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)
2012 articles 2012 articles About Offbeat Oregon 2012 articles 2011 articles 2010 articles 2008-2009 articles About me Store (the Finn J.D. John Centre for Crass Commercialism and Filthy Lucre)

you just might ALSO
enjoy ...

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.

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).

Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Brutal “Oregon Boot” made our state prison famous

Named after the warden who invented it, the “Gardner Shackle” eventually caused serious musculoskeletal damage; many former inmates limped for the rest of their lives as a result of habitually wearing one.

An old “Oregon Boot” shackle. The heavy iron collar is supported by the
bands attached to the heel of the shoe. (Image: Richard Nicol/ Seattle
Metropolitan Police Museum)

In 1866, Oregon State Penitentiary Warden J.C. Gardner had a problem.

The state prison had just moved to its present home, in Salem. Its old home had been in Portland, but the city didn’t really want it there — especially after an incident in the early 1860s when the state tried to save some money by subcontracting the facility out to a private operator. This solved the overcrowding problem in fine style: every single prisoner escaped.

Things would be better now that the penitentiary had a home. However, that home was just a big piece of bare land. Gardner was expected to build a prison facility on it — or, rather, have the inmates one.

And therein lay the problem. If the inmates were building the joint, they obviously would not be living in it; they’d be housed in construction shacks. And what was to keep them from simply walking away from those shacks?

Gardner’s answer would not only solve the problem for him, it would make him a nice income over the ensuing decades — and make him one of the most hated prison wardens in the nation. It was called the “Gardner Shackle,” but it was better known as the “Oregon Boot.”

A ball-and-chain with no ball and no chain

This small article ran in the August 1922 issue of Popular Science
Magazine, demonstrating that the “Oregon Boot” was still in
regular use in the early 1920s. The caption claims it weighs 50
pounds, but that figure is almost certainly a typo or a mistake; the
heaviest one used at the Oregon State Penitentiary was 28 pounds.
(Image: Popular Science)

The Oregon Boot consisted of a heavy iron or lead band that locked around the prisoner’s ankle. To this band was welded or bolted a heavy iron support strap that attached to the heel of a heavy shoe or boot. The whole contraption weighed up to 28 pounds, and it was attached to only one leg, with the result that the prisoner was perpetually off balance. The idea was kind of like how farmers deal with chickens that learn to fly the coop: clipping the wing feathers on only one side. Like barnyard birds, jailbirds found it very hard to fly when asymmetrically hobbled like that.

The solution took care of Gardner’s problem nicely, and a few years later, the prisoners were securely settled into their freshly built prison facility, behind brick walls and iron gates.

Time to take their “Oregon Boots” off, right?

Not a chance. Gardner had, over the previous months, become a believer in the boot’s effectiveness under all circumstances. Prisoners continued to hobble around their new prison, wearing the shackles even when there was no chance of them escaping.

And this was a problem, because the prisoners' "Oregon Boots" now were starting to do serious damage to their feet, ankles, knees and hips. The Gardner Shackle was kind of like a modernized version of the old ball-and-chain shackle, and was certainly had a lot to recommend it over its predecessor; it slowed an inmate down without making him effectively immobile. But with the old ball and chain, as long as a prisoner stayed in the same spot, he was mostly unaffected by its weight. The Gardner Shackle was different, and that difference was turning out to be a serious medical issue.

Nonetheless, Gardner — and many of his successors — thought that, walls or no walls, the only way to control the prisoners was to keep every single one of them booted at all times.

A cynic might suggest that Gardner was in it for the money, like an early-day Robert K. Mericle. Gardner had a patent on the boot, and the state was paying him royalties for using it. But it’s impossible to say.

(Mericle was the juvenile-detention-center owner behind the 2008 “cash-for-kids” scandal in Pennsylvania. Mericle, you may remember, bribed judges to sentence children to hard time in his facility for almost all offenses, big or small. He and the judges involved are currently doing some hard federal time for this.)

Damage from the Oregon Boot

In any case, the problems with the boots eventually became too widespread and serious to ignore. Some prisoners ended up bedridden for weeks at a time in excruciating pain. Finally, in 1878, the superintendent gave in: Thenceforth, the Oregon Boot would only be used when it was needed for disciplinary purposes or on inmates who posed a serious flight risk.

However, field law-enforcement officers loved the boot. It was far more tough to escape from a county deputy while being transported to the penitentiary if the inmate was hobbled with an Oregon boot, and there was also a stockades-style public shaming aspect to being seen in public wearing one. Many inmates en route to the pen felt the humiliation of wearing one more than the discomfort.

The art from a feature story in a 1922 edition of the Portland Morning
Oregonian, explaining the “Oregon Boot.” (Image: UO Libraries)

By the turn of the century the Gardner Shackle was one of the most popular pieces of prison equipment nationwide, and everywhere it was called the “Oregon Boot.” It certainly was used abusively in many places, and no doubt hundreds, if not thousands, of ex-cons limped for the rest of their lives as a result.

One of the more interesting aspects of the Oregon Boot’s history comes from legendary Portland shanghai artist Joseph “Bunco” Kelley, who was sent to the prison for 13 years on what he claimed was a politically motivated frame-up orchestrated by a competing shanghaiier.

Bunco was working in the prison bathhouse when the body of David Merrill was brought in. Merrill, you may remember, was the brother-in-law and partner-in-crime of Wild West outlaw Harry Tracy, and in 1902 the two of them shot their way out of the penitentiary in Oregon’s bloodiest jailbreak (before or since).

The official story of Tracy and Merrill’s escape from the pen and two-month flight from justice includes a scene on the banks of the Columbia, after Tracy supposedly learned Merrill had offered to cooperate with authorities in return for lenient treatment. Tracy, the story goes, murdered Merrill in cold blood before crossing the river into Washington alone.

Didn’t happen, Kelley says.

“I do not believe it was Merrill’s body that was brought back to the penitentiary,” he wrote. “Merrill was a smooth-skinned man, and he had a burned ankle from the time he wore the Oregon Boot two years before. There was a big scar on his ankle from the burn and the band of the boot wore a dent into the skin to the bone. Every day when he packed hot iron (in the prison foundry where he worked) the boot would cut into the flesh and bleed, and there was a hole in his ankle half an inch deep. ... Merrill is alive today, or was a year ago (meaning 1907).”

Did one of the state’s most notorious outlaws get away scot-free to start a new life? If we can believe Kelley (not always a smart thing to do), maybe so.

The Oregon Boot was still in use after the First World War, but humanitarian concerns were always an issue, and after automobiles started being used to transport prisoners instead of passenger trains, there was no real reason to use them. The last time an Oregon Boot is known to have been used on an Oregon inmate was 1939, when one was installed on a Mill City prisoner for his trip to the state pen. Today, they’re like stockades and lashes — just another memento of the bad old days.

(Sources: McAfee, Ward. “The Formation of Prison-Management Philosophy in Oregon,” Oregon Historical Quarterly, Fall 1990; Kelley, Joseph “Bunco.” Thirteen Years in the Oregon Penitentiary (1908), publisher anonymous; Rondema, Jessica. ”Oregon State Penitentiary,” Oregon Encyclopedia, oregonencyclopedia.org)

TAGS: #CRIME: #lawEnforcement :: #PLACES: #mcguffins :: #PEOPLE: #inventors #promoters #cops :: LOC: #marion