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)
Link to Web site for Wicked Portland: The Wild and Lusty Underworld of a Frontier Seaport Town z

story of shipwreck


The story of Capt. Riley's wreck on Africa's "Skeleton Coast" is covered in a recent nonfiction book by Dean King. To read an excerpt, click here.


Here's a link to the original of what I think "Riley's African Shipwrecks" refers to. It was published in 1817, so you can download the whole book as a PDF or EPUB if you like.

you just might ALSO
enjoy ...


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 ...


Far-out guru "enlightens" Central Oregon.

What happens when a colony of acolytes of an East Indian guru move in, then try to take over Wasco County? Check out the four-part story of the rise and fall of Rajneeshpuram ...


this oregon youth went on to save half a billion lives...guess who?

A local Willamette Valley teen-ager named Bert Hoover, an orphan sent from Iowa to live with his uncle, went on to save millions of lives and become a singularly ill-starred U.S. president.


oregon's most spectacular shipwreck ever.

The steam schooner J. Marhoffer was almost brand-new when, burning fiercely from stem to stern, it piled onto the rocks near Depoe Bay. It's the remains of this fiery shipwreck that gave Boiler Bay its name ...


the gallant rescue of portland's floating brothel.

Maritime madam Nancy Boggs kept her bordello on a barge floating in the river, until a police raid cut it loose. But the captain and crew of a sternwheeler came to save the day. Here's the story.


take off to the province of oregon, eh?

Few people know how close Oregon came to officially becoming a British possession under the treaty that ended the War of 1812. Only the presence of a handful of scattered, starving survivors from Astor's fur enterprise prevented it. Here's how.


timberline lodge could have been a glass skyscraper

Calling the plan a "profit-making eyesore," a Forest Service manager nixed 1920s plan for a modern steel-and-glass structure with an aerial tramway. You can read about it right here.


pixieland: an edgy, vanished amusement park

Built in the late 1960s as a "fairy-tale history of Oregon," the amusement park lasted just a few years before slipping into receivership. Today, all that's left of this odd and uniquely Oregonian story is a dilapidated guardshack.

Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Lure of the sea brought Jimmy Bates — and potatoes — to Oregon

Globe-trotting sailor chose Oregon to settle down and retire in; he'd first seen the state, and planted potatoes in it, in 1828 while his ship was being repaired

This postcard, which probably dates back to the 1890s, captures
the maritime spirit that moved Jimmy Bates to choose a tough
but romantic life as a mariner.

If you’ve lived in Oregon for a while, chances are you know at least one person who’s traveled all over the world before deciding that our state in general, and your town in particular, was the best place on the globe to settle down.

It’s not exactly a common experience, but it happens often enough to be noticeable.

But it’s not new. In fact, what might be the very first such story dates back to the days of Dr. John McLaughlin, well before Oregon was even officially a U.S. territory.

It’s the story of Jimmy Bates, who was born in either 1809 or 1810 (I haven’t been able to learn which) to a wealthy family in Washington, D.C., as recounted by Winfield Taylor Rigdon in 1892. Rigdon, one of the Salem area’s pioneer luminaries, referred to Bates as “Uncle Jimmy,” although it’s not clear if the two were blood relations.

According to Rigdon, Jimmy was doing the family proud at a prestigious academy when suddenly, at age 15, he got hold of a book titled “Riley’s African Shipwrecks” (probably an account of the wreck of the American brig Commerce, captained by one James Riley, on the west coast of Africa in 1815).

Just like that, young Jimmy’s academic career was over. Suddenly he could think about nothing but sailing ships, the sea, and distant lands. His performance in school suffered instantly and fatally. A few years later, he was on a small coastal trader plying the Eastern Seaboard – not what he had in mind, but the first step.

It turned out to be the first step in a maritime career that took him virtually everywhere, in an age when ships sailed rather than steaming. But from the beginning, he wanted to come to Oregon, and at age 19 he was able to sign onto a trading expedition bound for Grays Harbor, in what’s now Washington. This was 1828.

Another vintage postcard, showing a ship under full sail coming about
off the coast of New Jersey.

Now remember, this was long before the Panama Canal. To get from Washington, D.C., to Oregon by sea, one headed south and kept going for a long time. On the way back up, various South Sea islands were hardly even out of the way, and tended to be friendlier and richer in antiscorbutic fruit than the Spanish-held coast of Chile. So by the time Jimmy got to Oregon the next year, he’d seen quite a lot of the world around the Pacific Ocean.

At Oregon, Bates’ ship – which Rigdon remembers as the S.S. Rudder, although I have not been able to confirm this – sailed up the Columbia and had its mainmast replaced. While this was happening, Jimmy planted and grew some potatoes – probably the first potatoes grown in the Oregon territory.

The potato crop was more or less a bust, but the Willamette Valley left an impression on Jimmy long after the ship left. He wouldn’t have an opportunity to come back for almost 30 years. But when he did, in 1857, he jumped at it – and this time he came to stay.

(Sources: Article by W.T. Rigdon in WPA life histories (American Memory Library of Congress, www.memory.loc.gov); Riley, James. Authentic Narrative of the Loss of the American Brig Commerce … New York: Mercein, 1817; www.salemhistory.net)