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Oregon’s Harry Lane Resisted Nation’s Rush Into First World War Offbeat Oregon History

Posted on 22 July 2013 by admin

By Finn J.D. John
Many historians, when asked to cite the single biggest and most far-reaching government misstep in American history, will immediately start talking about the First World War.  By getting involved with that conflict — subtly at first, by lending money to the Allies, and later directly with American boots on French soil — we made it possible for one side to crush the other and impose its will, rather than simply fighting to an impasse and being forced to negotiate peace. The world is still trying to recover from the aftershocks of that — particularly in the Middle East.
Such historians smile a bit when the topic of Oregon Senator Harry Lane comes up. Lane was one of a tiny handful of federal legislators who, for reasons of principle or partisanship, fought as hard as they could to prevent President Woodrow Wilson from taking the country into the fight.
It’s a small smile, though, because Lane paid a heavy price for that.
Harry Lane was a well-known and respected Oregon politician, a medical doctor by profession, born in Corvallis, the grandson of the first territorial governor of Oregon. He’d been mayor of Portland just after the turn of the century, and had established a reputation as a man of principle — the worst enemy of the corrupt politicians, cops and shanghai artists that were virtually running the city when he arrived. Although he didn’t leave much of a long-term impact on those forces of corruption, he was able to suppress them during his two terms of office — long enough to put on a spectacular show at the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition, at any rate — and today he’s remembered as the father of the Rose Festival.
He also had a strong reputation as a supporter of women’s suffrage and an advocate for more respectful treatment of the remaining Native American tribes in the state.
He was also firmly opposed to any American involvement in the brewing conflict in Europe. And by early 1917, he was growing increasingly alarmed by Wilson’s steps toward war.
Wilson had won re-election just a few months earlier in spite of his party’s underdog status at the time, largely on the strength of the slogan, “He Kept Us Out of War.” The war referred to was primarily one with Mexico — the revolution that made Pancho Villa famous was playing out very messily at the time, and there was a certain pressure for the U.S. to get involved — but, of course, war was war. Senator Lane, from deep inside the Capitol, would have been able to clearly see Wilson’s growing enthusiasm for direct American intervention in the war in Europe. The hypocrisy of running for re-election on a platform of implied commitment to peace while quietly gathering forces to take the nation to war (after the election was safely won, of course) was not lost on him.
So when, two months into his next term and after several months of steady war-drum beating, Wilson asked Congress to let him arm American merchant ships, Lane and a few other like-minded senators (most notably Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin) threatened to stop it with a filibuster. They told the White House they were willing to go along with the plan if one little change were made in it: They wanted those American ships to stop carrying munitions to sell to the Allies. And they wanted that written into the law: Arm the merchant ships, fine — but no more guns and bullets would cross the sea until after peace was achieved.
Well, of course, that was not at all what the White House had in mind. The word that came back surprised nobody: No deal.
So in early March, Lane and his colleagues filibustered — a good old-fashioned talking filibuster, a la Rand Paul or Wendy Davis — and the bill died a-borning.
Wilson was furious. He lashed out at Lane and his colleagues personally, calling them a “little group of willful men, representing no opinion but their own” that had “rendered the great government of the United States helpless and contemptible.”
Lane was shocked by the animosity this stand earned him, both in Washington, D.C., and back home in Oregon. Hate-mail started pouring into his office. The Portland Morning Oregonian — a Republican organ at the time, and no friend to Democrat Lane under any circumstances — wrote an editorial that essentially apologized to the nation, on behalf of every Oregon voter, for having sent Lane to Washington. A recall movement was launched, and started growing.
A month later, Wilson got the pretext he needed to take the country to war when a bungling German diplomat named Zimmerman used British undersea cables to telegraph a proposal for an anti-U.S. alliance to the Mexican government. The British, of course, promptly leaked it, and Wilson was soon before Congress asking for a declaration of war.
Lane was, by this time in his life, a very sick man. He had painful chronic kidney disease and advanced heart disease on top of it, and the stress of the hate-storm swirling around him following his filibuster had exacerbated his health problems. His physician urged him to stay home and rest in bed. But Lane was adamant. He would go to the Senate floor and he would vote against entering the war.
And so he did. Just six Senators voted “no,” and he was one of them.
Seven weeks later, on his way home to Oregon, he suffered a paralytic stroke and died.
The Oregon Journal, upon his death, may have wanted to eulogize the intransigent pacifist — but a month and a half into the war, an increasingly pro-war public was in no mood for anything like that. So the paper contented itself with a short and poignant message:

“He paid for his choice with his life.”

And perhaps he did. The stress of all the animosity his principled stand earned him weighed heavily on him, according to his friends’ recollections. It may not have actually killed him, but most of them thought it did.
Sometimes history’s heroes are neither successful nor survivors. Sometimes they’re the men and women who take up lost causes because their ethics leave them no choice. Like the ship captain who refuses to “fall into the lifeboat,” they’re forced to choose between being destroyed and doing what they can to oppose a rising tide of evil. Such a man was Harry Lane, and Oregon should be very proud to claim him.

(Sources: MacColl, E. Kimbark, “The Growth of a City,” Portland: Georgian Press, 1976; Marsh, Tom, “To the Promised Land,” Corvallis: OSU Press, 2012; Fleming, Thomas J., “The Illusion of Victory,” New York: Basic Books, 2003)

Finn J.D. John is an instructor at Oregon State University and the author of “Wicked Portland,” a book about the dark side of Oregon’s metropolis in the 1890s. He produces a daily podcast, reading archives from this column, at . To contact him or suggest a topic:, @OffbeatOregon (on Twitter), or 541-357-2222.

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The McCarty gang’s Oregon story: “Bonanza” meets “Unforgiven”: Offbeat Oregon History

Posted on 15 July 2013 by admin

By Finn J.D. John
Imagine yourself as a television network executive at NBC in 1973. The bright, happy Western classic “Bonanza” is about to be canceled. In a last-ditch effort to save it from the ax, you’ve been asked to put a fresh, “western-noir” spin on the show so that it can compete with the darker TV fare that’s now in fashion — like “All in the Family” and “M*A*S*H.”
Here’s something you might come up with: Old Ben Cartwright, now that he’s built the Bonanza Ranch to prominence, moves to Oregon with son Adam, leaving the Bonanza to his other two sons, Hoss and Little Joe. After running the ranch for a few episodes, the boys get impatient, sell the Bonanza and promptly burn through the money at the gambling tables in town. To support their lifestyle, the two become family-style outlaws: large-scale cattle rustlers, bank robbers and friends of the legendary outlaw Butch Cassidy.
Oh, and along the way, they move to Oregon.
Your new, “improved” Bonanza would surely not have lasted a minute in an NBC pitch meeting. But it’s the basics of the story of a famous outlaw family called McCarty, a gang of brothers and brothers-in-law that made life in eastern Oregon very lively for the first few years of the 1890s.
The McCarty family came from the gorgeous cattle country of San Juan County, Utah. The old man — Lorne Green’s character, in our rebooted “Bonanza Noir” — was a surgeon in the Confederate army during the Civil War, who became a successful cattleman in Montana before settling down there and building, with his sons, a ranch that should have made them wealthy squires.
Instead, it made the boys $35,000 and a ticket to the Outlaw Hall of Fame — and, for one of them, to a casket.
On the Outlaw Trail
One of the boys, Tom — the “Little Joe” character — hit the outlaw trail right away with his brother-in-law, Matt Warner, and soon fell in with Butch Cassidy. Several high-profile bank robberies later, the Tom, Matt and Butch were outlaw royalty. They became famous as “The Invincible Three.”
Brother Bill — the “Hoss” character — became a large-scale cattle rustler. Eventually, though, he gave up the outlaw life, bought himself a spread near Baker City, and with his son Fred, tried hard to make a go of it as a legitimate rancher.
Meanwhile, Brother George — the “Adam” character — had still been under the stabilizing influence of old, respectable Dr. McCarty (“Ben Cartwright”), running cattle in Harney County near Haines. But after Dr. McCarty moved to Myrtle Point, George, too, was at loose ends, and feeling his larcenous oats. As Bill tried to make a go of his new ranch, George was trying to make a go of a mining claim a few dozen miles away, in the Blue Mountain boomtown of Cornucopia. Neither of the two was having much luck.
That’s probably why, when Tom and brother-in-law Matt rolled into town and asked if they’d like to get back into the family business, neither required much convincing.
Building An Outlaw Empire
The McCartys started by rigging Bill’s money-losing ranch — the New Bonanza, if you will — as an outlaw hideout, with secret chambers and tunnels and hollowed-out haystacks. Then Tom, his pockets still jingling with the proceeds of his robberies with Butch Cassidy, went out and started buying remote pieces of property around the area that the gang could use as hideouts and staging spots for rustled cattle.
Meanwhile, the rest of the gang was coming together, a group of wives, sisters, nephews and cousins, all tied together by blood and kinship. Those ties would make the McCarty gang very strong. They would also lead directly to its ultimate destruction.
A Bank-Robbing Bonanza
The gang’s first hit was the Wallowa National Bank in Enterprise. It was a textbook bank job. They put on homemade horsehair beards to mask their faces without being masked. Tom stood guard by the door, keeping customers from coming in; Bill and Matt strolled into the bank and stuck a six-shooter in the teller’s face. They got out before the townspeople knew what was happening.
This last item was critical: Eastern Oregon was famously hostile to bank robbers, and five minutes could mean the difference between a clean getaway and a running, unwinnable gun battle on Main Street with 50 or 60 angry depositors behind Winchesters borrowed from the local hardware store. The McCartys would eventually learn this lesson the hard way.
In the meantime, though, they were on to a string of successful stick-ups. A few weeks later, they jacked up the Summerville bank at 9 p.m., taking advantage of the cover of darkness. This heist went even more smoothly, and netted them a full $5,000.
An attempt to rob the wealthy patrons of the Hotel Warshauer in Baker City didn’t go so well. In the middle of the operation, a cop saw Tom and Matt in an alley looking scruffy in their horsehair beards and tried to arrest them for vagrancy. Matt clobbered him with his rifle and they all ran for it, empty-handed.
An attempted train robbery ended with even more embarrassment. They piled a bunch of debris on the tracks and lurked, waiting for the train to stop so that they could rob it; but the engineer, who was clearly no greenhorn, knew immediately what was going on and opened up the throttle wide — risking a high-speed derailment because he knew there were men with guns waiting in the bushes. He won the bet. The cowcatcher cleared the junk and the train disappeared around the next bend as the four disappointed bandits watched, coughing on its coal smoke.
The Gang’s End
Oregon was getting too hot for comfort, so the gang moved up to the Washington Territory and pulled a string of heists up there — successfully knocking over banks in Wenatchee and Roslyn and nearly getting caught and shot trying to rob a circus. But then Matt’s sister-in-law came to stay with them, and, convinced their lifestyle wasn’t good for her sister (Matt’s wife), ratted them all out. Matt and George were arrested, and their lawyer got them sprung but then cleaned out their entire stash — $41,000.
After that, the gang decided the Northwest was too hot for them, and they headed to Colorado — for one last bank job, on Sept. 3, 1893, in Delta.
During this heist, one of the boys murdered the teller. Alerted by the gunfire, the town started rallying, by the time the robbers left the bank, the local hardware store owner was ready for them with his .44 Sharps rifle. As they galloped out of town, he picked off Bill (in our “Bonanza” reboot, that’s Hoss) and his son Fred. Both were dead before they hit the dirt.
The others got away. But after that disaster, the McCartys never rode again.

(Sources: Kelly, Charles. The Outlaw Trail: A History of Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch. Lincoln, Neb.: UN Press, 1938;; Yuskavitch, Jim. Outlaw Tales of Oregon. Guilford, Conn.: TwoDot, 2012)

Finn J.D. John is an instructor at Oregon State University and the author of “Wicked Portland,” a book about the dark side of Oregon’s metropolis in the 1890s. He produces a daily podcast, reading archives from this column, at . To contact him or suggest a topic:, @OffbeatOregon (on Twitter), or 541-357-2222.

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Rival Roseburg Newspapers Settled Their Differences With A Big Gunfight, Right Downtown Offbeat : Oregon History

Posted on 08 July 2013 by admin


By Finn J.D. John
The “Oregon Style” of newspaper journalism was already a thing in 1871, when upstart newspaper publisher William “Bud” Thompson got in his famous gunfight in downtown Roseburg.
But until that day, the vicious personal attacks that characterized the “Oregon Style” had mostly involved the spilling of ink — not blood.
On that late Monday morning on a corner in downtown Roseburg, that changed.

The Enemies Meet
The groundwork for the Roseburg Newspaper Shootout was laid when Thompson came to town in 1870, when he was just 22 years old. He’d just sold the newspaper he’d run in Eugene — the Eugene City Guard — and, with $1,200 in his pocket, had come to Roseburg to do it again. He launched his paper and it steadily started building circulation.
This was not OK with Henry and Thomas Gale, the two brothers who had founded the weekly Roseburg Ensign three years before. Like Thompson, the two of them were from the Eugene area, and like him were in their early 20s; but unlike Thompson, they were staunch Republicans. Henry, the older of the two, was a tall and powerful man, but Thomas was tiny — under five feet tall.
Tensions between the two newspapers built as they fired salvoes at one another from their editorial pages. This was to be expected: after all, the Gales ran a Republican newspaper, and Thompson was a lifelong Democrat and a son of the South. But there was something else happening, too, which added fuel to the brewing feud: Almost as soon as Thompson opened for business, Democrat Lafayette Grover was elected governor of Oregon, ending an eight-year run of Republican governors. The victorious Dems, in Salem, now had a choice of papers to favor with their lucrative public-notice business. That meant most of the business that had sustained the Ensign now was going to the upstart Plaindealer.
Also, looking at all the different accounts of this event, it’s clear that Thompson was an unusually thin-skinned fellow. After being sarcastically called “the ripe scholar and gallant gentleman who stands — when sober enough to stand at all — behind the Plaindealer chair,” and “a sardine among codfish,” and various other quaint-sounding (to us) epithets, Thompson reportedly informed the Gale brothers that he would no longer tolerate this sort of abuse.
Of course, the Gales kept it up. They would have been a disgrace to Oregon-style journalism if they had not.

The Inciting Incident
Things came to a head one Saturday, when Thompson chanced to meet Thomas Gale in the post office. Reports on the action are varied. Thompson’s memoir claims that Gale tried to draw a pistol, and he (Thompson) grabbed his hand and slapped him in the face. Contemporary newspaper accounts, including one by Thompson’s own newspaper (published while he was recovering from his wounds) say Thompson spat in Gale’s face and slapped him, and Gale — probably because Thompson towered over him like a giant — didn’t get in a single blow. Bystanders quickly separated the two before a full-on brawl could develop, and Thomas Gale stormed off to get his gun — which he had not had in the post office, or he probably would have used it.
It was not the kind of public affront that went unanswered in a frontier town like 1870s Roseburg. Everyone knew a showdown of some kind was coming.
It arrived two days later, on Monday. When Thompson stepped out of his office to go to the post office, he found the Gale brothers waiting for him.

“Pick On Somebody Your Own Size!”
Again, Thompson’s memoir describes the encounter with shameless mendacity. He basically claims the brothers took turns shooting him in the back as he turned from one to the other, that one pretended to surrender so he would lower his guard and then shot him, and (by implication) that he left both brothers dead. His own bravery, and the brothers’ cowardice, fairly pours from the page. And again, if contemporary newspaper accounts are to be believed  — including the one by his very own newspaper — it’s almost all lies.
The newspaper accounts all say that the encounter started with Thompson apologizing to Thomas Gale for spitting in his face. The apology was not accepted, though, and Henry, the bigger brother, told him he should be ashamed of himself, and that he should pick on somebody his own size.

Gunshots Ring Out
What happened next is very unclear. There are just too many conflicting accounts to pick a line through them, especially on the question of who shot first. The most likely scenario is that Henry Gale intended to use his cane to administer a humiliating public beating to Thompson, and had started doing so when Thompson pulled his pocket derringer out. At that point, Thomas Gale (the small brother) pulled his revolver out and the shooting started. Thomas Gale shot Thompson in the chest, but the ball was deflected by a thick sheaf of letters and inflicted only a flesh wound. Thompson turned and fired his one-shot derringer into Thomas’s right side, just above the liver; he then started using his now-empty pistol to beat Henry Gale over the head. Henry then pulled a four-shooter and shot Thompson three times with it from close quarters: once in the back of the head, from the side, apparently at an angle because the skull wasn’t penetrated; once in the shoulder; and once in the neck. The last shot went behind Thompson’s jaw and lodged in his tongue, filling his mouth with blood.
And with that, the drama ended. Much to the surprise of almost everyone, all three of the men survived this bloody encounter. Thomas and Henry Gale went to a nearby drugstore for treatment, and Thomas’s wounds were quite serious; they may have eventually caused his death, which came eight years later. Thompson went home to have the bullets extracted.
“Although neither paper was put out of commission, both had had the stuffing knocked out of their editors,” writer David Loftus remarked in his article about the incident.

Thompson leaves town
Thompson soon left Roseburg, selling the Plaindealer for $4,000 and moving to Salem to take over the Salem Mercury. The Gales sold their paper around the same time, and, languishing with the winds of political fortune, it eventually closed.
Throughout the rest of his life, Thompson would be a dangerous fellow to have around. At the Mercury, he reportedly beat the editor of the Forest Grove paper with a cane after the editor wrote some disparaging things about him. Later, as a cattle rancher, he would become notorious as the head of the Prineville Vigilantes, a gang of masked outlaws responsible for at least seven lynchings and extrajudicial killings in Crook County. After that, he moved to Alturas, Calif., and there were more lynchings and vigilante action there.
Thompson’s enemies, of whom there were many, characterized him as that rare blackguard who had the skill to know whom he could attack and when he needed to leave town … and they were probably right. But one thing is for sure: He definitely made journalism in frontier Oregon a more interesting occupation.

(Sources: Loftus, David. “Papers’ feuding editors settled disputes with gunfire,”, 21 Feb 1988, accessed 29 Jun 2013; Thompson, Colonel William. Reminiscences of a Pioneer. San Francisco: Alturas Plaindealer, 1913)

Finn J.D. John is an instructor at Oregon State University and the author of “Wicked Portland,” a book about the dark side of Oregon’s metropolis in the 1890s. He produces a daily podcast, reading archives from this column, at . To contact him or suggest a topic:, @OffbeatOregon (on Twitter), or 541-357-2222.

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The Hunt For D.B. Cooper: Searching For The Drop Zone

Posted on 24 June 2013 by admin

By Finn J.D. John
Thanksgiving Day of 1971 was a very unusual one for F.B.I. agent Ralph Himmelsbach. He spent it flying a grid pattern over southwest Washington in his Taylorcraft, staring at the ground.
Himmelsbach was hoping to spot a parachute canopy down there — a parachute that would mark the landing spot of the man who’d hijacked Northwest Orient Flight 305 the previous evening.
It was the beginning of the hunt for D.B. Cooper — a hunt that still continues to this day.

Looking For The Drop Zone

Investigators were already starting to zero in on the most likely spot for Cooper’s jump. A strange change in cabin pressure in the plane was reported at 8:13pm, and the working theory was that this was caused by Cooper jumping off the back stairs. (Investigators later confirmed this by having Marines drop a 220-pound weight off the back stairs of a 727 in flight, a duty that has to have tested the nerves even of U.S. Marines.) Based on the prevailing wind direction and the location of the plane at that moment, they came up with a diamond-shaped area in which Cooper probably landed.
So the next day, the search began in earnest. Law enforcement agencies, search-and-rescue units and county sheriff’s mounted posses collected at the Woodland police station and launched a grid search of the part of the target area.
A few days later, the searchers were joined by 400 soldiers from nearby Fort Lewis. But even so, they were probably a small minority of the people actually on the ground looking for Cooper.

Searchers Get Lots Of “Help”
Remember, this was Thanksgiving weekend. Virtually everyone in Oregon and Washington had the weekend off from work, and by the day after Thanksgiving thousands of locals knew exactly where authorities thought Cooper had landed. The news seemed to inspire a sudden mania for outdoor recreation. After all, chances seemed pretty good that Cooper had died in the attempt, which would mean somewhere in the hills of southwest Washington there was a monster bag of money just lying there, tied to a corpse, up for grabs.
“No one readily admitted to be looking for the ransom money,” Himmelsbach later wrote, “but many 1971-style gold rushers were tempted by the lure of a 21-pound package of $20 bills lying somewhere out there in the wilds, and were undaunted by the long odds.”
Time went by. The “gold-rushers” gave up and went home. The soldiers spent 18 days on their grid search through some of the most rugged country in the West, bivouacking each night in the field so they could pick up again the next day. They found the body of a hiker, who had broken his leg and died, and other searchers found the body of a murder victim — a college girl who’d disappeared a couple weeks before while hitchhiking. But of Cooper or his parachute or the money — nothing.
There were a couple red-hot leads that seemed to dissolve like a mirage upon first contact: a report of a big white thing floating in Lake Merwin that subsequently vanished, and a mysterious small aircraft taking off and landing by the light of someone’s car headlights near the drop zone. Nothing came of either one.

Hot Tips From The Public
Almost immediately, people started calling the FBI with tips. Some of these were people who noticed neighbors suddenly spending lots of money; others were clearly just trying to make trouble for their personal enemies by reporting them. Investigators tried to check out each lead, but soon found themselves inundated.
And it got worse. Within a month or two, the volume of tips coming in to the FBI had gone up, and the quality had gone down. The legend of the cool-cat suit-jacketed skyjacker had fully blossomed, and many people were starting to think of him as a sort of folk hero — sticking it to The Man and getting away with it. People were writing songs, making T-shirts. Every half-drunk high roller flashing a roll of twenties at the local bar seemed to think it would be hilarious to pretend to be D.B. Cooper, and somebody at the bar would call the cops from a pay phone, and then Himmelsbach would get a call at 2am. And it happened again and again.
Typed-out letters signed “D.B. Cooper” started showing up at newspaper offices, and there may actually have been several different people writing them. In any case, they didn’t lead anywhere either.

Hot Tips From Crackpots
And then there were the funny ones — the tips called in by self-described psychics and paranormal investigators, and by straight-up nutters and swindlers. Himmelsbach remembers one who built a black box covered with dials and switches, which he claimed functioned as a sort of mechanical bloodhound (quite what the advantage was in a bloodhound with no legs and, as soon became obvious, a non-functioning nose, was never made clear). Another got Himmelsbach’s attention by claiming to be skilled in water-witching, but subsequently rang the loony bell by revealing that he did his dousing over a topo map on his coffee table before going out to a scene to dig.

But did they search the wrong place?
The soldiers and posses came back in the spring for another go, and again found nothing. Other searchers got involved as well. A man named John Banks, convinced that Cooper landed and drowned in Lake Merwin, made a deal with the insurance company and spent two years and $15,000 exploring the bottom of the lake in a little submarine. He, too, found nothing.
Then one day, late in the 1970s, Himmelsbach was talking about the case to an airline pilot who said he’d been in the air just behind the hijacked aircraft that night. The pilot chanced to remark on how nasty the weather was, with an 80-knot wind coming right out of the south.
The south. Not the west-southwest, but the south.
The news hit Himmelsbach like a rock. If true, that meant the FBI and its friends had spent the previous eight years meticulously looking in the wrong place.
But then, if the wind had shifted that way, wouldn’t the pilots of Flight 305 have noticed as well? Investigators were left wondering what to think.

Money In The Riverbank
Then, in 1980, a third-grade boy named Brian Ingram, digging a flat spot for a campfire by the Columbia River on a beach known as Tena Bar, stumbled across $5,800 in water-worn $20 bills — which were immediately confirmed as the bills from the skyjacking.
The cash was bound together with rotting rubber bands, and the corners were rounded off as if they’d been tumbling in the water for some time.
But they were found upstream from the jet’s flight path and upwind from where Cooper apparently jumped. How could they have gotten there? If dropped into the river, why didn’t they get separated? Did someone stash them there? Who knows?

What Really Happened?
So that’s what we’re left with: A tantalizing smattering of confusing and sometimes contradictory evidence — just enough to keep the intrepid D.B. Cooper sleuths busy for decades trying to solve the case.
So, what really happened to D.B. Cooper that night? There are at least five thoroughly thought-out, highly plausible theories. Then there are another dozen or so that, although not as robust, are highly appealing as stories. For the time being, though, the question is one big mystery.
But then, there are those of us who kind of like it that way.
Next week’s column will take a look at several of the most plausible theories about what happened to Cooper and the money.

(Sources: Himmelsbach, Ralph & al. NORJAK: The Investigation of D.B. Cooper. West Linn: Norjak Project, 1986; Gray, Geoffrey. Skyjack: The Hunt for D.B. Cooper. New York: Crown, 2011; Porteous, Skipp & al. Into the Blast: The True Story of D.B. Cooper. Seattle: Adventure Books, 2010)
Finn J.D. John is an instructor at Oregon State University and the author of “Wicked Portland,” a book about the dark side of Oregon’s metropolis in the 1890s. He produces a daily podcast, reading archives from this column, at To contact him or suggest a topic:, @OffbeatOregon (on Twitter), or 541-357-2222.


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The D.B. Cooper Skyjacking Legend Took Flight Out Of PDX

Posted on 10 June 2013 by admin

By Finn J.D. John
It’s the day before Thanksgiving, 1971. A slender, bland-looking man in a business suit several years out of style strolls up to the ticket counter at Northwest Orient Airlines in Portland and buys a single one-way ticket on Flight 305, bound for Seattle, paying for it with a $20 bill. The agent asks for his name.
“Dan Cooper,” he says. “That’s a 727, isn’t it?”
Yes, he’s told; that’s right, it is.
Once settled into his seat in the smoking section, Dan Cooper fires up a Raleigh, flags down stewardess Florence Schaffner, and orders a drink: Bourbon and Seven. He pays for it with another twenty.

The Plane Takes Off.
When Florence comes back with his change, he hands her an envelope. This happens a lot to stewardesses in 1971, when airlines actually competed in part on the sexiness of their stewardesses. Usually they’re either love notes or straight-up propositions. It could just be a name and phone number. It could be an invitation to consummate a “business transaction.”  She doesn’t know and doesn’t care; she couldn’t be less interested. She drops the note in her purse and moves on.
“Miss,” he calls after her. “I think you’d better have a look at that note.”
She looks. Here’s what it says:
“I have a bomb here and I want you to sit by me.”
Florence walks back to his row and sits down. He shows her the bomb. It’s in his briefcase, five or six long red things that are either dynamite or road flares, and a tangle of wires, and a battery. He tells her it will go off if he touches a wire to the battery. They’re at about 1,000  feet and climbing. She’s not about to call his bluff.
The man has Florence take dictation, with his demands. He wants $200,000 in “unmarked American currency” in a knapsack. He wants four parachutes — two back chutes and two chest chutes. He wants a fuel truck on the ground at Seattle and food for the flight crew, because it’s going to be a long night for them.
Then Florence takes the note up to the captain’s cabin. While she’s doing this, the other stewardess, Tina Mucklow, picks up the plane’s intercom — they call it the “interphone” — and alerts the cockpit that the plane is being jacked. The hijacker is starting to look more nervous. He gets out a pair of sunglasses and puts them on.
Up in in the cockpit, Florence hands over the note. She describes the guy as mid-40s, brown eyes, short black hair, olive complexion. The captain asks her to sit in the jumpseat with the headphones on and take notes of everything that happens — the plane doesn’t have a recording system, except the “black box,” which is on a 30-minute loop. If the plane blows up, the captain wants there to be some record of what happened.
Back in his seat, the hijacker is getting visibly nervous, watching for Florence to return. Tina, the other stewardess, starts worrying that he might panic and destroy them all, so she walks over and sits down next to him — taking Florence’s place. So he asks her to get on the “interphone” — he used the actual term, somewhat to her surprise, since most passengers called it something else, like “the phone” or “the intercom” — and relay messages for him.
The captain assures the hijacker, through Tina, that all the demands would be met, and turns on the “Fasten Seat Belts” sign to discourage passengers from milling around.
A few minutes later, the senior stewardess tries to rescue Tina by asking her to go fetch a pack of playing cards. The hijacker interrupts: “Never mind about the playing cards. Go back to your station.” Again, he’s talking like an insider — somebody who knows how a passenger airliner works.
Northwest Orient Flight 305 is a short flight: only a half hour. They’d be ready to land in Seattle long before the parachutes and money are ready. So the hijacker orders the captain to fly a holding pattern until all is ready.
This plan is making the stewardesses very nervous; they’re a bit afraid that the longer the plane is in the air, the more likely the passengers are to figure out what’s going on, and that one of them will decide to be a hero and get them all killed. Specifically, they’re worried about the burly college man sitting across the aisle from the hijacker shooting occasional hostile glances at him. The college man, as it turned out, was getting more and more annoyed because the cute blonde stewardess, whom he would have liked to get to know better, was just sitting there next to this old, poorly dressed nobody.
The captain gets on the speakers and tells everyone the plane is experiencing a minor mechanical problem and will be circling to burn off some excess fuel as a precautionary measure. This can’t have been particularly reassuring. He also invites them to move forward in the airplane, into First Class if possible, and most people take him up on it. The college man does not.
The plane circles for some time while the airline people scramble to get the parachutes and money together. They’re having trouble with this; after all, it’s after business hours on the day before Thanksgiving. The hijacker is getting more and more agitated as the minutes tick by.
Finally, two hours into a half-hour flight, the plane is ready to land. The hijacker has some final instructions: He wants the fuel truck, vehicle with his money, and the “airstairs” at the 10 o’clock position so he can see them from his window. Tina notices that again, he’s talking like an airline man — calling the “airstairs” by the industry-standard term.
The hijacker sends Tina out to get the money, which she drags back — twenty pounds of $20 bills. It’s not in a knapsack, which causes the hijacker to get a little annoyed, but he lets the passengers go anyway.
Of course, the passengers are immediately corralled and hustled down to a debriefing room to be inventoried and checked against the list of folks who boarded the plane. There are 35 of them. Everyone on the list is there except one: Dan Cooper.
Meanwhile, back on the airplane, Dan Cooper himself is busy inspecting his loot and chutes, and making plans. We’ll talk about how those plans went down in next week’s column.
(Sources: Gray, Geoffrey. Skyjack: The Hunt for D.B. Cooper. New York: Crown, 2011; Himmelsbach, Ralph & al. Norjak: The Investigation of D.B. Cooper. Portland: Norjak Project, 1986)
Finn J.D. John is an instructor at Oregon State University and the author of “Wicked Portland,” a book about the dark side of Oregon’s metropolis in the 1890s. He produces a daily podcast, reading archives from this column, at To contact him or suggest a topic:, @OffbeatOregon (on Twitter), or 541-357-2222.

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Two Seaplanes in flight – Offbeat Oregon

The Samurai Pilot Who Bombed Oregon

Posted on 20 May 2013 by admin

Japanese aviator - Offbeat Oregon

By Finn J.D. John

It was a little after 6 am on September 9, 1942. A tiny seaplane with red balls painted on its wings was making its way through the skies over Brookings, Oregon. At the controls was a young man named Nobuo Fujita; behind him, in the observer’s seat, looking intensely at the ground, was another, named Shoji Okuda.
The two of them were looking for a good place to initiate the first airstrike ever to be made on the continental United States.
Fujita’s plan
This whole gambit had been Fujita’s idea. Fujita was a warrant officer aboard the Imperial Japanese submarine I-25, in charge of the little reconnaissance airplane the sub kept on board in a watertight compartment. During the attack on Pearl Harbor he’d suggested bringing the sub across the Pacific and using the little airplane for bombing raids on the American mainland; his executive officer had loved the idea, and asked him to write it up as a formal proposal. So he’d done that.
Nothing had happened for a long time, and Fujita had given the matter little further thought — until April 1942, when that squadron of American bombers under Capt. Jimmy Doolittle’s command had raided Japan itself. The raid had done very little damage — but it had been a slap in the face, and nearly everyone in the Imperial Japanese Navy burned for revenge.
So when Fujita and the rest of the I-25’s crew returned from the cruise they were on, there was a message waiting for them. Fujita was being called to Imperial Navy headquarters immediately. A little worried he might be in some trouble, Fujita complied.
He was elated to learn that his idea was about to be implemented — and that he’d be the man at the controls, charged with delivering four 170-pound bombs to targets on the American mainland.
His joy turned to disappointment, though, when the other shoe was dropped: His assignment was not a suicidal-but-glorious attack against an aircraft plant in Los Angeles, or a U.S. Navy base in San Diego, but dull bomb-delivery run against a bunch of trees in the middle of Nowhere, Oregon. What? Could that be right?
Yes, the commander said. In 1936, a catastrophic forest fire had swept the woods of the southern Oregon coast and destroyed the town of Bandon. It did millions of dollars’ worth of damage and even killed 10 people. If Fujita could set a fire like that, his relatively puny bombs would do far more damage to the enemy than anything he could do to an aircraft factory or munitions plant — and he’d be far more likely to make it back alive, to boot. Skilled pilots cost a lot to train, and airplanes weren’t cheap either.
“Fujita, if you succeed in this mission, you may well help to win this war by spreading panic through the enemy cities,” the commander told him, “proving to them that we can bomb their homes and factories from 5,000 miles away.”
His enthusiasm restored, Fujita had returned to the I-25 ready to do his historic bit. The submarine’s next voyage was going to be for the express purpose of delivering himself and Okuda off the coast of America, ready to strike at the enemy’s homeland.

seaplane launch - offbeat oregon

A Pre-Dawn Launch
And so it was that at 4 am, in the pre-dawn blackness, a mile or two off the Oregon coast, the I-25 surfaced and its tiny seaplane was removed from its storage bay and assembled, ready for action.
The airplane itself was a Yokosuka E14Y (“Glen”), a compact and lightweight floatplane made with a wood frame and fabric skin. Rickety though it looked, it was stoutly built. It had to be, to withstand the forces generated when it was launched, with the aid of a compressed-air-powered catapult track, from the submarine’s deck. And it had a relatively powerful radial engine — a 340 horsepower nine-cylinder radial, which pushed it to a maximum speed of just over 150 miles per hour.

Fujita and Okuda had prepared for this moment — leaving hair and fingernail clippings behind for their families to bury in a funeral should they not return. Now they strapped themselves into their tiny airplane, started the engine, braced themselves and were shot into the gloaming sky. Fujita immediately shaped course eastward, heading toward the dark and silent American continent.
Flying Over Brookings
The plane’s flight path took it almost directly over a small Oregon town — Brookings. Fujita wasn’t about to waste his precious bombs on that, though. The whole great Oregon timberlands lay to the east, and that was where he was headed. He flew on.
Below, early-rising residents heard the engine — one said it sounded like a Maytag washing machine, one of the pre-war gasoline-powered models designed for rural households without electric service. But it was too high up for them to see the Rising Sun insignia on its wings, and
it certainly didn’t sound like any kind of warplane — so few people gave it a second thought.
Soon the two airborne warriors were cruising over a heavily wooded area near Mount Emily. Fujita gave the signal, and Okuda sent his first bomb hurtling down out of the sky and into the history books. It plummeted to the ground and the two Japanese aviators were rewarded with the sight of a modest fireball below, followed by the glow of flames.
They flew on, over a ridge, and dropped their second bomb. Then, losing no time and figuring the American military would soon have fighter planes on the scene, they turned back westward. Fujita opened the throttle up wide and they raced back toward the sea.
Behind them, the fires they’d started flickered fitfully. Most years, early September would be a very dry time in the Oregon timber, but this year it wasn’t. Furthermore, as any logger knows, early morning is the safest time of day in terms of risk of fire; everything is soaked with dew, and temperatures are low. Forest Service lookout crews and Aircraft Warning Service volunteers quickly spotted the smoke and crews had the fires stamped out before the day was over.
The Conquering Heroes Return

Two Seaplanes in flight - Offbeat Oregon

Fujita and Okuda, back on their submarine, reported their success and no doubt basked in the glory of having struck back at the Americans, getting a tiny taste of revenge. They tried again 20 days later, dropping their last two bombs with basically the same effect.
After that, the I-25 stayed around just long enough to torpedo a couple of passing freighters, and then headed back to Japan. It never returned to Oregon waters, and was eventually sunk by an American destroyer off what’s now Vanuatu.
Both Fujita and Okuda were tapped for the Kamikaze program late in the war. Okuda went out on his mission and was, of course, killed while carrying it out; but the war ended before it was Fujita’s turn to go, so he survived the war. Twenty years later, he came back to Brookings on a mission of friendship. We’ll talk about that visit, and the subsequent relationship between Oregon and the Samurai who bombed it, next week.
(Sources: McCash, Bill. Bombs Over Brookings. Bend: Maverick, 2005; Angelucci, Enzo & al. World War II Airplanes, Vol. 2. Chicago: Rand McNally, 1977);
Finn J.D. John is an instructor at Oregon State University and the author of “Wicked Portland,” a book about the dark side of Oregon’s metropolis in the 1890s. He produces a daily podcast, reading archives from this column, at To contact him or suggest a topic:, @OffbeatOregon (on Twitter), or 541-357-2222.

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Mysterious skeletons of Oregon history: If only these bones could talk …

Mysterious skeletons of Oregon history: If only these bones could talk …

Posted on 24 October 2012 by admin

By Finn J.D. John

In a few weeks, the streets of Oregon will be thick with trick-or-treaters again. And although the hot costumes this year include zombies, pirates and Batman, there will probably be one or two kids out there dressed as skeletons.
Skeletons may be out of fashion this year, but they’re arguably the most interesting Halloween artifact you could name. Skeletons are real; they’re dead, but were once alive; they can’t talk, but once could; and their cold and lifeless condition suggests that something dramatic, perhaps tragic, happened to them. If only they could talk ….
Oregon has a few skeleton-related mysteries — mysteries that we could clear right up if only those bones could tell us their story.
One of them dates back to 1911, and it involves the skeletons of horses, not humans; the skeletons of the humans, in this case, were never found.

Six white horses
It seems one sunny day, 101 years ago, a prospector was looking down into a valley in the Ochoco Forest and saw a log with a very strange profile — six identical notches in it, looking like they were cut that way on purpose.
The prospector hiked down into the forest to investigate — perhaps thinking he’d stumbled across an old homestead or mining claim.
When he got there, he found the skeletons of six horses, complete with the metal parts of long-rotted-away bridles and saddles. Clearly they had been tied to a log and left there to die of thirst. The desperate animals’ attempts to gnaw through the log had cut the notches that the prospector had seen from above.
Well, six saddle horses would have meant six riders; six riders who clearly tied their horses here in the middle of nowhere, meaning to come back for them in a matter of hours or maybe minutes. Six men who’d gone somewhere on foot, and not a single one of them had made it back. Six men whose presumed disappearance hadn’t made a big enough impression for anyone in the area to remember who they might be. What on Earth could have happened?
To this day, no one has figured that out.

Legendary Central Oregon raconteur Reub Long tells a story of another mysterious skeleton.
Sometime in the early 1920s, when he was a young man, Reub was hauling freight with his hired hand, a six-foot-four Silver Lake lad named Shorty Hawkins. The two of them stopped at an abandoned cabin by Peters Creek Sink, in one of the most remote parts of the high desert of southeast Oregon.
Near the cabin, the two of them found a human skeleton, mostly buried in a sand bank and blasted by the cold and relentless high desert wind.
Was this the original builder of the cabin, a dry land homesteader trying to eke out a living on 320 acres of windswept desert? Had he perhaps broken an ankle stepping in a hole and died out here, hundreds of miles from the nearest settlement? What had happened to this stranger?
Reub and Shorty gathered up his bones and took them inside the cabin, out of the wind. There, they assembled them on the floor as best they could. There were quite a few bones missing, but the important ones — skull, pelvis, most of the ribs — were all there.
The skeleton, of course, had a name, but Reub and Shorty didn’t know what it was, so they dubbed him Sandy.
That done, the two went outside to take care of their team of horses. They were doing that when a cowboy rode up.
“We forgot all about the skeleton and told him to go in, get warm, and get himself something to eat,” Reub wrote years later in his book. “When we came back in, no one was there. Shorty said, ‘That’s funny. Sandy likes most people.’”

The Odd Fellows’ medical specimen
In August of 2010, a 16-year-old girl named Jenny Minten was helping clean out a closet at the International Order of Odd Fellows hall in Scio, when she made a startling and creepy discovery.
It was a small black casket full of human bones.
The bones turned out to be part of the ceremonial accoutrements of the Scio Odd Fellows. This particular chapter was chartered in 1856, and the induction rituals for the Odd Fellows include a memento mori — usually in the form of a skeleton.
Today, active Odd Fellows chapters don’t typically use real skeletons for this, but at one time they did. This particular skeleton was bought out of a catalog — an Odd Fellows ‘regalia and paraphernalia’ catalog — sometime in the late 1800s, according to the recollections of Scio Odd Fellows and Rebekahs members.
This raises a number of fascinating questions. In the late 1800s, most people weren’t open to the idea of donating their bodies to science, and it was quite difficult for medical schools to slake their thirst for fresh cadavers to dissect.
So an entire underground industry developed on the East Coast — an industry devoted to stealing corpses and selling them to medical schools.
Body snatchers, or ‘resurrectionists’ as they called themselves, would prowl graveyards looking for fresh diggings, and bribe undertakers to slip them corpses. They’d even go into poorhouses and impersonate relatives so they could claim bodies. (In Britain, some body snatchers actually started murdering people so their bodies could be sold. In the U.S., so far as is known, nobody ever went quite that far.)
All of which is to say that it is somewhat unlikely the man whose bones the Odd Fellows bought had any idea that this would be his fate.
The bones were donated to the Oregon State University anthropology department, where they were cleaned and analyzed and served as the subject of OSU student Dawn Marie Alapisco’s Honors College thesis. Alapisco reports the bones belonged to a powerful, strong man, nearly six feet tall and ripped; the skeleton had developed in a way that telegraphed ‘muscular hypertrophy.’ His neck, back and knees were worn and bent in ways that suggested he’d carried many heavy loads. And he’d died of tuberculosis, which had eaten into his bones; by the time he died, his right arm would have been useless. He was 45 to 55 years old. He died sometime between 1860 and 1890, but probably closer to 1890, since that’s when his bones were sold.
That means he would have been at or near fighting age during the American Civil War. Did he fight in it? What did he do for a living, this job that made his muscles so big and wore him out so soon? Could he have been a deepwater sailor? His skull bears an odd resemblance to Popeye the Sailor Man. Or was he perhaps a ‘misery whip’-era logger, or longshoreman or something else? Did he have a family, maybe a son or daughter to bury him and cry and put flowers by his tombstone, never dreaming that someone had slipped by one night and stolen his corpse out of the ground? Or was he one of those unclaimed dead in the poorhouse, left destitute after a life of working too hard for not enough, with no family, dying painfully of consumption, alone?
Just one thing is sure: We’ll never know.

(Sources: Braly, David. Tales from the Oregon Outback. Prineville: Kilmarnock, 1978; Long, R.A., and Jackman, E.R. The Oregon Desert. Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton, 1977; Smith, McKinley. “Skeleton in the Closet,” OSU Daily Barometer, June 7, 2012; Alapisco, Dawn Marie. “The Skeleton in the Closet,” OSU Honors College thesis, 2012)

Finn J.D. John is an instructor at Oregon State University and the author of “Wicked Portland,” a book about the dark side of Oregon’s metropolis in the 1890s. To contact him or suggest a topic:, @OffbeatOregon (on Twitter), or 541-357-2222.

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