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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A bad batch of 'Dehorn' alcohol killed 28 hobos

Skid Road alcoholics knew denatured alcohol might make you sick, but it wouldn't kill you. Until one day, it did.

A vintage movie poster for Buster Keaton’s “The General,” a 1926  silent movie shot, in part, near Cottage Grove. (Image: United Artists)

Iconic movies shot in Oregon

A three-part series covering 16 of the most influential Oregon films, from 1908 to 1989.

An illustration of a group of smugglers bringing opium and illegal Chinese immigrants into Oregon, from a 1889 issue of Portland-based magazine The West Shore. (Image: UO Libraries)

The forgotten world of urban opium dens

A century ago, the drug's mysterious, smoky allure held society spellbound. And Portland was the West Coast's main supply point.

The fully restored PT-658 as seen from the sidewalk on the Hawthorne Bridge during the 2011 Rose Festival. On this occasion, the PT-658 inadvertently intruded into the dragonboat races, which were then in progress, and quickly retreated back downriver – but not before giving the dragonboat-racing spectators on the bridge a spectacular view of its deck armaments. (Image: F.J.D. John)

The world's only working PT boat is docked in Portland

The PT-658 is among the last of its kind, and it's the only one that still goes out on the water.

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.

Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Atlantis in the Beaver State: The underwater Lost Cities of Oregon

The rising waters of lakes and reservoirs have submerged many budding Oregon metropolises over the years, from tiny one-horse towns to an entire Native American homeland.

Postmistress and Robinette Store owner Francis Carrithers with her
daughter, Diane, and their dog, Tojo, in front of the family store in the
early 1950s. (Image: Baker County Library)

Since well before the time of Plato’s story of Atlantis, storytellers all over the world have had a special fondness for legends of cities and civilizations that, at the peak of their prowess, were suddenly lost beneath the waves of the sea, leaving only a misty legend and maybe — if a diver knows just where to look — maybe some ghostly underwater ruins.

Well, Oregon certainly can’t claim to be hiding the lost continent of Lemuria or the lost city of Atlantis beneath the placid surface of Fall Creek Reservoir or something like that. But in the mid-20th century, when dams were built all over the state to create hydroelectric power and tame the unruly and flood-happy rivers, the lakes that formed behind them did cover up some thriving Oregon towns. By taking a few liberties with the dictionary definition of “city,” we can, with a more or less straight face, dub these vanished communities the “Lost Cities of Oregon.” And one of them, in particular, almost qualifies for real as a “lost civilization.”

Here are a few of them:

Klamath Junction

In the late 1950s, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation got to work on a dam project on Emigrant Creek, a few miles south of Ashand. There was already a dam on the creek, a 110-foot-high structure built by the Talent Irrigation District in 1924, which backed up a tidy little irrigation-and-water-supply reservoir there; next to the reservoir stood the little town of Klamath Junction, with two gas stations, a dance hall, some homes and a cemetery.

In 1960, the Bureau had finished its work, and a new 204-foot dam stood where the old 110-footer had stood, and the waters of Emigrant Creek were slowly filling the new impoundment — and lapping at the foundation walls of the now-abandoned town of Klamath Junction.

Today, if you know where to dive, you can actually look around the ruins of the Lost City of Klamath Junction. One young snorkeler reported seeing a gumball machine at an old gas station — although what she was looking at was more likely a glass-topped Esso gas pump. (It should go without saying that exploring underwater structures is extremely dangerous. Don’t do that.)


The busy industrial town of Robinette, on the banks of the Snake River, in
the mid-1950s. (Image: Baker County Library)

The town of Robinette, out near Baker City, was originally intended to be a big railroad facility, and although it never reached big-town levels, it was regionally pretty important. By the 1920s, it was the terminus of the railroad line, so that’s where area farmers and producers had to bring their goods to access the rail network. It boasted a general store, a train depot, a schoolhouse, and several residences, along with a hotel. It also was, at various times, home of several different timber-industry facilities and even a Standard Oil plant.

All of this vanished beneath the waves of Brownlee Reservoir in 1958 after the Idaho Power Company built a 420-foot dam with power station on the Snake River there.

Lookout Point reservoir: A lost Suburbia   

Along the Middle Fork Willamette River, midway between Eugene and Oakridge, once lay a collection of small towns and communities that were destined to become Lost Cities. They included Landax, Eula, Lawler, Signal, Reserve and Carter.

Landax and Eula were probably the biggest of these towns; both had their own grade schools until 1940, when they were consolidated at Lowell.

The towns’ last days in the sun came in the early 1950s, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed Lookout Point Dam. One source says the towns were all razed before the flooding, which is certainly possible, since everything would have been made of wood and probably floated off if allowed to do so; but there almost certainly were a few cement structures too, and beneath the waters of Lookout Point Lake, those structures are still there — although probably covered with silt by now.

These little hamlets are like all the other towns that have slipped beneath the waves of reservoirs and lakes in Oregon, except maybe Robinette — tiny, unimportant, ill-remembered, largely unlamented. There is, however, one that was none of these things. Its story is one that, in many ways, comes close to the legend of Atlantis — uncomfortably close.

Celilo: A lost nation

Part of the Indian village at Celilo Falls, as it appeared in 1915 or so.
(Image: Columbia Gorge Discovery Center)

The story of the sacrifice of Celilo Falls, one of the great natural wonders of Oregon, to a growing nation’s thirst for hydroelectric power, is a story that’s been told well and thoroughly many times (including here in an Offbeat Oregon column). As is always reported, the flooding of the falls removed the local Native Americans’ fishing grounds, and with it a key part of their culture. One thing that’s often not mentioned, though, is the loss of their actual homeland.

When Celilo Lake rose and flooded the lands around the falls, it basically rendered the local Indians homeless, flooding their village as well as the ancestral land on which they lived.

After it was flooded out, Celilo Village was relocated, sort of — but no, not really. Actually, it was replaced — replaced with a brand-new compound built at minimal expense near the edge of the lake that covered what had once been their land.

Celilo Falls with some of the Native American buildings and campsites in
the foreground, photographed in 1903. The more permanent structures
were located further up the riverbank, in locations less susceptible to
seasonal flooding. (Image: Moorhouse/ UO Libraries)

Other towns that were moved to make way for reservoir impoundments, such as Lowell, were conserved as much as possible; houses were moved or their owners were paid off, and the new town grew as the old town had done. The new Celilo Village, though, was built for the Indians by the Army Corps of Engineers at the behest of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The result was something that looked a lot less like home than the old village. In fact, it more resembled a prison or a military base. It was cut off from the river by the highway and the railroad, both of which it was quite close to. Not surprisingly, it soon got to looking very ramshackle indeed.

In 2006 residents got some much-needed improvements to the village courtesy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — in particular, a great new longhouse, along with some improvements to the water and sewer systems (all served up with some appallingly tone-deaf grumbling from certain BIA officials, who seemed to feel the reason the village was so awful was that the Indians didn’t take enough pride in their residences there.)

But if you were to ask the residents, most of them — those old enough to remember — would tell you they’d trade it all in a heartbeat for their old village, now seemingly lost forever under the placid surface of someone else’s lake.

(Sources: McArthur, Lewis A. Oregon Geographic Names. Portland: OHS Press, 1992; Medford Mail Tribune, 23 Aug 2012; Silver, Jon. “Tiny tribal village ...,” Daily Journal of Commerce, 21 Sep 2006; ci.lowell.or.us)