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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The second pressing of The Kingsmen's "Louie Louie" record, on the Wand label. This bodgey, lo-fi monophonic recording, with its inscrutable lyrics and driving yet languid style, got thousands of parents worried about possible obscene lyrics, and was even banned in Illinois.

Bad recording job led to an F.B.I. investigation for Portland band

No one could understand the lyrics in The Kingsmen's recording of 'Louie Louie," but many tried ... and some of them had rather dirty minds.

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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Early Oregon 'holy roller' cult ended in murder, suicide, insanity

THE holy-roller "NAKED LADIES' CULT" IN CORVALLIS and waldport.

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Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Legendary hell-raising rustler Hank Vaughan: The early years

Quick to make both friends and enemies, Oregon's most famous frontier cowboy and almost-outlaw was a gifted horseman and rustler. But his hard-drinking, quick-shooting ways nearly got him lynched as a teen.

Hank Vaughan in his Sunday best, posing for a portrait photo when
he was roughly 30 years of age. Vaughan favored the Prince Albert-
style coat because it hung down far enough to conceal his pistols.
(Image: Sophia Riede/ Reflections Publishing)

Crime, they say, does not pay.

Yet it’s pretty easy to look back through history and find examples of a certain kind of criminal for whom it did, handsomely, and for decades. With charisma, moxie and a seemingly endless supply of good luck, these characters sometimes even manage to cheat karma and die a natural death. And somehow, after these criminals are gone, people remember them with a kind of fascinated fondness, and say things like, “well, we’ll never see another like that again.”

The second half of the 19th century saw such a man in a larger-than-life Wild West character named Hank Vaughan.

Hank Vaughan is remembered by folks who met him sober as a slender, wiry fellow with a sober look, a full set of whiskers and a Prince Albert-style coat, very affable and charming, but with gray-blue eyes that seemed to hold you. Most people liked him, even if they were a little afraid of him.

Others didn’t like him much at all — especially the owners of the horses and cattle that would reliably vanish when he came around their herds. Hank was, for most of his life, a horse thief and a rustler — possibly the most successful rustler in the history of the Old West.

And then there were the folks who met Hank when he was drunk. Some of these didn’t survive the experience. Hank Vaughan was in at least a dozen gunfights in his life. There are old saloon buildings in The Dalles, Pendleton and Athena that still have .45-caliber slugs embedded in their woodwork from his Colts, and gouges on their floors from his horse’s hooves.

Historian Noah Brown, a former employee at The Umpqua House saloon in The Dalles, describes a typical scene from Vaughan’s heyday — as quoted in Jon and Donna Skovlin’s excellent biography of this “hell-raising horse trader”:

“On (Vaughan) entering the saloon drinks were ordered for the house,” he writes. “Needless to say a crowd ambled up to the mahogany and foot rail in the sampling of Old Crow until the room was full to overflowing. It was not a great while until nearly every individual was in the same fix … A shot fired from a six-shooter in a frolicksome way pierced a hole through a back-bar mirror. Tabs were kept on all drinks, damage to furniture, incidental expenses added and by the next evening those typical early-day Western trailblazers and pioneer characters … paid … the full lucre for their gentlemanly tete-a-tete of their own liking in the year of 1881.”

In riotous barroom scenes like this, Vaughan was first among equals. He was a fun if dangerous friend, happy-go-lucky and fearless in any kind of fight. His skills as a horseman were legendary, and he could drive nails with a pistol from 20 yards away. But if you were a horse rancher or a cattle drover, he was the last guy you wanted to see.

An Oregon native son

Hank Vaughan was born in 1849 near Brownsville, in the Willamette Valley. He was one of the very first babies born in the old Oregon territory — although some historians would later try to claim he was really from Missouri, motivated apparently by a desire to keep the Beaver State’s reputation free of the stigma of having produced such a rascal.

Canyon City as it appeared from a nearby bluff in 1885. This was the town
in which, 20 years earlier, Hank Vaughan got in his first serious trouble
with the law after he shot two people – one for calling him a thief, and the
other for signing an arrest warrant. (Image: Baker County Library)

Hank’s family moved to Canyon City when he was about 12 or 13. By age 15 he was an active horse trader with a chip on his shoulder and a pistol on his hip — with which, that very year, he made his first attempt to kill somebody. A customer named William Headspot, to whom Hank had been foolish enough to sell a horse on credit, tried to buffalo the boy by jeering at him and claiming the horse he’d bought from him was stolen. (It probably wasn’t, but it might have been.) Hank, incensed by the insult, pulled his Colt and used it to carve a bullet-shaped furrow across Headspot’s scalp; half an inch lower, and Hank would have been facing a murder rap.

He was arrested and charged, but he didn’t really face much risk of being convicted because of Headspot’s behavior. However, a few months later, free on bond, Hank saw the man who’d signed the arrest complaint walking into a saloon in which he was drinking. Out came the six-shooter again ....

The wound Hank inflicted on his antagonist with his pistol doesn’t seem to have been very serious, but now Hank’s situation was. It was one thing to reply to an insult with gunfire; the Canyon City miners and cowboys didn’t approve of that, but they understood, and most of them figured Headspot had had it coming. But to retaliate in semi-cold blood against a man for doing his duty as a citizen was entirely different. Had Hank’s aim been better, he almost certainly would have been lynched that day.

As it was, he spent four months in jail, at the end of which he copped a plea: A one-dollar fine and an agreement to join the First Oregon Volunteer Infantry.

That lasted just a few months. Six weeks after Hank mustered in, the Army spat him out. He left with a dishonorable discharge, but it saved him from the state pen and left him free to get back to the business that was already clearly his forte:

Horse theft.

The shootout with the sheriff

It was just three months after Hank left the Army that he and a friend, Dick Bunton, traveled to the foothills of the Blue Mountains, stole a few good horses from a ranch there, and headed for Idaho Territory with them.

But Umatilla County Sheriff Frank Maddock and Deputy Jackson Hart were hot on their trail. The two lawmen got the drop on them one night while they were camping by Swayze Creek near the Burnt River, close by the Idaho border. And when the two lawmen slipped up to the sleeping boys and yelled for them to throw up their hands, they both woke up shooting.

The ensuing gunfight was short, but very eventful. Deputy Hart was killed on the spot. So was Hank's companion, Dick Bunton. Sheriff Maddock was wounded badly, a bullet actually passing through his skull and breaking his jaw and wrecking his inner ear, and knocked unconscious. And Hank was hit in the thigh and scalp.

Howard A. Black, the curator of the Grant County Museum in
Canyon City, shows the skull of murderer Berry Way, hanged for
murder near Canyon City in 1864 – the same year hot-tempered
15-year-old Hank Vaughan shot two people in Canyon City. Had
Hank’s aim been better, this would likely have been his fate as well.
(Image: Ben Maxwell/ Salem Public Library)

It's hard to stay on the lam with a bullet in your leg, so Hank was soon captured. Dragged back to the notoriously rope-happy town of Auburn to stand trial, Hank was nearly lynched by an angry crowd, and had it not been for the intervention of future U.S. Rep. John Hailey — who stood between the crowd and the jail with a cocked Colt in each fist until they gave up and dispersed — that would have been the end for Hank.

The sentence: Life in prison

The trial was fast and the outcome not much in doubt. The Dalles Weekly Mountaineer reported its outcome on June 16, 1865:

“Henry Vaughan, the boy thief and murderer, arrived at The Dalles yesterday in custody of an officer on his way to the penitentiary, where he is to pass the remainder of his life. This fellow is a youth … yet he is steeped in crime, and regarded as one of the worst villains that ever cursed the country. It is to be hoped that he is not permitted to escape, as in the event of his return to this county he is sure to be hung.”

And so to prison Hank went. He was under a life sentence, but he would only serve five years. Some historians have claimed that prison turned him from a wild but good-hearted boy into a hard-eyed monster, which is a fairly common pattern in such cases. However, the Hank Vaughan that emerged from prison seems to have been less dangerous rather than more. He definitely was more successful in his rustling endeavors after he got out. And while he certainly had his enemies and got in his share of gunfights and scrapes with the law, the post-prison Hank Vaughan seemed to have developed an ability to fit into and even dominate frontier social life. He’d never face a lynch mob again — because he’d learned how to get what he wanted from society without getting identified as a deadly threat.

Prison seems to have given Hank the discipline and social skills he’d need to survive and thrive in the 1870s and 1880s on the Oregon frontier. We’ll talk about how that went next week, in Part 2 of this 3-part series on Hank Vaughan.

(Sources: Skovlin, Jon and Donna. Hank Vaughan: Hell-Raising Horse Trader of the Bunchgrass Territory. Cove, Ore.: Reflections, 1996; Gulick, Bill. Outlaws of the Pacific Northwest. Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton, 2000)

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