Offbeat Oregon History

Governor PennoyerBy Finn J.D. John
Oregon may not be the richest, or the largest, or the most powerful state in the union. But our fair state does indisputably have one thing over every other state:
We have more Thanksgiving holidays.
It’s a tradition that was originally referred to as “Pennoyer’s Thanksgiving,” after the curmudgeon of a state governor who first proclaimed it. Actually, it’s probably better described as a dead tradition, having been more or less completely forgotten long before the turn of the last century.

Wooding upBy Finn J.D. John
Just before Christmas in 1871,  little steamboat called the U.S. Grant came to grief on the legendary Columbia River Bar, as had dozens before, and as would hundreds after.
What makes the U.S. Grant’s demise unusual is that it wasn’t trying to cross the bar. It had been set adrift in the middle of a dark and stormy night to drift helplessly onto a raging bar, with its two owners on board.

Whale killersBy Finn J.D. John
In August 1949, some residents in the small town of St. Helens started noticing a very unpleasant smell coming from a neighbor’s orchard.
Upon investigation, police easily found the source: a large, oddly-shaped, obviously home-built galvanized steel tank, about 13 feet long and six feet wide, with great marks of rust and corrosion all over it.
Inside it, they found a dead whale.

 

 

Burkhart airplaneBy Finn J.D. John
In January of 1910, deep in the bowels of an old, obscure building at 10th and Everett in Portland, Albany natives Johnny Burkhart and “General Willie” Crawford were hard at work on a secret project when they heard a knock on the door.
They waited for the knocker to go away. He did not. The knocking grew more insistent. Finally, unable to ignore it any longer, Johnny and Willie opened the door.
Their visitor was a newspaper reporter. Apparently their secret project wasn’t as secret as they’d thought. Somebody had told somebody, and this newsman had come to see for himself.

LighthouseBy Finn J.D. John
It was late December, 1856, and Thomas Smith, proud owner of the intrepid little 104-foot barque Desdemona, was in a hurry.
Smith stood to make a particularly nice profit if the shipment of general merchandise the Desdemona was carrying out of San Francisco reached Astoria on or before New Year’s Day. So he proposed a deal to the captain of his ship, Francis Williams: Get the cargo into port by New Year’s Day, and he would be rewarded with the price of a new Sunday suit.

Border patrolBy Finn J.D. John
The editorial writer for the Portland Morning Oregonian was trying to be sarcastically dismissive, but between the lines, a discriminating reader could pick up on signs of real concern.
“Curry (County) would of course immediately acquire the glorious climate of California and become a haven for retired Midwest farmers,” he wrote. “Gold Beach would become a metropolis with offensive slums, and Latin quarters, and traffic problems and police scandals and what-not. … The Curry County plan to become a county of California is so full of potential disaster that once again its people are beseeched to pause and consider.”

Gilbert GableBy Finn J.D. John
Most Oregonians know about the State of Jefferson — in general concept, at least: a small group of Southern Oregon people got together in 1941 to proclaim a new state, made up of southwest Oregon and northwest California, called Jefferson; just as they got started, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor; and the idea just never got off the ground.
All of which is true enough. But it barely touches the real story of Jefferson — and it’s not even the most interesting part. The fact is, the 1941 move for statehood was mostly a publicity stunt.
It was crafted over drinks by two guys who seem right out of central casting for a Hollywood movie — a high-rolling, back-slapping business promoter and a hard-drinking, wildly imaginative newspaper man.

Ranald MacDonaldBy Finn J.D. John
Ranald MacDonald was overcome with emotion as he watched the whaling ship disappear over the sea, leaving him behind in his small open boat. No doubt he had at least a moment of doubt. His plan was audacious almost to the point of recklessness: He intended to deliberately land on the closed and forbidden island of Japan, present himself as a shipwreck victim, and hope for the best.

Ranald’s situation was made the more intriguing because of who he was.

Ranald McDonaldBy Finn J.D. John
The two Scottish gentlemen must have cut very strange figures on the gritty streets of the New York City waterfront in 1843, poking their carefully groomed heads into every darksome Bowery flophouse and shanghai joint in the Big Apple’s notorious maritime underworld.
But Duncan Finlayson and Archibald McDonald were desperate. They were looking for McDonald’s son, Ranald. The future of the Oregon territory depended on it. Unless they could find the young man, Oregon would almost certainly be lost to the British crown.

Bannock IndiansBy Finn J.D. John
Nearly every Oregonian knows a story or two about Bigfoot - the legendary and elusive ape-creature that supposedly lives deep in the wilderness and serves as an inspiration to crypto-zoologists and bad reality TV producers nationwide. More than a few Oregonians have claimed to have seen the elusive fellow - or, at least, to know somebody who has.

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McKenzie River Reflections is the weekly newspaper serving Oregon's McKenzie River Valley. Available by mail for $23/yr in Lane County, $29/yr outside Lane. Digital subscriptions are $23/yr. Subscribe at: http://mckenzieriverreflectionsnewspaper.com/catalog/subscriptions-0. Purchase copies online at: http://mckenzieriverreflectionsnewspaper.com/catalog/back-issues-0. Read about area communities including Cedar Flat, Walterville, Camp Creek, Leaburg, Vida, Nimrod, Finn Rock, Blue River, Rainbow and McKenzie Bridge.