; pinball was outlawed in Milwaukee at the time.

Graft, corruption, racketeering, and ... uh, pinball?

Until just a few dozen years ago, pinball was illegal, and the mobbed-up characters who supplied the games played for keeps.

The front cover of the May 1946 issue of 44 Western Magazine shows a scene vaguely reminiscent of the downtown gunfight between feuding newspaper editors in 1871 Roseburg.

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.

An artist's sketch of what D.B. Cooper may have looked like, from an FBI bulletin sent out shortly after the skyjacking.

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 front cover art of "For Men Only" Magazine showed a scene that bore some resemblance to the scene on the day Dave Tucker robbed the bank of which  he would, 32 years later, be named Vice-President.

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.

A detail from the movie poster for the 1915 racist move 'Birth of a Nation,' which inspired and propelled the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the years just after the Great War.

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.

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.

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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.

Is this the face of oregon's first serial killer?

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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).

Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

The game of Faro was a
crooked gambler's dream

Frontier Oregon's favorite game of chance was a “banking” game that's little played today. That's because the only way to make money as a faro banker is to cheat ... and cheat they did.

This drawing shows a famous card game in 1888, when a group of
professional crooked gamblers pounced on one of their party, P.J.
Kepplinger, after realizing he had a new and highly effective device
for cheating. After Kepplinger agreed to make one of his devices for
each of his captors, they all got back to playing cards as normal;
today this device, known as a “Kepplinger holdout,” is one of the
most sought-after cheating devices for modern collectors of such
artifacts. (Image: John Maskelyne)

One November day in 1892, in downtown Portland, a “fast” young man named J.P. Cochran stepped off a passenger train from St. Louis, Missouri.

J.P. was the dashing 22-year-old son of a railroad executive. In St. Louis, he’d been running amok in the saloons and “faro banks,” getting into lots of high-spirited trouble with fast women and irresponsible friends. His father, wanting to get him away from the company he was keeping, had come up with a scheme to send him off to what he no doubt considered the most sober, hardworking, Little-House-on-the-Prairie-like place on Earth: Oregon.

So he pulled a string or two, got the young rake a job as a sales rep for Hammer Paint Company, and loaded him on a train to Portland.

Had J.P.’s father known what awaited his boy in the City of Roses, he would sooner have delivered him directly to the penitentiary – where he very nearly ended up anyway.

Upon arrival, young J.P. checked into the posh and brand-new Portland Hotel, pulled on his kid gloves, donned his silk hat and immediately headed out in search of a good saloon where he could play his favorite game of chance: Faro.

As you can well imagine, he found one soon enough.

Within a week, Portland’s crooked gambling pros had thoroughly “fleeced the darling tenderfoot,” as the Portland Evening Telegram put it. J.P.’s was a textbook fleecing, with the dealers allowing him to enjoy the usual run of early success to set the hook, then reeling him in with an uneven but prodigious string of carefully engineered losses, until he was flat broke, and then sending him on his way.

A faro game in progress in Reno in 1913. The dealer is the fellow in the
center at the back of the table, and the lookout is the man in the bow tie to
the right of the picture. The stacks of poker-chip-like things are “faro
checks.” (Image: Library of Congress)

That’s when young J.P. crossed the line that would lead to a very close brush with a prison sentence. Desperate to win his money back and blissfully unaware of the fact that the game was rigged, he found a railroad executive, dropped his father’s name and persuaded the poor fellow to cash a draft against the Hammer Paint Company’s bank account.

That got him back to the tables for another round of financial drubbing. Then, when that money had all been swindled away, he did it again with another Portland businessman, and another.

But by that time, the first check had bounced, and a detective was out looking for Cochran – and he knew just where to find him. The young fellow was found sitting at a faro table, bareheaded and coatless in the grim December weather; he’d pawned his silk hat and frock coat for a few extra dollars to gamble with. All he had left in the world were the clothes on his back and $15 worth of faro checks (like poker chips) on the table in front of him.

He was taken directly to jail.

A faro game in progress in Las Vegas in 1940. The man in the visor is
the dealer; the man in the black Homberg hat is one of the gamblers;
and the man standing behind them is the “lookout,” whose job it is
to make sure the dealer isn’t cheating. Skilled faro dealers all knew
how to cheat without the lookout spotting it. (Image: Library of

When he heard what had happened, Old Man Cochran dropped everything and raced for Portland to save his son from the penitentiary. He had to do some very fancy legal footwork to do that. After all, the young rake had swindled three different people out of large sums of money.

It had all been a terrible misunderstanding, he assured the prosecuting attorney. The president of Hammer Paint had been marooned on a Caribbean island, out of contact with the world, and therefore unable to get word to his employees that young J.P. was authorized to play cards with the company’s money. (Seriously, this really was Cochran's story.)

“I am convinced my son had no idea of swindling anyone, because he supposed his drafts would be honored,” the elder Cochran told a reporter from the Portland Evening Telegram.

Whether the prosecutor bought this whopper or not is impossible to say, but he did decide not to press charges, and J.P.’s father was allowed to collect his son and slink out of town on the very next eastbound train.

“I am not at all sorry he was arrested,” the elder Cochran told the reporter as they left the courthouse. “In fact, I rejoice that he was put in jail, where I had a notion of permitting him to remain for a while longer. He has been taught a severe lesson, and a good one.”

“Yes I have, Father, and I shall profit by it, too,” J.P. chimed in penitently.

And with that, off they went.

Crooked gambler’s paradise

J.P. Cochran’s was not an isolated case. In the last two decades of the 19th century, Portland was something like a Venus flytrap for fellows like him. For a certain kind of person, the town was like one big sucker-milking machine.

The saloons and gambling dens of Portland offered dozens of games through which fools could be separated from gold. But the hands-down favorite in Portland and across the West in general, was J.P. Cochran’s favorite game – faro.

Cheating at faro

Faro was a crooked gambler’s dream game. This game, reputedly of Italian origin, involves a dealer pulling cards two at a time out of a specially-built dealing box.

There were so many ways to cheat at faro, and they were so hard to detect, that around the turn of the century a frank and explicit warning was added to Hoyle’s rulebook to the effect that all faro games should be considered crooked.

“If Faro were honestly played, it would be one of the prettiest banking games in the world,” wrote Hoyle’s editor Robert Foster, in the 1909 edition. “But unfortunately the money to be made at this game is so great that the richest prizes in the gambling world are offered to the men who can so handle the cards as to “protect the money of the house.”

To do so, faro dealers used special “gaffed” dealing boxes, elaborately and intricately built to cheat the players and all but undetectable in use. Author John Maskelyne, in his book, goes into great detail about how these boxes are built and how they work.

But in a way, the widespread cheating was understandable. That’s because faro offers such a slim “house edge” that for a gambling establishment, running a “square game” is not only unprofitable, but dangerous. Faro is only profitable if you cheat, and if you don’t cheat, it’s statistically possible for a lucky player to go on a bank-breaking run and put you right out of business.

That’s why, although it was the most popular game of chance in the late 1800s, it’s almost impossible to find a game in the highly regulated gaming environment of Las Vegas today.

But in the gambling houses of late 1890s Oregon, there was no regulation, and gamblers were on their own to figure out if a saloon was crooked or straight. No one – except maybe an expert faro dealer – could spot a well-built gaffed box in operation. So at the faro table, any gambler was simply at the mercy of the dealer.

For young J.P. Cochran, back in St. Louis where the dealers all knew who he was, that had worked in his favor. They could, and almost certainly did, cheat just enough to take more money than they gave up, so that he would come back night after night trying to get ahead – literally using their cheating power to protect him from crushing losses so as not to discourage him from returning the next night. They knew better than to bust him down to bedrock.

But in the brand-new, wide-open city of Portland, where he was just another wealthy, cocky stranger, all those bets were off.

(Sources: Portland Evening Telegram, 12/09 and 12/15, 1892; Maskelyne, John N. Sharps and Flats: A Complete Revelation of the Secrets of Cheating. New York: Longmans, 1894; Foster, Robert. Foster’s Complete Hoyle: An Encyclopedia of Games. New York: Stokes, 1909)

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